The first gospel to be translated by Threlkeld was Luke, and went through several revisions. One of the earlier versions ended up in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.
The first version was begun probably around March 1829 and completed by September 1830. Other versions followed, notably while Threlkeld, not having been satisfied with his original method, was attempting to determine how best the language might be spelt. A final revisal was completed by the end of 1836.
Much later, in February 1857 and long after the Mission had closed, Threlkeld received a surprise request from Sir George Grey for a copy of the Luke gospel translation. Threlkeld
thereupon undertook to prepare the copy himself, and completed it by July 1858. He had it especially embellished by an artist, Annie Layard to resemble a mediaeval parchment.
In his Reminiscences Threlkeld explained why he entered upon gospel translating:
"The specific object in this undertaking is to impart
to the aborigines every kind of valuable information, especially instruction, through the medium, of their own language, in the gospel of God our Saviour, which, being the power of God to salvation, can, and we trust will effectually produce in their minds and manners a holy reform, lasting as eternity. The Gospel of St. Luke has undergone three revisals and waits only for the completion of the grammar to decide the orthography previous to its being sent to the press. An excellent selection of prayers, and passages from holy writ, by the Archdeacon, is also awaiting a similar correction."
In the Preface to the version prepared for Sir George Grey, held by the Free Public Library, Auckland, in New Zealand, Threlkeld presented a disappointed summation:
"Circumstances, which no human power could control, brought the Mission to a final termination on December 31st. 1841, when the mission ceased … solely from the fact that the Aborigines themselves having become all but extinct, I having actually outlived a very large majority of the Blacks, more especially of those with whom I had been associated for seventeen years."
Under such circumstances, the translation of the Gospel by Luke can only become now a work of curiosity — a record of the language of a tribe that once existed,
"This translation was effected by me with the assistance of the
intelligent Aborigine, M’Gill, whose likeness is attached.
Thrice I wrote it, and he and I went through it sentence by
sentence, and word for word, explaining to him most carefully
the meaning as we proceeded. M’Gill spoke the English
This present copy of the Gospel by Luke is the fourth rewritten revisal of the work, and, yet, it is not offered as a perfect translation; it can only now be regarded by posterity as a specimen of the language of the Aborigines of New Holland, or, as a simple monumental Tablet, on which
might be truthfully inscribed, as regards the unprofitable servant who attempted to ameliorate the pitiable condition of the Aborigines and attain knowledge of their language :
“He has done what he could.” L. E. THRELKELD, Minister.
Sydney, New South Wales,
August 15th, 1857.
Threlkeld died on 10 October 1859, and his translations probably faded from view thereafter. Until at least in 1892 when the energetic scholarly ethnologist, linguist and schoolmaster the Rev. Dr John Fraser republished much of Threlkeld’s work, together with several other language writings, in An Australian Grammar. There the Luke gospel began at page 127, to be followed by 60 pages of Awabakal language, unrelieved by a single word of English other than the running headlines at the top.
If anyone between 1892 at the present made anything of
this published gospel translation of forbidding appearance,
no trace of it is to be found on the internet.
Now in 2020, 108 years later, the meaning of every work
Jeremy Steele, Wednesday 2 December 2020