Hahndorf was the first Australian town specifically planned for and settled by a group of non- British immigrants.
It is Australia's oldest surviving Germanic settlement.
Between March-May 1839, some two hundred people brought all their earthly belongings over the Mt Lofty ranges and laid out a 'Hufendorf' (farm village) settlement, the only one of its kind ever organised in Australia.  This plan dates back to 10th Century Europe and therefore is of historical importance to the nation.

Settlement and the Early Village of Hahndorf

Hahndorf was the first Australian town specifically planned for and settled by a group of non- British immigrants.  It is Australia's oldest surviving Germanic settlement.  Between March-May 1839, some two hundred people brought all their earthly belongings over the Mt Lofty ranges and laid out a 'Hufendorf' (farm village) settlement, the only one of its kind ever organised in Australia.  This plan dates back to 10th Century Europe and therefore is of historical importance to the nation.

Original Inhabitants

Peramangk Aborigine

The site chosen for the village was not uninhabited.  Watered by several creeks emptying into the nearby Onkaparinga River, it was a favorite summer camping place for the Peramangk Aboriginal people.  Groups of large gum trees with their centres deliberately fired to make a hollow area, provided permanent shelter whenever they were in residence.

In his diary Captain Hahn likened the area to an English park.  Contrary to expectation, there are few records of conflict between the Peramangk and the Lutherans.

Showing signs of debility from the epidemics of European diseases that decimated the Aboriginal population in 1814 and 1830-35, the survivors also lost their means of support from the land that had sustained them for thousands of years.  They are recorded as showing the settlers how to catch possums and where to find edible roots and leaves but their kindness did not prevent loss of their hunting grounds.  They moved on to Aboriginal missions set up by various church and government organisations or to less populated regions.

The historical significance of places can be forgotten when human links with the past are severed as people die or move away.  The waterhole in the creek where the Peramangk aborigines taught their children to swim still exists, somewhat polluted.  This was the place where the first group of settlers to reach Hahndorf on 3 March 1839 fell on their knees under an enormous gum tree to give thanks to God.  The first church services were held here, under the tree. Like many of the gums painted by Sir Hans Heysen, that too, is long gone.

Initial Years

Early Shelter

Although there were many deaths due to scurvy and exposure in the first year of living in rough shelters made of packing cases and canvas, the village began to prosper.

The settlers found the conditions harsh at first.  The ground had to be cleared and dug over with fork and spade.  The barley and wheat were hand sown and the ground harrowed with a forked branch fitted with wooden teeth.  The members of each household were expected to work extremely hard.  The daylight hours were spent either working in the fields, or being employed by neighbouring landowners to help repay their debts.  Every man, woman and child was expected to pull together to help establish their new home and village.  The land was used to grow produce such as fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs and butter.

The South Australian Magazine 1841-42, page 255 has left us this charming picture of the early settlement.

"I take for my picture the little village of Hhandorf (sic) ... ;  The appearance of the cottages, which are all of a very foreign air, and the neat and sprightly gardens adjoining when contrasted with the dark and sombre masses of foliage of the neighbouring woods, have an extremely picturesque effect.
Though the people themselves are of a sedate aspect, still there is around everything a certain air of lightness, cleanliness and neatness, that at once catches the attention ... In the centre of the village is the kirk or church, in which divine service is held much more frequently than in any of ours.
Scarcely a day passes but some of the people repair to the place of worship, either early in the morning or in the evening after work, for the purpose of returning thanksgiving to the supreme Ruler and Protector, in this foreign land; a truly excellent system, and in which lives one of the elements of their prosperity."

Naturally, their church was the focal point of their lives.  In 1840, the first Lutheran church was built. A mud walled building on the site of the current St Michael's Lutheran Church.  For many years life in Hahndorf centered around the church. On Sundays, services were held in the morning and evenings, and most week nights there were bible study groups.  There are currently two impressive Lutheran churches in Hahndorf. St Michael's (Balhannah Road), dedicated in 1859, which took the place of the original mud-walled building, and St Paul's (Main Street), dedicated in 1890.

