THE VILLAGE HISTORY:
The Nieder-Weisel Story
AFTER THE CONFLICTS
The search for alternative means of employment led to a significant expansion
in "cottage industries", including linen weaving and stocking making, which
could provide a reasonable standard of living for a family. Some people found
markets in parts of Germany and France for the brightly-painted, hand-carved
wooden utensils they made in their homes during the cold winter months and
hawked around Europe during the summer.
Industrialised England offered more employment and some desperate
farmers went to London or provincial towns in England seeking work in the
factories, or playing their musical instruments in wandering bands. Inevitably
some of these adventures had less than successful outcomes; for example Konrad,
a son of master cartwright Gerhardt Heinz, died in the poorhouse in Bristol in
July 1836 just after his 19th birthday. Several Nieder-Weiselerns died whilst on
working visits to England, including Jakob Lenz and his infant daughter in
London in 1833, leaving his widow to cope with five other children - and one
that was yet to be born. Four of these children would be among the many
villagers who emigrated to Victoria during the 1850s.
THE NEW WORLD
That men now approaching the end of their working lives were willing to
endure the hardships of this arduous journey and the trauma of coping with life
in an alien society reflects the intensity of the frustrations that had followed
the loss of their social standing and the lowering of their living standards in
Changes to the rules of apprenticeship allowed any man, even lacking elementary training, to set up in a trade. This resulted in gross over-crowding in many trades and threatened the livelihood of craftsmen families who had provided skilled services to the village, in many cases for a century or more.
The population explosion reached serious proportions by the 1830s. It had taken a millennium for the village to achieve a population of 1,000; the increase to 2,000 came in only 50 more years. About 70 babies were being born each year and, with only about 35 deaths annually, this meant that the village would have to house 3,000 or more persons by the year 1870. Less than 300 dwelling-places were available to accommodate this multitude of people, with their hundreds of farm animals and birds, and very few people had the capital required to build additional homes.
The authorities tried to limit the population increase. An intending bridegroom had to provide evidence of his ability to support a wife and family before he could be admitted to full citizenship. This deferred many marriages by several years and restricted the average number of births per couple significantly.
In the decade 1830-39, the average age of grooms was 26 years 10 months, and
of brides, 25 years 6 months. Some brides married as young as 17 or 18, but all
grooms were at least 20 years of age. Forty-five percent of grooms said they
were either day-workers or farmhands and about 20% gave linen-weaving as their
occupation. Twenty-five percent said that they worked as tradesmen -
shoemaker (7), baker (7), tailor (5), nail-smith (4), sievemaker (2), carpenter
(2), cartwright (2), saddler, glazier, mason, cooper, millwright and barber. Two
were postal workers, one a servant, four were carters, three musicians, three
shepherds and one a hawker. There were three professionals - pastor, teacher and
THE EXODUS GATHERS PACE
The very high proportion of day-workers and farmhands is a fair indication of the difficulties that many farmers were still having in obtaining satisfactory employment. More and more young villagers tramped across Europe or made their way down the waterways to the Channel coast, from where they embarked on a steam packet that would transport them to England in a few hours.
Understandably, the new arrivals sought out those who had gone before them, and small enclaves of the villagers began to form in places such as Leeds, Durham, Bristol, and London. Romances developed among these expatriates and an increasing number of marriages was notified to the parish in Nieder-Weisel, for example:-
These travellers had to apply for an authority to leave the village. This was approved if the person (a) had a good reason for leaving (e.g. "to earn a living"), (b) was not a debtor, and (c) was not liable for military service during the period of absence.
This period was normally limited to two years. Many of the villagers did go back within this time, but others took their chances and stayed away for much longer than the two years stipulated. Some, of course, never returned.
The villagers who emigrated to North America during the 1830s and 1840s kept in touch with relatives in Nieder-Weisel as well as the uncertain mails allowed, and often informed the village pastor of marriages and births and deaths which took place in their new homeland, so that a record was available in the Family Books in the event that they should return. The reports on the availability of land and on the employment and business opportunities which they sent back tempted others among the struggling and indigent villagers to follow their example. Poor harvests in the late 1840s caused further hardships, and then civil war broke out in 1848.
Many a teenager, viewing the bodies of soldiers killed in the skirmishing around Nieder-Weisel, vowed to leave before he became liable for military service. A few did act on these resolves, mainly going to England where they were able to save sufficient money for their passages to the New World, but the trigger to a mass emigration was the news of the discovery of gold in California - this began a "rush" in 1849 in which emigrants from Europe joined, including some Nieder-Weiselerns.
Just as this exodus was getting under way, news came in from the other side of the world of similar findings of gold in fabulous amounts around Ballarat. The farmhand Konrad Loh II, with the two carpenters Jakob Krausgrill II and Johannes Hauser V, used the recently-completed railway link from Frankfurt to Hamburg to board "Wilhelmsburg" for Port Phillip. They were the earliest arrivals from Nieder-Weisel to reach Melbourne, where they disembarked on Thursday 25th August 1853, 101 days out of Hamburg. Each of these men was in his mid-30s and had a wife and children; their role seemed to be to assess the options open to migrants from the village. Two of the trio went on later to North America and settled there. Krausgrill brought one of his daughters out to Victoria later; his brother Konrad and his family also came out but most of the family later returned to the village, as did Jakob.
