MATHEW, Rev. John (1849-1929)


MATHEW, Rev. John (1849-1929)
anthropologist
son of Alexander Mathew, general merchant, was born at Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1849. His father died when he was nine years old, and Mathew then went to live with his maternal grandmother at Insch and was educated at the church school there. In 1862, or a little later, he went to Queensland to live with his mother's brother, John Mortimer, on his station in the Burnett River district. His uncle, who had a good library, encouraged the boy to study, and between 1865 and 1872 Mathew was much interested in the aborigines of the Kabi and Wakka tribes whose country was close by. About 1872 he became a teacher in the Queensland education department, and in 1876 he came to Melbourne and qualified for matriculation at the university. He was, however, unable to enter on his arts course, and for some time acted as a tutor and later as a station manager. He was successful in this work, but he had long intended to enter the ministry, about 1883 began his arts course at the university, and in 1885 qualified for the B.A. and M.A. degrees with a first class, and the final honours scholarship in mental and moral philosophy. He later obtained by examination the degree of bachelor of divinity of St Andrews university. In 1889 he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church and was given his first charge at Ballan, Victoria. In the same year he was awarded a medal and prize by the Royal Society of New South Wales for an essay on the Australian aborigines. This essay was developed into Mathew's most important book, Eaglehawk and Crow a Study of the Australian Aborigines, which was published in London in 1899. Mathew was only a few months in Ballan before being called to Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne, where he had a successful ministry for 33 years. He was also chairman of the council of his old college, Ormond College, from 1910 to 1927, and was elected moderator for Victoria in 1911, and moderator general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia in 1922. He retired from his parish in that year and in 1924 the Melbourne College of Divinity gave him the degree of D.D. for his manuscript translation of the Sinaitic Syriac gospels. He took much interest in the College of Divinity and in educational matters of all kinds. He died at Melbourne on 11 March 1929. He married Wilhelmina, daughter of Mungo Scott, who survived him with four sons and one daughter.
Mathew published three volumes of verse Australian Echoes, 1902; Napoleon's Tomb, 1911; and Ballads of Bush Life and Lyrics of Cheer, 1914. His Poems do not profess to be more than simple popular verse. His really important work was in Eaglehawk and Crow, a good book of its period which may still be referred to. His Two Representative Tribes of Queensland, published in 1910, also retains its value as the work of a man who had made a close study of the origins, languages and social customs of a primitive people.
R. M. Fergus, The Presbyterian Messenger, 22 March 1929; The Argus, Melbourne, 13 March 1929; The Age, Melbourne, 13 March 1929; Preface to Eaglehawk and Crow; Introduction and Preface to Two Representative Tribes.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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