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by Agneta Stephan

Agneta Stephan née Kaiser, or Hanza Stefanowa née Khjezor in Wendish (c.1813-91) arrived in Australia aboard the Pribislaw in February 1850 with her husband, Johann. After eventually settling at Gnadenthal near Penshurst in Western Victoria, she wrote a letter in 1857 to her brother in Germany, which was published in the Bautzen Wendish newspaperSerbske Nowiny. Agneta Stephan’s letter, although incomplete, is one of the few written by a woman to have survived. For further details about Agneta and Johann Stephan, seeFrom Hamburg to Hobson’s Bay; German Emigration to Port Phillip (Australia Felix) 1848-51 by Thomas A. Darragh and Robert N. Wuchatsch (1999).
Serbske Nowiny 10 October 1857
Gnadenthal (Mount Rouse, Victoria, Australia), 6 July 1857.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!

Dear Brother,

Soon it will be eight years since we have seen one another, but I think of you every day. What concerns my husband and I. So far we are both in good health, I only have headaches sometimes. We have purchased about 20 acres of land, each acre £1 sterling or 6 Thalers 20 new Groschen. Our land is very good and we have sufficient timber and water on the property. Dear Brother. If you could see our little spot, you certainly would rejoice, because 20 paces from the house is the well, but near the house is the garden and behind it the field. In the garden we grow various fruits and melons particularly turned out well for us, which are very sweet. We also produce much barley and wheat here and we are very contented, particularly because the soil is easily cultivated and I myself have dug it over with a spade. We have not yet found such good land as here anywhere in Australia, because there is sufficient water and grass here and both are good.

Dear Brother! You will be amazed when I write to you how we have travelled around. We came, as you know, firstly to Melbourne and from there we went digging for gold in 1851 and remained there three months. I helped to wash the gold from the earth and that was 100 English miles beyond Melbourne. We collected 30 ounces of gold and sold it for £83 sterling. In May 1852, we boarded ship and travelled by sea from Melbourne to Adelaide. From there we went 30 English miles into the country, because we had friends there. However, we remained only one year, because my husband did not like it at all, as the drinking water was very salty and besides there was also very little timber and in summer there was much hot wind. In 1853 the clergyman Schirman [=Schürmann] was called from there to Greenwich [=Grange], which is now called Bukecy [=Hochkirch=Tarrington], because some German families had moved there. Because the land was highly praised and we had such a good opportunity with the clergyman Schirman, we moved a third time by sea and voyaged to Portland in five days, where we disembarked and went 80 English miles inland. In January 1854, we moved onto our own land where we are now still and do not wish to go anywhere else from here or else into the grave.

The beginning was rather difficult for us, for we had travelled rather much with our money and at the time when the gold-digging began, all was much dearer and then we had to build a house, dig the well, fence in the field and root up trees. We have worked by moonlight so many times.

Thank God, that he has helped us so far, because we have now so much field ready that we can live off it. This year we had 60 bushels of wheat (one bushel is 60 pounds) and since Christmas we have slaughtered three pigs, and we still have three in the pig sty for the coming year. We also have cattle, actually three cows and three bullocks. We do not have so much trouble with the calves, because they soon go with the cows into the meadow, but in the evening they are fetched home and locked away. In the morning a cow is milked a little and the calf gets the remaining milk and that lasts 6-8 weeks. But then we take a piece of leather into which some nails were hammered. This leather is bound onto the calf’s nose but so that the calf can eat grass and when it wants to go to the cow, it pricks it, so that she no longer allows it to come near and in such a way the calves are weaned here without any trouble. Here cattle graze in the straw themselves and there are no herdsmen, but each beast has the name of its owner branded on it, the same also for horses; only sheep have their shepherds. The next town, five hours distant from us, is called Hamilton and anyone can buy everything there.

Here the greatest cold is in July and August, however, it is never very cold here, but much rain. It freezes a little here of a night once in a while, but when the sun comes all then quickly thaws again. I have not seen snow yet. In September we plant potatoes, at Christmas it is the hottest and the beginning of January is the wheat harvest. The reason we have no draught bullocks is that we had to pay so much for the fields. But in the future it will become better.

Our greatest joy would be if you and your children would come to us, because we could all live right well from the land which we have; etc, etc.

All the best from us to your wife and children as well as to brother Andreas and all friends.

I remain your true sister,

Agneta Stephan
This letter was translated from Wendish-to-German by Ernst Schmidt, Hoyerswerda, Germany and from German-to-English by Dr Thomas A. Darragh, Melbourne.