Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Theodor August Friedrich Wilhelm Nickel (1865–1953)

by John B. Koch

This article was published:

Theodor August Friedrich Wilhelm Nickel (1865-1953), Lutheran clergyman, was born on 21 July 1865 at Gustrow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, posthumous second son and youngest child of Dr Theodor Nickel, pastor and teacher, and his wife Mathilde, née Holty. Educated at Gustrow, in 1884 he began training at Concordia Seminary, St Louis, Missouri, United States of America, an institution of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States. He graduated in 1888 and was ordained into the Lutheran ministry on 7 October, his first pastorate being Shawano, Wisconsin. He was the fifth generation pastor in the Nickel family. On 19 October 1890, at Berlin, Wisconsin, Nickel married Lydia Maria Rosine Ebert; they had a son and two daughters and adopted three children. From 1892 he also ministered to the Stockbridge Mohican Indians at Red Springs. He became an American citizen.

In 1901 he accepted a call to Eudunda, South Australia, a parish of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia. He was president of South Australian synod in 1902-13 and of the Australia-wide synod in 1903-23. In 1915 Nickel was interned for one month and suffered considerable indignity. He became pastor of Tarrington (Hochkirch), Victoria, in 1917.

Nickel served the Lutheran Free Church in post-war Germany from 1923; he ministered at Wittingen and Hamburg and became president of the Lutheran Free Church of Saxony and Other States next year. He retired in 1930 and moved to Gustrow. Returning to Australia in 1935, he settled at Albury, New South Wales, to be near his family. He continued to preach throughout World War II.

The Lobethal synod of E.L.S.A. had conferred an honorary D.D. on Nickel in 1923 through Concordia Seminary, Adelaide, and he was awarded the German Red Cross badge of honour in 1925. A wise, conscientious minister, he preached persuasively. He was significant in consolidating synod's theological stance, reforming its constitution, fostering contact with American Lutherans, favouring indigenous seminary training, encouraging church schools and introducing a superannuation scheme for church servants. His rise to E.L.S.A. leadership was meteoric, aided by the esteem in which American-trained graduates were held and the shortage of strong local leadership. He was controversial; some questioned his ways, especially at the Eudunda synod in 1902: as chairman he resolved an impasse over support of the Finke River (Hermannsburg) Mission, Central Australia, by disenfranchising those favouring continued help. Some saw his influence as overly 'Missourian' and inimical to settling domestic theological differences between the Lutheran synods. His commitment to swift action and what he considered true doctrine produced both admiration and antagonism. Tall and upright, of resounding voice, with an impressive head of hair, he was a dynamic, forceful man who maintained a conservative and confessional theological approach.

Nickel died at Albury on 25 November 1953 and was buried at Trinity Lutheran cemetery. His publications ranged from occasional pamphlets and numerous synodical and pastoral conference essays to devotional and theological articles in church papers. He edited Der Lutherische Kirchenbote until 1917 (when it was closed by the government) and was sole editor of the Australian Lutheran in 1918-23.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Brauer, Under the Southern Cross (Adel, 1956)
  • J. B. Koch, Relations Between the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia 1846-1965 (Adel, 1972)
  • Australian Lutheran, 42, 2 Dec 1953, p 375, 16 Dec 1953, p 390
  • private information.

Citation details

John B. Koch, 'Nickel, Theodor August Friedrich Wilhelm (1865–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 July, 1865
Gustrow, Mecklenburg, Germany


25 November, 1953 (aged 88)
Albury, New South Wales, Australia

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