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Nieder-Weisel Plaque for Victorian Goldfields

by Kevin Zwar

The largest number of people to emigrate to Australia from any town in what is now Germany came to Victoria from Nieder Weisel in the 1800’s, a Lutheran village in the Country called Hesse. The village had 2,300 inhabitants in the 1800’s, until over a thousand made their way to Victoria, mainly in the gold rush years.

Nieder Weisel had been mainly a fabric producing cottage industry village for ages. Now the English production of steam engines and big factories put the cottage industries out of business. In desperate efforts to survive some of the Nieder Weisel folk went to England to work in the linen producing factories. To avoid the costs of looking after and feeding the poor families in Nieder Weisel, the local government refused any young couples a licence to marry unless they were financially well off! So couples naturally had children anyway, and poverty became worse.

When news of the gold rushes came, those who had gone to England headed for Victoria, and were soon joined by many relatives and friends from Nieder Weisel. Many of the Nieder Weisel folk made their way to England to catch 37 different ships to Melbourne in the 1850’s. Others left on eight different ships from Hamburg. From Melbourne they walked to the goldfields, where they suffered difficulties and tragedies trying to survive and buy land. For example, when Phillip Hildebrand returned home from working away and met up with his wife Margaret, who was pregnant, he learnt she had buried their daughter Ethel, her younger sister Lotta and their brother Philip during an epidemic of diphtheria. About a quarter of those who went to Australia returned to Nieder Weisel, a few as wealthy people.

In 2010 the Lutheran Pastor in Nieder Weisel dedicated a plaque in the Lutheran Church grounds in Germany in memory of those who had gone to Australia in the 1800’s. This was due to the work of Kevin Williams in Australia who had researched and written up the history of each person and family in both Victoria and in Nieder Weisel. After his death his work was downloaded to the internet by the Hauser family and you can visit it at The Nieder-Weisel Story

A number of Australians went to Nieder Weisel for the unveiling of the plaque in 2010 and to visit the village of their ancestors.

The descendants in Australia had never met up. Don Hauser was the energetic leader who thoroughly organised the first reunion of Nieder Weisel folk in Australia. In a weekend of reunions and many events including a Dinner and a Luncheon at Ballarat and Smythesdale on 19th and 20th January, nearly 300 folk met up for their first reunion. About 20 folk joined in from Nieder Weisel in Germany.

A focal point was the unveiling of a huge bronze plaque identical to the one in 2010 in Germany – except this one is in English – and Pastor Kevin Zwar, a Lutheran Pastor, made the dedication with a blessing in the same words – but this time in English – as used in the dedication in Germany in 2010:

“May this commemorative plaque keep alive our memories of those who were forced by hardship to leave their homes in search of a better future in a distant land.
May this commemorative plaque be a sign of the bond between the people here in Australia and those in faraway Nieder-Weisel.
May this bond nurture responsibility for one another and interest in each other.
May God’s Spirit continue to breathe a new life of love and peace between people.
May peace grow between nations, as people of different cultures come to meet and understand each other.
May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, abide with us today and for evermore.”

You can view the Memorial newsletter by clicking on this link: Nieder-Weisel Newsletter October 2012