Prominent Wendish Researchers and Scholars
Since the early 1970s, a number of researchers have produced landmark works which have provided Australian Wends with an essential framework and perspective with which to more confidently research their family histories. Prior to 1970, few people in Australia had heard of the Wends, including their descendants, most of whom believed their ancestors had been German. Although most of Australia’s nineteenth century Wendish immigrants settled in South Australia, a considerable number also lived in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
Dr George Nielsen
In 1969/70, Dr George Nielsen of Concordia College, Illinois visited Australia on a Fulbright Research Grant and spent nine months conducting research into Wendish migration and settlement. Nielsen, a US Wend, grew up in Wendish communities in Texas. As a result of Nielsen’s visit, during which he conducted a great deal of original research in church and government archives and contacted as many Australian Wends as possible, interest in Wendish family history was aroused and slowly grew.
George Nielsen’s extensive research in the US, Australia and Germany resulted in the publication in 1977 of his long awaited book In Search of a Home: The Wends (Sorbs) on the Australian and Texas Frontier. Nielsen’s book followed Pastor Rupert Burger’s timely feature article The Coming of The Wends which appeared in the 1976 Yearbook of the Lutheran Church of Australia. In Search of a Home added greatly to awareness of Australia’s Wendish heritage by providing more information about the history and culture of Wends in Lusatia, their motives and methods of emigration from Germany and their settlements in Australia and Texas. Neilsen’s book was revised and reprinted in 1989.
An important project yet to be completed is the publication of the many Wendish emigrant letters discovered by George Nielsen and Trudla Malinkowa during the course of their research. These letters have now all been translated into English by Tom Darragh (a descendant of the Wends Andreas and Agneta Albert who settled at Gnadenthal in Western Victoria). Publication of these important and historic documents, which provide valuable eye witness accounts of Wendish emigration and settlement in Australia and the US, will enable family and other historians to obtain a much better understanding of this small but remarkable group of mid 19th Century European emigrants.
Pastor Rupert Burger was a descendant of Wends who settled at Gnadenthal in Western Victoria. His timely feature article The Coming of the Wends, which appeared in the 1976 Yearbook of the Lutheran Church of Australia, was received with great interest, as it provided Australian Wends with their first opportunity to read about Lusatian Wends and their ancestors’ migration to and settlement in Australia. His lengthy article, unattributed at the time of original publication, was revised and republished posthumously in his name in 2003.
Many Wendish family histories, usually printed by the Lutheran Publishing House in Adelaide, followed after the landmark works of Nielsen and Burger during the late 1970s and 1980s.
Other scholars to publish useful works for English speakers or assist Australian Wends over the years have been Dr Gerald Stone of Hertford College, Oxford and Professor Richard Dalitz, formerly of All Soul’s College, Oxford.
Dr Stone, the author of The Smallest Slavonic Nation: The Sorbs of Lusatia (1972) and the Upper Sorbian-English Dictionary (2002) is a specialist in Slavonic Studies, including Sorbs/Wends. Both he and Professor Dalitz, an Australian Wend, have helped many Australians with their Wendish research. Professor Dalitz was of particular assistance to Robert Wuchatsch in his research into the infamous 1849/50 voyage of the Pribislaw from Hamburg to Melbourne and Adelaide.
A number of books published in German and/or Wendish about the Wends and their emigration and settlement outside Europe have also been produced in Germany over the last twenty years. Although not directly accessible by Australian Wends, most of whom speak neither German nor Wendish, the most directly relevant information in these works has been translated into English for use by Australian Wends. In the course of research for her 1995 book Ufer Der Hoffnung (revised and republished in 1999), Mrs Trudla Malinkowa discovered many valuable old letters written by Wends who had emigrated to Australia and the US. These complemented other emigrants’ letters which had been published in Wendish newspapers in Lusatia during the 1850s.
Alfons Frencl is another Wendish scholar who has published several books of interest to Australian Wends. These include A Walk Through Lusatia (1990), Serbske Puce Do Sweta (1996), Am Horizont die Welt (2000) and Daloko prec a cyle blisko (2004). Alfons has also provided valuable assistance to many Australian Wends during their visits to Lusatia.
Since Pastor Burger’s The Coming of the Wends first appeared in print, other Australian Wends have also contributed to our knowledge of the Wendish presence in Australia. Books published in Australia include Sorbs/Wends of Lusatia by Bev Hall, John Noack and Hans-Dieter Senff (1989), From Hamburg to Hobsons Bay: German Emigration to Port Phillip (Australia Felix) 1848–51 by Tom Darragh and Robert Wuchatsch (1999) and Emigrants on the Alfred, 1848 by Tom Darragh (2003). Many Wendish family histories, usually printed by the Lutheran Publishing House in Adelaide, have also been produced since the 1970s.