Germans, Travellers, Settlers and Their Descendants in South Australia


Travellers, Settlers and Their Descendants in South Australia

Edited by Peter Monteath


During the past 175 years migrants, both male and female, have made a large contribution to South Australia’s history and culture. The German migrants’ influence on our history and culture though has been larger than life and can be seen everywhere if one cares to look for it. We all know about Hahndorf and the Barossa Valley. However there is a lot more to it. The real story is much more complex and intriguing.

The Germans were not one single group. Friedrich Gerstäcker noted during his early travels in South Australia the disunity of his countrymen. Not surprising! They came from vastly different areas and were of mixed socio-economic background. Most of the early Lutherans were farmers who had settled in Klemzig, the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley. However, there were also those who settled in other parts of the young colony until they could be found in the far west, north and south.

Whereas most Lutherans came for religious reasons, especially before the 1850s, later arrivals came for economic, political or other reasons, and not just to farm. Among them were miners and smelters who came for economic reasons as did many crafts and tradesmen. Others came from an urban environment. They were travellers, missionaries, both Lutheran and Moravians, artists, teachers, scientists or other professionals. Germans continued to migrate to South Australia even after the harassment of their countrymen during and after the two World Wars.

Their descendants and the more recent arrivals have been praised as model citizens but at times they have also been accused of divided loyalties and even treachery. Much has been written about them, including on this website. This latest book not only explores their multiple origins and experiences but most of all their contributions to the colony, and later state, of South Australia. It deals in particular with their contributions to our history, culture, science, art, botany, religion, education, law, viticulture, teaching and many other fields during the last 175 years.

Among the early Germans were several who took the welfare of Aborigines more serious than some officials who were paid to do so. Hermann Koeler’s contribution was his work on recording the Kaurna language, well before missionaries Teichelmann and Schürmann. It was Schürmann who found the English occupation of foreign countries without consideration for their occupants humanly and morally unjust. Whereas prevailing opinion considered Aborigines little better than animals, the missionaries strongly disagreed.

They were the ones to establish schools and missions in places as diverse as Adelaide, Encounter Bay, Point McLeay, Point Pearce, Killalpaninna and Kopperamanna. They hounded the Protector of Aborigines to set land aside for them. However Moorhouse believed that educating Aborigines was a waste of time and effort. Today the Aboriginal people are lucky to have Edward Meyer’s notes to help them reviving their language.

Explorer Erhard Eylmann arrived in Adelaide in February 1896 for the first of his Australian Expeditions. Aged 36 and with two Doctorates to his name he prepared himself well before setting out. After spending four weeks in the library, zoo, botanic gardens and several museums he travelled to Oodnadatta on the Ghan and further by camel, horse or walking eventually reached Darwin. By the time of his return to Adelaide in 1898 he had recorded volumes of information on the Aborigines, including those at Hermannsburg, Charlotte Waters and Palmerston.

Not only did he observe and record, he also collected artefacts. Eventually he wrote extensive reports and a number of books including two on the bird life of South Australia. On his second visit in 1900 he visited Point McLeay and Lake Killalpaninna. His third visit in 1912-13 included most of the state’s South East. His most valuable contribution was a publication in 1908 of some 500 pages about the Aborigines of South Australia. A facsimile edition was published in 1961 in America.

Contributions made to the different sciences by German migrants is well illustrated by such people as Richard Schomburgk, Ferdinand von Mueller, Behr, Wilhelmi, Hillebrand, Blandowski, Tepper, Muecke, Odewahn, Osswald, Kreusler, Schultze, Menge, Heuzenroeder, Wehl and even Foelsche. Schomburgk became director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens in 1865 and remained at that position for 25 years. Ferdinand von Mueller only resided in South Australia for six years but his encouragement and recommendations directly affected science in South Australia, even after his death in 1896.

Otto Tepper was appointed Natural History Collector at the South Australian Institute Museum where he made his mark. Gawler’s Institute Museum opened in 1857, well before that of Adelaide. Its first two directors were Germans. Several German naturalists maintained small museums in South Australia, among them Muecke, Menge, Kreusler, who was to become South Australia’s foremost female naturalist of the nineteenth century, Odewah and Wehl.

Paul Foelsche arrived at Port Adelaide in 1854 and was very interested in natural history. He joined the South Australian Police Force and served in the Northern Territory during the 1870s and 1880s. He is known today for his ethnographic work and his outstanding series of photographs depicting Aboriginal people. He was one of three founding committee members of a museum in Darwin in 1890. Another member was Maurice Holtze who later also became director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

Ulrich Hübbe arrived at Port Adelaide on 13 October 1842 and made significant contributions to the development of our legal system. He is best remembered for his introduction of the Torrens Title System. Having done some time in the newly completed Adelaide Gaol and other personal and other setbacks he was able to open a German school in Kensington and later Buchfelde. With the help of George Fife Angas he was able to publish his book on the expensive method of transferring land in 1857. His solution to this problem was soon taken up in South Australia and later all of Australia and many overseas countries.

