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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wendt, Joachim Matthias (1830–1917)

by Richard Phillips

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Joachim Matthias Wendt (1830-1917), silversmith, was born on 26 June 1830 at Dägeling, near Itzehoe, Holstein, son of Joachim Matthias Wendt, smith, and his wife Christina, née Schlichting, who died when he was aged 9. Raised by his father and two sisters, he was apprenticed to a watchmaker and learned the silversmith's craft. He migrated to Adelaide in 1854 where he set up as J. M. Wendt, watchmaker and jeweller. His business flourished, enabling him to move to premises in Rundle Street.

The quality of his workmanship and design was recognized at the New Zealand Exhibition of 1865, held in Dunedin, where his silverware and jewellery won first prize. For the Duke of Edinburgh's visit to Adelaide in 1867, Wendt's firm produced four presentation caskets; the duke commissioned further work and appointed him 'Jeweller to His Royal Highness' in the colony of South Australia. Wendt's staff had expanded to include twelve silversmiths and in 1869 he opened another shop at Mount Gambier. That year on Christmas Day at his North Terrace home he married with Unitarian forms Johanna Maria Caroline, late Koeppen, née Ohlmeyer, a widow with four children.

Wendt's silverwork included extravagant naturalistic creations, stylish Edwardian domestic designs and pieces which showed restrained Regency taste. At its best, it ranks with the finest produced in Australia in the second half of the nineteenth century. Among his important commissions was the salver presented to E. M. Young in 1870 (now held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra); Wendt also submitted a pair of prize-winning epergnes to the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878. Commercial success encouraged him in 1888 to open a further branch at Broken Hill, New South Wales; his model of the Block 10 mine was executed five years later. In 1901 he supervised the production of the silver casket which was presented by the citizens of Adelaide to the Duke of York. Seeking profitable investments, Wendt became a member of the syndicates that built the Adelaide Arcade (which he subsequently owned) and the Theatre Royal in Hindley Street. His interests were diverse: by the turn of the century he was developing 60,000 acres (24,281 ha) of scrub land in the Tintinara district.

In 1903 his son Julius and stepson Hermann Koeppen-Wendt became partners in the firm and took over its management. Upright and honest, with heavy-lidded eyes, a trim beard and a sense of serenity, in his retirement Wendt received expressions of affection from his employees and tenants. Although he had been naturalized in 1864, he deflected anti-German sentiment during World War I by stressing his Danish origins and by lauding the British Empire. Survived by his wife, and their son and two daughters, he died on 7 September 1917 at his home in Wakefield Street, Adelaide, and was buried in North Road cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £33,883. Wendts Pty Ltd has continued to operate to the present.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of South Australia (Adel, 1890)
  • Wendts Ltd, Wendts 100 Years 1854-1954 (Adel, 1954)
  • K. Albrecht, 19th Century Australian Gold and Silver Smiths (Melb, 1969)
  • J. B. Hawkins (ed), Australian Silver, 1800-1900 (Syd, 1973)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 30 June 1906, 15 Sept 1917.

Citation details

Richard Phillips, 'Wendt, Joachim Matthias (1830–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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