Provisioning Adelaide

The fresh vegetables, butter, eggs and other produce found a ready market in Adelaide. Until the Lutherans arrival, the colony was forced to bring their food overland from the eastern states at great expense.  At midnight, the women and older girls would set out with laden baskets to walk the 36 mile round trip to Adelaide.  After selling their produce, they would buy any provisions needed such as sugar, flour, seeds or tools, and walk home again that night.  All produce had to be laboriously carried down the steep track to the city on foot, usually by the women and older girls.  The women became their own beasts of burden and carried their farm produce in baskets on their backs for sale in Adelaide.  To save shoe leather they walked barefoot along rough bush tracks that traversed the dangerous 'Tiers' where escaped convicts from the eastern states and other outlaws felled trees for a living.

The Hahndorf Pioneer Women's Trail discovered by the National Trust of South Australia in 1978, is now officially marked by the Office for Recreation and Sport.

Layout of the Village

The surveyor Herman Kook, who had been a passenger on the Zebra, was given the task of laying out the village.

Hahndorf Sub-division after 1849 (Gordon Young)Hahndorf Sub-division to 1849 (Gordon Young)From information contained in "Early German Settlements in South Australia" by Gordon Young:
There were three well-tried village forms used by the Prussians which were the street-village (Strassendorf), the long-green village (Angerdorf) and the widely used farmlet-village (Hufendorf). 
The second German village established in South Australia, Hahndorf, was laid out as a flattened U, with its base resting on the main Adelaide to Mt Barker road.  It straddled a series of small creeks whose confluence was to the north of the town's boundary, from where a small stream joined the upper Onkaparinga river.  This village was comprised of three-acre (1.22ha) house allotments around its perimeter with a scatter of smaller plots of land in its central core which had within it the Lutheran church and manse (St Michaels). The total size of of each settler's land holdings varied from 3.25 to 5.19 acres (1.32 to 2.10ha).  The early layout of Hahndorf was similar to an
Angerdorf but later development, which spread along the opposite side of the Adelaide to Mt Barker road, created a street-village or Strassendorf.
Most of the early German settlements in South Australia were laid out as farmlet-villages (

As Main Street was part of the 'Great Eastern Road', it became an important thoroughfare, and the focus for the town's commercial activity.  Most of the early shops and industries were family businesses, with many of the buildings reflecting a dual residential and commercial function.  Very soon, businesses opened such as a butcher, baker, a mill to grind flour, blacksmith etc.  At the same time, they started to build more substantial homes for their families.

Please refer to the Hahndorf Town Plan for additional information.

Village Description 1851

The 'South Australian Register' under the title 'Sketches Of The Present State Of South Australia - No. XXV', contains the following descriptive sketch of Hahndorf at the 3 March, 1851.

Entrance to Hahndorf Main Street from Mt Barker c???

