Christianna Wilhelmina Auguste Henriette Petschel’s account of her experiences travelling to Australia in 1848.
This is the story of one German family of five. Father Christian Gotthelf Petschel born January 1816, his wife Anna Rosina (nee Rosler) born December 1818 and their three children, Carl Christian born December 1838, Christianna Wilhelmina Auguste Henriette born march 1840 and Christian August born January 1842.
The following narrative was written by Christianna who began the adventure at the age of eight.
Her story gives an amazing insight into the hardships and adversity that these early farming immigrants went through in order to establish themselves in a new country.
The American wild west treated these people badly as they struggled to establish themselves in that country, but it wasn’t all that different in Australia.
The name Mr Henty in Christiana’s narrative is most likely Edward Henty. One of a wealthy and influential family who had migrated from England to Western Australia and then to Tasmania and finally to Port Phillip district (later to become Victoria)
In 1855 Edward Henty was elected a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly for Normanby and was re-elected in 1859. He was defeated in 1861 and did not sit again in parliament.
He is reported to have turned the first sod in the Port Phillip district at Portland, using a plough he built himself. He was keen on the concept of farming land as well as grazing so would have been receptive to farmers joining him.
The passenger list of the Alfred on the 1848 journey can be found at
Dates, names and photos are a result of many hours of hard work by Helen Petschel who put together her families history and published it in her book. This book allowed me to fill in details that were not included in Christianna’s narrative. This story can also be found in the book.
The Petschel History
And Family Tree
Published by Helen Petschel
National Library of Australia
ISBN 1 86252 920 5
I would like to thank Helen for kindly allowing me to use information from her book.
Now for Christianna’s story
I was born on March 23rd, 1840 at Neukirch, near Bautzen, Saxony, where my parents possessed a farm.
I was their second child, having two brothers 1 older, and another younger than myself.
We were never allowed to associate with unruly children, and always had to come home straight from school.
When I was eight years old, (it was the year of the revolution, vis. 1848), father decided to emigrate to Australia, with his family and two younger brothers Grandfather, realizing that the latter two may possibly be called up for active service, urged them to accompany us.
Several other families in the surrounding district also expressed a desire to emigrate for the same reason and after a thorough discussion of the whole situation they decided to accompany us.
Father and another man were sent to Hamburg to make enquiries about passage and other arrangements for the journey.
On their return everything was finalized and enabling us to leave in August of the same year on the three masted sailing vessel named “Alfred”.
Then came the last Sunday when all the relatives assembled to bid us farewell and partake of a final cup of coffee and Euchen, Many tears were shed, as it meant parting, never to see each other again.
These happenings are still so vivid in my memory and are so impressed on my mind as if they had happened only recently.
On Monday, August 3rd, at 9am., we were conveyed to the railway station in a farm wagon, accompanied by grandfather.
In Berlin we were forced to stay the night where everywhere traces of the recent revolution could be seen and which caused us great anxiety so that we were glad to continue our journey next morning hale and hearty.
The same day at 4pm., we arrived at Hamburg, and soon found our lodgings where we stayed till the 13th of August.
Up to this time all the families kept together. We all occupied one large room, sleeping in our clothes on a floor covered with straw. It being summer I do not recollect whether we had either bedding or covering.
Naturally, for us children this was a great novelty and strange to say, none of us ventured out on the streets.
I can quite vividly remember the awful noise and smell on the streets which still makes me shudder when I think of it, however, we survived it without anyone getting ill.
Eventually when our ship was supplied with everything necessary for its long voyage the call was sounded “Embark” (eihstaigen) which we quickly obeyed.
After some waiting we were shown our cabins and mother at once prepared our beds. Our ship was taken in tow up the Elbe by a small steamer where dear old grandfather said farewell and returned to his home. The parting was very hard and sad and although grandfather repeatedly said that they would follow us to Australia next year, this however, never came to pass. He, as well as grandmother are resting in German soil until the day of resurrection.
On arising next morning all signs of Hamburg had vanished and all that was to be seen was water and a small strip of land behind us.
All at once the ship commenced to roll, which at first caused great amusement, but before long we all got seasick and had to retire to our bunks.
Personally, although I was not actually sick, I had to stay in bed for a few days, as I could not raise my head.
Quietness therefore reigned supreme as everyone was sick with exception of one family named Fleischer of which father, mother and three children were spared.
Gradually, one after the other again made their appearance on deck, when the everyday life on board began.
Now let me describe this life a little more closely so that future generations can form an idea how one travelled on sea in the middle of the last century and what hardships one had to put up with, nevertheless one was contented and thankful.
Our ship was a large one, specially fitted out for emigrants of whom there were no lees than 300.
