THE VILLAGE HISTORY:
When she was born, on 3rd October 1837, Maria Katharina had an older brother. Another brother was born in 184O, but both the boys died a year later. A girl who arrived the next year also died and there was only a brother, Jakob, born in 1845, who survived to share Maria Katharina's childhood with her.
The children had an impressive pedigree traceable back to the 16OOs, and studded with ancestors who had held the most senior administrative positions in the village, including four consecutive generations as mayors. Of course, that had all changed by the time their father, Johann Georg Riegelhuth and their mother, Anna Maria Reuter, were married in 1834, and their livelihood depended upon Johann Georg being able to find seasonal work as a farm-hand on one of the agricultural estates.
In 1854, Johann Georg joined a small group of his friends in an exploratory trip to Victoria to see what opportunities there were for immigrants from the village; eventually over 3OO persons migrated to the colony. They included Maria Katharina who, like many other teenagers, was sent away from the village to protect her from the dangers there. It is probable that her father was on hand to greet his daughter when she arrived, as he had not gone back to Nieder-Weisel.
The first record of Maria Katharina's life in her new homeland is of her marriage, in March 1862 to Wilhelm Heinrich Eduard Nicolai, 31 year-old son of Wilhelm Nicolai and Johanna Jahus. There was a Nikolai family in Nieder-Weisel but Eduard wasn't one of the villagers. (Eduard was aboard "Undine" which left Hamburg on 12th September 1854, and arrived 12th January 1855). He and Maria Katharina were in the Castlemaine region for several years after their marriage and she produced two daughters and three sons during the next nine years in the tiny cottages they lived in:- Johanna Wilhelmina 1862; Anna Maria (Minna) 1864; Franz Robert 1865; George Albert 1868; Albert Conrad 187O.
In July 1873, while they were in Muckleford, west of Castlemaine, Maria Katharina produced a set of twin girls, whom she named Ada Caroline and Maria Matilda. However, as often happened with multiple births in those difficult days, the infants could not develop properly and they died within days of one another three months later. Eduard then took Maria Katharina and the children to Sandhurst, where the parents were to spend the rest of their lives. Maria Katharina did have one more child, Bertha Catherine, when she was in her 42nd year but the child did not survive.
It seems likely that her father, who never returned to his wife and son in Nieder-Weisel, lived with or near her family during the last years of his life. Maria Katharina lost her son Albert in 1887, when he was only 18. Her daughter Minna was married in 1887 but the only grandchild, Minna Nicolai born early in December 1888, died when 6 months old. Maria Katharina's father died in 1892 and Eduard 3 months later, early in January 1893. Maria Katharina survived her husband by 5 years; she died in Bendigo in April 1898, in her 61st year.