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South Australia

Johann Friedrich Herbig

In 1855 Friedrich Herbig, a 27-year-old tailor, left his village of Grünberg (160 km south-east of Berlin, now part of Poland) to emigrate to Australia. He travelled on river barges along the Oder River, through the city of Frankfurt an der Oder, through Berlin, on the Aller canal, into the Weser River and thence to Bremen. On Wednesday 6th June 1855 he was one of 110 passengers sailing on the Wilhelmine, which was making its second trip to the colony of South Australia.

On Monday 3rd October he went ashore and soon made his way to Blumberg (today known as Birdwood), 45 km north-east of Adelaide. It had been settled about seven years earlier. A few weeks later he heard of work at George Fife Angas's dairy "The Springs", 19 km to the north of there. He made his home in the large hollowed-out base of a gnarled river redgum tree that measures 6 metres at its widest and is 21 metres high. (It is estimated that the tree is now about 300-500 years old.) The hollow opening faced away from the direction of rain, and the tree was convenient for him as it was on the banks of a stream and 1.5 km from the dairy where he worked.

(Photo © D. Nutting) tree
Herbig tree
(Photo © D. Nutting) tree

At first he leased the 32 hectares of ground (11 years later he owned it), and planted wheat on it while he continued his work at the dairy.

The Vesta reached Port Adelaide from Hamburg on Saturday 30th November 1856, with Caroline Rattey (16 years old) and her uncle and aunt on board. They settled at New Hoffnungsthal in December 1856. They were illiterate. Rattey is an anglicised form of the Polish name Ratachi. In 1857 Caroline's uncle and aunt moved to Black Springs (now known as Springton), but she stayed at Hoffnungsthal as she had taken a job as a maid with Johann Leske.

On Wednesday 4th November 1857 Johann Leske's father Samuel died in an accident when the horses pulling his German wagon bolted. On the day of the funeral, Caroline was alone at the Leske house minding Johann's two young children. A stranger knocked on the door of the farm house, saying he was looking for lost cattle. It is thought that he saw Samuel Leske's wife take a large amount of money from her husband's clothing after the fatal accident, and thinking that it may be hidden in the house was trying to steal it. Caroline told him she had not seen any lost cattle and tried to end the conversation, but he attacked her. He dragged her close to the cow shed, where he found a rope with which he hung her by the neck from a wattle tree. He stabbed her above the left breast and went inside to burgle the house.

Caroline was of sturdy build, and the wattle tree was flexible so that her weight let her feet reach the ground. She freed herself and ran about a kilometre to another farmhouse before she collapsed. The doctor later thought that the reason that she had not bled to death was her plumpness; the fatty tissues sealed the wound. Caroline's attacker was never caught, but the money wasn't stolen either; Samuel's wife had taken it to the funeral, sewn into her clothing.

Photo: wedding photoAfter the attack Caroline joined her aunt and uncle at Black Springs, where she met Friedrich Herbig. The pastor who married them on 27th July 1858 was one of the first graduates from the first Lutheran seminary in the southern hemisphere for the training of pastors. The 'seminary' was a hut at Lobethal, and the classes were conducted by Daniel Fritzsche (the hut is preserved today in the church museum at Lobethal). Caroline and Friedrich started living together in the tree home. In September 1860 after their second child was born they decided they needed more room, so they moved to a two-roomed pine and pug hut, with a thatched roof, which Friedrich built about 370 metres upstream from the tree. On 4th December 1864 Friedrich's mother Anna Rosine joined them, having arrived from Hamburg on the Suzanne.

Caroline and Friedrich had 16 children (see below). The Friedensberg ("Hill of Peace") Lutheran congregation was formed at Black Springs in 1859, with services being held in private homes until the church was built in 1861. Friedrich Herbig became a church elder, lay-reader, and president of the congregation.

In October 1886, while delivering a load of chaff to Friedrich Kuchel, Friedrich Herbig fell off his wagon when crossing a creek and received concussion. He later died on Monday 18th October. His eldest child August was 27 and his youngest, Clara, was 15 months old. On 19th March 1927 Caroline died, leaving behind 4 of her sons, 5 of her daughters, 44 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren.

(Photo © D. Nutting) gravestone
Friedrich's gravestone,
Friedensberg
(Photo © D. Nutting) gravestone
Caroline's gravestone,
Friedensberg

Caroline and Friedrich's children
They named their first seven sons Johann and called each of them by their second name. Using the second name was usual practice in Germany at that time. These seven sons' father (Friedrich) and grandfather both had been given Johann as first name.

Names: Known as: Born:
Johann August August 4th August 1859
Johann Wilhelm Wilhelm 30th September 1860
Johann Friedrich Fred 8th April 1862
Johann Reinhold Busy 14th August 1863
Johann Heinrich Harry 10th April 1865
Johann Gustav Gush 23rd March 1867
Anna Auguste Auguste 17th August 1868
Johann Carl Carl, Charlie 15th May 1870
Maria Elisabeth Mary 5th March 1872
Anna Elisabeth Annie 29th November 1873
Johanne Hermine Minnie 20th August 1875
Ernst Albert (was the first child to be known by the first name) 19th September 1877
Emma Lydia   4th March 1880
Lydia Mathilde   20th October 1881
Johannes Emmanuel Jack 7th February 1884
Clara Amanda   3rd July 1885
(born 5 months after her mother's 45th birthday)

Summarised from:
Herbig, David. 1968. Family History of Friedrich Herbig. Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide.
A revised version of this well-told story of the Herbig settlers and the Herbig Tree, Once there was a very old Gum Tree (1979), is available for $12.50 including postage from David Herbig, 'The Gums', Springton 5235, S.A.

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