Along the side of the “between” deck were double cabins, each of which accommodated four people, to give privacy these cabins were curtained off. On the whole “between” decks there was not a stick of furniture, travelling trunks containing the necessary clothing acted as tables. Our crockery consisted of a wooden basin, 15″ wide and 6” to 8″ high. This basin had a small ring attached so that it could be hung away, or if perchance the contents were very hot and the ship commenced to roll it could be drawn along the floor to avoid the owner being scalded.
All utensils otherwise were made of tin. Tin buckets were used for bulk tea or coffee and drinking vessels consisted of small pannikins. To this day I cannot understand how we managed with so few utensils.
Now for the food question:
Meat was distributed daily except Sunday, on this day we had pudding with dried plums (we children enjoyed this immensely). We had pickled pork and corned beef alternately on the whole voyage.
Shortly after breakfast each day a barrel of meat was opened and a call of “meat” was sounded over the whole ship. The occupants of each double cabin received a piece of meat weighing two to three pounds. This was washed in sea water, all objectionable parts having been cut off and a small round tin disc bearing the number of the cabin was fastened to each piece and handed over to the cook.
Vegetables consisted of
Monday – PEAS,
Tuesday – PEARL BARLEY.
Wednesday – SOUHKRAUT with half a POTATO for each person.
Thursday – LENTILS.
Friday – BEANS.
Saturday – RICE.
Sunday – PUDDING.
These were our mid-day meals for fully 16 weeks. Twice each week, ship biscuits, butter and sugar were distributed. For breakfast we had coffee and tea in the evening, with buttered ship biscuits, but no milk during the whole voyage.
A few remarks about the water problem.
Water was stored on deck in large barrels which had previously contained beer, wine or vinegar, etc., and which naturally gave its peculiar Flavour to our tea or coffee. When we got in the vicinity of the equator, the water became stagnant, and positively stank, just at the time when it was most required. However, adults and older children managed to survive, but all children under the age of 12 months died and were buried at sea. All washing had to be done in cold water.
The days passed quietly and without any grumbling or complaining, everyone being resigned to the inevitable. I did not notice any quarrelling or fighting on the whole voyage. Possibly the reason for this was that the captain had wisely separated the people form the different countries as much as possible, i.e., the Schlesier were in the bow of the ship, we Saxon in the centre, and those from the different cities such as Berliners and Hamburgers in the rear part of the ship.
Sunday was not observed by the captain, each section observing the day in their own way. Our family and several ethers found a secludes spot where father read a sermon.
Only on two occasions did we see land, the coast of England, and later Rio de Janeiro, where we called in for some loading. Most of the passengers went on shore, including my parents, we children stayed on board and only saw the town at a distance. At Rio de Janeiro we saw and tasted oranges for the first time in our lives.
The captain, by the name of Deeker, was a pleasant and very friendly man, he was accompanied by his brother, later we heard that both had settled down in Adelaide.
As we neared Australia, the captain gave us the choice of landing at either Adelaide or Melbourne, and we decided Adelaide, reaching that port about Christmas.
We were surprised to see how bare everything looked with only two or three small ships at anchor. At low tide this: ships leant over to such a degree that one wondered that people could walk on deck.
When our good ship “Alfred” anchored, we had to make arrangements to go ashore. Before we left we arranged to have a farewell dinner, which. consisted of fresh mutton, fresh vegetables, and fresh bread, and you have no idea how this was enjoyed by one and all partaking of stale food for four months,
The next day we decided to land but you can imagine how! Everyone had to climb down the ships rope ladder assisted by a sailor. I personally felt very scared but we all managed to get into the boat safely.
When we arrived at the pier there were no steps to ascend and we had to be hauled up about 8 to 10 feet and then we all heaved a deep sigh or relief. Now another mode of transport awaited us. A large dray drawn by oxen, on which our bedding and other belongings were packed with our four families on top of same and in this way we travelled a distance of 8 – 10 miles, to a German settlement called Klemsig.
Arriving in the dark, shortly before midnight we had no idea of our surroundings. The men had all stayed on the ship waiting to see our cases unloaded, which took a long time so that it was over a week till they turned up, and here we women and children all alone in a strange country and among strange people.
Next morning when we arose we found that we were in the middle of a paddock with high dry grass around us, The little house which we four families were to occupy consisted of two rooms.
There was a fireplace in one room, but who would think of lighting a fire there in such weather. On looking round we found a brick bake oven in which we lit a fire. We had scarcely done this when several of the neighbours rushed up and begged us to be most careful not to let the fire escape, otherwise there was a strong probability of we, they, and all our goods and chattels being burnt. This thoroughly scared our women folk who had no idea that such a thing could happen.