About 15 months after these three arrived, three groups followed on the Hamburg-based vessels "Victoria", "Undine" and "Luise", two groups on vessels out of Liverpool, "Fulwood" and "Glenmanna", and a family group from New York on "Wings of the Morning". The German vessels carried quite a number of 30-50 year-olds, many of whom would eventually go back to their village, but the party of 30 on board the "Glenmanna" were mainly young married couples with small children, accompanied by teenagers who were sometimes related, sometimes not.
This became the pattern for arrivals during the next several years, the groups being made up in the village and the passages booked by travel agents. Fare costs were kept as low as possible by dropping the ages of teenage children to below the 12 (or 14) year limit for adults, even though some of them were as old as 16 or 17. This practice also allowed the teenagers to stay with their chaperones in the family quarters; otherwise they would have had to travel in the single women's and single men's sections of the ship, with all its obvious risks.
The concerns which many parents in the village felt for the moral well-being of their young daughters shows up clearly in an analysis of the ages of those who came to Victoria. Of 230 arrivals over 10 years of age, only 22% of males were younger than 21, but 53% of the females were in this age group. All but three of the females who were older than 20 were married. It is a sad comment on the depths to which moral standards in the village had sunk that so many parents were prepared to send their young daughters on a long sea voyage to a distant and largely unknown land, rather than allow them to grow up in Nieder-Weisel.
There were other small parties who avoided contact with the agents, in some cases because they were travelling without authority. Philipp Hauser, a grandson of Mayor Johann Jakob Hauser, was one of these facing military conscription - he left the village clandestinely to make his way to the coast on foot. He had planned to meet up with two of his brothers in Liverpool but he got there just after their ship weighed anchor and he had to take passage on a later sailing.
The sailing ships built especially for the Liverpool to Melbourne run were
far more spacious and well-appointed than the previous generation of ocean-going
vessels, and most of the emigrants had
uneventful journeys to their new homeland.
There were exceptions - Konrad Belloff contracted food poisoning and died just before reaching the Australian continent. This had serious consequences as he had been posing as the husband of his sister Anna Juliana in order that they could be messmates of three young couples from the village; his death brought this masquerade into the open. Konrad Winter suffered a fall during his voyage which necessitated the amputation of the leg which was broken. Pregnant women who came to term while at sea usually had their babies delivered under adverse conditions which greatly increased the risk to mothers and babies alike. The little girl born to Christina Lenz and Jakob Riegelhuth as "Star of the East" battled across the Great Australian Bight died just after the ship reached Melbourne.
All but one of the sailing ships carrying Nieder-Weisel migrants ended their trips in Port Phillip, the exception being the "Sir W F Williams" which sailed directly to Hobart Town. This ship had a very stormy passage, which culminated in the loss overboard of the purser during a violent cyclone. After considerable delay, the foreign passengers for Melbourne were trans-shipped to a coastal tramp, "City of Hobart", for the final leg of the journey across Bass Strait.
During the six year period 1853-1858, about 350 migrants arrived in Victoria from Nieder-Weisel. An interesting statistic comes from the 1862 Victorian census - of the 10,000 persons of German origin resident in the colony, 3% were from a village which had less than 0.005% of Germany's total population!
The steady migration of people from Nieder-Weisel had a marked effect on its population growth - from a peak of about 2,300 inhabitants in 1853, the population declined to below 2,000 in 1858. The normal rate of growth would otherwise have taken this figure to about 2,500, so there must have been about 200 departures for other countries while the migration to Victoria was taking place.
The shipping records for about 85% of those who took part in this adventure have been located - they are reproduced on the page Ships. Forty-four vessels were involved, one from New York, six from Hamburg, and the rest from Liverpool. The last party of emigrants reached Melbourne on 24th February 1858 on "Queen of the East", although there were a few young people who had been left behind, in most cases as infants, who would add to the total of Nieder-Weisel migrants to Victoria in the next five years. The latest known arrival was 20 year old Philipp Koch, who was on board "Arabian" when it docked at Melbourne on 17th May 1863.
Some of the immigrants - probably 130 or more – returned to Nieder-Weisel after spending several years prospecting. One of these, Ambrosius Studt, came back a second time to settle with his bride of only a few days, Anna Maria Schimpf. Peter Karl Hauser completed two return trips, first as a child and then, over 25 years later, as an adult with two of his own children ( who were left with cousins when he went back to Nieder-Weisel). Others re-emigrated, mainly to North America; these included a number of members of the Knipper family, as well as the very first arrivals, Konrad Loh and Johannes Hauser.
The stories of some of these newcomers are sketched out in the biographies (A-H, I-M, and N-Z) which close this account of a truly remarkable event in the early history of the colony. Most of the villagers would have little personal impact on the development of the country to which many of them later swore allegiance - there were some notable exceptions like the cousins Johannes and Konrad Heinz, who wore the mayoral robes of Victoria's largest provincial towns, Ballarat and Bendigo respectively. The real legacy from these pioneering migrants from the Golden Wetterau, heirs of the Celt and Roman, Chatten and Frank, were their children, grand-children and later descendants, numbered today in their tens of thousands, who assimilated completely and rapidly into the developing multi-cultural societies of Victoria and New South Wales, and added their energies, creativity and courage to the growth and defence of our country.