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Picture relating to Queensland - titled 'Duncan McNab (1820-1896)'

Duncan McNab (1820-1896)

contributed by QldPics, taken in 1820
(contact QldPics about this picture)


Duncan McNab, Catholic missionary, was born on 11 May 1820 in Argyllshire, Scotland. He was admitted a priest in Scotland in 1845 and spent 20 years in parish work. In 1867 McNab migrated to Melbourne working as a priest in Geelong, Portland and Bendigo. In September he realized his long-held dream to start a personal mission in Queensland. In Mackay he saw that the one hope for the Aboriginals was to treat them not as 'a problem'. He sought for them the right to own land and to be treated as responsible adults by law and as individuals.

He was gazetted a commissioner for Aboriginals but was unpopular with other commissioners for advocating individual homesteads rather than reserves. He quarrelled with Bishop Quinn who considered him a tool of government. In June 1878 he appealed to Rome for help but was ignored and in 1879 appealed in person to Pope Leo XIII who was induced to authorize a Jesuit mission to the Aboriginals.

After persuading the South Australian Jesuits to select the Northern Territory rather than Queensland, he turned his attentions to Western Australia. McNab became a chaplain to Aboriginal prisoners on Rottnest Island and later set up a mission at Goodenough Bay, near Derby. In August 1886 he visited Derby. In his absence the mission buildings were destroyed by fire. Old and tired McNab rode from Derby to Albany where he took ship for Melbourne. He lived in a Jesuit house at Richmond and worked as a parish priest until his death on 11 September 1896.

McNab antagonised many, however his proposals for native welfare would have saved much suffering if they had been adopted. His name is still revered in the tribal traditions of the north-west. (Information taken from: Australian dictionary of biography, v.5, 1974)

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