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Paechtown houses 1-4

Comparing construction techniques

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Family names mentioned in this article








Hahndorf Survey Volume 1 & 2.


Aim of Article


Table of Contents

1.    Author's Note

2.    Friedrichstadt


South Australian Heritage Council,

History of the Place

Johann Friedrich Paech, one of South Australia’s earliest German pioneers, arrived in South Australia and settled in the village of Hahndorf in 1839. In 1846, Paech bought 13 sections of land between Hahndorf and Echunga, establishing a farm at Friedrichstadt. It is not clear whether this location was named after himself or the emperor. During the following decades, he sold or leased parts of his land to members of his family or other likeminded settlers who wanted to establish farms (such as the Liebelts). The farm group now known as ‘Oakside’ (State Heritage Place) was constructed soon after JF Paech’s original house and farm buildings, as were Glendarra/Glenmona (Local Heritage Place) and the buildings at Paechtown (two of which are State Heritage Places).


Friedrichstadt & J.F.W. PAECH

Reference:  German Australia, South Australia, Paechtown

The "Joint Stock Cattle Company" was formed on 9th April 1838 and was given the use of land south of Mount Barker. The first bulls and cows for the land came overland from Sydney. In 1843 the Cattle Company got into financial difficulties. For a long while there were no buyers for the land which the Cattle Company had used. However, Johann Friedrich Wilhelm PAECH, a successful landowner at Grünthal  [now Verdun] who had arrived in South Australia on the 'Zebra' and settled at Hahndorf first, was waiting for the right time and price. He was of the PAECH family from Rentschen in the Prussian province of Brandenburg. On 10th February 1846 he and Pastor Augustus KAVEL bought the Cattle Company's land, 476 hectares, for £1,300.  J.F.W. PAECH's land became known as Friedrichstadt.




Reference: Wikipedia,_South_Australia

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm PAECH had bought thirteen 80-acre sections, named Friedrichstadt, with the name particularly applied to a subdivision of section 3913, Hundred of Kuitpo.  The name Friedrichstadt was replaced by Tangari in 1918 as part of renaming many places with German-origin names, however neither name is used today.

Paechtown is named for another early landowner, Christian PAECH  [unrelated to Johann Friedrich]. The village was established in subdivisions of sections 3916 and 3917, Hundred of Kuitpo.

There are a number of historic German-style half-timbered houses in the village. There had been quite a few more until they were destroyed by the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983.  J.F. PAECH's 1840s farmhouse and outbuildings have survived


Half-timbered houses in Paechtown

Hahndorf Survey Vol 1 pge 179

"The land was originally part of F.W. Paech's holding of Friedrichstadt, and in 1853 section 39l b was sold to members of yet another Paech family.  Four farmhouses were built on this section and adjacent to them several half framed barns.

The exact dates of their construction are not known but from a reference in Hallack*, and the fact that the land trans- action took place in 1853, it is probable that building began in the mid 1850's.  The timber frames to both the houses and barns are magnificent examples of the carpenter's art. Also significant is the use of brick in- fill panels on the more important and what seem to be the later built houses. Wattle and daub panels infill were used in all barns. This com- structional difference is again commonly found in half-timbered farms and outbuildings right throughout northern and central Europe where brick added prestige and often indicated the owner's social standing."





Hahndorf Survey, Vol 1

Half-timbered Construction

"Despite their similar structural characteristics, numerous variations in detail and workmanship are evident amongst Hahndorf's half-timbered buildings. The significance of these variations, theirimportance as an expression of the colonists' ideals and the emergence of h3lf timbering as anart form will be discussed throughout this chapter.To fully appreciate this type of building construction, a detailed analysis of Paechtown house number two has been included in Appendix E. It is sufficient to mention at this stage, that the construction of these buildings required a high degree of skill and craftsmanship.A half timbered structure is basically a timber skeleton, in principle identical to reinforced concrete and steel framed skyscrapers of the present day. The function of the vertical, horizontal and diagonal members is to transmit theimposed loads safely to the foundations, while the infill panels between the framing members serve to protect the inside from the elements. Because of their non structural application therefore, they can be limited to relatively light materials.Wattle and daub was used in the early half timbered buildings, but as brick became more readily available, it was soon recognized as being superior. It was more durable than thetraditional material, and many houseowners used brick on their houses as a reflection of their prosperity and desired social standing, whilst retaining wattle and daub infill panels on their barns.

