In July 1826, two Methodist gentlemen sat down for a tense meeting with the New South Wales (NSW) Attorney-General, Saxe Bannister (1790–1877): the Rev. Ralph Mansfield, Secretary, and William Horton, Treasurer, represented the NSW Auxiliary of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS). The matter at hand was a controversy that had arisen from a venture undertaken by the Society on a remote penal establishment on the frontier at Wellington Valley on the lower Macquarie River about 100 kilometres north-west of Bathurst in central-western NSW. In particular, there were questions to be answered about the conduct of a young missionary, John Harper (c. 1800–1862), who was alleged to have publicly misrepresented the short-term results and long-term prospects for the evangelization of the Wiradjuri people native to the area. It was reported in the press but widely disbelieved that Harper had already begun the translation of scripture ('which implies a grammatical knowledge of the structure of the language'), that the people were so entranced by his facility in the language that they had begged him “Beong! Beong!” (more! more!), and that he had affected such a change in the morality of the native people that not only did they forbear swearing but had ceased to force their wives to have illicit intercourse with male convicts. The intervention of the Attorney-General is a fair indication of the political sensitivity of Harper’s claims and their possible repercussions for government policy relating to the small community of Wesleyan Methodists in the colony and their fledgling missionary activities.
Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History Vol. 10, Issue 1