Accordingly we wore most careful, mother stood behind the oven with a bucket of water and poured water whenever a flame appeared, another woman doing the same at the front of the oven. After that we never ventured to light a fire in the open whilst we were there.
During all this time we women were quite alone with no men to assist us or protect us.
The Torrens River, being only 5 minutes walk from our house, supplied us with the necessary water, Therefore one of the first things we did was to see to our soiled lined which we had used on the voyage, This was easily done as the Torrens was shallow, with a nice gravel bottom, the women going into the water with bare feet. In this way the washing was done, and the wet clothes spread on the dry grass to dry. The hot sun burnt on their back and heads, but at the same time slightly warming the water. None of the women wore hats and no-one got sunstroke.
We felt very relieved when after 5 or 6 days wagons arrived and took us to Langheil, TANUNDA, a distance of about 40 miles. Father and the other men were still away seeing to the unloading or our cases.
It was P. Auricht’s father who took us to Langheil, but was unable to accommodate us. he had great difficulty in finding a house, but eventually were able to secure the newly built schoolhouse, although not completed. One room only had doors and windows, which however sufficed us we now at least had a roof over our heeds. ‘We had just settled in when our men folk arrived, now we had more courage. Mother had often shed a few tears at being left so alone amongst strangers.
On the first night of our arrival in our new home, a kind-hearted neighbour presented us with a skinned ox-head, with its eyes still in its sockets, which on mother seeing it, quite upset her and she seemed almost afraid of it. In later years she repeatedly mentioned how terrible that head with its staring eyes looked.
In this room we lived for 6 weeks and attended church services in Bethany every Sunday. Whilst there we experienced our first earthquake. Towards evening on one day we heard a distant rumbling, then the earth shook. During our sojourn in Tanunda six families from Saxony purchased some land, 8 or 20 miles away at a sale. now the work began in earnest.
First the different allotments were pegged out and building places selected. Mr. Auricht was again so kind as to take us and all our goods to our land with his two wagons, one of which was drawn by bullocks and the other by horses.
There was absolutely nothing on the place, not even a hut; but with our goods we were simply dumped down and the wagons drove off. nearby there was a creek, called sandy creak. After a general discussion, it was decided to call our settlement “Rosenthal”.
Naturally we could not live in the open, so the first thing was to build a house. father and his two brothers took axes and saws and went into the bush for building material, which was not an easy task as suitable wood was scarce. When eventually they found a suitable tree it would be felled, trimmed and sawn so that it would be as light as possible for it to be carried home on their shoulders. This was firmly rammed into the ground and they would set off to search for another suitable tree, and so on until sufficient timber was obtained. When the framework of the roof was finished the problem was how to cover it. Not so very distant there was an old settlement called “Haffnungsthal”, and all of the settlers offered father straw for the roof, if he would thrash it,
This had to be done with a flail. This kind offer was certainly worth considering so the three brothers each made themselves a flail and off they wont, leaving us again on our own.
In a few days they reckoned they had sufficient. In the meantime father. had purchased a wagon and two bullocks, so they loaded up the straw, brought it home and at once started thatching the roof, but alas, it barely covered half the roof so they had to go back and do enough thrashing to finish the roof. We at once occupied the house although it looked more like a bird cage as it was without doors and windows.
Now came the job of plugging the walls. Water was to be had not far away, so father made a sledge out of an old tree, fastened a barrel on it and harnessed our bollocks to it; in this way the water was brought to the spot,
The men then mixed the loam with their feet and when thoroughly mixed it was applied or plugged on the walls and behold – the finished house. calico was tacked to the window openings as well as to the door frames, and there stood our mansion, which consisted of two rooms.
soon after, another two roomed house was built for my bachelor uncle, who used the one room as a carpenters workshop as the other settlers had given him orders for windows, doors, and bed heads timber was obtained from native pine trees growing in the vicinity, for the sawing of which a sawpit was constructed.
Next the land had to be cleared and ploughed so that we would have our own wheat for bread for the following year. I still marvel at the great amount of work these three brothers did during the first year. Mother helped the men whenever she could, and we children assisted at times, as there was no school to attend.
A bake-oven had also to be constructed for which father used several big flat stones for the hearth, over which an arch-shaped dome of pug was built. This oven served us for the three years we lived in Rosenthal. A 60’ deep well was dug for water, but turned out unfit for use. The land had to be fenced in as well as making a compact enclosure for a garden, cow yard, pigsty, etc. and at the same time clearing more ground for cultivation,
A fairly large church was built of sundried bricks on our land, father being the mason or bricklayer and uncle the carpenter. It was surely the hand of providence that at this time we were amply supplied with sheep meat.