The qua! ity of timber used in half timbered structures varied between split and twisted logs, only roughly adzed to shape, to dimensionally perfect members. A wide choice of select grade timber was already available from timber merchants such as John Crawford and Co., Rundle Street, in 1838, but the predominance of Red Gum suggests that the Hahndorf builders cut and prepared their own or purchased it from nearby sawyers. The felled
timber was usually cut in saw pits which, as the name impl ies,was a pit or trench dug in the ground. The log to be cut was supported over the pit, in which one sawyer stood, getting showered with sawdust, whilst the "top-notcher",9 the person above, was spared this deluge. A portable sawyer's frame which substituted for the excavated trench or pit was sketched by HeysenlO and described by
Ha 11 ack. "The trunks, were raised by lifts or 
levers, (they) are retained for sawing purposes by means of iron pins inserted in auger holes bored through the wooden frame work". 11Freeland op. cit. p. 12 10 Thiele op. cit. p. 42 11 Hallack op. cit. p. 97

It has been suggested that some German colonists brought out prefabricated houses. Although it is true that a number of English immigrants, such as J.B. Hack, brought with them transportable timber Manning houses, any suggestion that the Germans brought half timbered houses to Australia is uniikely. There are two basic arguments against this idea. Firstly, Australian native timbers, usually RedGum, was used for all structural members, and secondly, the lack of documentary evidence which may suggest that even a prototype was imported.

Also, to classify half timbered buildings as prefabricated is an injustice to the builders, for the word was only introduced after the Industrial Revolution, and implies speed, mass production of a multiplicity of components and the exploitation of non-skilled labour. It ignores the care, craftsmanship, and character displayed in these individual buildings.


Half-timbered house in Paechtown

Hahndorf Survey 1 pge 179

"Lying 3 kilometres to the south-west of Hahndorf is this neat German settlement of half-timbered farm houses and outbuildings. Although it is now dominated by the new hills freeway, its location is superb.  The village street follows the line of a rising valley and there are expansive views towards the north looking over the Mount Lofty Ranges.

The land was originally part of F.W. PAECH's holding of Friedrichstadt, and in 1853 section 39l b was sold to members of yet another PAECH family. Four farmhouses were built on this section and adjacent to them several half framed barns. The exact dates of their construction are not known but from a reference in Hallack*, and the fact that the land transaction took place in 1853, it is probable that building began in the mid 1850's.

The timber frames to both the houses and barns are magnificent examples of the carpenter's art. Also significant is the use of brick infill panels on the more important and what seem to be the later built houses. Wattle and daub panels infill were used in all barns. This constructional difference is again commonly found in half-timbered farms and outbuildings right throughout northern and central Europe where brick added prestige and often indicated the owner's social standing.  The amazing fact is that these buildings still remain.  In the late 1960's, these were either abandoned or in a very dilapidated condition. They could easily have been destroyed then or a little later when the freeway was built. Their survival has been due to an increasing awareness in people's minds about our national inheritance and the tremendous will and energy of their new owners who have virtually had to rebuild them."

"Mr. Noble's house (no.2) stands out as the most sensitive restoration and it includes a modern half-timbered addition at the back which truly matches the original house."


