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The Wends in Victoria

by John Noack

A talk on “The Wends in Victoria” was presented by John Noack, President of the “Wendish Heritage Society Australia” on Saturday 8 May 2010 at 2pm at a meeting of the Wend/Sorb Society in South Australia. John dealt with four aspects of work of the Wendish Heritage Society in Victoria, namely, its origins, its aims, some of its special contributions and future prospects for this society.


Its origins were situated in the context of the Sorb Committee, which, during the early 1980s in South Australia, was promoting contacts between Sorbian/Wendish citizens in Australia and in the then named German Democratic Republic of Germany, commonly known as East Germany. These Slavic Wends/Sorbs were located in the area of Lusatia along the River Spree south-east of Berlin and it was their homeland since moving there from the Black Sea area as “Venedi” or wanderers during the 500s CE, during the final days of the once great Roman Empire. Since “Wends” was a Germanisation of “Venedi”, during last century the Lusatian Wends changed their name to “Sorbs”.

A Victorian branch was organized in about 1985 and soon changed its name to the Wendish Heritage Society Australia. Its early Committee included John Noack, Kevin Zwar, Gladys and Ed Koch, Robert Wuchatsch, Benno and Bev Gotsky and others interested in this heritage and this Committee met to plan some events and produce its first Newsletter in 1986.


The aims of this Society have included the promotion in Australia of the traditional Wendish culture and history, providing assistance to researchers engaged in compiling their family histories and organizing social events.

Special contributions

The special contributions of this Society lie in its location in Victoria and along the Eastern Coast of Australia. Hence its library, newsletter and website have an eastern Australian focus and our discovery in the Public Record Office of Victoria of over 100 ships listed on films, which brought Germans and Wends to Victoria just in the 1850s, provided one such special contribution.

The LIBRARY, which is located in the Meeting Room at the Lutheran Church, 27 Livingstone Street in Ivanhoe, Melbourne, was set up to provide relevant material for family history researchers. If families want a family book, of course they need to (1) Prepare family data, (2) Produce a manuscript with their families’ background, the ship-journey from Europe, early life in Australia and the family tree (including Personal details, Profiles and Photos) and then (3) Publish and print their Family History Book. (It only takes these six “Ps” to produce a family history!)

The Library also caters for those interested in their ancestral Wendish history, culture and language. Hence it is arranged alphabetically under the headings of the 25 most commonly used Sources of information for such genealogical and heritage projects.

These 25 SOURCES naturally include [1] Aids to research, [2] Biographies, [3] Cemetery Records, [4] Church Records, [5] Civil and [6]Court records, [7] Directories, [8] Family heirlooms, [9] Family histories, [10] Government gazettes, [11,12] History books about Europe and Australia, [13] Indexes, [14] Interviews, [15] Land records and titles, [16] Letters, [17] Local government, [18] Local histories, [19] Maps, [20] Naturalizations, [21] Newspapers, [22] Photographs, [23] Probate, [24] Shipping and [25] War service records.

This library has over 2,000 items catalogued and is growing. The titles of these items can be inspected on the Society’s website, under Publications/Library.

The speaker then highlighted and projected some relevant computer programs, mostly developed by the Society’s expert Computer and Website Manager Joel Blackburn, and which family historians and the Society’s volunteer researchers have found very useful.

Our Biographies in Source [2] include “Nielsen’s Notes”, which list the first two generations of over 200 Wendish emigrating families, along with their ship and naturalization date. Since these notes have been entered into the computer, the search menu allows the researcher to readily locate all of the names, places and ships listed by George Nielsen in his pioneering research into the world-wide Wends back in the 1970s.

The program “Cemeteries in Western Victoria” in Source [3] include over 38,000 burials at such locations as Byaduk, Edenhope, Gnadenthal, Green Lake, Hamilton South (with 977 burials), Herrnhut, Quantong, Tabor and Willaura. Surnames can be readily located from the alphabetical listing of all of the 38,000 burials or of just the particular cemetery selected. For example Green Lake located east of Horsham became the home of emigrating families who landed in Adelaide and then moved over to Victoria. A chronological listing soon reveals pioneering settlers such as Samuel Ubergang born in 1795, Johann Kohlhagen in 1804, Gottlieb Winderlich in 1812, Friedrich Gross in 1834 and others.

The Society’s country tours help to locate burial records. The March 2010 tour of the Dimboola district included a visit to a site with no buildings, where the “Kornheim” Lutheran church was once active. However, its isolated and lonely Upper Regions Cemetery and its printed records which our Library now has, soon revealed the names of early, pioneering settlers here, such as Dahlitz, Fietz, Gersch, Harders, Janetzki, Koehler, Kruger, Lange, Lehmann, Mackenzie, Menzel, Miller, Petschel ( with Anna Rosina born in 1819), Pietsch, Roy, Starick and Stephan (with Gottlieb born in 1836).

At Katyil, the Trinity Lutheran Church building has been removed but its cemetery remains and bears witness to the early settlement here of such families as Bothe, Bretag, Gaulke, Hoffmann, Krause, Kuhne, Miatke, Muhlnickel, Ortlopp, Polack, Pumpa, Schilling and Schorback.

During the 2009 Tour to Tatura, the Society obtained the surnames, death and grave-site details of about 300 World War Two Internees, now located or remembered at the German Military Cemetery at Tatura near Shepparton in Victoria. A copy has also been deposited in the Lutheran Archives.

