Adelaide Hills - Towns, People, and Things We Ought to Know

Source:  SA History Newspaper Articles

The reader is advised that these "Chronicle" articles were first published in 1932-1937 primarily as light reading / entertainment and cannot in any way be considered to be scholarly. You are advised to independently check the veracity of the content, as no sources have been cited.

Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised that this text may contain names and images of deceased people.  Readers should also be aware that certain words, terms or descriptions may be culturally insensitive and would almost certainly be considered inappropriate today, but may have reflected the author’s/creator’s attitude or that of the period in which they were written.

#40  - Mount Barker (part 1 of 2)

#41  -  Mount Barker (part 2 of 2)

#57  -  Meadows (part 1 of 2)

#58  -  Meadows (part 2 of 2)

#59  -  Echunga (part 1 of 2)

#60  -  Echunga (part 2 of 2)

#61  -  Aldgate, Stirling, Crafers and Mt Lofty

#62  -  Aldgate, Stirling, Mylor, Scotts Creek

#63  -  Hahndorf  (Ambleside)

#64  -  Balhannah

#65  -  Woodside

#66  -  Lobethal (Tweedvale)

Towns, People, and Things We Ought To Know  -   No 63 Hahndorf

By Our Special Representative, No. LXIII  -  Extract From Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) dated 21 September 1933

Pioneer Stories Of Ambleside - How The German Colonists Came To Hahndorf

The story of the foundation and settlement of Hahndorf (now Ambleside) by German colonists, is one of the epics of South Australian history.   Some of the facts here related are published for the first time.  

Hahndorf, which became Ambleside during the crazy years of the war, came into existence on a corner of Duncan McFarlane's sheep station at Mount Barker in 1839.  It was on December 29, 1838, just two years after the proclamation of the province, that the second batch of Lutherans arrived by the "Zebra" under Captain Hahn, and these 32 families, with fourteen others from the original German settlement at Klemzig, were the founders of Hahndorf.  That was the genesis of the town. Behind it is a big story, one of struggle, of privation, and of victory.  This is the tale I have to tell.

All the accounts of Hahndorf I have read imply that after a few days among their co-religionists at Adelaide, the new settlers treked across the hills to the wilds which became Hahndorf.  But they didn't.  Six months elapsed from the date of their arrival until the last of them had made the tedious journey across the mountains to the new abode of freedom. In the meantime they founded a colony at Glen Omond, somewhere in the vicinity of the big gum which now guards the entrance into the hills.  Here they waited, not knowing where they were going to settle, while Captain Hahn negotiated with various landowners for a site on which the new colony was to be erected, and here was held the first Lutheran Synod in South Australia — and, I believe, in Australia — in May, 1839.  Evidence of the existence of this German colony is to be found in the churchyard of the Anglican Church at Glen Osmond.

Hahn and Osmond Gilles

Glen Osmond at the end of the thirties of last century was designated "the country."  The section on which the new arrivals camped was owned by Osmond Gilles, the first Treasurer of the province.  They had been there only a few days when Captain Hahn decided to call on Gilles.  He was cordially received.  Gilles was a man extremely vain of his possessions, and in the course of conversation he boasted that he had so much money that he did not know what to do with it.  This was Hahn's opportunity.  He was looking for some wealthy man to back his little flock, who, in their hasty flight from the persecution of King William Frederick III of Prussia, had sacrificed everything they possessed.  Most of them were so poor that they envied the proverbial church mouse.  So Hahn confidently suggested that Gilles was the very man to give some land to the immigrants to tide them over the initial stages of forming a settlement.

Gilles was sorry he spoke.  He hummed and ha-ed, and finally blurted out— "I can't do it.  These men are used to praying and singing, and such characters are usually lazy.”  That was Gilles's opinion of the most industrious settlers this State ever had.

Hahn's Journey To Mount Barker

Now I will tell you how these migrants came to settle in the Mount Barker district.  Hahn met F. H. Dutton,  one of the partners of Duncan McFarlane, and part owner of the Mount Barker special survey.  Dutton had spent some time in Germany, and knew something of the industry of these people.  He knew they had landed in the colony without debts, but also without money.  Neither he nor they saw how they were to purchase land in those circumstances, but he decided to give them what encouragement he could.  He invited Hahn to accompany him on a visit of inspection to Mount Barker.

So on Thursday, January 24, 1839, a strange party left the city, it comprised two carriages, a party of horsemen, and their servants.  In the first carriage were Dutton and Hahn.  The second contained a number of women.  The horsemen escorted the vehicles, and the servants followed on foot.  There were no roads and no tracks.  The grass in places was 3 ft. 4 in. high.  In these circumstances progress was slow.  At times the way was so dangerous that the travellers had to halt, and allow the servants to lead the horses.

