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The German-speaking Settlers of the Hamilton District

by John Noack and Betty Huf

On Friday 3 July 2009 at Knox Lutheran Church in south-eastern Melbourne, Western District historian Betty Huf gave a power-point presentation on the German-speaking early settlers in Victoria’s Western District.

The evening began with a German-style Eintopf meal for sixty guests, which was prepared by Patricia Kolec and her helpers. “Eintopf” refers to everything in the one pot and these ingredients included meat sausage (Kransky Wurst), pork neck (Schweinenacken), potatoes (Kartoffeln), carrots (Moehren), capsicums (Paprikaschoten), diced tomatoes (gewuerfelte Tomaten), and onions (Zwiebeln). Some of the spices (Gewuerze) added to the Eintopf meal included pepper (Pfeffer), cinnamon (Zimt), garlic (Knoblauch), caraway powder (Kuemmelpulver), sweet paprika (milde Paprika), cardamom powder (Karamonpulver) and home-made chicken stock (Huehnerbruehe).

The evening concluded with the organisers Judy Bowman and Bill Verran thanking Betty and her husband Colin for the very informative and well illustrated presentation, the caterers for preparing and serving the meal and the guests for attending. Coffee, German cake and whipped cream were then served to conclude this evening.

In between the dinner and supper, Betty Huf at the microphone and Colin Huf at the computer and projector, presented a detailed account of early settlement in the Hamilton District by Germans and Wends in the middle of the 1800s. The responses from guests to the wealth of information and photos projected onto the screen, revealed a deep interest in this topic and its excellent presentation.

Prussian and Saxon Farmers at the Grange

The early settlers in Victoria’s Western District were mainly Prussian and Saxon farmers, who arrived at Warrnambool in 1849 and Portland in 1852. Their religion being predominantly Lutheran, they soon established congregations at South Hamilton (now the Cemetery), Hochkirch/Tarrington, Gnadenthal, St Luke’s South Hamilton, Tabor, Neukirch/Byaduk and Warrayure, with occasional services at Warrnambool.

The earliest families moved to the eastern outskirts of the Grange/Hamilton where they purchased land in May 1853. Some were charter members of the Lutheran congregation, including A. Albert, P. Burger, A. and M. Deutscher, J. Gude, J. Hundrack, G. Petschel and J. Rentsch. Their photos and their original farming allotments on an early map made interesting viewing. Their first church was a small pug building with a thatched roof erected in 1854 in the church yard, which is now the “South Hamilton Lutheran Cemetery” on Chatsworth Road, South Hamilton. This also served as Pastor C.W. Schurmann’s school.

St Michael’s Hochkirch

More German Lutherans arrived in 1855, so in 1858 a larger wattle and pug church called “St Michael’s” was built at Hochkirch, followed by a bluestone church in 1863 and then by the large red-brick church, which was dedicated in 1929.

The name “Hochkirch” was derived from some of the settlers’ ancestral village in Upper Lusatia in Saxony but it was changed to Tarrington in 1918 during the First World War. “Tarring” was the ancestral hometown in England of the Henty family.

In 1859, Teacher Oscar Mueller, who was employed to provide school lessons, later in 1883 established a printery and bookshop in Hochkirch, which published “Der Lutherische Kirchenbote fuer Australien” and other church material. By the 1870s, Hochkirch had a population of 550 residents and the Hochkirch State School No 1908 was opened in 1877, with an enrolment of 45 children.

The first store was set up in the 1850s by Herman Kook and was sold to Wilhelm Noske in 1862. General Stores were also set up by Leschke and Jonas, as well as Pratt and Schurmann and the Cross Keys Hotel was open for business by 1867. Hochkirch’s first Post Master from 1864 was Oscar Mueller, who began by using his own home as the local Post Office.

The First World War impacted on Hochkirch, with a forced change of name to Tarrington, a prohibition against German language in schools and against the importation of German books, as well as a loss of Germanic/Wendish identity and pride.

However, life went on and Hochkirch’s Brass Band, which was formed in 1911, still exists and was Champion Band at the Hamilton Eisteddfod in 2008. Tennis courts and a Tennis Club emerged in the 1920s. Most early settlers grew grapes but some have since established the Hochkirch and Tarrington Wineries, producing Semillon and Pinot Noir.