" — Hahndorf is approached from a woody, or rather an enclosed region, in which were several flats of potato-growing capabilities.  About half-way from Mount Barker is a small wind flour-mill, the sails of which appeared to us suddenly among the trees.  At the hill top, near the miller's house, the wood ceases, and a fertile descent, with the sloping farms of some small settlers, succeeds.  On each side of the road were cottages of the Germans, with their peculiar thatches, which looked ponderous and substantial.  After another strip of wood is passed, the village appears with its long street straggling on the highway, but the effect is far from interesting.  Hahndorf contains more than 100 houses, as, exclusive of the main street, there are others parallel to it, and several transverse.  The houses are very various, of stone, wood, pisé, and a combination of all; but there are some neat, though rather dull-looking structures, with upper floors. The inhabitants are nearly 500, chiefly Germans - industrious, good-humoured, obliging, and, in many cases, intelligent.  We walked into the churchyard, which is behind the village, to read, as we like to do, the inscriptions on the head-stones. These are not numerous; and in the choice of Scripture text and monumental (or perhaps, stonecutters' poetry), are pretty nearly such as we find in the English country churchyards. The graves altogether are few, and some had been planted with shrubs.  One memorial only had the form of the cross, so common in all continental churchyards. The church itself is a low building, inelegant, but roomy; and requires outside repair.  To the right of this church, as we face the hills, is the parsonange of the Rev. Mr Kavel, the minister of this place, and of Langmeil, in Angas Park.  In the village street are stores and a post-office, and the usual trades, as well as a good inn, called the German Arms (a most vague appellation), kept by Ide. This is a small but comfortable house, snug and clean, exceedingly well conducted, and more quiet than these inns usually are, not being over-frequented by disorderly society; and we found, as in most of these places of public resort, that universal favourite, 'Chambers' Edinburgh Journal'.  Not far from the inn is a small steam-flour-mill. We had occasion to make enquiries in the neighbourhood, and in the person we accosted for the purpose proved to be a German; but as he could not satisfy these enquiries, he referred us to the blacksmith, who, he assured us, spoke 'fine English'.  To him we went, but his English was hardly as fine as we expected, since on coming to him, introduced by our first friend and guide, he walked up to us and said, 'Well, what is it?' What it was we told him, but he was not able to give much information.

Hahndorf is laid out on a portion of the special survey of Messrs Dutton and Finnis and the allotments are apportioned to the German settlers, on comfortable credit."


Within a few years the settlers had paid off their most pressing debts and acquired new land.  Their first church and school had been built, and several thriving local industries had been established.  J.F.W. Wittwer operated a water-mill on Cox's Creek and, when this was destroyed by fire, he worked at the windmill, built in 1842 by F.R. Nixon, on the range of hills between Hahndorf and Mount Barker on Windmill Hill.   A blacksmith's shop, a tannery, and other signs of expanding activity followed as the township grew.

Interaction between nationalities, particularly on the sports field, gradually increased and there were signs of assimilation with British culture towards the end of the 19th Century.  Hahndorf's new buildings were no longer German in style;  Brides abandoned wearing black wedding gowns for white;  Residents formed cricket and football teams to compete with other towns, but they also retained their German traditions in the Schuetzenfest (Shooting Festival), Liedertafel (Male Choir) and the brass band.

At St. Michael's Church, services continued to be held in German until well into the 20th Century when World War I and II ensured that German ancestry became a liability.  Even though they had been born in Australia many parishioners spoke English with a German accent and preferred their offspring not to marry outside the Lutheran community.

On 19 August 1885, Hahndorf became the focus for civil pride when the Main Street trees were planted.  These include the beautiful cork elms, chestnuts and plane trees which can be seen today.  Currently, there is a controlled tree re-planting program being carried out by the Mount Baker Council to replace those trees which are diseased.

Hahndorf has been a tourist centre for several decades.  By the early 1970's the former Lutheran Day School and Hahndorf Academy had become art galleries, and Wittwer's Mill, a restaurant.  These developments helped to popularize Hahndorf and marked its genesis as a tourist destination.  This process was accelerated when through traffic was diverted from Main Street to the South Eastern Freeway in 1974, highlighting the rustic tranquility of this historic German town and its potential as a byway on the tourist map.

Today, there are still many fine examples of original buildings in Hahndorf to be seen.  Many of these historic buildings have been researched since the 1960's and information regarding these can be obtained from numerous Publications regarding the History and Heritage of Hahndorf.

Please note that information for this page and other related pages obtained mainly from:
"HAHNDORF, A Journey Through the Village and its History" and "HAHNDORF: What's So Special?" by Anni Luur Fox, and "HAHNDORF AND ITS ACADEMY" by Dr F. J. H. Blaess,
Historical information from Reg Butler (local historian), including:  "HAHNDORF - Australia's Oldest Non-British Town",
plus other Publications and sources.

Please Note:  Further information regarding the History and Heritage of Hahndorf is available by 'clicking' on the ( Hahndorf ] and ( History & Heritage - Hahndorf ] tags below which will give a list of all pages similarly 'tagged'.