It was dark when they reached the station.  Here two tents were erected for the women.  The men threw themselves on the grass to sleep.  Next day Dutton entertained the party at a kangaroo hunt.  The men of course rode horses, all except Dutton, who followed in a carriage.  The scene was a little bit of rural England transplanted into the Australian bush.

An Historic Conference

After the hunt Dutton and Hahn conferred.  Hahn explained the requirements of the migrants — land to settle on, and seed, implements, cows and bullocks to tide them over the initial stage of settlement.  After a long parley an agreement was readied.  The chief points were that Dutton, Metcalf and Finnis agreed to make available 150 acres of land, of which 38 acres were to be reserved as building sites, and the balance devoted to agriculture.  Dutton, Metcalf and Finnis promised to provide the immigrants with provisions for a year until they could provide for themselves by their own industry.  On their arrival the immigrants were to be loaned six cows.  They were to have the use of the cattle and pastures free.  They were also to be supplied free with fowls, ducks, geese and pigs.  The agreement was to last only a year, which would test the industry of the colony, and the nature of the ground.  If the experiment was deemed satisfactory, each emigrant the following year was to be permitted to rent as much land as he could work.  So far there had been no talk of purchasing land.  The station owners undertook to erect a church if the Germans would give their labor, and to contribute £40 a year for the upkeep of a pastor and teacher.  They also appointed at £40 a year a Mr. Cock to supervise the colony on their behalf.  This discussion took place in front of the tents, and on its conclusion Hahn returned to Adelaide, guided by one of Dutton's servants.  I do not understand the allusion to Metcalf.  McFarlane was the partner of Dutton and Finniss.  But the names used are given in the agreement.  It may be that Metcalf is meant for McFarlane.

Long And Difficult Trek

I doubt if the history of pioneering in South Australia presents any story of difficulty to equal the march of the German colonists across the unknown hills to Hahndorf.  The carriers asked £7 a load to convey their goods across the ranges.  Only a few could afford that.  The rest had to shift for themselves the best way they could.  This is how they did it.  Men, women and children were pressed into the service.  The men constructed hand carts of what materials they could procure.  They were vehicles of many shapes and sizes.  The women and children carried bundles on their backs; the men loaded the heavier goods on the trucks.

So each family set out, climbing the hill past where the old chimney at Glen Osmond now stands, and following the ridge to Hahndorf.  When the first hill had been negotiated the carts were unloaded, the packages dumped on the ground, and the whole family retraced their steps to get another load.  It took days to cover a few miles, days of incessant tramping backwards and forwards in sun and rain, sleeping in the open, and often living on the herbs which grew about them.  The first batch reached Hahndorf in March, 1839.  The last did not get there until towards the end of May.

They decided to call the village Hahndorf, as a compliment to the man who had done his best to make the way as smooth as possible for them.  The natives called it Bukatilla, because there was a waterhole there, and "Bukatilla" meant "swimming place."   Having reached their Mecca, these pilgrims had a stiff proposition before them.  Here they were, in what was then the heart of virgin scrub, and they had to carve out of it a town, and farms which were to surround the town and supply it with the necessaries of life.  They owed £1,680 for their land and £1,500 for the provisions they had brought with them from Adelaide.  There was clearing to be done, and a crop to be planted of wheat which had cost them £1 per bushel.  Their bullocks cost them £40 a pair, and their cows £18 each.

Had To Eat Herbs

Now it was no joke for 180 people to he dumped in the wilds, and told to shift for themselves.  There was no shop just round the corner — because there weren't any corners.  There were no vegetables until they were able to grow them, so they had to boil grass and roots to supply their need of greens in the interim.  For meat, kangaroo, and 'possum caught in the scrub, sufficed. It had to.  There was nothing else.  But before they did anything, even before they unloaded their belongings, these old Lutherans went on their knees, the whole company of them, and returned thanks to God for leading them safely to this land of religious liberty.  That must have been an impressive sight — with the clear sky overhead, the wild but beautiful bush around them, and the natives looking on at the strange spectacle, and wondering what it was all about.

For blacks there were in plenty, and they did not welcome these newcomers with enthusiasm.  "Bukatilla" was theirs.  It was In the waterhole they, taught the piccanninies to swim by a method of their own — throwing the youngsters in, and letting them scramble out the best way they could, just as s small boy treats a dog.  "Bukattila," too, was their meeting place for corroborees and tribal ceremonies, and now these pale-faced interlopers had come to steal the site.  I think black brother was justifiably annoyed.

