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South Australia

Captain Dirk Hahn and the "Hahndorf" passengers to South Australia

Captain Hahn was born and died in the village of Westerland on the North Sea island of Sylt. Initially he was not keen on doing the emigrant-voyage to South Australia, as his one previous experience of emigrants had not been enjoyable, and that had been the relatively short journey to New York (Cuxhaven to New York, 15th September to 10th November 1836, with 140 German emigrants, Hahn's first voyage as captain of the Zebra). He helped the settlers buy land near Adelaide - they named Hahndorf after him.


On 22 June 1838 we sailed from the Elbe to the city of Hamburg in our ship, the Zebra. While the ship was being unloaded, we were engaged in bidding for various cargoes, the most favourable of which seemed to be one for Arkhangel'sk. I felt inclined to take this. …By chance we also had the possibility of a cargo of emigrants to Adelaide in South Australia. This news hit me like a shower of cold rain. Remembering what difficulty and trouble I had experienced when I had to take a similar load only as far as New York, I immediately said: 'If the people are responsible for getting their own food and there is someone in charge of them, so that I don't have to have anything to do with them except get them to their destination, then I won't say no to the task'. But I still drew the attention of Mr Dede, the ship's owner, to the fact that a chronometer and a considerable number of charts and books would be necessary for this voyage.

Time was short, so we had to decide that same day whether we would accept the cargo or not.

I had never in my whole life heard the name of this place, Adelaide. It was impossible to agree to take the cargo without at least knowing whether we could in fact get there. Schröder, the broker through whose agency this cargo was being chartered, immediately offered to accompany me on board the Prince George, the English ship that was also to go to Adelaide. I wanted to ask what sort of place it was and to look at the charts showing its position. The captain of the Prince George was very willing to tell me everything he knew about it, and he showed me his charts.

Meanwhile, many of my acquaintances had learnt the nature of the cargo to Adelaide. Everyone advised me against undertaking this voyage. But if I were to go back to Mr Dede without having settled the arrangements, he would surely think me a coward who was afraid to go to Adelaide.

On 28 July 1838 the emigrants came on board, 199 souls in number. They had to emigrate from Prussia because of their faith, and were indeed very religious. There was an address as well as prayers and hymns every morning and evening. The sound of their beautiful singing could be heard across the harbour. Everyone who heard them testified to their rare gift for song. This led so many people of high and lower social standing to come on board every evening that the channels were often full and there was scarcely any room left on the deck. Anyone who had even a passing acquaintance with me asked to be allowed on board,.so that on several occasions we were 28 people in the cabin. While we were still in the harbour, two children died and were buried in the Altona paupers' graveyard.

Now I will describe the condition of our passengers, whose situation indeed called for compassion. We had departed from the Elbe with 26 people sick. Sea-sickness laid low the rest as well, with the exception of two men of advanced years. Most recovered very slowly, for the older ones among them, having all their lives until now eaten nothing but the food of their native region, which consisted chiefly of potatoes and milk, could not adjust to the ship's food. The tropics were very hard for them to endure. The heat was terrible, especially inside the ship with so many people crowded together there. It was so hot that someone showed me a packet of pieces of sealing wax which had been wrapped up in paper in a chest and had melted together into one lump. There were sick people everywhere. The amount of sickness appeared to increase every day. Deaths occurred more and more frequently too, so that the eighth body had to be put overboard on 24 September.

The doctor explained that the sickness raging among these folk was typhus or nerve fever. …From all sides their complaints and lamentations could be heard: 'Ah, none of us will reach Australia. We will all have to be put overboard!'

But I could not sufficiently admire their steadfastness in remaining true to their faith after eight years of daily persecution, even when they couldn't meet together as a congregation, after their preachers had been driven away from them. If they were discovered, they were penalised with heavy fines. Yet all they had done was that one of them who felt inspired would stand up and address those present. This was also what happened on board, and they certainly did not deviate from Lutheran doctrine when they did so. These people had been falsely labelled religious bigots and mystics in Hamburg. They had gone on journeys of some miles into woods to receive Holy Communion from their pastors, who were fugitives wandering about from place to place. Yes, fathers often had to baptise their children themselves for lack of pastors.

In spite of all this, they were extremely good-natured. They showed me several copies of petitions to the King of Prussia for free exercise of their religion. These were composed in such terms that today one can scarcely believe that their requests were not granted. They were willing to give up their old churches and schools and build new ones for themselves. They were also willing to hand over to the Calvinists the considerable capital that belonged to the congregation in addition to their church, along with the church buildings. They would even have agreed to be banished to a distant part of Prussia. But in spite of all this, all their requests and representations were in vain. Finally, they chose two deputies from their group who were to appear before the king to put these requests to him. But they were turned away, because the king was not willing to grant them an audience.