South Australian cemeteries in the Eudunda area have been carefully photographed by local resident Robert Phyllis and his program has been made available to our Society. Searches can be achieved by sorting all the surnames on the headstones alphabetically or by listing the separate cemeteries alphabetically, with their headstones. Robert has carefully cleaned these headstones and photographed them in the most appropriate sunlight. He has included the cemeteries at Australia Plains, Bower, Carlsruhe, Dutton, Emmaeus, Emu Downs, Eudunda, Geranium Plains, Julia, Lindley, Neales Flat, Peep Hill, Peters Hill, Point Pass, Robertstown, St Kitts, Stonefeld, Sutherlands, Truro, Tarnma, Upper Bright and others. Hence, extensive and interesting Cemetery Tours can now be made just by sitting in front of a computer screen!

From Source [4], John then demonstrated the vast amount of personal details and the useful search facilities for the computer programs containing Pastor Kappler’s Baptism and Marriage Records; the Natimuk and District Marriages, which include 916 records from 1874 to 1879 compiled as a list by Ian Maroske; and South Australian Marriages, which include a list of over 25,000 Marriages of Germans and Wends. The Natimuk and South Australian marriages can also be listed chronologically, thus revealing the history accompanying these marriages. For example, the order of the arrival of the Natimuk Lutheran pastors thus emerges and behind the South Australian marriages from1842 is revealed the gradual opening up of new settlements at Klemzig, Hahndorf, Bethanien, Lobethal and so on, as well as the emergence of first, the school building often used as a church, and then the church building.

Source [20] relating to emigration applications and naturalization includes the program “Brandenburg Emigrants to Australia”. This program revealed 7,440 emigrants who applied to their Prussian Governing officials for permission to emigrate from Brandenburg in the middle of the 1800s. Particular attention was given to the 37 towns or villages and their emigrating citizens in the Cottbus District, which included the towns or villages of Burg, Dissen, Drehnow, Drewitz, Jaenschwalde, Kolkwitz, Peitz, Schoehnhoehe, Sielow, Tauer, Werben and others.

Brandenburg in the 1800s also included the Crossen District, with its 71 towns or villages, including Bielow, Crossen, Liebthal, Radnitz and Sommerfeld, as well as the Zuellichau District, with its 70 towns or villages including Birkholz, Kay, Klemzig, Langmeil, Schmoellen and Zuelichau. The Search Menu was demonstrated, which allows for the searching of the thousands of surnames and the hundreds of town and villages in this program. The reliable spelling and the grouping of names by the whole family, as well as the impact made on the settlement and church history in South Australia by emigrants from this area including Klemzig, make this very useful for those with Brandenburg ancestors.

The Library’s Source [24] was then illustrated by the Kopittke Hamburg Passenger Lists, titled “Emigrants from Hamburg to Australasia 1850-1879”. Besides providing pictures of the various types of sailing ships such as the barque, brig and schooner, it provides translations into English of the emigrants’ occupations and European home-towns. The icon “Content” lists each year from 1850 to 1879, which in turn reveal all the ships which left Hamburg in that year. The year 1858 and the ship “Dorothea” revealed as passenger 24, August Weckert, whose family arrived in Adelaide but he arrived later in Melbourne. A South Australian Weckert researcher was pleased to eventually locate August across the border in Victoria.

The 1859 ship “P.C.Kinch” caused excitement for the Towk family, when they eventually located as passengers 133 to 137 on this ship their Wendish Towk family, here spelt “Thowk”. A long article included on this list in German when translated has revealed that the stonemasons on board had been contracted in Europe to build the railway from Melbourne to Bendigo. However, they were not able to land because the trade union at the time decreed that these immigrants’ contracted working hours exceeded the eight hour day recently adopted in Victoria and there pay was below the usual Victorian pay-rate. Eventually, Melbourne citizens convinced the authorities that these emigrants were being illegally retained and so helped to get them off the ship and to cater for their needs.

The speaker also displayed copies of the Society’s bi-annual Newsletter, which features future and past event, research activities, tours and reunions, library news, items if interest from other Societies’ journals and a directory.

The Society’s website has a world-wide outreach and includes under the heading “Wends” their history, geography and customs. “News and Events” feature both past and future events. “Publications” include Articles, Book reviews, Letters, Library, Newsletters, Obituaries and Researchers. “Contact us” includes the map tracking visits to our website, links to other websites of Wendish interest and a photo gallery. This can be inspected on home and library computers.

Future Prospects

Future prospects for the Wendish Heritage Society relate to the continuing interest that people have in relation to their racial and genealogical roots. However, each new generation of people doubles their ancestry and become more removed from it. On the level of administration, all members are growing older rather than younger and some are fast reaching the age to retire. On the other hand, younger members tend to be too busy or are reluctant to serve on Committees.

The Society is keen for its Library to remain in Victoria and keeps this issue open for continuing discussion. At present, our Executive Committee is fully staffed by energetic members, including President John Noack, Vice-President and Computer/Website Manager Joel Blackburn, Secretary Glenys Wollermann, Treasurer Clay Kruger, Librarian Janice Blackburn, Journal Reviewer Paul Kruger, Researchers Kevin Zwar, Robert Wuchatsch, Betty Huf and Committee members Geoff Matuschka and Moira Nagorcka.

The speaker thanked the Wend/Sorb Society for this opportunity to present the work and contributions of the Wends in Victoria.