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MIRTSCHIN, Johann and Maria

Johann Mirtschin (1809-84) and his wife Maria née Gude (1814-78) arrived at Port Adelaide from Hamburg aboard the Helene in December 1851 with three children – Johann Jun., Anna and Magdalena. Two other children – Andreas and Marga – died during the voyage. The Mirtschin family, from Döhlen, eight kilometres south-east of Bautzen, were also accompanied by Maria’s brother Johann Gude and sister Anna Gude. Johann Mirtschin and Maria Gude had been married at Wilthen in 1825.

On arrival in Australia, the Mirtschins travelled to Rosenthal, but Johann gave his address as Lyndoch when he applied for naturalization as a South Australian citizen on 24 March 1852. Soon after, however, Johann and Maria decided to move to Victoria with several other Wendish families and reached Portland by sea on 7 May 1852, shortly before the other Wends arrived by wagon, having travelled overland. For some time the Mirtschins shared a house in Portland with the Huf and Albert families, while they looked for suitable land, a search which took eighteen months.

In late 1853 the Wends decided to purchase land near Mount Rouse and soon established a farming settlement named Gnadenthal. Over the next few years, Johann Mirtschin established a farm on 178 acres; Andreas Albert 156 acres; Peter Burger 156 acres; Johann Stephan 20 acres and Andreas Urban 10 acres. They were later joined by Wilhelm Bieske and Caspar Schneider.

In 1854, the Mirtschins built a ‘pug’ or ‘wattle and daub’ house on their property, similar to the nearby Burger cottage, which still stands. Later a second ‘pug’ house was built to provide extra accommodation. Johann and his son Johann Jun. are said to have visited the Ballarat goldfields for a time and found gold worth £ 105, however, their living expenses reduced this figure by £ 35. Following their return to Gnadenthal, they grew vegetables such as potatoes and onions and produced butter, eggs and bacon for sale on the goldfields or in Hamilton.

In a letter Johann wrote to his brother Andreas in Germany in 1854, he stated:

Should your fear of the war be so great that you are thinking of migrating, go nowhere else but to us, at Gnadenthal near Mount Rouse. Nowhere will you find a better spot to live. Nowhere will you find so much grass and so much water as here. I have travelled about a great deal and seen many other places, but none is as good as this. Adelaide was very dry and any water found in a well was very salty and land was scarce, while here there are many hundreds of acres for sale.

A further four children – Maria, Agnes, Andreas and Christiane – were born at Gnadenthal. A Lutheran congregation was formed there and Andreas Urban conducted lay reading services in his home between visits by Pastor Schurmann from Hochkirch. Services were also conducted in Peter Burger’s house.

Johann Mirtschin was naturalized for a second time on 29 April 1862, this time as a Victorian citizen. Johann and Maria’s surviving children all married fellow Wends or Germans – Johann Mirtschin Jun. married Ernstine Adler; Anna married Andreas Burger; Magdalena married Andreas Rentsch; Maria married Martin Lehmann; Agnes married Johann Krause; Andreas married Emma Hempel; and Christiane married August Adler, Ernstine’s brother.

Maria died on 14 May 1878, aged 63 and Johann on 23 March 1884, aged 75. Both are buried in the Gnadenthal Cemetery. Johann Mirtschin Jun., who inherited the property, built a stone house on the farm during the 1880s and the ‘pug’ houses have since been demolished.

By Robert Wuchatsch (summary based on book Mirtschin Families in Australia 1851-1990).