The Reverend James Gibson Ward was one of the first missionaries at Mapoon arriving with the Reverend J.N. Hey on 28 November 1891 to establish the new settlement.
Soon after arrival at the Port Musgrave site, Reverend Ward returned to Thursday Island for his wife who had been ill for some time, before returning to Mapoon just before Christmas. Reverend Ward and his wife then worked tirelessly, helping to establish and develop the settlement and ensure its on-going viability. However, ill health and a continued need to seek financial and other support were constant challenges faced. Eventually, in 1893, his ill health required him to travel south to seek medical assistance, at the same time seeking continued financial support for the Mapoon settlement.
Ward’s commitment to Mapoon was strong and this commitment was shared by his wife, with both working closely with Reverend Hey. Ward was always looking for ways to improve Mapoon’s prospects, including ways to increase the settlement’s level of self-sufficiency. In September and December, 1894 Ward undertook journeys along the Batavia River seeking a better site for the settlement, with finding land more suitable for agriculture being a priority. These trips were undertaken despite his on-going ill health and during the second of these expeditions, in late 1894, he developed a serious fever which subsequently caused his death. Although Ward’s time at Mapoon was relatively short, he was remembered and honoured long after his unfortunate and untimely death. The first of these memorials was the Ward Memorial Church which was dedicated in 1896.
Around this time, there was a growing need for Mapoon to have its own boat, to enable easier communication with other settlements as well as to facilitate the sourcing and transport of supplies.
In due course a lugger was obtained, with this vessel being renovated, refitted and renamed at Miller’s Yard, Breakfast Creek in Brisbane on 18 November, 1899.
In what was to be another memorial to Reverend Ward, the wife of the Minister for Lands, Mrs. J.F.G. Foxton, who had previously visited Mapoon, broke a bottle of wine over the bow of the lugger, formally renaming it the J.G. Ward, in his honour.
This photograph, taken in 1899, shows Mrs. Foxton officiating at a tree planting ceremony at Mapoon.
Brian Randall – Specialist Librarian, State Library of Queensland