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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hernsheim, Eduard (1847–1917)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Eduard Hernsheim (1847-1917), master mariner and entrepreneur, was born on 22 May 1847 at Mainz, Germany. He was educated at the local gymnasium and after studying chemistry briefly in Darmstadt began preparation to follow his father in a legal career. When his father died in 1863 the plan was abandoned. He worked on a large estate near Aschaffenburg where he read widely in travel books and, at the suggestion of his uncle, secured a berth in 1865 as volunteer seaman in the Ceres on a world trip. Returning to Hamburg in 1866 he took a course in the marine school at Kiel in 1867 and later became captain of a ship trading between China and Australia. The experience thus gained induced him to start his own business as a trader in the Pacific Islands. In 1872 he established a base in the Palau Islands at Malakal and bought the sailing ship Coran. In March 1875 he was joined by his brother Franz who had been in business in Mexico; together they made a reconnaissance through the Palau Islands, Yap, Duke of York Islands and New Britain, and set up another trading station at Port Hunter. Franz then returned to Europe to raise capital. Despite such setbacks as the destruction of one station by earthquake and another by native attack, the business slowly prospered and in February 1878 the brothers acquired the steamer Pacific. The firm then bought land at Matupi, Raluana, Kabakaul and Kurakaul and began to concentrate on the copra trade.

In 1883 Eduard went to Hamburg for funds and as the business then extended over the whole of the north-west Pacific his lobbying in Germany was an important factor in the decision to adopt an active colonial policy. In recognition of this activity Eduard was appointed German consul in the north-west Pacific Islands and was also able to arrange a merger of interests with the Deutsche Handels-und Plantagen-Gesellschaft from which the Jaluit Gesellschaft emerged. In 1892 Eduard retired to Germany, donating his ethnographic collections to museums in Berlin, Hamburg and Mainz. The firm was reputed to be particularly sound and in 1909 became a limited company of which he was managing director. The expropriation of most of his Pacific assets in 1914 was a staggering blow from which Hernsheim never recovered. He died in Germany on 13 April 1917.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Weyhmann, ‘Eduard Hernsheim’, Südsee Bote. Organ des Südsee-Vereins (Leipzig), 1 Apr 1918
  • Hernsheim papers, FM4/2218 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Hernsheim, Eduard (1847–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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