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Wendish Wagon Wanderings

by John Noack, Helen Petschel-Walton

The 1852 Rosenthal to Hochkirch Wagon Trek Revisited

The 160th anniversary of the 1852 pioneering overland Trek from Rosedale, formerly Rosenthal and Hoffnungsthal in South Australia to Portland, Hamilton, Gnadenthal and Hochkirch in Western Victoria was celebrated between 3-6 May 2012 by retracing in cars and over four days, the original route taken by the pioneers in 1852 in their covered, horse-drawn and bullock-drawn wagons over four weeks. After intense planning and research by the organisers, on Thursday 3 May 2012, participants met at the Rosedale church to begin the trek. The congregation welcomed them with refreshments and trekkers were supplied with a folder containing about 40 pages, which included the names of the participants on the Trek, historical background information, devotions and hymns, the itinerary with interesting traveller’s notes, historical features, commemorations services and even some well-tested family recipes. This folder indicated that over 70 people had registered for the trip but more arrived who did not want to miss this tribute to the 1852 pioneering Albert, Burger, Deutscher, Huf, Hundrack, Mirtschin, Petschel and Rentsch families.

Preparations for the 1852 Trek

Prior to the Trek, these families had arrived in Australia on ships including the Heloise in 1847, the Alfred at Christmas in 1848 and the Helene in late 1851. By 1849, the Petschel and Deutscher families had bought land at Sandy Creek, which they called “Sachsenruh”, meaning Saxon Rest, and which was later changed to Rosenthal.

Some problems arose at this Rosenthal location, such as the weather being too dry, the climate too hot and the drinking water too brackish and salty, so their minds turned to reports of good land in the new Colony of Victoria. Three steps needed to be taken, namely to find better land and climate, to find a way to get there and then to move there overland with their possessions in covered wagons.
In early 1851, a scout, who was possibly Michael Deutscher, was asked to investigate land near Melbourne but his schooner went only as far as Portland. There is a story that he was told that it was not very far to walk from Portland to Melbourne! At Portland, he met Stephen Henty, who encouraged him to advise settlement around Portland.

On 25 August 1851, a scouting party began its quest for a suitable overland track for the covered wagons and live stock between Rosenthal and Portland. The scouts were probably Christoph Nuske and Carl Huf, as well as Carl Blume and Wilhelm Blandowski, who went as far as Mt Gambier. Blandowski later went to the gold-fields, while Nuske and Huf returned to Hoffnungsthal with their suggested route.
Goodbye Sachsenruh and Rosenthal.

By 26 April 1852, the Rosenthal families Deutscher, Petschel and Albert, the Hoffnungsthal family Huf and the four families Burger, Hundrack, Mirtschin and Rentsch, who had arrived on the Helene in late 1851, were ready to start their pioneering Trek to Victoria, with Carl Huf assuming the role of tour guide. Before they left, they issued a successful call to Pastor Clamour Schurmann, then working amongst the Aborigines, to be their Pastor in their new settlement. Finally 51 people departed on this 1852 Trek in a caravan which consisted of eleven canvas-covered wagons, eight of which were horse-drawn and three bullock-drawn, as well as 52 head of cattle.

The Mirtschin family sailed by ship to Portland with flour and furniture. Stormy weather and heavy seas led to the loss of some of this cargo overboard but they arrived alive at Portland on 7 May, 1852.

The 2012 Trekkers met at the site of the first church and cemetery situated on some of the Petschel land and recalled with thanks the hard work of the pioneers and their planned 1852 “Journey to Greener Pastures”. Appropriately Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd”, was read.

The 1852 overland Trek soon reached Lyndoch, which in 1851 had a small inn called the Lord Lyndoch. Today’s trekkers visited the Lyndoch Bakery, which provided kuchen and coffee.

Hufs farewell Hoffnungsthal

Nearby, Hoffnungsthal or Valley of Hope had been founded by the Huf and Nuske families, who arrived on the Heloise on 17 March 1847. They were joined by other families who were on the Gellert, which arrived in December 1847.

