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Confusion over Saxony and Prussia

by Kevin Zwar

When the pious Lutherans built their first Churches in South Australia, they put a large bell up in their church tower. The bell would be rung vigorously for a few minutes before services to scare away the dangerous animals like elephants, lions and tigers. Then they were rung again at the end of the service so the people could go home in safety. Some congregations built tall bell towers in the Church yard so high that the giraffes couldn’t reach the bell and make it ring during the night, and scaring people. These special precautions were so effective there is not one instance of a Lutheran in South Australia losing their life to a lion or tiger, nor of any elephants ever charging a Lutheran Church during a worship service. Nor of a giraffe ringing the Church bell in the middle of the night and scaring people. So effective was the faith of these holy people!

If anyone believes such a story, they must live on the other side of the world and easily confuse South Australia with South Africa. Of course there were no casualties as Australia had no elephants, lions, tigers and giraffes. All Aussies know that.

Yet I find that some Australians can easily confuse countries and events in Europe. One can confuse the Kingdom of Saxony with the Kingdom of Prussia. Both were completely separate countries when our Wendish ancestors left for Australia. The Saxons were proud of their country and when they arrived in Australia they described themselves as Saxons – not Germans. The Prussians were just as proud of being Prussians. It had been that way for centuries.

To complicate the situation further for us Aussies, about half the Wends lived in Prussia and the other half lived in Saxony, a completely different country, under a different king, with different laws and customs and a different history.

Here are two examples:

(1) When Napoleon Bonaparte’s professional armies invaded Europe, they would live off the land and often camped in one spot for months during Winter. The Countries they invaded had to decide if they would support Napoleon’s troops or fight them.

When they came to the Kingdom of Saxony their King took sides with Napoleon and supplied troops for his battles.

On the other hand the King of Prussia [along with the Kings of Russia and Austria] combined to fight against Napoleon.

One of the great battles was centred in the Wendish village of Wurschen in Saxony. Napoleon won the battle and the name of Wurschen is still on display in large letters on the Arc de Triomphe in the centre of Paris along with Napoleon’s other great victories. The children of some of the Wends who witnessed this battle went to school at Wurschen and then emigrated to Australia. [The British called it the Battle of Bautzen but the French have always called it the Battle of Wurschen. One can read about it on Websites by searching on Google.] Thus, the Saxon Wends fought in battles against the Prussian Wends.

When Napoleon was defeated and his conquerors met at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to re-arrange the borders of Europe, more than a third of Saxony was given to Prussia as punishment for supporting Napoleon. [Can one imagine how we would feel if the East Coast of Australia, including Queensland, N S W and Victoria became part of another Country?]

One shouldn’t confuse the Wends of Saxony who came to Australia with the Wends of Prussia. The Prussians and Saxons might all have spoken German but they belonged to different Countries.

(2) When a Prussians King tried to force the Lutheran and Reformed Churches to combine in his Kingdom, the Lutheran people who opposed him were persecuted under strict laws. A few hundred left for South Australia and were the first large group of Lutherans to migrate to Australia. The King of Prussia died in 1840 and even though the persecutions ended, another group of Lutherans who had been given permission to leave, left for Australia several years later. In c.1844 the laws were repealed.

In contrast, the Kings of Saxony never persecuted the Lutherans. If your ancestors came to Australia from Saxony, you can be certain they didn’t come because of religious persecution.

Yet how often does one pick up a Family History of Australians with ancestors from Saxony and one reads the nonsense that they came because of religious persecution? This is like confusing South Australia with South Africa!

It is my estimate that less than one percent of German-speaking people who migrated to Australia in the 1800 came because of religious persecution.