PEPPER, NATHANIEL (b. Wimmera district, Vic, c. 1841; d. Gippsland, Vic, 7 March 1877). Aboriginal evangelist and school teacher.
Nathaniel belonged to the Gromiluk group of the Wotjoballuk tribe in the Wimmera and was one of five known children of a warrior referred to as 'a chief. In 1845 Irishman John Pepper claimed an area of Gromiluk country for his sheep run. Subsequently the chiefs surname became Pepper.
In his early teens, Nathaniel, known only as Pepper, was given a Bible by a stockman. His interest in the scriptures was aroused and he was one of the first to attend Bible classes in 1859, soon after the Moravian Missionaries, F A Hagenauer (q.v.) and F W Spieseke (q.v.) established Ebenezer Mission at Antwerp. Spieseke noted Pepper had a considerable aptitude for learning. Within six months he was the assistant teacher, at times conducting Bible and English classes alone. He held his first prayer meeting before 40 tribespeople in the Little Desert. It was not unusual for the missionaries to find him preaching to his people after dark. His older brother, Charley, was often with him. On 12 August 186(), Pepper was baptised by Spieseke and named Nathaniel. The first Ebenezer church, of slab with a shingle roof, was consecrated that day and Nathaniel told the congregation he wished to serve the Lord for the rest of his life. In 1862, Hagenauer left Ebenezer to begin a mission in Gippsland and Nathaniel accompanied his friend for many miles along the bush tracks before returning to Ebenezer. He continued to preach to his people in the tribal language as well as English.
In April 1863, Rachel Wardekan (b. c. 1845 d. 1869) left Anne and Henry Camfield's Home and School for Aborigines in Western Australia to marry Nathaniel. On 21 May 1863 they were married, but it was soon found Nathaniel had tuberculosis. Their baby, Phillip, was born in 1864 but lived only a few weeks. Nathaniel's brother, Charley, was baptised Phillip later in the same year. Nathaniel appeared to recover from his illness and he and Phillip travelled together, preaching and encouraging their people to live at the mission. Nathaniel held services for the settlers in their churches. Salaries were arranged for the Pepper brothers by the Presbyterian Church in 1865. There were times when Nathaniel was ill and Rachel cared for him, but she eventually contracted the disease. He looked after her in their cottage until she was well, then he returned to his evangelical work of love.
In 1869, Rachel died. Nathaniel was too distressed to remain at Ebenezer. He joined the Hagenauers at Ramahyuck Mission, Stratford Gippsland. As in the Wimmera, Nathaniel was highly regarded by the Aborigines and the settlers. He preached on the mission and in the country town churches. Nathaniel married Louise Arbuckle, (b. Port Albert c. 1840; d. Gippsland, 1934) a convert living at the mission. She belonged to the Bratowooloong group of the Kurnai in Gippsland. Their four children were educated at the Ramahyuck school. In 1877, Nathaniel died from tuberculosis. He was buried at Ramahyuck and his tombstone is still in the cemetery.
La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. Reports of the Central Board Appointed to Watch over the Interests of the Aborigines in the Colony of Victoria; La Trobe Collection, Further Facts Relating to the Moravian Mission, 1860-1865; Moravian Missionary Reports, Moravian Church House, London; P Pepper with T De Araugo, The Kurnai of Gippsland (Melbourne 1985); P Pepper with T De Araugo, You Are What You Make Yourself To Be (Melbourne 1989, revised edition)
TESS DE ARAUGO
Electronic Version © Southern Cross College, 2004
Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004