Settlement at Gnadenthal, Tabor and South Hamilton

Following on from settlements at South Hamilton and Hochkirch, other Lutheran farming Communities were soon established. With land too dear in South Hamilton, some moved to Gnadenthal in the Penshurst area, including the Albert, Burger, Mirtschin, Stephan and Urban families. These were Wends who had emigrated from Lusatia south-east of Berlin and who spoke a slavic language. The letter dated 19 Sept 1854 and sent by Johann Mirtschin (Jana Mierczina) to Germany about life at Gnadenthal, was published in the Wendish language in the Wendish Newspaper “Serbske Nowiny” on 10 Feb 1855. In Australia, the Wends lost the use of this language after several generations because they could also speak German and as a result, they could join in activities and church services which used the German language.

The Burger family has carefully preserved its Wendish heritage and has taken care to maintain the family’s original 1853 cottage built by their ancestors Peter and Agnes Burger and to display various family treasures in it.

St Luke’s Lutheran Church on Ballarat Road was formed in 1860 following disagreements between some of St Michael’s members and Pastor Schurmann. Their church was dedicated on 10 March 1861 and the founding members were Michael Deutscher (on whose land their church was built), Carl Huf, W. Petschel, J.C. Schneider and P. Zieschang. Their first resident Pastor, Georg Hiller, arrived from Germany in 1865 and Teacher Traugott Grosse ran a school there from 1864 to about 1868.

Tabor settlers in 1859 formed a congregation and established a school; they then built their church in 1860. The Gnadenthal settlers joined the Tabor congregation in the 1870s.

Byaduk settlers in the late 1850s who were mainly Wends established a congregation which they called Neukirch. Early families were Bramke, Gude, Handreck, Hona, Kilo, Kosch, Kotzur, Pertzel, Pumpa, Rentsch, Salzke and Towk.

Warrayure attracted Lutheran settlers in the 1870s and many more in the 1890s. A school was established in 1893 and a congregation was formed in 1910 after the erection of a church in 1909. Some joined the Warrayure Gun Club and helped to reduce the rabbit and hare population.

Hamilton attracted some Germanic businessmen, such as Cabinetmaker Herman Naveau, Furniture Warehouse owner Wilhelm Thiel, Grange Brewery owner Carl Haferkorn and Chemist Carl Klug.

Johann Krumnow’s Herrnhut Commune

The Herrnhut Commune near Penshurst was established by Johann Friedrich Krumnow (1811-1880) in 1852 and 1,548 acres of land were selected for it in 1853. About 50 residents were part of Krumnow’s utopian Commune and this number was boosted for a few month in the late 1870s when Maria Heller brought her 70 followers from their settlement near Benalla to Herrnhut. Unfortunately for Krumnow and his Commune, he could not work with equally strong-willed Heller, the Commune was not attractive to the young people and debts created legal problems. After the death of its founder Krumnow, Frederick and Louisa (nee Rohr) Elmore administered the commune until the land was sold in 1889. Some of Heller’s followers settled in Tabor and Hochkirch.

Warrnambool’s Pioneers

In 1849, the Adler, Fritsch, Presser, Uebergang and Walther families arrived in Warrnambool. They were employed by Adolphus Goldsmith at Beaufort for almost a year before they returned to settle in the Warrnambool district.

Other families in this area in the 1850s included Dymke, Grauer, Kranz, Landmann, Tschirner and Vogt. Johann Landmann, a Carpenter who arrived on the “Wilhelmsburg”, made a model of this ship. Johann Kruger was variously a Photographer, Hotel Manager and building supplies auctioneer, with adverts in the Warrnambool Examiner on 4 Feb 1854. William Kucks was a Baker for 30 years and Theodore Stelling sold furniture.

Betty Huf concluded her presentation by stressing that the legacy of these early Germanic and Wendish settlers still lives on in Victoria’s Western District. Hamilton hosts Eventide Lutheran Homes, the congregation operates a Child-care Centre and a Kindergarten while schools are run by the Hamilton, Tarrington and Portland Lutheran parishes. Four Cemeteries are administered by nearby Lutheran congregations.

Clearly the above information, along with the many illustrations and photos, were greatly appreciated by all those who were able to attend this presentation.

The above report by John Noack has been based on Betty and Colin Huf’s power-point presentation on the above topic and has been summarised with their permission.