A nearby squatter gave up his station because the grass was damaging his sheep’s wool. Seeds of the grass penetrated the flesh of the sheep. He therefore killed all his sheep, rendering down the fat which he filled into barrels and sent to England. All meat was thrown away, except the hind legs, which sold at 6d. each. We therefore had fresh meat daily, and with our own bread, the like of which we did not have in the old country, we thoroughly enjoyed our meals. I consider all this helped to give our men the health and strength which they required for their hard work.
I must mention that the other families that left Germany with us had similar experiences. We all had to learn from experience; for instance, mother trying to bake bread in a saucepan (that was before the bake-oven). As the saucepan was narrower on top it was impossible to get the bread out, even with fathers help, and eventually had to take it out in sections. Later on we managed to procure a camp oven which was an improvement.
We purchased several goats which provided us with the necessary milk, but these were soon disposed of, as we found them to thievish causing us great worry. Then father bought two cows, but as we had no paddock for them they would stray away from the place and eventually could not he found, After several months one was found but she had learnt to crawl through every fence and got into the wheat crop. That was no good so she had to be slaughtered. Scarcely had our neighbours noticed that father understood the killing of a beast he was made slaughter man for the whole community.
During the second year of our sojourn in Rosenthal , father got ill with jaundice but soon recovered. His brother, the carpenter also got ill and had to consult a doctor. He was very despondent and thought his days were numbered but the lord was gracious and gave him back his health
Whenever a ship with new settlers arrived at Adelaide, it was customary for each householder to meet the ship with his wagon. Each settler would then bring back one or two families who later would help us to reap our harvest with sickles and as payment the respective families would be provided for. At this stage I would make a remark about our harvest and that is that for our very first crop, father managed to get a handful of wheat which was carefully sown and tended and when ripe, cut down with a pair of scissors – this provided us with seed for the following years harvest.
By meeting the ships, the migrants were made to feel at home in our midst, and we could advise and help them in different ways.
Quite a number of families came from Madgeburge. My parents and several others did not feel at home with these new settlers, so they discussed amongst themselves the idea of leaving the settlement.
There were several reasons for this, firstly. on account of the heat which made the water brackish, and secondly as regards land, which was good for ordinary cultivation, but not suitable for vegetables, so that most of the year we were without vegetables.
One of our party corresponded with a friend in Melbourne who had written that they had lovely soil for vegetables, and the heat was not so severe. We therefore decided to send a man to investigate. One night in March, we ware awakened by a “Gotthelf”, I am off to Melbourne, good—bye. Father replied, “safe journey, and god be with you, goodbye”.
then this man arrived at Port Adelaide, he found that there was no ship sailing for Melbourne. The only boat was a small single—masted schooner which was bound for Portland with a cargo of timber and was not fitted for passengers. He told him that Melbourne was not far from Portland, and he, could travel that distance overland.
Just imagine a father of five children who understood very little English, travelling in a small schooner with total strangers in the open seas for five or six days, what a risk!
But it was gods guiding hand. He landed safely in Portland, and was told there that Melbourne was a long way off either by foot or horseback. What was he to do now? He could scarcely make himself understand. Quite unexpectedly the lord led him to a squatter named Henty who understood a little German. He told his troubles to Mr. Henty and how he was on the search for good land for wheat growing, as well as vegetables, Mr. Henty got quite enthusiastic at the prospects of getting settlers who wished to cultivate the land. He explained that they had good land at Portland but no one to cultivate it. After inspecting the land more closely and seeing the luxuriant growth in the gardens he decided on the recommendation of Mr. Henty to return home by the same schooner, as he considered he had found what he was after, namely good land and mild climate. Mr. Henty told him that it was a crying shame, as they had the best land for growing wheat, and flour was imported from England, farmers is what this country needs.
When our friend returned his report caused a great sensation, Now we discussed in detail the best way to get to Portland with our belongings. We already possessed implements for cultivating the land, as well as live stock, the latter we naturally wanted to take with us. But how could this be done? We were informed that there was a great desert of 400 miles between South Australia and Portland, it was decided to send two of our party, accompanied by a Mr. Blandowski – who was a good bushman – to explore the overland routs and especially where to find water, where we could camp at night, as we intended travelling in the Autumn. In a few weeks they returned with a good report They had found a beaten track which at times was only a narrow path, by following this track we could not go wrong.
After harvest in the following year we sold our land. Part of the wheat we had gristed and sent by boat to Portland, along with some furniture and cases. The furniture and cases we never saw again but the flour arrived safely. Our party consisted of eight families, three of which had just arrived from Europe and decided to accompany us.
