The South Australian town of Hahndorf was settled 175 years ago by 52 Lutheran families who arrived on a ship called the Zebra.
They were part of the contingent of migrants we tend to call ‘Kavel’s people’ (although strictly speaking they were not members of Kavel’s congregation), leaving Prussia to seek a country where they could worship freely in a manner befitting their consciences.
In grateful thanks to their captain, and in recognition of his attention to their needs, they named the new settlement Hahndorf
Their captain was Dirk Meinerts Hahn, a Danish captain of 34 years of age. He had just returned from an expedition in which he had been caught in the middle of a Brazilian revolution and had been presumed dead. Captain Hahn had never heard of Adelaide and was reticent to take a holdful of passengers—the offer of which ‘struck him like a cold shower’, having previously had an unpleasant experience taking passengers to America. But after meeting the captain and people of the Prince George he agreed to the contract, and was immediately struck by the religious zeal of the immigrants, particularly by their beautiful singing. This attracted large crowds each night to the harbour—a talent which we Lutherans should still be proud of!
Conditions on the ship were difficult. Originally built for cargo, the Zebra had to be suitably refitted for Hahn’s charges. The carpenter who built the sleeping berths for the passengers was less than proficient, with the top bunks collapsing onto those below. Most passengers, including Behrend, Boehm, Janetzki, Lubasch, Rillricht, Süss and Zimmermann, were quickly seasick, a misery that was not alleviated by the ship’s fare, a diet considerably richer than their usual milk and potatoes. There were eight deaths within the first month, followed by the onset of scurvy. Hahn recommended rations of sauerkraut and daily fumigation of the holds. He also slaughtered his personal pig for the passengers’ consumption.
The passengers arrived at Port Misery on 29 December, 1838, after a voyage of four months, to be greeted by a spartan, unbuilt colony. The new arrivals were at a loss as to what to do and where to go, hampered further by the language barrier. Fortunately they were able to sleep at the port, in makeshift shelters erected by the passengers of the Prince George and the Bengalee, who had arrived approximately six weeks earlier and then since moved to Klemzig, on the banks of the Torrens River.
The arrival of the Zebra generated much interest in the colony and Hahn passed on to the passengers offers of individual employment for workmen, farmhands and servant girls. Naturally however, after having emigrated for the sake of their faith, the people of the Zebra wanted to settle and work together as a community, so that they would be able to worship together.
Having great respect for the piety and demeanour of the people of the Zebra, Hahn acted far beyond his duties as captain, encouraging and assisting his charges to find productive land to support themselves and produce goods to sell in Adelaide. Agricultural produce, mostly imported from other colonies, was sparse and expensive while the Adelaide colonists were mainly merchants, interested in establishing their trades and homes.
It proved difficult to find land which was large and fertile enough to support the whole community. Kavel’s plan had been for the Zebra families to settle at Klemzig alongside the previous arrivals, but the delegates from the Zebra determined that the land there would not be sufficiently productive. Hahn encouraged his charges to search for land elsewhere, so that they could take care of their physical and their spiritual needs, saying, ‘I know you emigrated on account of your faith but believe me, the care for the soul is fruitless, if the body is left exposed to hunger and worry. God has given you a body as well as a soul. Take counsel together on whether the soil will produce something before you have consumed all your stored provisions.’
After several unsuccessful attempts to secure a lease in the Adelaide district, Hahn encountered the land-owners MacFarlane, Finniss and Dutton, who owned land near Mount Barker. He arranged to go with them to inspect a portion of their land. Determining that it was suitable for his charges he gave his opinion that ‘It seems to me that nature has squandered and lavished her gifts on Australia. I would never have believed such land to exist on the earth.’ Hahn arranged the conditions of the lease, which was signed on 28 January 1839. Some members of the Klemzig settlement, including Hoffmann, Jaensch, Kuchel and Liebelt, who had travelled on the Prince George, chose to settle with the Zebra community also.
Hahn had attempted to include in the contract transportation of the people from Adelaide to their lease-hold, but it appears that this did not eventuate. The journey up the hills to their newly leased land was arduous, with most people not having the means to hire wagons to cart their goods, and having to drag their possessions behind them.
They reached their allotted land in early March 1839. In grateful thanks to their captain, and in recognition of his attention to their needs, they named the new settlement Hahndorf.
This is Rachel Kuchel’s first Stepping Stones story in her new role as LCA Archivist.