This year marks the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran church in New Zealand and descendants of the first German settlers are preparing to recognise the milestone with a weekend of events in October.
Family records, including old Lutheran Bibles, are being collected as part of preparations for the celebrations.
The sailing ship St Pauli from Hamburg, Germany, entered Tasman Bay, Nelson, on New Zealand’s South Island on 14 June 1843. However, passengers did not disembark until 16 June, once places had been found for them to stay. Many other German settlers arrived in later ships.
This settlement of the Nelson region and the birth of the church in New Zealand is to be commemorated at nearby Upper Moutere from 20 to 21 October.
Among the guests who plan to attend the event are the German ambassador to New Zealand, His Excellency Gerhard Thiedemann, and leaders of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) and the Lutheran Church of New Zealand (LCNZ). Organising committee Chair Jenny Briars said it was also hoped there would be representatives from the North German Mission Society, which sent four missionaries on the St Pauli.
Descendants of early German immigrants still live in Nelson, the Upper Moutere village and surrounding areas and fittingly, Jenny said, St Paul’s Lutheran Community Church had recently commissioned local man Andy Marr as its pastoral leader. ‘Andy is married to a great–great–granddaughter of Pastor Johann Heine, the first pastor to the village and who gave it the German name Sarau’, Jenny said.
St Pauli descendant Paul Bensemann of Mapua, Nelson, who is part of the organising committee, said records and Bibles associated with the early northern German churches, where most of the settlers were from, had already come to light.
‘We also have some great oral and written history showing a mixture of despair and great hope by the first arrivals’, Paul said. ‘Some cried when they saw there was nothing but little “whare” or huts on the Nelson hillside, a big let-down after their substantial northern German homes.’
A number of the early German settlers found life too difficult in Nelson and re-emigrated to Australia.
Anniversary event organisers would also like to hear from descendants of those who chose to move on.
However, passenger Pastor Johann Wohlers of the North German Mission Society also wrote of Nelson at the time as ‘a glorious sight in the falling of the dusk when the full moon rose’, and he and Pastor Heine led the arrivals to a rousing thanksgiving hymn, Nun danket alle Gott (Now thank we all our God).
For details of the Labour Day weekend events, go to Facebook or email GermanSarau175@gmail.com