To provide sleeping accommodation as well as shelter from rain we built hoods over the wagons. Chaff had to he taken for horse feed also a bag of flour , on top of these was our bedding. Across the front of the wagon was the tucker bin, which served as a seat and at the rear of the wagon a coop was fastened containing the poultry.
Our herd of 52 cattle was driven by two of the party. for the conveyance of the eight families, we had eleven wagons, two of the party and father owning two wagons, eight of which were drawn by horses and three by bullocks. And so, in gods name, we started by journey to our new home, leaving Rosenthal early in May, 1852.
The journey took us 4 weeks, averaging about 20 miles per day. I as well as all the older children walked the whole distant. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip as everything seemed so romantic to me.
Immediately we stopped to camp, we children would gather wood for the fire. Every evening a big fire was lit so as to give us coals for baking bread. As soon as there were sufficient coals each mother came and raked the coals into a circle and deposited her camp oven containing the dough therein, in the circle and placed some coals on top of the lid of the oven and in about an hour’s time the bread was ready for the next day. Dough was usually prepared in the morning, kneaded again at midday and so it was ready for baking in the evening. Throughout the whole journey our meals consisted of bread and butter and tea without milk. Everybody was happy and contented and what was more important everyone was well during our journey.
The owner of one wagon had eight children of which the older ones had to sleep in the open. God blessed us with fine weather, except one night when it rained, causing those sleeping in the open many tears, as their feather beds got saturated.
However the worst was still to come. On account of the heavy roads some of the horses got knocked up and could not keep up with the other teams this caused the family many tears in their great distress. Father solved the problems. Every evening when we stopped to camp father would send his younger brother back with the bullock team to assist the unfortunate family, the bullock team was hitched on to the pole of their wagon with a chain and so the combined teams had no difficulty in bring them to the camp, and everyone was happy again. Fortunately these incidents happened when we were nearing the end of our journey and soon all discomforts were forgotten.
During the last week we passed through Mt. Gambier, which consisted of one hotel and ten small houses, each of which had one door, two windows and a chimney, but most of them were empty as the owners had gone to the diggings. All the people we saw were barefoot, as they were unable to buy boots. One thing I would like to mention is, that since our arrival in Australia, we never missed one Sunday church service. In Rosenthal before our church was built, services were held in our house. Occasionally Rev. Maier of Bethany conducted the services when all those who desired it could attend Holy Communion.
On our trip to Portland, Sunday was also observed when horses and cattle could rest and feed on the grass in the vicinity.
Old and young would sit on a stump or rock with the reader in the centre; as we had no hymn books we could not indulge in singing.
Those were lovely days and time passed quickly. On the last Sunday when horse food was getting scarce and water not very plentiful, we decided only to rest for half a day and continue travelling in the afternoon, so that we could reach our destination sooner. But what happened? We managed to find a nice camping place with plenty of feed and water, but to our horror the place was swarming with leeches, so everyone took to their wagons and retired early for the night. Usually the first thought after we rose in the morning was to see to the horses and cattle, they would usually not stray far from the camp. However, this morning there was no sign of them. Evidently the leeches had worried them so much that they looked for a better spot. After a lengthy search, we found them about midday with a cluster of leeches hanging to their noses and legs. The poor animals must have lost a lot of blood. We all considered that this; was a punishment for not observing the full Sunday the day before.
After a further two days we arrived safely in Portland. There the inhabitants had apparently never soon a Garman before, as everyone stared at us; the children following us and calling out “Germans, Germans”.
Later we managed to rent an empty house which we had no difficulty in procuring
as it was the time of the gold rush, and so many had left to try their luck at the diggings. When we were settled many children brought boxes to stand on so that they could watch us through the windows. We were fortunate to have a roof over our heads as the winter rains had set in, water was standing everywhere; we could scarcely get out of the house without getting our feet wet.
What would happen to us now?
Their objective was Heywood, but the authorities had surveyed at the township there, and the land was not available.
Mr. Henty, who had recommended the land to us, had in the meantime been elected Member of Parliament, and had taken up resident in Melbourne. The squatters did not favour farmers settling in the district. Our men enquired where land for cultivation was obtainable, and were sent in different directions, every time coming home disappointed carrying saddles. The reason of the latter was that their horses were deliberately let loose and even driven away, and only returned after a reward of £1 – £2 had been advertised for their return. Father and another of our party each lost a horse on one occasion and never saw it again.
However, when winter set in they gave up the idea of buying land until the weather was more favourable. In the meantime they were on the look-out for land to rent. Several, including father, were fortunate enough to get 60 acres situated about 20 miles form Portland, and set out with two other families to build a house.
