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RICHTER, Johann and Maria

Johann August Richter (c. 1814-93), born at Luppa, 10 kilometres north of Bautzen, arrived in Sydney aboard the Aden on 2 January 1844 with his wife Maria (nee Mattig) and two children – Ernst and John. The Richters were one of the first Wendish family groups to migrate to Australia.

Alfons Frencl says Richter formerly owned the windmill at Rodewitz, purchased for him in 1831 by his father Johann Christian Richter, a windmill at Luppa. In 1842 he sold the mill at Rodewitz and returned to his brother at Luppa. His wife Maria’s family are also said to have been mill owners.

On 29 July 1843 Richter obtained permission from the Saxon authorities to travel to Australia as a ‘hilfsmissionar’ or auxiliary missionary. He and his family arrived in Sydney with a Gossner Mission Society party to Christianise and civilise Aborigines. The Gossner Mission Society had been established in Berlin in 1836 by Pastor Gossner. Richter’s group, which included Wilhelm Gehricke, Carl Gerler and Johann Hermann, remained in Sydney for several months while they debated whether to move to the Gossner German Mission Station established in 1838 at Zion’s Hill at Moreton Bay, or travel to New Caledonia.

They finally decided to settle at Moreton Bay and establish a second station at Humpybong, although the number of Aborigines in the Moreton Bay area had by then rapidly declined and only 200 of the original 700 remained. Richter’s group arrived at Humpy Bong in about June 1844, but soon decided to leave, following a frightening encounter with some of the Aborigines there. After first considering taking up a sheep run on the Darling Downs, the family returned to Sydney. When a third son named Samuel was born at Collingwood near Liverpool in September 1845, Richter’s occupation was given as farmer. Two further children were born at Collingwood – Maria and Eliza Sophia – although the latter died there in 1849.

Soon after relocating to Liverpool, Richter leased and worked a windmill owned by Thomas Holt. On 3 March 1845, he purchased the Collingwood Steam Flour Mill, a square brick three-storeyed building for 169 pounds. As he was not then naturalised his land was held in trust for him by Holt. On 10 September 1849, he finally applied for New South Wales citizenship. In his application, he stated he was born at Luppa near Bautzen, was 35 years old and had lived in the immediate vicinity of Liverpool for nearly five years. He was duly naturalised and on 24 October 1849 took title to the mill and 133 acres.

Richter’s Collingwood Mill stood adjacent to Thomas Holt’s home Sophienberg. Both Holt, a Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, and Richter were friends of Ludwig Leichhardt the German explorer, who was godfather to Holt’s son Frederick, born in 1846. Leichhardt, like Richter, had Wendish origins, born in Lower Lusatia to a Wendish mother, Sophie Straelow. In 1847, Leichhardt was a guest of the Richter family for over a week. Leichhardt later disappeared without trace in 1848 during his second attempt to cross the Australian continent from east to west.

Carl Traugott Hoehne, who visited Richter in late 1851 or early 1852, commented that he was in good circumstances, having purchased his steam mill cheaply, although he and his family had to work “very hard like beasts of burden” on account of their debts and could not offer him employment. Richter on the other hand, in a letter to Germany, wrote that “Hoehne was not fit for employment.”

On 14 September 1853 Richter sold the Collingwood Mill and an adjoining 33 acres to James Henry Atkinson for 1,650 pounds. In 1854, he and his eldest son Ernst travelled on foot to the Victorian goldfields, where they stayed several months. Their party of four earned 160 pounds for three months work on the Ovens, but found only 2½ ounces of gold in 10 weeks on the Buckland River. After a brief visit to the Tarrangower Diggings, the Richters returned to Sydney by steamer from Melbourne.

On 16 January 1855 Richter sold a further 27 acres to Thomas Ashcroft for 650 pounds and 71 acres to John Donnelly for 388 pounds. About the same time he purchased a half share in the 22,000 Arthursleigh Estate near Marulan from Holt. Although wool and wheat prices were then favourable, the terms of the partnership proved unprofitable, so he eventually resold his share to Holt.

In November 1857, following an altercation with a shepherd at Arthursleigh, Richter disappeared for several years, apparently under the mistaken impression he had killed the man. On hearing the man had not died, he returned from Europe and rejoined his family at Berrima, where they then lived. Another story has him visiting South America to purchase alpacas and llamas.

In either late 1862 or early 1863, after news of the discovery of gold at Dunstan and Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown reached Sydney, Richter moved the family to New Zealand. When naturalized there on 8 January 1863, his occupation was again given as miller. His sons Ernst and John, naturalised the same day, gave their occupations as carpenter. Maria was also naturalised that day.

In 1884, Richter was recorded as the owner of 10 acres at Waikiwi near Invercargill, valued at 1,100 pounds. His youngest son Samuel was recorded as a fellmonger, who also owned 10 acres at Waikiwi, valued at 420 pounds.

Maria Richter died at Waikiwi on 24 January 1888 aged 74. Richter died at Waikiwi on 16 October 1893 aged 79. His occupation was listed as gardener. He was buried with Maria at St John’s Cemetery, Waikiwi. His obituary in the Southland News contains considerable detail about his very interesting life.

Educated at Berlin University where he studied for 12 months in the Anatomical and Physiological museums. He … began religious work in Queensland. Changing his views on doctrinal points, especially in regard to the immortality of the soul, and, finding that he could no longer consistently labour among his co-workers, he resigned and left for Sydney … 30 years ago Mr Richter came to Invercargill, afterwards taking up land at Waikiwi, where he has resided ever since. Here he established a very fine orchard. As a linguist Mr Richter had few, if any, compeers in this part of the world, having mastered no less than 11 different languages – English, Greek, Hebrew, French, Latin, German, Queensland aborigine, Slavonic, Servian, Spanish, and Italian. He translated the New Testament while at Waikiwi, and though of a very retiring disposition loved the arena of controversy.

Richter had two books on religion published while living in New Zealand. The first was Evolution and Immortality (1876) and the second The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Revised and Corrected from Copies of the Sinaitic, Vatican, Alexandrian, and Other Old Copies of the Original Greek, with an Apology for Bible Truths and Exposition of Men’s Dogmas (1877).

Richter’s eldest son, Ernst, also led a very interesting life. He was a goldminer for many years; an explorer with a lake in New Zealand and caves in New South Wales named after him; and a carpenter, inventor, sawmiller, poet and writer. He married in New Zealand in 1878, but returned to New South Wales in 1881 and died in Sydney in 1913, aged 73. All other members of the family are believed to have remained in New Zealand.

Source: From Hamburg to Hobsons Bay (1999)