George Taplin

George Taplin (1831 – 1879) missionary and teacher
By helping the Ngarrindjeri people become literate and numerate and to acquire trades George Taplin enabled them to survive and flourish briefly in European society. Today hundreds of their descendants remain in various districts of Australia; their durability can largely be attributed to Taplin. Two Christians he influenced included James Unaipon and his son David Unaipon – the man on our $50 note.

In June 1851 George Taplin was recruited for the ministry by Rev. T. Q. Stow. He lived with Stow, studying and working in the garden for his board and lodging. On 28 February 1853 at Payneham he married Martha Burnell, a servant of Stow’s who also aspired to missionary work. In October they went to Currency Creek and later to Port Elliot where in February 1854 Taplin opened a school. The Central Board of Education took it over but he remained as teacher until 1859.

In 1859 the Aborigines Friends Association appointed George Taplin as their first missionary-teacher at a salary of £200 to work in the lower Murray districts. The site he chose for a settlement on the shores of Lake Alexandrina was a traditional camping ground called Raukkan (The Ancient Way), known to Europeans as Point McLeay.

Despite his sympathy with the people and their traditions, Taplin adhered to the contemporary view that Christianity and Europeanization should be adopted and Ngarrindjeri civilization abandoned; as a result he assisted in undermining their government and social structure, further weakened traditional discipline and morale within the confederacy and provoked strong opposition from conservative tribal members. But they had been dispossessed and persecuted before his arrival, and by helping them become literate and numerate and to acquire trades he enabled them to survive and flourish briefly in European society. Today hundreds of their descendants remain in various districts of Australia; their durability can largely be attributed to Taplin.

James Unaipon
James Unaipon was baptized by the Scottish Free Church missionary James Reid as his first Christian convert. After Reid drowned in Lake Albert in July 1863, George Taplin considered training the missionary’s assistant as his own evangelist. Arriving at Raukkan, Point McLeay Mission in 1864, intending to ‘work and improve himself in reading, writing’.

Taplin’s attempts to erase traditional initiation, sorcery and burial rites faced dogged resistance from tribal elders, and Unaipon’s support was influential. The missionary allowed him to begin ‘scripture readership’ among lakeside camps, supplying him with a boat for this purpose in 1869 and paying him a wage. The results were mixed, as Taplin’s moral code was rigid and Unaipon’s privileged status was often resented. But Taplin later described him as ‘a steady Christian . . . a nucleus around which those who were impressed by divine truth would rally’. Unaipon’s marriage on 27 July 1866 to Nymbulda, a Karatindjeri clanswoman and daughter of the traditional Yaraldi leader Pullum (‘King Peter’), was the mission’s first Christian wedding. The union, a victory for Taplin, cemented James’s status in his adopted community. He and Nymbulda were to have nine children, the fourth being David Unaipon. Their surviving children all attended the mission school.

David Unaipon  (the man on Australia’s $50 note)
David Unaipon, preacher, author and inventor, was born on 28 September 1872 at the Point McLeay Mission, South Australia, fourth of nine children of James Ngunaitponi, evangelist, and his wife Nymbulda, both Yaraldi speakers from the lower Murray River region. James was the Congregational mission’s first Aboriginal convert. David attended the mission school from the age of 7.

The above image, sourced from an Australian $50 note :
Mission Church at Point McLeay, South Australia
View of mission church at Point McLeay as it was in the late 19th century. The church was built in 1869, and Point McLeay (Aboriginal name is ‘Raukkan’) was, and still is, the community where Unaipon’s people live.
Source :

The church at Point McLeay can be viewed from the street view on your copy of Google Earth.   It is located on the corner of Seymour St and Unaipon St – (on

More on the above church
Restoration of the historic church at Raukkan (Point McLeay) in South Australia, which features on the Australian $50 note, is being funded by the Indigenous Heritage Programme through a Shared Responsibility Agreement with the Raukkan community.
Source :  (this website includes an image of the church)

Raukkan, South Australia,_South_Australia


As you realise many people you meet are likely to have a picture of this church in their pocket.

The other side of the $50 note – Edith Cowan   :

Influential Australian Christians depicted on Australian notes and coins

Influential Australian aboriginal Christians
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3 thoughts on “George Taplin”

  1. Alysha, Taplin’s 20-year Journal is available on and if you check the new Index, you will find many references to William McHughes and his wife Louisa PaddySmith. Berndt & Berndt’s ‘A World That Was’ also contains detailed family trees of both of them. Between them, Taplin’s Journal and & Berndt are goldmines of information.

  2. @Laura Winslow . William McHughes is my great great grandfather and was wondering if you had more information on our family tree? My great gradfather is Walter Frederick Mchughes who married Irene Maud Wright Coad who then had my grandmother Betty Mchughes.

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