This was a slab hut, with a stringy bark roof. As our cows had good feed the womenfolk could make a lot of butter which sold freely at 2/6 per lb. Self-sown hay sold well at £20 for a small wagon load. We resided one year on this land.
In the meantime Pastor Schumann, as well as three other families arrived with their belongings by boat from Adelaide. One day we were informed that Mr. Henty had returned from Melbourne, and on interviewing him and after discussing our situation, he advised us to go to the Grange where good land was available for farmers.
A member of our men at once proceeded to investigate, and here again they were molested by people interfering with their horses, but our men happened to notice it, and as our draught horses were not fast enough they had to abandon them. They returned overjoyed and satisfied that they had now found good land, surveyed and put up for auction. Eventually this came to pass, but before the sale a number of wealthier farmers decided to make it as difficult as possible for other farmers to settle there. They bid up to £10 per acre for the best land, which we naturally could not afford to pay, and so we had to be content with the poorer land.
Four of our men were fortunate enough to procure 80 acres each at £4.10.0 per acre, which they divided between nine of the eleven families of our party. However, everyone was content with this arrangements, as we at least had a footing now. The squatters soon realised that the land had to be cultivated if the country was to prosper.
Later we found them quite friendly, and land was seldom sold at a higher price than £1 per acre. The nearby creek was called “The Grange” and the township Hamilton. Once more we had to start on virgin soil, as at Rosenthal. This time it was not so difficult as we had gained much experience, and brought many things with us.
We had now found that we could live quite comfortably in a tent for the time being, until we had time and material to build a house. Father erected a tent in no time with a pugged chimney, and a frame covered with calico for a door. In this tent we lived for about a year, it being quite comfortable even in stormy weather. We were surrounded by squatters, the bleating of their sheep and lambs and sheep sounded in our ears day and night, so that we did not feel lonely.
The first thing was to fence in our land, to keep all stock which was usually allowed to graze anywhere until the land was taken up.
Next the land had to be cleared and prepared for cultivation. We arrived in August, and the winter was a very wet one, When the men ploughed, the water just streamed into the furrows. In spite of that we sowed oats and a little wheat. By this time, it was late in the season, and the crops did not grow higher than a foot, but the heads were nice and full. And then the problem arose how to harvest our crop, it being too short to cut with a sickle so we decided to pull it out by the roots, and tie it in bundles by means of long grass.
Now at this stage we had a very unwelcome experience. One very hot day, about midday, with a very strong wind blowing a bushfire raced down upon us. The dry grass which had grown very rank, burnt furiously. We ran to beat it out with gumtree branches and on looking we noticed our fences burning. We rushed home to save our clothes, and bedding which we threw down the cellar, Our old bachelor neighbour also brought his along, and did the same as our cellar had a pugged roof. To save our tent we intended to draw water out of a nearby well which was 20 feet deep. It was an extremely anxious time, everything happened so quickly, when low and behold a miracle happened; the wind suddenly died down, the fire was under control, and we were saved. The only loss we sustained was our fences, what was far more important, our first crop was saved, although the grass surrounding it was burnt. Our neighbours wheat crop, which was almost ready for harvesting, had the heads roasted, but otherwise it was intact.
We all looked upon this as God’s divine protection,. and the lesson we learnt from this experience was to in future burn a wide firebeak around our land. people came as far as 40 miles distant offering £20 for a load of straw when they heard of farmers settling at the Grange, this shows how the country suffered from the lack of farmers.
Our first oats brought 17/6 per bushel and wheat brought £1 per bushel. There was no flour mill in the district, so father had to cart wheat to Belfast to have it gristed to flour.
For several years dairying and poultry were our main income, we received usually 2/6 per Ld. for butter and 2/6 per dozen for eggs.
Previously I mentioned that not all our party had bean able to purchase land, but a few years later they were fortunate to purchase same in the vicinity of Penshurst. This land, however was not very good for cultivation, but splendid for dairying, the latter was therefore their main source of income, naturally each one being limited to the number of cows which could exist on his holding.
This was definitely the beginning of cultivation by German settlers in the Western District. It is indeed surprising how this uncultivated land flourished from the year 1853-1915.
The Government did their best to assist the farmers in every way regarding churches, up to the year 1875, it even went as far as to give both English and as well as German denominations one acre of land, donating 2/3rds of the cost of building a church and manse, and paid part of the minister’s stipend. This was certainly a credit to the Government.
The minister Paster Schurmann who followed us to the Grange, had for 16 years done missionary work amongst the aborigines, endeavouring to convert them from their roaming habit, to a more settled life so that they could more easily be taught the Christian faith, but it was all, in vain. For Pastor Schurmann we built a manse, two roomed, the walls being pugged, and the roof thatched, and soon after a church of similar material was also built. The congregation being small gave him a certain amount of leisure, so he started a school with six children of which I was one.
