Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Eduard Paul Helbig (1884–1958)

by Robin Radford

This article was published:

Eduard Paul Helbig (1884-1958), Lutheran missionary, was born on 9 July 1884 at Sedan, South Australia, second child of Friedrich Gotthelf Helbig, farmer, and his wife Emma Elisabeth, née Lange, both South Australian born and of Prussian descent. In 1902 the family moved to a mixed farm near Greenock. Paul attended the nearby Point Pass College. Instead of completing his theological studies, he responded to the call from the Neuendettelsau Lutheran Mission for carpenters to go to German New Guinea. Before leaving South Australia he became engaged to his cousin Ernestine Maria Niemz (d.1953), whom he married in New Guinea on 21 April 1909.

Having reached New Guinea in 1906, Helbig was one of the first Australians to work with German missionary colleagues. In 1908 he took charge of the Lutheran mission's coconut plantation at Salankaua, near Finschhafen, and was responsible for clearing and planting the neighbouring Timbulim plantation. He supervised the building of a wharf at Finschhafen in 1912, and the construction of a road from the coast to the mountain mission centre at Sattelberg. For a brief time he was relief captain of the mission schooner, Bavaria. Suffering from malaria and a near fatal attack of blackwater fever, he moved to Sattelberg in 1922. There he supervised buildings for the expanding health-and-school station, while he and his wife were also 'house-parents' for its boarding-students. In 1937 Helbig joined his son-in-law Rev. Georg Hofmann at Asaroka, in the Goroka Valley, when restrictions on mission activities in the Central Highlands were eased. On the outbreak of World War II many of his German colleagues were interned, but Helbig—an Australian citizen—was allowed to stay. Although most expatriates were evacuated following Japan's entry into the war, he remained until civil administration ceased in 1942.

After the war the Lutheran Mission in New Guinea faced a severe shortage of personnel. In recognition of his early theological studies and experience in New Guinea, Helbig was ordained in the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia on 5 August 1945. As soon as conditions permitted, he returned to Asaroka where he remained until 1951 when he retired to Tanunda, South Australia.

A strict vegetarian, Helbig was of slim build and middle height, and with a striking black beard. For much of his life he suffered from asthma, as well as the long-term effects of malaria. 'Papa Helbig' was known as an open, friendly and earnest man, whose benign exterior disguised a more dour and serious inner self. He was fluent in the Kâte language and related well to people, regardless of race; he was also a willing teacher to his New Guinean assistants and versatile in addressing the practical needs of the mission. The old mission houses which stand at Asaroka commemorate his skill.

Helbig died on 2 August 1958 at Eastwood, Adelaide, and was buried in Langmeil cemetery, Tanunda; two of his three sons and one of his two daughters survived him. His eldest son Martin Samuel (1911-1968) was the first ordained Australian Lutheran to serve in New Guinea; a daughter Clara had died in missionary service there.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Helbig, Family History of Johann Wilhelm Helbig (1830-1896), His Wife Hannah Catharina Ruciak (1832-1904) and Their Descendants in Australia to 1979 (Adel, no date)
  • J. Flierl, Christ in New Guinea (Tanunda, SA, 1932)
  • E. A. Jericho, Seedtime and Harvest in New Guinea (Brisb, c1961)
  • H. Wagner and H. Reiner, The Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea (Adel, 1986)
  • Lutheran Herald, 1 Sept 1945, 8 Aug 1953, 13 Sept 1958
  • Queensland Lutheran, Sept 1958
  • Lutheran Archives, North Adelaide
  • Neuendettelsau Mission Archives, Neuendettelsau, Germany
  • private information.

Citation details

Robin Radford, 'Helbig, Eduard Paul (1884–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 July, 1884
Sedan, South Australia, Australia


2 August, 1958 (aged 74)
Eastwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.