State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 53 October 1994


Using Victoria's 19Th-Century German Newspapers

Ethnic newspapers are a unique source of information on the communities which they serve. In nineteenth-century Victoria only the German speakers, who numbered about 10,000 at their maximum,1 were sufficiently numerous to support newspapers for any length of time. Although the first attempt at publishing a German-language newspaper in 1854, Victoria's Deutsche Zeitung, ended in failure,2 from 1856 through to 1868 and then again in 1870, the German speakers were served by several newspapers. After that time newspapers published in South Australia catered for the community by publishing news from Victorian correspondents. Church newspapers, the first of which began in 1853, then appeared again in 1860, continuing into this century, were published by various Lutheran publishers. They were not restricted to religious matters and constitute an important source of information on the German community in general.3
Because the size of the German-speaking community was small, its activities are covered more comprehensively in the German newspapers than is the case of the English-speaking community in the mainstream press. Business advertisements, birth, death, engagement and marriage notices, community announcements, notices of missing persons, advertisements for concerts and other entertainments, and ships’ passenger lists help to build up a picture of the community as a whole, particularly that part which lived in Melbourne. There are extensive reports of meetings of clubs and societies and the entertainment programmes given by them. Lists of German-language books and magazines in the booksellers’ advertisements give an idea of the reading matter available.
Here we outline two case-studies as examples of what can be found by diligent searching in the German newspapers. The first example concerns an individual who played an important role in the community from the 1850s through to the late 1860s, but is hardly known of today. The second example looks at the community as a whole in 1870–71, specifically its reaction to the Franco-Prussian War.

Theodor Müller

Theodor Müller (1825–1881) is now a virtually forgotten figure, yet he was one of the best-known of nineteenth-century Victorian Germans due to his poetry and his efforts at fostering German unity in Victoria. His activities can be followed in some detail in the
newspapers, and in them we can read his poetry and prose.4
Müller, a Saxon from Dresden, came to Victoria in 1852 from South Australia and proceeded to Bendigo to dig for gold. Like many others he followed the life of an itinerant digger, following the various rushes in western central Victoria until he took a more settled life at Maryborough as a quartz miner in 1857. It was here that he first came to prominence in two ways. His first poems with a gold digger theme were published in the Melbourne newspaper, Der Kosmopolit, and he was one of the founders of the Maryborough Deutscher Verein (Maryborough German Club), serving as its first secretary. As secretary, it was one of Müller's duties to send in reports of the Verein's activities to the German press in Melbourne for publication. This he did, however it was not for these reports that he became well known, but rather for his poetry. His poetry struck a chord in the heart of the Germans, so much so that his best known and longest poem, ‘Der Digger', was reprinted twice after its first appearance, in response to requests from newspaper readers.5
So far 21 poems have been found which can be definitely attributed to Müller. Another two, signed “Theodor”, were probably written by Müller as well. The themes of his poems varied. Some were patriotic, others commemorated events. He also published prose, including short stories and books. His first short stories, ‘German Jack’ and ‘Der Gefundenen’, were published in parts in the Victoria Deutsche Presse and then as a paperback by the newspaper publisher, F. Gelbrecht. This was the first book of German fiction published in Australia.6
In 1866 Müller acted as a guide to a visitor on a tour through west central Victoria, visiting the areas of his gold digging days and climbing Mount William in the Grampians. He published a long account of his journey in four issues of Germania in 1867.7 It is from this account that we learn something of his earlier life.
“Müller published two books on Australia, one a novel and the other a work on hunting.”
Müller moved to Castlemaine in 1861 and shortly after his arrival was the prime mover in the foundation of the German club there. He had given up gold mining and was employed by the firm of Lenne & Co., nurserymen, seedsmen and florists. In September 1862, he moved to Melbourne and was appointed an assistant to Ferdinand von Mueller, Government Botanist and Director of the Botanical Gardens. He remained in this position until he left Victoria to return to Dresden in 1869.
In Melbourne Müller supported the setting up of a German National Verein as an umbrella organisation for all the German clubs and societies in Victoria, then numbering about nine. This proposal went back to 1859, when he was secretary of the Maryborough club. Such a union of German clubs was strongly advocated by the Maryborough club, but came to nothing at
the time. The catalyst for the formation of this ‘Central-Comité der Deutschen Vereine in der Colonie Victoria’ in 1862 was the great German gymnastic and choral festival held in November 1862. Müller was elected secretary and held this position until he left Melbourne. It is probably no coincidence that the central committee faded away after he left. It was defunct by November 1871, when its assets were to be donated to the German Franco-Prussian war benefit fund.
Following Müller's return to Germany he published two books on Australia, one a novel and the other a work on hunting, and a few prose pieces on Australian themes. He died in Dresden in 1881.

