DREDGE, James (1796-1846)

Alison Head

DREDGE, JAMES (b. 6 Oct 1796; d. at sea, 5 May 1846). Wesleyan Methodist local preacher Assistant Protector of Aborigines at Port Phillip.

Converted at the age of 19 he became a local preacher for the Wesleyan Methodists eighteen months later. On 22 Nov 1821 he married Sarah Truckle. He had an intense ambition to be a missionary to the heathen, but was unacceptable to the Wesleyan Missionary Committee, so continued working as a teacher.

In 1837, Dredge accepted the position as Assistant Protector to the Aborigines in NSW, seeing it as a call from God. Dredge, his wife and family left England in April 1838 and arrived in Port Phillip in January 1839. He immediately became involved in the small Wesleyan congregation. The continuing indecision of the government on the Protectorate caused much frustration as it was July before he with his wife and two daughters moved to the Goulburn River in the Port Phillip District to establish the protectorate station. Here he worked conscientiously looking after the interests of the Aborigines, settling their quarrels, protecting them from the white settlers and treating their wounds and sores, while at the same time trying to introduce them to God.

The conditions were basic. Both Dredge and his wife became ill. After much indecision and mental anguish he resigned from 30 June 1840. He opened a china and glassware store in Melbourne, but as he was never a good businessman, it failed. He became the school master for the Wesleyan school in September 1841. Much of his time was spent in furthering the Wesleyan cause. He still had ambitions to be a minister and was appointed as a paid local preacher to work in Geelong in May 1842. Subsequently the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Committee decided against his application to the ministry. Dredge worked assiduously in Geelong preaching, visiting, settling disputes, planning for a new chapel and arguing with the local Roman Catholic priest, but always with much soul-searching. His interest in the Aborigines continued with a number of visits to Bunting Dale Mission Station, and with a paper published in 1845. After recurring ill-health his appointment at Geelong was terminated in July 1845. He died at sea in the English Channel and was buried in London. James Dredge was a dour Methodist whose zeal to share his faith, especially to the heathen, shaped his life and influenced many in the early days of Port Phillip.

G B Minns Papers, UCA Archives Melbourne; James Dredge's Diaries, La Trobe University, Melbourne



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Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004