I was then 13 years old, and up to this time had only a few months schooling, so during this year I did my best to gain as much knowledge as possible, which was always my ambition.
At the end of this year I was confirmed
Words cannot express my sorrow when these happy school days were over. As mother was in poor health and subject to severs headaches, I, as the only daughter, had to assist her in the household duties, which I did, but there was a constant yearning for more knowledge as well as to serve the Lord in his kingdom, especially in the mission. This troubled me greatly, but I did not confide in anyone.
Oh how often I did shed tears at night when the rest of the family were asleep. Under this strain my spirit suffered greatly for several years, and I was repeatedly asked whether I was ill.
Later, it was on the occasion of my refusing several offers of marriage, my father discovered my heart’s desire and longing. He was pleased with my decision as he really considered that I was not strong enough for a farmer’s wife. I was well but had a weakness in my chest and arms all my life.
Here I would digress lightly to tell how my wish and yearning had to come about, Father’s Brother was a member of the Moravian Missionary Society in Saxony, which sent a small case of books and missionary tracts which interested me so very much. Some of these tracts, especially those dealing directly with the mission, sank deep into my heart and fully decided me to serve the lord in the mission field, but how could I think of leaving mother. God, in his wisdom, had other plans for me. Praise be his holy name. But to get back to my biography.
Jev. Schurmann had been recommended to us by Pastor Maier of Bethany, S.A. The letter had referred to him as being rather careless but would probably improve in time. We found this correct and also that he evidently took no trouble in preparing sermons, but otherwise he was very pleasant and good natured. For three years we had patience with him, but as he did not improve during this time, one of our elders could no longer conscientiously restrain himself. In a friendly way he drew the Pastor’s attention to this, remarking that a service should not consist of singing and praying only, but that in a sermon, conversion should be impressed on the hearers, as a person who wants to be saved must feel sure of his salvation here an earth.
That was too much for the Pastor, as he maintained that no man would ever be saved, or could be sure of his salvation. Thereupon this elder and his fellow men had a long discussion with the Pastor on this subject, but it had no effect. After this, in his sermons, he often referred to the appearance of sects and fanatics nowadays.
Naturally, everyone thought that he referred to this elder and his friends. In confirmation class, which a child of the elder attended, he warned the children to adhere to their church, and not listen to their parents. At last these elders lost all patience, and wrote to Pastor Maier, informing him of the above happenings.
This letter Paster Maier sent. to Pastor Schurmann with the remark not to worry about the contents as shortly Synod would pass a resolution forbidding any layman to criticize his minister. At the next church meeting four families resigned from the congregation amongst them father’s youngest brother, who was now married. Very soon; several other families joined them and gradually another small congregation was formed.
This latter congregation was served by a minister from Geelong, who had belonged to the Gossner mission. Father did not leave at this stage, believing that a separation was not right. still, there was no peace in Pastor Schumann’s congregation. There was a craving amongst them for the bread of life and one felt that things were not as they should be.
Upon this they searched the scriptures without coming to a clear decision. This caused a second breakaway, when the minister lost his best and most earnest members, including father, I might state that six years had elapsed between the first separation and the second breakaway. This party considered that they should have more educated opinions, and decided to invite two ministers from South Australia for this purpose, asking members of the first breakaway party to join them in the conference.
At the conference, one of the ministers spent most of the day asking the elder of the first party sharp and shrewd questions, similar to a lawyer, until the elder became quite confused. The second minister being of more earnest nature, sized up the situation correctly, but was unable to do anything about the matter.
Everyone went home sadly disappointed.
Eventually, Pastor Schurmann resigned. Thereupon the two parties of breakaways asked the two ministers who had attended to conference to send someone to fill the vacancy which they had promised to do, In the meantime, some of Pastor Schurmann’s adherents circulated a list of signatures asking him to reconsider his decision, which at once he agreed to.
After the two parties had waited a lengthy period for their request to have a minister to fill their vacancy, the two ministers were reminded of congregation. By this time quite a number of Germans had settled in different districts. Dissatisfaction prevailed everywhere. On hearing of the Hermannsburg mission, Pastor Herms of this mission was communicated with, asking him if he could send them an earnest and pious minister, and received an affirmative reply. For two years nothing further was heard, and they felt very forsaken, and were at a loss to know what to do. Eventually a letter arrived from pastor Herms, expressing his surprise at not hearing from them. In this we recognized god’s hand guiding us to untidily send a call for a Pastor.
Pastor Herms promptly sent us a minister, a widower, forty years old, with four children but what a man; During the last 12 years he had served no less than five congregation, which spoke for itself. He was very conceited but a good Lutheran in his own way.
