Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hermann Herlitz (1834–1920)

by S. M. Tarnay

This article was published:

Hermann Herlitz (1834-1920), Lutheran pastor, was born on 10 June 1834 at Neisse, Silesia, Prussia, of Jewish parents. In London about 1859 he became a Christian and soon afterwards entered the Missionary Seminary at Basel, Switzerland. On 17 August 1862 he was ordained a Lutheran pastor at Durlach, Baden, and received a call from Matthias Goethe to serve as pastor at Germantown (Grovedale) near Geelong. When Herlitz arrived there later that year he found a temporary Lutheran preacher in possession of the church and rectory. The community split and Herlitz had to conduct his services in a schoolhouse. With administrative skill he kept records of the community, managed its financial affairs and marshalled its few educated members to help with its schooling needs, even recruiting his wife Wilhelmine, née Feldmann, whom he married in 1864. He also ministered to near-by districts and visited Melbourne and Ballarat. In 1868 he was called to succeed Goethe as pastor of Melbourne, which till 1876 included care of the Doncaster, Thomastown and Berwick communities.

As president of the Victorian Synod in 1868-1914 Herlitz worked for Australia-wide unity of the Lutheran Church, but was only successful in part for he insisted on calling ministers from the Basel Seminary which had unionistic tendencies and emphasized the nonconfessional, Protestant nature of the Church; he also exercised his right to give communion to non-Lutherans. Although these issues prevented union with most of the South Australian congregations, the General Synod was formed, including the communities of New South Wales in 1876 and Queensland in 1890. Herlitz was also president of this synod and in 1884, at his insistence, it joined the Melbourne Council of Churches. Almost as well known in South Australia and New South Wales as in Melbourne, he dedicated the Sydney Church in 1883, inducted new pastors and visited Germany to recruit ministers for Australia. Yet he was still active as a pastor and took pride in the many religious services he had personally conducted, and in his own church which was rebuilt in bluestone in 1874. Herlitz formed a church choir which also gave performances under his direction at synodal meetings, and his daughter Marie was church organist for twenty years. In 1867-1910 Herlitz edited Der Australische Christenbote, an official monthly which he twice enlarged. In 1907 he also edited Festschrift which commemorated the jubilee of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Victoria.

Keenly interested in social welfare, Herlitz was cofounder in 1873 of the Hospital Sunday Fund, in 1887 formed the Immigration and City Mission to help newcomers and to minister to the sick and aged in hospitals and in 1900 served on the royal commission on religious instruction in state schools. As a prominent member of the Charity Organisation Society of Melbourne, founded in 1887 by Edward Morris, he read a paper on 'Workmen's Colonies for the Unemployed' in 1890 and helped to organize a labour colony. He retired in 1914 and lived with his son Hermann who was medical superintendent of the Cheltenham Hospital for the Aged in 1908-35. For many services Herlitz received a German decoration in 1903. He died at Melbourne on 9 June 1920 and was buried at the Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Th. Hebart, The United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia, J. J. Stolz ed (Adel, 1938)
  • R. E. W. Kennedy, ‘The Leongatha Labour Colony: Founding an Anti-Utopia’, Labour History, no 14, May 1968, pp 54-58
  • Hundert Jahre, Drei Faltigskeit Kirsche, 1853-1953 (held by Holy Trinity Church, Melbourne)
  • Minutes of the Church, 1863-1960 (held by Grovedale Lutheran Church)
  • private information.

Citation details

S. M. Tarnay, 'Herlitz, Hermann (1834–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


10 June, 1834
Neisse, Germany


9 June, 1920 (aged 85)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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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.