Half-timbered construction

Hahndorf Survey 1 pge 382

"A Fachwerk structure is basically a timber skeleton, in principle structurally identical to the reinforced concrete and steel framed sky- scrapers of the present day. The function of the vertical, horizontal and diagonal members is to transmit the imposed loads safely to the foundation, while the infill panels between the framing members serve to protect the inside of the building from the wind and rain; they can therefore be limited to a relatively light skin. To fully appreciate this type of building construction, I shall discuss in detail the house have designated as Paechtown house no. 2"

Hahndorf Survey 1 pge 384

"The reason for my choice is twofold: first, the anatomy of this house is well known by its present owners who are faithfully restoring it, and second, it is at the qualitative peak of South Australian Fachwerk buildings. Although all Fachwerk buildings are structurally similar, some variations of detail do exist, and their significance will be examined. The quality of the timber used in Fachwerk varied between split and twisted logs only roughly adzed to shape, and dimensionally perfect members of'select' grade. The cross-section was always rectangular or square. The poorer quality, roughly dressed timbers were typical of 'on-site' preparation, where the trees t1ere chosen, felled and adzed by the builder, whilst the degree of accuracy of later pit sawn members tends to suggest that they were purchased from nearby commercial timber merchants."

"The most popular structural timber was River Red Gum [Eucalyptus camaldulensis], also known as Blue Gum, Red Gum and Murray Red Gum. This timber, native to South Australia, is characterized by its dark red colour when freshly sawn, turning to a dark silver grey upon weathering, as well as wavy and interlocking grain. Its natural resistance to white ant and fungal attack made it a good choice. The timber structure usually rested on a stone plinth, and when built on a slope the stone footings were used as cellar walls, sparing the builder the laborious task of excavating to include the cellar - which was common in the houses of the early settlers, both German and English. The floor consisted of hardwood boards approximately 170 x 30 mm thick, butt jointed and nailed on hardwood bearers, laid either on flat or on edge, and resting on the ground or on dwarf piers. The space between the floor bearers and the ground was filled (presumably for thermal insulation) with a mixture of clay and straw".


Half-timbered construction techniques

Usually, when structural timbers were joined, slightly tapered timber pegs of either square or circular cross-section, were driven through holesin the joints. These joints were pegged loosely during assembly and once the members had been positioned, the pegs were driven in to such a depth as to form a tight and stable joint. Since its invention the use of pegs has been universally accepted by the carpenter, and as Kress* points out, during the period between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries the practice of pegging mortice and

Reference  *Kress, F. Der Praktische Zimmerer Otto Maier Ravensburg, 195

pge 385

tenon joints was grossly exaggerated - reflecting the personal pride of the carpenter.The degree of pegging used in South Australia's Fachwerk buildings varied - as is evident when comparing the wall frames of Paechtown house no. 2 with the Haebich house. The Haebich house lacked pegs altogether in the lov1er rai Is. The omission of pegs did not weaken the wall frame, perhaps their use in the Paech house merely exemplified the personal pride of the builder. Where pegs were publicly visible - as in wall-frames - they were cut flush with the timber face, but in roof-truss joints the pegs extended beyond the timbering. This extension could be advantageous in cases where any periodic loosening of a joint occurs, the situation being rectified by driving the tapered peg further into the joint. On the other hand, such pegs could have been used as a decorative feature, as is the case in many German houses. However, I have found no evidence of ornamental pegging in South Australia's Fachwerk buildings.  The most common method of marking individual members was to use a combination of 1ines, Roman Numerals, and pick marks. 

The marking system of posts and noggings on Paechtown house no. 2 is shown in the diagram.  The left corner post as well as the left panel rails were marked with ·~, the second post and corresponding ra i 1s with '~· , '~· , and so on. The pick symbol represented the front elevation, and the number of pick marks the respective panel. The rear members were numbered in the Roman numeral system. There 1-1as no distinction bet1-1een upper and lower rail members on all elevations, as members were interchangeable. As a numbering system, the Roman numerals were vJe l l suited to the carpenter's chisel. The use ofthe straight lined numerals required less effort than their Arabic counterparts, and by gouging them into the timber a permanent mark was made. Confusion between the Roman 'IV' and 'VI'

[Paechtown house no. 1 had ' I ' for the fourth roof truss], and especially IX and XI, due to inversion of timbers, was avoided by substituting I I I I and VI I I I for their respective counterparts. Different structures exhibited different markings; for example: the symbol designating the fourth member has been shown as 4, IIII, I and V on four different structures. The depth of gouging also varied from 2 mm to a mere surface scratch. This difference in the numbering may have been the personal trade mark of individual carpenters.