The booklet titled Hoffnungthal 1847-1867 and made available by researcher Anne Hausler, indicates that the land here was leased in June 1847 for 14 years and that a chapel appears in the September 1848 records of the South Australian Company. Its walls were red gum posts, its roof was thatched straw, it was 60 feet long and 30 feet wide and it had rooms and living quarters on the west end. Women sat on the south side of the church and the congregation was served by Pastor H A E Meyer.
A map indicates that about 24 families, including the Wendish settlers Dahlitz and Gormann, had built their homes at Hoffnungsthal. The Huf family, who were neighbours to the Mibus family, included Johann and Christiana Huf and their nephew and earlier scout Carl Huf. They no doubt joined in the 1852 Trek as it passed this settlement.

Of later interest is that the local Peramangk Aborigines apparently warned the settlers about “big water” but the settlers ignored these warnings about flooding. In September 1853, after 36 hours of rain, some settlers found their homes under eight feet of water. The church located on higher ground survived this flooding and a plaque now lists the pioneering settlers. Another point of interest is that the name was changed to “Karrawirra” in 1918 but was restored to Hoffnungsthal in 1975.

A Gum-tree Home

Springton, once called Black Springs, was the dairying area of the Springs, which was owned by George Fife Angus. The Herbig family moved into this area in 1855 in order to work on the dairy and they lived in a large gum tree for a while. Others from Blumberg (now Birdwood) moved into this area and in 1861, the School and Church at Friedensberg, meaning “Hill of Peace”, was built and dedicated in 1861. The School was conducted by Teacher Baumann in German and a teacher’s residence was built along the western wall.

A new church was opened in 1899 in Springton and Friedensberg became the school from 1913 until it was closed by the Government in 1916. The Teacher was Edwin Duldig who had Wendish ancestry and his wife was Frieda Georg, daughter of Pastor Dietrich Georg from Eudunda and sister of Pastor Joe Georg of Rosedale. This school became a derelict building but it was carefully restored and was opened in 1995 as an “Early German School Museum”, displaying students’ work from 1877 to 1915. Its 150th Anniversary was celebrated on 6 November 2011 and the Archivist from the Lutheran Archives presented background information relating to this historic church and school.

A Feast fit for Royalty

Murray Bridge was the venue for our evening meal catered for by the Holy Cross Lutheran Congregation. It consisted of chicken noodle soup and damper, then roast beef, roast hassle back potatoes, roast butternut pumpkin, carrots, peas and beans and finally apple and rhubarb crumble slice or apple crumble slice with cream. This was a feast fit for Royalty but there was no feasting here back in 1852, because Murray Bridge did not yet exist.

The meal was followed by a several visual presentations, including the Wends of Lusatia: their racial identity, their location, their history and their culture, customs and religion. It was pointed out that they are part of the Slavic race originally from an area north-west of the Black Sea, that they settled in Lusatia, south-east of Berlin in about 500 C.E and that they have been able to maintain their Slavic language, their occupations, costumes, customs and religion since then. Another presentation of interest was the slide show focusing on the people involved in the original trek of 1852 and in the previous scouting party of 1851.

Wellington was the 1852 Trekkers; location for the crossing of the River Murray. There was competition for punt use, because gold had been discovered by Thomas Peters on 20 July 1851 at Forest Creek in the area of present Castlemaine. Alexander Tolmer, the Commissioner of Police in South Australia, organised a gold escort, the first of which left Adelaide on 10 February 1852, to collect and bring back gold to Adelaide. Eighteen such escorts were organised and all were successful. A visit to the Courthouse Museum helped to bring these early days to life and to ponder the river crossing on the punt before there were engines by using only human muscle power.

The Indigenous Inhabitants

Everybody assembled at the old punt crossing point and recalled the earlier crossing 160 years ago. Our meditation included the long journey that lay ahead of the 1852 Trekkers through typical Australian countryside and along the Coorong. This was also the land of Australia’s original Indigenous Inhabitants, hence the reminder that during the 1851 scouting expedition, the scouts lost track of their horses on a rainy night. The Indigenous Inhabitants not only helped to locate and retrieve the horses within a short time but they also prepared a meal of fish for Blandowski, Blume, Huf and Nuske. This directed our attention to our planned meal of fish and chips on the beach at Kingston and it was a good reminder of these pioneers’ congenial early contact with Australia’s original people.