Who were these pioneer settlers?  Here is the complete list, except that, where there were two families of the same name,  I have only used the name once, unless they were distinguished by initials:—  C. Libelt, F. Thiele, S. Thiele, Schubert, Wittwer, E. Jaensch, Rillricht, Zilm C. Jaensch, Sergeant Lubasch (an old Waterloo veteran, who subsequently became a local character as the keeper of a coffee house), Neumann, Schultz, Steeke, Boehm, Kuchel, Janetzki, Nitschke, Dohnke, Linke, C. Thiele, Bartsch, Paech, Bartel. C Schirmer, Wundke, Berndt. W. Nitschke, Pfeiffer, Hoffmann, Suess, G. Liebelt. Hartmann, Brettig, Ffengert, Kluge Zimmermann, P. Kalleske, and Helbing.

Beginning Of Hahndorf

No sooner were the tents pitched than the company — men, women and children —set to work to build Hahndorf.  The huts came first.  The forest silence was broken by the staccato song of the axes as trees were felled for the purpose.  A scattered little town sprang up.  The fields were cleared and planted.  The implements were curious contraptions manufactured on the spot, as primitive as any that could be imagined.  It was not an uncommon sight, to see a woman, harnessed to a plough beside an ox, while her husband guided the plough with one hand, and carried an immense pipe in the other.  And so, by hard work and hard living, they won out.  The result today is — Ambleside.

The only market for the produce was Adelaide.  This meant a long journey on foot over the hills, carrying an immense load.  Sometimes the men went, and sometimes the women.  In any case they had to return through the unsavory hills of which I wrote last week, where more than once they were accosted by bushrangers who wanted the money they had won so hardly.

When shearing time came round the girls of the village would go off to McFarlane's station, and shear the sheep under the curious conditions I wrote about in the article on Mount Barker.

Then came that remarkable day,  May 24, 1839, when the Germans of the colony tramped to town, and, in front of the wooden building which was Government House, swore, of their own free will, allegiance to the British Crown — a voluntary recognition of the blessing of religious freedom they had at last attained.

Service Under A Tree

Two trees are pointed out to you today as the traditional site of the first thanksgiving service held by the pioneers of Hahndorf.  It is impossible now to say which was the actual one.  The first is an ivy-clad stump in the yard behind the shop of Mr. A. Miller.  The other is an old tree at the opposite end of the town in a paddock which was the property of the late Mr. C. Nitschke.  Both trees have their partisans.  But I doubt whether the actual site will ever be determined now.   

The erection of the first church, dedicated to St. Michael, was begun immediately.  It was a plain mud building on the site of the present church, and was opened in 1840.  Pastor Kavel was the first minister.  He divided his time between the two colonies of Klemzig and Hahndorf.  Later he had the assistance of Pastor Fritzsche, until there two old friends split irrevocably on a matter of doctrine.  That is a story I will relate in an article on Tweedvale.  The present pastor is the Rev. F. Blaess.

Dwellings Made Of Trees

The original Hahndorf was a quaint looking village.  Very often you couldn't tell the houses from the trees, they were so much alike.  A few of the original structures are still standing, with gaping holes in their wooden sides, and thin tufts of thatch clinging to the roofs.  They were made from the packing cases brought out by the immigrants, reinforced by the limbs of trees.  After the land was parcelled out by the casting of lots better class mud huts were built.  This, of course, was after the agreement with Dutton had been varied to permit the settlers to buy their land at £7 an acre, with 10 per cent. interest.

By the way, it was at Hahndorf that Pastor Fritzsche, the founder of Lobethal (Tweedvale) was married in 1842 to Doretta Nehrlich in a little 12 ft. by 12 ft. hut which Pastor Kavel sometimes used for church purposes.

Sergeant Lubasch

I mentioned Sergeant Lubasch among the pioneers.  He was a noted character.  When he wasn't running the mails he was running a coffee house, and when he wasn't running the coffee house he was running the mails between Mt. Barker and Adelaide.  Sometimes he was running both.  But the only thing, that ran the veteran of Waterloo was his pipe — a huge contraption that almost consumed the output of a tobacco factory.  The man was never born who could separate him from his pipe.

If you took a trip as a passenger in the "mail coach" of old man Lubasch you would be quite safe in betting yourself that you would have a thrilling journey.  The "coach" was a square wooden box without springs, mounted on to a wooden axle, and was capable of inflicting more bruises to the square inch than any other vehicle ever made.  It was drawn by two lively Timor ponies, who shared their owner's belief that the straight course was the best course.  But even a motto of that sort could be carried to excess. Lubasch never pinned himself to any particular route.  He just went straight ahead, and you had to take what was coming to you.  Fallen logs in the track were mere trifles.  The skittish ponies cleared them triumphantly, and the "coach" followed the ponies as a matter of course.  After a big jolt, Lubasch would slowly remove his smoking Dreadnought from his mouth, gaze round to see if his passengers were still there, and remark pleasantly — 'Dot was a goot von.'  There was only one way to get even with Sergeant Lubasch.  It was to tell him the British won the battle of Waterloo before the Prussians got there.  That was rank heresy, and the only thing which would shake the phlegmatic old German out of his habitual calm.

