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Basedow, Martin Peter Friedrich (1829–1902)

by Ian Harmstorf

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Martin Peter Friedrich Basedow (1829-1902), by unknown photographer

Martin Peter Friedrich Basedow (1829-1902), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6725/8

Martin Peter Friedrich Basedow (1829-1902), teacher, newspaper proprietor and politician, was born on 25 September 1829 at Dreckharburg near Hamburg, Hanover, son of Christian Friedrich Basedow, teacher, and his wife Helena Catherine. He was educated by his father and at the gymnasium at Winsen, then taught in the Vierlande region near Hamburg. Hoping to earn a better salary as a teacher, he arrived in South Australia in the Pauline on 1 April 1848 but could get work only as a station-hand in the Murray River district. On 5 August 1850 he was naturalized.

That year Basedow opened a Lutheran school at Tanunda and in 1852 received a licence and a grant, in the form of a salary of £100, from the Central Board of Education. His school, of about eighty pupils, was praised by an inspector for its orderliness and the range of its science teaching. It was recognized as the best German school in the colony and when he resigned in 1864 the board commended him for his services. In 1856 his parents and his seven brothers and sisters had arrived in the colony.

In 1863 Basedow had established the Tanunda Deutsche Zeitung, he had for several years been part-owner and accountant of the previous paper, Süd-Australische Zeitung. From 1865 he was a justice of the peace and in 1864-76 was chairman of the Tanunda District Council. On 8 February 1868 he married Anna Clara Helena Schrader, a widow (d.1921); his first wife Johanna Maria Kiesewetter, whom he had married at Tanunda in 1852, had died in 1867. Basedow gave evidence to the 1868 select committee on the Education Act, expressing progressive ideas which he was to pursue both in his journalistic and parliamentary career: that education should be free, compulsory, broad, humane and moral. In 1870, in a bid to widen its appeal, Basedow changed his paper's name to the Australische Deutsche Zeitung and in 1874 moved to Adelaide. Here, he and his father-in-law and partner Carl Muecke amalgamated the journal with the now Adelaide-based Süd-Australische Zeitung to form in January 1875 the Australische Zeitung, the sole South Australian German-language newspaper.

In 1876-90, as well as editing his newspaper, Basedow represented Barossa in the House of Assembly. He was not an exciting speaker: as (Sir) J. W. Downer put it, he 'had not aspired to brilliancy', but 'his light shone steadily'. Basedow's views, however, particularly on education, were respected, and for three months in 1881 he was minister for education. He sought improvements in the status and conditions of teachers and opposed payment by results, which he believed led to rote learning and was contrary to the idea that education should fit a child to live a full life; in his opinion the low quality of teachers was caused by the pupil-teacher system. Basedow maintained that unless the state produced intelligent, upright children it jeopardized its existence. He attacked the prevailing idea that educating workers' children wasted public money. In 1879 he had moved an amendment to a bill which later resulted in the formation of Roseworthy Agricultural College, which his paper had long advocated. 'A true representative of enlightened liberalism', he was the only parliamentary member appointed to the 1881 commission on the working of the Education Acts and was also on the 1887 board of inquiry into technical education.

In 1890 Basedow visited Europe and next year represented South Australia at the Universal Postal Congress in Vienna. He returned in 1893 and in 1894-1900 represented the North Eastern District in the Legislative Council. He tried to interest the House in German legislation on sickness, accident, invalidity and old-age insurance; his lectures, Workers' Insurance in Germany (Adelaide, 1899), were published to spread these ideas.

Although Basedow allegedly decided not to stand again for election in 1900 because of the unpopularity of his pro-Boer sympathies, he had successfully bridged the gulf between Englishman and German. For while a Lutheran, a strong believer in German culture and a president and trustee of the Deutsche Club, he also held several directorships in public and private institutions in Adelaide. Survived by his wife and eleven children, he died with aortic valve disease on 12 March 1902 and was buried in the North Road cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £14,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1861 (131), 1862 (30), 1868-69 (56), 1881 (122)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1877-79, 1894
  • R. B. Walker, ‘German-language press and people in South Australia, 1848-1900’, JRAHS, 58 (1972)
  • Pictorial Australia, Sept 1894
  • Register (Adelaide), 1 Apr 1848, 19 July 1877, 31 Mar 1890
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 Mar 1902
  • Observer (Adelaide), 15 Mar 1902, 25 June 1921
  • Australische Zeitung, 19 Mar 1902
  • Bulletin, 5 Apr 1902
  • Central Board of Education minutes, 12 May 1852 (State Records of South Australia)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Ian Harmstorf, 'Basedow, Martin Peter Friedrich (1829–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/basedow-martin-peter-friedrich-5152/text8635, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 May 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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