Hahndorf Survey 1 pge 387

"The erection of the wall frame started with the heavy timber ground sill, usually chamfered to shed water, forming the base of every framed wall.  These base plates were dove-tailed and morticed at the joints, and the corner posts were morticed into the angles. At certain intervals the ground sill was then morticed to receive the bracing and intermediate posts; their location being determined by door and window openings, internal wall junctions, as well as for aesthetic reasons. The posts were then tenoned to receive the wall plate and morticed to receive intermediate rails, forming the square or rectangular panels. After the walls were raised, the panels were then filled in either with wattle and daub - as in the Liebelt house, or with brick - as in Paechtown houses no. 2, 3 and 4. Theoretically the infill panels do not receive any vertical loads but transmit all lateral loads, such as wind, to the top and bottom rails.

When using wattle and daub to form the infill panels, it was common practice to wedge pointed stakes into auger holes of the upper member and a V or U shaped slot in the lower member, to provide a series of vertical stakes. Straw or other pliable materials were then woven between the stakes, upon which they were daubed or plastered from both sides. The plaster, a mixture of clay and chopped straw as a binding agent, was then pugged into the interstices and smoothed off on both sides, probably with a wood float. It was then ready to be white-washed. 

Where bricks were used, these were merely laid between the timbers. Initially there was no co- ordination between panel size and brick dimensions, resulting in the top brick course having to be cut - as in Paechtown house no. 2. To secure the brickwork panels, crude stone, brick or timber wedges were driven between the brick and timber junctions.  

In any post and beam construction, unless the joints are rigid, it is important to brace the walls in their plane.  Where a house has a rectangular plane, the walls which are susceptible to the greatest lateral loads are the gable end walls; and these were always braced.  In most Fachwerk buildings, pairs of oppositely inclined timber braces were located at the end wall panels. The braces spanned the top and bottom plates, and the use of mortice and tenon joints, pegged only at the top, tends to suggest that their function was to resist compressive forces only, and convention rather than structural gain was probably the reason for leaning the braces towards the outside within the wall plane. This point is highlighted in the Reiman house, which to my knowledge is the only one to have inward leaning braces. As shown in the following diagram, brace 'X' is always in compression to resist lateral force 'F '.

Structurally the bracing members should form the diagonal of a triangle, that is a truss balancing all imposed forces, thereby transmitting the lateral loads to the footing. The use and structural significance of the truss system is evident on early buildings, as is illustrated by George French Angas and Hans Heysen's drawings. The geometric configuration formed by the later structures forms a structurally indeterminant trapezoid. Although of no great structural significance, this comparatively 'modern' deviation dates back to early nineteenth century German Fachwerk buildings, displacing the structurally superior [theoretically[ and highly decoratively bracing system known as 'Andreas Kreuz' and 'Wildemann' .

The roof structures consisted of a number of triangular trusses of which members (a) represent the rafters and (b) the tie beam. These trusses were possibly assembled on the ground, numbered and hoisted in position. To prevent racking the trusses were braced by either diagonal wind braces [as In Paechtown house no. 1] , or alternatively, lateral stability was given by the braced underpurlins. (Paechtovm house no. 2.)

The rafters were either halved or housed, and when pegged together formed a strong apex joint. The morticing and pegging of the two rafters Into the tie beam resulted in a rigid truss, and assuming that the joints were stable, the only movement possible would have been the deflection of the relative members.  Support to member 'b' is given by external and internal walls, and where the number of intermediate supports is reduced [that is where a larger room is required] a large 'hanging' beam supported the floor beams. Where the rafter span was critical, resulting in adverse deflection, additional support by means of a collar beam (c) was necessary.  Theoretically, the location of a collar beam should be at the rafter centres, the point of maximum deflection, but in practice head height 111ay have governed its position [as in the Keil house, Bethany].