In this indigenous context, the present-day Trekkers were encouraged to visit the Raukkan Church in the Aboriginal Community. This was formerly the Point McLeay Mission, which was founded back in 1859 by the Aborigines’ Friends Association. A famous person from this mission is David Unaipon, a scientist, and inventor whose portrait, along with the Raukkan Church, is on $50 notes. Also mentioned was the Coorong Cultural Museum depicting aspects of life of the Ngarrindjeri people, including basket weaving.

The Loop Road south of Salt Creek provided an excellent experience of the uncleared and bushy Australian Countryside still in a condition similar to what it was in the 1850s. Short hikes into the dense scrub, inspections of the mounds of mallee hens and the sounds of singing birds, now lost in our concrete cities, are available here and are most rewarding, as I soon discovered. The evidence of the cutting of rock and the building of wells by the Chinese immigrants was also interesting. The meal of fish on the beach at Kingston helped to recall the way of life of the Aboriginal Australians and it completed another busy day.

The 1852 Trek moved inland after Kingston and passed near the Tantanoola Cave, with its impressive “wedding cake” formation. The 1851 exploratory party had visited Glencoe Station, which was settled in 1844 by Robert Rowland Leake and John McIntyre and leased by Robert and his brother Edward. It was named after a home-town of McIntyre in Scotland. Robert Leake was a pioneer stud master of pure Saxony sheep. He had brought over 7,000 such sheep to his station, where he used the local Tarqua Lagoon as his sheep wash. Dingoes caused a lot of damage by chasing and killing rams. The scouts stopped near the Glencoe woolshed but were not made welcome. Today, the large woolshed is being managed by the National Trust and its historic role is well illustrated on display posters. The 2012 trekkers also enjoyed an impromptu sing-a-long of shearing songs here, led by guitarists Peter Neilson and Ian McMahon.

A Very Blue Lake

The Mount Gambier traveller’s notes highlight the three lakes and the good soil in this area, including the famous Blue Lake. They also include an article in the Melbourne Argus dated 22 April 1851 by Daniel Bunce, who was a botanist. He had also been on the 1846 expedition led by Ludwig Leichhardt, whose mother was a Slavic Wend from Lusatia. Bunce visited Byng’s Inn, which had been licensed in 1847 for a drink of light table wine and he indicated that the other Germans in the area were looking for good farming land.

There were various brands of Lutheran churches in Mt Gambier, including the Evangelical Congregation of Boandik Terrace, founded in 1859 and St Martin’s in Edward Street, founded in 1860. Some of the pioneer members were J.C. and F.C. Ruwoldt, C.T and J.G. Lindner, W. Wehl, R and H Sassanowsky, J. Lange, J. Vorwerk, C.F. Sturm and others. Two of the Wendish Hundrack sisters married the two Lindner brothers and lived in Mt Gambier. St Martin’s will celebrate its 150th year on 13-14 October 2012. Pastor Kappler, who arrived in Australia on the ship Victoria in 1848 from Weissenberg in Saxony, kept in contact with many Wends in South Australia and Victoria and he kept excellent records about them. He moved to Mount Gambier as the Pastor in the early 1860s.

Portland and Hochkirch on the Grange

The four-week Trek ended at Portland on 26 May 1852. However, because land was not immediately available for purchase, accommodation and jobs were obtained in Portland, Heywood and Mt Clay.

Andreas Albert carted wood and took vegetables to the gold-fields, while some of the Burgers assisted a local surveyor at Heywood. The Deutscher and Burger families rented buildings at Mt Clay.

The “German Paddock” north of Heywood was also featured as having connections with the early settlers and a church service led by Pastor Ed Koch helped to recall this episode.

After waiting patiently for a year, finally in 26 May 1853, land became available for purchase at Grange Burn/Hamilton. The Petschel, Deutscher and Hundrack families bought land there at the land sale in Portland. Some of this land was then subdivided and also settled by the Hundrack, Rentsch, Huf and Gude families. They called their settlement “Hochkirch on the Grange” and established their cemetery locally, which is now called the “South Hamilton Cemetery”. Some of these families later formed the St Luke’s Lutheran Congregation, which is now part of the Hamilton Pastoral Museum.