The Franco-Prussian War

France declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870. News reached Melbourne in late August. The Melbourne German newspaper, the Australische Deutsche Zeitung, carried an appeal to Germans in Victoria in its next weekly issue, on 2 September, signed by Alexander William Brahe, consul of the North German Confederation. “The fatherland is in danger!” he began. Brahe argued that, because they were far from the theatre of war and therefore couldn't participate in the “holy battle”, Germans in Victoria should express their support for their “fighting and bleeding brothers” at home through generous donations, and ended with: “God bless the fatherland!”8 In a separate notice, in the same issue of the Australische Deutsche Zeitung, Brahe invited “all friends of the fatherland” to a meeting at the Criterion Hotel in Collins Street on the following evening.9
An emotional letter, dated 3 September 1870, was sent to German communities throughout Victoria. It advised that “thousands of our German brothers” were dead and that “numberless widows and orphans” were left to bemoan their tragic fate.10 The letter was signed by Brahe, who had been elected chairman and treasurer of a central committee formed to raise money in Victoria, and Dr. B. Lilienfeld, who had been elected its secretary.11
Reports of meetings, in Melbourne and country Victoria (and beyond), appeared regularly in the Australische Deutsche Zeitung, giving unique glimpses of networks then operating and key players. Committees were formed throughout Victoria.
Melbourne had a committee of 59, then 64, bringing together names such as: Eugen von Guerard, Hermann Herlitz, Ferdinand von Mueller, Carl Mücke, Louis Monasch, Hermann Püttmann, Gustav Techow. The community, it seemed, was ablaze with activity. Techow offered to deliver monthly lectures on the war, each time more news was received.12
Perhaps the greatest boon for historians and genealogists comes with three lengthy lists of donors, mainly from Victoria, who gave money “for the benefit of German soldiers wounded in the war against France, and the suffering families of soldiers”. Indeed, the second list was so long that it needed to be printed in two consecutive issues of the Australische Deutsche Zeitung. Some
2,500 names were included, arranged geographically.13 Given that only about one-third of these names appear in the contemporary directory, we believe that the lists are of major significance. Donations from Greymouth and Ross in New Zealand were also included, indicating perhaps a special relationship between these communities and Victoria, especially when we see reports that tell us that collections in Dunedin and Hokitika were sent directly to Germany.14
After December 1870 it becomes more difficult to follow events amongst Germans in Victoria, given that 1871 copies of Melbourne's Australische Deutsche Zeitung have not survived. It is known that collections were flagging by November 1870, probably because by then a German victory was assured. Large peace celebrations occurred in 1871. Hermann Püttmann (1811–1874) described the celebrations of German victory amongst Germans in Australia, as well as venting his “enthusiasm about the unification of Germany” in his last full-length book, on the Franco-Prussian War, published in Melbourne in 1871.15 Unfortunately, it seems that the State Library of Victoria no longer holds a complete copy of this work, serving to underline the fact that many nineteenth-century sources on Germans in Victoria are lost. However, the sources we do have are treasures that can yield much. We have sought to show this with our two examples.
Thomas A. Darragh and Walter Struve


However, Gustav Techow, at a meeting of Germans in Melbourne after news of the Franco-Prussian War had reached Australia, stated that were some 30,000 Germans in Victoria. See Australische Deutsche Zeitung, 9 September 1870, p. 188.


J. G. Franke, editor of Germania, included a history of German newspapers in Victoria in the first issue of his paper in 1861. See Germania, 1, 11 January 1861, p. 1.


For a listing of German papers in Australia, see Miriam Gilson and Jerzy Zubrzycki, The Foreign-language Press in Australia, 1848–1964. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1967. For surveys of nineteenth-century German papers in Victoria, see Michael Clyne, “Multicultural Melbourne nineteenth century style”, in Journal of Australian Studies, no. 17, November 1985; and Margaret Stoljar, “The early German-language press in Victoria”, in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 75, pt 3, December 1989. For surveys of nineteenth-century German papers in South Australia, see Derek van Abbé, “The interests of the South Australian German-language press in the nineteenth century”, in Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand, vol. 8, no. 31, November 1958; and R. B. Walker, “German-language press and people in South Australia, 1848–1900”, in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 58, pt 2, June 1972.


For earlier studies of Müller, see John Fletcher, “Theodor Müller and his nineteen years in Australia”, in Antipodische Aufklärungen = anti- podean enlightenments: Festschrift für Leslie Bodi. Unter Mitwirkung von M. Clyne [et al] Herausgegeben von Walter Veit. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1987; and Alan Corkhill, Antipodean Encounters: Australia and the German literary imagination, 2754–2918. Bern: Peter Lang, 1990. A more thorough study of Müller, including a bibliography of his writings, is to be found in Thomas A. Darragh, “Theodor Müller, Victoria's German poet”, in Biographical Society of Australia and New Zealand. Bulletin, vol. 18, nos 2–3, 1994.


See Der Kosmopolit, 7 August 1857, pp. 294–5; Deutsche Monatschrift für Australien, July 1859, pp. 126–9; Germania, 168, 24 March 1864, p. 714.


For details, see Thomas A. Darragh, op. cit.


Germania, 329, April 1867, p. 1367; 333, 23 May 1867, p. 1383; 337, 20 June 1867, p. 1399; 342, 25 July 1867, p. 1419.


Australische Deutsche Zeitung, 2 September 1870, p. 181.


We have included a detailed account of this period in Thomas A. Darragh, and Walter Struve, Germans in Victoria: the Franco-Prussian War benefit subscription lists. Melbourne: State Library of Victoria (in press).


The Franco-Prussian War was in fact “the bloodiest European war of the nineteenth century”, with some 140,000 dead on the French side, and some 44,780 dead on the Prussian side. See Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1840–1945. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982, p. 215; and Gaston Bodart, Losses of Life in Modern Wars: Austria-Hungary, France. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1916, pp. 149, 151.


Australische Deutsche Zeitung, 9 September 1870, pp. 188–189.


Australische Deutsche Zeitung, 16 September 1870, p. 196, although it seems that only one such lecture took place, at the Mechanics’ Institute on 8 October. See Australische Deutsche Zeitung, 7 October 1870, p. 221 (for advertisement); and 14 October 1870, p. 228 (for report).


We have collated these lists for publication (see note 9 above).


See Australische Deutsche Zeitung, 28 October 1870, p. 245; and 30 December 1870, p. 317.


See Leslie Bodi, “Hermann Püttmann: a forty-eighter in Australia”, in The German Contribution: sesquicentenary essays on German-Victorian crosscurrents, 2835–2985. Edited by Leslie Bodi and Stephen Jeffries. Clayton: Dept. of German, Monash University, 1985, p. 27.