In a number of houses, I have noticed the combined use of underpurlins and collar beams, the builder o intending to double the rafter support. However, as Prof. MLihlfeld* has pointed out, the inclusion of underpurl ins is structurally superfluous under one-sided loading, the collar beam is always in compression and the resultant truss configuration is as shown; the underpurl in never receives any direct vertical load. This point is illustrated by the roof frames in Paechtown house no. 2, where gaps between the underpurlins and rafters have formed, clearly exposing the joint. 

The rafters' base joints are morticed and tenoned, and the set-back from the face of the floor beam is determined by the shear area required to withstand the resultant lateral outward forces. Over this shear surface, the roof covering is extended by inserting sprockets, which give that characteristic upsweep of the eaves. 

A popular roofing material of the early German colonists was thatch, although few examples of it remain today. Its wide use is described in many family histories and often illustrated in paintings of early German settlements - such as 'Klemzig' and 'Bethany' by G.F. Angas. They '··· found an abundance of material ready to hand, in the form of thatching grass, which grows in swampy spots throughout the southern portion of Australia on the tops of the broom brush, which grows thickly through the hills and mallee country, and is now a popular fencing material. 

Despite its excellent insulating qualities, thatch had many disadvantages; it harboured vermin, was useless for catching rainwater and had the added drawback of being highly inflammable in South Australia's hot, dry summers. Wooden shingles which had been available since the early days of the colony were generally imported, and they too proved to be an equally popular roofing material. 

'Each shingle was six inches wide and half an inch thick; they were seasoned in stacks under bough coverings, then laid upon battens in the same way as tiles or slates are laid today, except that nails were used for fastening.'  Reference Royal Geographical Society of Australasia Session 1926-1927, Vol. XXV111.

Like thatch, shingles also had their disadvantages which lay mainly in their tendency to split with sudden extremes of temperature and to become easily dislodged in strong winds. ' ... a large quantity of Patent Galvanized Iron, Tinned Iron, in sheets or corrugated for circular or lean to roofs. 1 3 was first advertised for sale in 'The Register' of October 31st, 1849. The versatility of this material was quickly realised.

Reference:  German Australia, South Australia, Paechtown

Photo: the Paechs           

           (Photo © D. Nutting) house

The house pictured was built sometime in the mid 1850s by Johann Georg PAECH [a different Paech family, from the village of Kay in Brandenburg], who had arrived at the age of 12 with his family on the Zebra, and his wife Johanne [Hannah] Karoline HARTMANN, who had arrived at the age of 10 with her family on the Prince George. They had been married on 4th January 1850 by Pastor KAVEL in the Hahndorf Lutheran church.  Johann Georg's brother Johann Christian had bought from J.F.W. PAECH parts of the Friedrichstadt land on behalf of his father and brothers. Georg and Hannah had five children - Wilhelm, Caroline, Hermann, August and Bertha. Hannah's mother stayed in Hahndorf almost all her life, but moved to Hannah's Paechtown home for the last 10 years of her life, before she died in August 1897 at the age of 96. Hannah herself died in November 1898 at home in Paechtown. Georg died in 1908. [The photo shows Johanne and Georg.]

[Source: Butler, Reg. 1982. George Hartmann of the Prince George. Investigator Press, Hawthorndene [S.A.]

This house is a beautiful example of German half-timbered [Fachwerk] construction. As with other half-timbered houses in South Australia, the house's heavy frame is made of redgum (rather than oak as in Prussia). The timber frame is a great example of carpentry. There are no nails. Timber dowels hold the pieces together. In this particular house the spaces between the timbers are filled with bricks. Sometimes in Fachwerk-buildings the spaces were filled with wattle-and-daub, or with clay and stones. Examples of the distinctive Fachwerk building style survive in some early settlements of the Barossa Valley and the Adelaide Hills. However, German immigrants and descendants of the early groups mostly built their houses according to the colonial Australian customs of that time.