Hamilton provided the location for the climax to this trek, in which a covered wagon drawn by five horses and participants in costumes from the 1800s, led a procession of cars with their Wendish Flags flying, from the swimming pool in Central Hamilton along Gray Street and Ballarat Road to the South Hamilton Cemetery. This was also the location of the earliest church building. The ceremony here was led by Colin Huf and the addresses, readings, hymns and items by the Tabor Male Choir expressed the deep gratitude of the present generation for being the recipients of a very rich pioneering heritage. This was movingly expressed by the laying of commemoration wreaths by descendants onto the graves of their visionary and determined ancestors who were in search of their new home, community and life-style.

The viewing of the exhibits at the Pastoral Museum, the inspection of Wendish visual displays of scenery and customs in Lusatia and the partaking of scrumptuous barbecued meat and salads in a cleared Pavilion at the Museum concluded a most memorable modern, interstate Trek.

Gnadenthal near Mt Rouse

Some families completed their tributes on the following day, 7 May. The month of May 1853 was the time when Pastor Schurmann arrived at Portland, together with the Stephan, Pipkorn, Urban and Gude families. By September 1853, volcanic land near Mt Rouse/Penshurst was made available at a cheap price of one pound per acre, so some of this land was purchased by the Albert, Burger, Mirtschin, Schmidt, Stephan and Urban families. They named their settlement Gnadenthal, meaning “Valley of Grace” and it is still the name used for their well-kept cemetery.

Various later Treks eastward across the border from sunny South Australia to a cooler Victoria also took place after more land became available. In 1855, eighteen more families moved with their wagons across the border and into this Hochkirch/Bukecy/Tarrington district. They were followed by many families in the 1860s and 1870s, who moved into and settled in the Wimmera District and later in the Mallee country. All of these Treks will be recalled and remembered at a Celebratory Luncheon planned for October 2012 as an extension of the commemoration of the 1852 Wagon Trek.


The participants on this Trek very soon became aware of the intense work and planning behind the scenes for such a celebratory Trek. These included research into the Trek’s historical background and some visual presentations of information; planning the itinerary with its traveller’s notes and historical features; preparing various commemoration services, devotions and hymns, planning ahead for accommodation and group meals and even making available some recipes submitted by families. The participants are pleased to express their gratitude to the following planners and researchers: Helen Petschel and her very supportive husband Bob Walton, Christine and Ian Cook, Colin and Betty Huf, Edwin and Gladys Koch, Matt and Simon Cook, Heather and Ian McMahon, Judith Petschel, Neville Huf and the Pastoral Museum at Hamilton, Joel and Janice Blackburn, Clay Kruger, John Noack, Anne Hausler at Lyndoch and Hoffnungsthal, David Herbig at Springton and also the many willing workers along the way, who helped with preparing meals, conducting informative tours of local historic sites, schools and church buildings, accommodation and various other requirements for such a Trek.

In the early 1980s, I was asked by the Albert family to translate from German the Albert letters, which Andreas wrote at Portland Bay in December, 1852. These were later published in the newspaper Serbske Nowiny on 15 March 1879 in Lusatia in Germany. It was clear that this 1852 Trek was arduous, that paths were not always apparent, that horses wandered away or were attacked by leeches as they waded in the water to have a drink and sleeping was difficult during the falling of rain. In contrast, the trek in 2012 has featured comfortable, air-conditioned cars, warm and cosy motel rooms, carefully-maintained and attractive tourist sites and smooth bitumen road.

Contribution to the Development of Australia

Despite such a modern-day trek, both the descendants and the interested persons who took part in this 2012 Trek were left in no doubt about the important contribution of these pioneers. By undertaking this very brave and arduous Trek in wagons back in 1852 from Rosenthal and Hoffnungsthal to Hamilton, Gnadenthal and Hochkirch, these pioneers revealed their concern for their personal and their family’s future well-being, as well as their willingness to work hard in their chosen occupation of farming their land. However on a much wider level, they also contributed positively to the culture of our Society in general by their responsible ways of living and acting and to the development of Australia by their productive occupations and their careful nurturing and use of their land, thus producing daily bread and warm clothes for the benefit of their fellow Australian citizens. Their place in Australia’s history is both recognised and assured.

Commemorative Teaspoons

Teaspoons commemorating the Wagon Trek are available for $6.00 each, plus postage. Contact June Winter, 595 Reservoir Rd, Mt Moriac, Vic. 3240. Tel. (03) 5266 1383.