A Nieder Weisel Storyby Don Hauser
Nieder-Weisel was once one of many small, peaceful communities that became deeply troubled by the events that occurred during the mid-nineteenth century.
High taxes, religious differences, over population and the devastating crop failures in the 1840s forced many farm workers off the land and to leave their villages in search of work.
Desperation led them to consider joining the tens of thousands of mostly unemployed people from Britain, Ireland, Continental Europe and China who were attracted to the fabulous gold strikes in North America and far-off Australia.
USA or Australia ?
Following rumours that the Californian goldfields were running down, news of fresh gold strikes in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia were carried across the world in 1852.
Victoria had just become a separate British colony when hordes of immigrants descended on the rough frontier town of Melbourne. Only 17 years had passed since Melbourne, (until then occupied by the indigenous people), was first settled by the British.
As gold was extracted from the goldmining areas, Melbourne and the new towns of Ballarat and Bendigo quickly grew and flourished. Soon they became busy cosmopolitan cities with handsome buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. 50 years after the gold rush started, Victoria became a sovereign state of Australia with similar characteristics to Hessen in Germany.
The Long Voyage
In Nieder-Weisel the news of the Victorian gold rush must have caused much discussion and excitement. Those who were young, hardy and had saved enough were speculating their futures. At first a trickle of people began leaving their homes and families in Nieder-Weisel, most travelling to Hamburg or to the port of Liverpool in England. Here they could buy a passage in small and often unreliable sailing ships, and, following a perilous sea journey of often more than three months, they began to arrive in Melbourne, then better known as Port Phillip.
On arrival, they joined the crowds of speculators from around the world. They bought picks and shovels, cooking utensils and suitable clothing then trudged on foot or hitched a ride on bullock drays to the goldfields. Ballarat was then little more than a muddy tent city and could only be reached by traversing one hundred kilometres of dusty bush tracks through rugged, hilly country.
Many German farm workers and others with trade qualifications found work as miners, farm labourers, cabinet-makers, blacksmiths, storekeepers and entrepreneurs. They quickly adapted to the spoken English language. Many settled into marriage and family life.
They persevered with incredible hardships, deprivations, cold winters, floods, droughts, bushfires and the ever-present dirt and dust. They were true pioneers.
The early German settlers
The first group of immigrants from Nieder-Weisel to reach Victoria in 1852 included the carpenter Johann Hauser and his friends Jacob Krausgrill and Konrad Loh, both joiners.
It is thought that the three friends travelled to Hamburg via the newly completed railway from Frankfurt. They embarked on the 950 tonne sailing ship “Wilhelmsberg” on 17 May and arrived at Melbourne on 15 August, 1853 taking exactly 100 days. The primary purpose of their voyage was to assess the situation at the Ballarat goldfields, to report back by letter and to advise other villagers who were considering the long and very uncomfortable trip.
The correspondence from Australia helped the villagers to evaluate the risks and enabled them to make informed decisions of such a momentous and life-changing voyage.
The three friends planned to personally experience life on the goldfields, the perils, the hardships and the occasional thrills of this strange new land.
The reports that were sent back to Nieder-Weisel must have been favourably received.
The following year saw the beginning of a mass emigration from the village to Australia. About fifteen percent of the population would leave home and family during the gold-rush period in Australia. All hoped their emigration would bring good fortune and bring an end to the misery that had befallen their family and friends back home.
Those who joined in the migration from Nieder-Weisel during the mid 1850s to 1880s are listed in the panel below:-
Adami Belloff Bill Bodenroeder Boek Dern Dilges Fedd Geibel Gerlach Giehl Haub Hauser Heinz Hildebrand Hinkelmann Jung Kissler Klein Klippel Klos Knipper Koch Kohl Krausgrill Leichner Lemp Lenz Loh Maas Marx Matthaus Muller Plough Reuss Reuter Richter Riegelhuth Schimpf Schmidt Seip Studt Volk Vorbach Wetzel Wilhelmi Winter Worner Zeiss Ziegler Zimmer
NOTE:- The number of Nieder-Weisel descendants from the original 300 migrants living or have lived and worked in Australia, is estimated to be in excess of 120,000.
Of approximately 300 villagers who migrated to Victoria, many settled and prospered in Victoria. However, many returned to Nieder-Weisel – some returned better off than when they first left their homes, but many returned simply because they missed their families and were homesick.
Victoria was to become one of the richest gold provinces in the world. The wealthiest gold producing areas were the cities of Bendigo (700 tonnes), Ballarat (400 tonnes) and Castlemaine-Chewton (130 tonnes). Since the first discovery of gold in 1852, the state of Victoria has yielded about 2,500 tonnes, making up a substantial amount of all the gold ever mined throughout world history. It provided the foundation for the ultimate prosperity and population growth of the city of Melbourne, (pop. 3.75 million) which, according to international surveys, today is listed as one of the world’s most liveable cities.
Technological changes in the mining industry have provided the potential to locate new gold mines in the future.
Visit the following website for more information: www.niederweiselmemorial.com