His views were, Baptism is the new birth, whoever is baptized has everything needful for his salvation, Holy, Communion is God’s grace the church is the mother of which we all should adhere, remission of sins (the main point of Lutheran doctrine) was of no consequence.
After preaching for several months he suddenly began a series of attacks in his sermons against what he termed the proud and holy ones. When he was asked for an explanation of these attacks, he refused to listen to them, remarking that he was their Pastor, and an educated man, and as they were only laymen he would not discuss such matters with them.
After they had repeatedly tried to broach the subject, but without avail, they eventually locked the church doors on him, and his adherents felt very much hurt by this action. (The church had been built by the members and without outside assistance.)
Thereupon the Pastor wanted them to build a pugged church with a manse attached, using his study as a vestry, so that he would always have possession of the keys of the church.
This, however, was unnecessary, as he left them in less than 18 months and so these good people were taken in for the second time. The majority of them gradually returned to Schurmann’s congregation, but a few of the more serious joined our congregation father belonged to, and stayed with this small congregation, quite a number left the church altogether as they criticized everyone but themselves. However, at the approach of trouble or death most of them returned to their first Pastor who at their graveside pronounced them saved as they had returned to the mother church.
The expulsion of the minister, as stated before, had brought the little congregation much hatred and contempt. When they had recovered from these unpleasant experiences and had gained spiritually, they decided to send a call for a Minister, this time to Basel. That, request was granted, and within a year he arrived, that was February, 1865.
I would like to mention here that, the elder of this congregation Mr. Michael Deutscher, had passed away before the arrival of the new pastor, also his daughter who was a fine Christian girl. At this stage I wish to refer to a very sad experience, which I had at the bedside of this young girl,
Satan tortured her for hours at a time, when she would curse everyone and everything. Then again she would hove periods of peace in which she expressed herself, “I am positive that I am saved”. This went on day after day. My uncle and I were the only ones that could endure the strain of being at he bedside at the end. She passed away peacefully one Sunday morning while the congregation was offering up a prayer for her departing soul. When our new Pastor C. G. Hiller arrived the whole congregation which had gone through so much tribulation, was delighted. He was inducted by P. Geetner of Melbourne.
He made a very good impression on all who came in contact with him, and as the manse had still to be built my parents offered him hospitality.
Now his work as well as his worries began. His sermons were faultless but his opponents spread a report that coming from Basel, he could not be a very good Lutheran. Luckily the elders and trustees were sensible and reasonable and in whom he had faithful supporters which gave him courage to carry on and not to despair.
In the meantime the manse was being built, the government at that time contributing two thirds of the cost of the same.
The manse was built of bricks in the vicinity of the church, and when finished the pastor naturally needed a helpmate. As I felt that that was my mission, I consented to be his life’s partner, to share joy and sorrow with him.
We were scarcely married when trouble began. Fault-finding and discontent was very evident, much of which appeared to be jealously. One of the elders caused us great sorrow, trying his best to influence members against us. We felt quite relieved when he and his family left for America. During this ‘time we often noticed how Satan did his best to influence members against us, even those of a kind disposition.
This was indeed a depressing time for us, but when we knew that there is a higher hand leading us we were content. My husband had two other small congregations, so at times he would be away several days, leaving me alone with the children, at times I would accompany him when we would visit members which in Australia seems to be expected of a minister.
Not many years after members gradually left our district, as good land was available in the Wimmera District. Any man or woman could peg up to 320 acres at £1 per acre, which had to be paid for in 20 years time.
The result of this was that the congregation dwindled down: and soon my husband received a call from there, which he naturally accepted, but at the same time did not sever his connection with the Hamilton congregation which he had served for 10 years. (1875)
During this time the Lord blessed us with six children, three boys and three girls, the oldest being 8 years old, and youngest 6 months. When we moved to Murtoa In 1876 another son was born in Murtoa,
This new parish is 100 miles distant from Hamilton. The Wimmera district is principally level country, not thickly timbered, the soil very rich and devoid of stones, therefore the natural roads are extremely muddy in winter. On our arrival we found that Murtoa consisted of one pugged building, with a thatched roof, which was used as a school, church, public hall, etc. also one house which was to be our home.
Our home consisted of 4 rooms with a detached kitchen. This served our big family for a number of years.
The First task of my husband was to gather his former members, as well as others, to again form a congregation. This entailed a lot of travelling, and I was left alone with the children for weeks at a time.
Several farmers living nearby were a great help and comfort to us in these days. Eventually my husband founded 5 congregations of the Vic. Synod within a radius of 40 – 50 miles. Our congregation erected a nice big church built of wood.