I have not seen the reply the government finally made to their repeated written requests, but the agreement between the versions these honourable men told me left no doubt as to their truth. According to them, the government had refused all their requests and had subsequently persecuted them even more than before.

Then, two years ago, they did get permission to emigrate, and many then sold their belongings. However, before they could depart, this permission was withdrawn. The people then had to use up most of the money they had realised because they had no work; it was only two years later that permission to emigrate was finally granted. These events had plunged many of them into great poverty. Nevertheless, I often heard them intercede in their evening prayers for the king of Prussia, that God would not punish him for his treatment of them but that the king should come to understand how unjustly he had dealt with them, so that he would not die in his sins; if God only forgave him these sins, they would be reconciled to him in their hearts. I was dumbfounded by this idea, but I have already said that it is my intention only to describe the events in such fashion as I experienced them, and not to make judgments about them.

But even a stone would have felt pity at the sight of a whole deck full of poor people on their knees, all united in beseeching God's blessing and assistance in their undertaking. How often have I heard in their prayers the words: 'We have not been led to this action by desire to see a foreign part of the world, nor by the vain desire for riches, but it is belief in you alone, 0 God, and your holy Word that had made it necessary ior us to take this step. And so lead us to a place in your creation, where we can live and preach your holy Word in its truth and purity.'

I must mention here the frugality of these people, which could now be observed in what they ate and drank, as also, earlier, in their past farming lives. They lived solely on milk dishes, potatoes and bread. Luxury articles, such as coffee, sugar, tea and suchlike, never entered their homes, and even those of means among them told me this. Their cows, from which they obtained the milk, were put before the plough instead of horses. A man called Thiele, from the village of Nickern not far from Züllichau, who had only one cow, had always yoked his wife in front of the plough, along with the cow, and had worked his land with this unequal pair.

There were parents among them who had left their children behind; but there were also children, admittedly adults, whose parents had been left behind. There was even an old woman of 67 among the passengers, who had left her children behind and was quite alone. She did not even have a bed of her own to lie on, much less a penny of her own.

…At midday on 27 December, amid cries of joy from the passengers, we sighted 'Kangaroo Island'. We reached Investigator Strait in the evening. On the following day we sailed up St Vincent's Gulf. At midday we saw a couple of ships lying at anchor. Consoled by the knowledge that we were not after all the only ones who had come to that shore, we set course toward them and anchored in their vicinity. That was in Holdfast Bay, at two in the afternoon, on 28 December, after a voyage of 129 days.

On the Zebra we were flying the first foreign flag on the shore of this new colony, which drew the pleased attention of many educated English colonists. And so a whole company of distinguished persons came on board on the day after our arrival. They gave us a friendly welcome and asked permission to go down between decks to see the passengers and our arrangements, which I was pleased to show them. Admittedly, 11 people had died during the voyage, six adults and five children, but the rest, 187 souls in number, were all alive and blooming with health. It happened to be a Sunday, so the people in their usual way were very neatly dressed. The steerage was spick-and-span. The most complete order reigned among them, and at one gesture from me there was not a sound as these gentlemen went through the steerage quarters. Those of them who were asked a question, gave a modest answer; in short, I saw that the colonists were extremely pleased with these people.

When we came up on deck again, these gentlemen could not find words enough to express their satisfaction with the appearance of our passengers and with their cleanliness and tidiness.

…After we had arrived in the harbour, many distinguished people came to the Port to see our emigrants. I had many requests every day for workmen, farmhands labourers, servant girls - but since my passengers, as earlier mentioned, had emigrated for the sake of their faith, they did not wish to be separated. They wanted to form their own congregation if only they were granted a plot of land on which they could earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.

(Extracts from: Dirk M. Hahn. Emigrants to Hahndorf (English-language edition of Die Reise mit Auswanderern von Altona nach Port Adelaide Süd-Australien 1838). German transcription by Frank Rainer Huck, transcription revised by and translated by Lee Kersten. Lutheran Publishing House (now Openbook Publishers), Adelaide 1989. Reproduction kindly permitted by publishers. Originally written by Dirk Hahn in a large notebook entitled: Die merkwürdigsten Begebenheiten / meines Lebens. / Von meinem 35ten Lebensjahr bis zum 48ten Jahr / meines Alters. <The most remarkable events / of my life. / From my 35th year to the 48th year / of my life.>)

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