Had it not been for the gold rushes in Victoria and New South Wales, Adelaide would have had a German hospital in Carrington Street as well. Its partly constructed building later served as a depot for excess-to-needs Irish servant girls. More successful was the Willows Hospital in the Barossa Valley funded by the Angas family and some Lutherans.

South Australian Art is also indebted to German artists. Best known among them are Alexander Schramm, Julius Schomburgk, Hans Heysen and his daughter Nora. Schramm came to South Australia in August 1849 and soon documented and engaged with the lives of indigenous Australians, even as other Europeans, in life as in art, pushed them to the margins. Another artist of note and of German descent was Kathleen Sauerbier who does not get a mention in this publication but has been dealt with a separate book by Gloria Strzelecki.

Although growing grapes and wine making was started by the English settlers, it was the Germans who perfected it. Their contribution to viticulture in South Australia is not questioned by anyone. It was in this field that women made one of the largest contributions but sadly have not previously been acknowledged. Among the most prominent were Johanne Fiedler, Sophia bis Winckel, Johanna Seppelt, Johanne Schmidt, Johanne Schrapel and Caroline Stiller.

Unfortunately, all this recognition of achievement by the German migrants, their contribution to almost any branch of knowledge but most of all their loyalty to South Australia was forgotten when the political climate in Germany changed during the 1930s and was followed by two wars. Although animosity to the German Australians was not evident in the early days this soon changed. Lutherans were made to feel not as Australians but as hostile Germans including those who were born here.

World War I caused house raids, destruction of church buildings, closure of businesses and schools, change of German place names, arrests and internment of loyal Australians of German background. These deeply traumatic series of events are still alive in family and community memory today. During the early thirties there was a good deal of sympathy for Germany among Australian Lutherans. After all it was where their church was born and many of their pastors were trained. As with Catholics whose services were held in Latin, Lutherans had theirs in German.

When the political climate in Germany deteriorated the Lutheran Immigration Aid Society was able to bring out refugees, both Lutherans and Jews. Most of these refugees settled in quickly and made their contribution to South Australia. One of them even joining the Australian armed forces. He was not the only one either. Many sons of early German migrants also joined and fought for Australia. A daughter of one German refugee would later marry Don Dunstan.

Still, there were settlers of German background who did admire Hitler and Nazism. A Lyndoch farmer was inspired in 1935 to write German words to the Song of Australia, originally written by Carl Linger. However he replaced the ‘Australia, Australia, Australia in the chorus with a threefold ‘Heil Hitler Heil’.

Some Lutheran Pastors openly sided with Hitler. Many listened to the German broadcasts with its propaganda. One farmer said he would rather shoot his sons than let them fight against Germany. They did anyway, as did six sons of Pastor Johannes Reidel. One way of solving this dilemma of fighting against the old country was for parents to buy enough land for their sons to claim exemption, which was their legal right. It was also used by Australians.

Karl Mützelfeldt arrived in South Australia in August 1934 after being ordained three months previously. He came because he considered himself a German and was very much at odds with National Socialism. Before leaving he wrote in his sister’s guest book, ‘Will Australia become a new homeland for us after our old, much loved fatherland can no longer offer us an honourable place to live?’ Twelve years later he wrote back to her that God had allowed him to find in a land of freedom not just refuge but a new homeland.

After the war it took a long time before feelings had returned about Germans to what it had been previously. The German Centenary Committee formed to celebrate 100 years of European settlement in South Australia was later converted into the South Australian German Historical Society with the aim of fostering recognition of the role of early German settlers. Matters were not helped with the outbreak of the Second World War.

Regardless of the traumatic experiences of the First World War, Australians of German background once again joined the Australian armed forces. Among them was Paul Gotthilf Pfeiffer, born in December 1916. He became an acclaimed linguist, translator, university tutor and poet. With the likes of Colin Thiele, Geoffrey Dutton and others he went to war. Whereas Thiele and Dutton came back to make their mark on the Australian literary scene, Pfeiffer died after his plane crashed.

Germans, written by 21 well-known contributors, including its editor, who are all experts in their field, covers many topics and produces much new information previously unknown or not considered. The book also shows that generalising can be dangerous. Of the many thousands of Germans who have settled in Australia and South Australia in particular, the number amongst them who sided with Hitler and Nazism was only very small. Although the book contains some 450 pages, many other German migrants and their stories could be considered who have also made a contribution of a greater or lesser extent to South Australia. Maybe we can look forward to a second volume.

Review by Nic Klaassen

Germans Edited by Peter Monteath, with footnotes, index and photographs,
is available at $34.95, from
Wakefield Press
Telephone 08 8352 4455


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