How The Women Went To Market

The German settler was a good worker.  His wife and daughters were better.  I have already told you that the women often drew the plough with an ox as a team mate.  Besides this, they had to rear large families, tend the garden and the cows, make butter, and take the produce to market. Before the advent of these sons and daughters of Germania, Adelaide was shockingly supplied with vegetables and butter.  But Hahndorf, as soon as it got on its feet, changed that. It became a common sight in the forties to see long processions of women and girls trailing through the hills, dressed in their quaint German costumes, and bearing huge burdens of garden and dairy produce on their backs.  When they reached the city, this would be exchanged for groceries and provisions, and they would tramp home again through the bush, reaching their huts after dark.

The last of these pioneers was Christopher Jaensch, who died in October, 1917. He built the first stone house in Hahndorf, and his daughter is living in it now.

Examples Of Persecution

It has been declared so often that these industrious colonists left Germany on account of religious persecution, that I am surprised the story of the terror they endured has not been more widely circulated.  I am indebted to Pastor A. Braure's article in a Lutheran publication for some examples of the enmity of William Frederick III towards those, who, from conscientious reasons, were unable to accept the State doctrines.  I will give them as briefly as possible.  Thiele and Kuchel refused to allow their children to be instructed in the State doctrine.  Each was fined 50 dollars.  Neither could pay.  Their household goods, including wearing apparel, were seized and sold.  As the amount realised did not meet the fine, the process was repeated later.  In the case of Thiele not only were his goods sold, but his house was confiscated.  A deputy was sent to Berlin to appeal to the King personally.  He was not received.  Instead he was ordered to quit the capital "sofort" (immediately).  On his return to his home he was arrested and imprisoned for "disaffection and disobedience."

A Lutheran congregation at Honlgern refused to accept the new doctrine.  A commissioner was sent to the town, and demanded the keys of the church.  The pastor refused to give them up.  He and the leading members of his congregation were arrested and imprisoned.  Subsequently the commissioner returned with a blacksmith with the intention of breaking in the door.  He found the congregation ten deep around the church, singing hymns.  This was construed as "resistance," although there had been no physical force, and another 52 persons were arrested.  But the church was not surrendered.

Then came Christmas week.  Word had been received that the Government intended to seize the church, and the congregation guarded it day and night through the bitterly cold hours of a German winter.  Two days before Christmas a force of 500 soldiers, mounted and on foot, entered the town, and surrounded the church and its guardians at 4.30 a.m.  The congregation were given five minutes to disperse.  They stood their ground.  After several warnings the soldiers charged.  With drawn sabres, attacking 200 unarmed defenders of the building of both sexes. The faithful little congregation were dispersed, many wounded.  Then the soldiers were billeted in the town.  Each of the prominent Lutheran families had to provide for 20 men.

Those are several instances which could be multiplied ad lib.  Pastors went about the country with a price on their beads.  Worshippers became criminals liable to be seized and imprisoned any moment.  Their wives and families went in daily fear of having their homes taken from them, and of being turned into the street to starve.  Is it any wonder they sought a new country under the freedom of the British flag?  And that freedom they found at Klemzig, at Hahndorf, and at Lobethal.     

Some one asked me the other day what became of Captain Hahn.  Did he settle at Hahndorf?  Was he buried there?  He was not.  After bringing his persecuted countrymen, to South Australia, and negotiating on their behalf for their settlement on a corner of the Mount Barker station, he returned to Germany.  He never came to South Australia again.

Wheat At 30/-

I had a short chat with Mr. H. A. Haebich.  He is the son of one of the founders of the settlement.  Now he is himself an old man living on his memories, and watching his own boys carry on his business.  He remembers many of the stories told him by his father — how at first the pioneers lived on snakes and lizards, as they had seen the black fellows do, and using the native pig face (mesembryanthemum) as a vegetable; now the fields had to be dug with spades and raked with home made wooden harrows, and the crops hand harvested with a sickle; how the wheat had to be carried over the ranges to Windmill Hill to be gristed, and then carried home on the back of the farmer; how the blacks used to loot the gardens of the settlers, digging up the potatoes with sticks, and now they had to be hunted off with stockwhips, and how finally, in the roaring fifties, when prices soared like a modern skyscraper, the value of wheat went to 30/ a bushel. and one had to pay £10 for a bag of flour.

In front of St. Michael's Church are two immense grindstones.  They are relics of pioneer days.  They belonged to an old watermill erected at Bridgewater some time in the forties by a man named Wittwer.  The mill had only been operating a short time when a great flood swept across the country.  The greater portion of the mill was washed away.  It was never rebuilt.



  • Old Hahndorf College, established by Pastor Strempel, which trained many Lutheran teachers, as well as professional and commercial men, before it was abandoned by Synod on account of financial losses. McKenzie photo.