Westgarthtownby Robert Wuchatsch
German and Wendish immigrants first settled at Westgarthtown near Melbourne in March 1850. Most had arrived in Australia the previous month aboard the Pribislaw, after a six-month voyage from Hamburg. They were among five million emigrants who left Germany during the nineteenth century, mainly for economic reasons, with most settling in North America. Westgarthtown’s settlers came from Mecklenburg, Saxony and Silesia.
The majority of the immigrants from Saxony were Wends, from the Bautzen area of Upper Lusatia. Wendish settlers at Westgarthtown were the Graff, Gruetzner, Rosel, Wuchatsch and Zimmer families. The Germans and Wends were assisted by William Westgarth and John Stanley Carr, who purchased Section 25, Parish of Keelbundora, a 640 acre section of unsold government land near the Merri Creek, ten miles north of Melbourne on 6 March 1850. The price was £1 per acre. This land now forms part of the suburbs of Thomastown and Lalor.
On 27 March 1850, the Argus reported that ‘the German families for whom land was purchased on the Merri Creek were now in possession and had gone to reside upon it.’ They had previously been housed at Melbourne’s Immigrant Barracks. Formal sale of the land from the Government to Westgarth and Carr took place on 22 June 1850. Legal transfer of the land to the individual Germans and Wends took place during May-June 1851. It had taken over a year for the settlers to choose their lots by ballot, raise finance to purchase the land, and be naturalised as British Subjects, enabling them to legally own their land.
Of the original 16 settlers, seven were Pribislaw passengers – Gustavus Franke, Johann Graff, Johann Maltzahn, Friedrich Winter, Johann Wuchatsch, Christian Ziebell and Johann Zimmer. Part of Zimmer’s land had been purchased on behalf of his brother-in-law, Johann Rosel. Christian Ziebell also sold small plots to his sons-in-law Heinrich Karsten and Daniel Peters. Rosel, Karsten and Peters also arrived on thePribislaw. Of the remaining Germans, Friedrich Gruenberg, Ernst Bernhard Heyne, Gottlieb Knobloch and Moritz Waehner arrived aboard the Godeffroy; Friedrich Kawerau and Ernst Gottlob Wanke on theDockenhuden; Johann Gottlob Siebel on the Emmy; and Julius Groening and Friedrich Timm aboard theAlfred.
Subsequent land purchasers at Westgarthtown included Friedrich Gruendel (Godeffroy); Jakob Gruetzner (Wappaus); Christian Kurtzmann (Emmy); and Leberecht Fiedler (Pribislaw). Still later arrivals included Georg Nebel, Johann Seeber and Johann Andreas Kreitling. Many other German families also lived and worked at Westgarthtown for a time before purchasing land elsewhere.
Johann Graff wrote as early as October 1850 that land had been reserved as a site for a Lutheran Church, school and cemetery. Each original purchaser paid £1 an acre for his land but a proportion was set aside for the Lutheran church, school and cemetery reserve, access roads and communal spring. As a result, a purchaser paying for 50 acres received only 48 acres in the final allocation. Westgarthtown’s bluestone church, which still stands, was dedicated on 17 November 1856.
Westgarthtown was not the first name for this German and Wendish settlement. Initially known as Keelbundora or the German Colony, it had by 1851 been given the name Dry Creek, which lasted for several years. When the Lutheran school opened in October 1855, it was named New Mecklenburg, but by 1856 the name Westgarthtown, in honour of William Westgarth, began to be used for the settlement and soon came to predominate. In about 1900, the name of the church was changed to Thomastown Lutheran Church, partly to avoid confusion with the area in Northcote around the Westgarth railway station.
Dairying was the main activity and continued for 120 years until the early 1970s. In 1857, Maria Kaiser, a young Wend working on Johann Zimmer’s farm, wrote home to her parents in Germany stating:
We are harvesting now and everything looks good. I am doing the kind of work which I did at home, farm work. We have eight cows, six calves and two pigs. I milk the cows twice a day, morning and evenings. The rest of the time they are out in the pasture to fend for themselves.In 1934, Albert Siebel, son of Jack and Lydia (nee Proposch) Siebel, established the Pura Dairy at Preston to retail Westgarthtown’s milk. From this small beginning, Pura Milk has now grown to be one of Australia’s largest brands.
The Lutheran Church, built in 1856, is now Australia’s second oldest Lutheran church building after Lobethal’s and the oldest to still operate as a Lutheran church. The picturesque drystone walled cemetery, first used in 1850, remains open for the burial of congregation members and descendants of the early settlers. Although the school building was demolished in the 1950s, several old bluestone farmhouses survive, including Ziebell’s Farmhouse (c.1851), Victoria’s oldest German immigrant building, and the Wuchatsch (1850s); Siebel (1860) and Graff (1873) farmhouses and numerous outbuildings.
For further details see the Friends of Westgarthtown website: www.westgarthtown.org.au