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Theodor Johannes Scherk (1836–1923)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published:

Theodor Johannes Scherk (1836-1923), teacher, agent and politician, was born on 8 July 1836 at Kiel, Holstein, Denmark, son of Dr Heinrich Ferdinand Scherk, professor of astronomy and mathematics and later chancellor of the University of Kiel, and his wife Johanne Wilhelmine Rosalie, née Karo. He was educated at Kiel and migrated to South Australia in 1861 where he laboured on Friedrich Krichauff's farm in the Bugle Ranges before becoming in 1862 a licensed schoolmaster, with schools at Lobethal and, later, Tanunda. On 10 May 1862 at St Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lobethal, he married Agnes Wilhelmine Wilke, from Hamburg, Germany, a sister-in-law of Jacob Pflaum.

In 1870 Scherk moved to Adelaide. He was a bookkeeper and company manager before opening an estate and general agency at Port Adelaide and Pirie Street in the city; he acted as a labour agent for the German and Foreign Immigrants' Reception Committee. In 1896-1908 he was in partnership with Hermann Böcker. In 1882 he had been appointed a justice of the peace. Maintaining his interest in education, Scherk was a member (from 1881) of the Adelaide School Board of Advice and the Destitute Board. He sat on the board of inquiry into technical education which recommended the establishment of the South Australian School of Mines and Industries (opened in 1889), of which Scherk was a council-member for twenty-nine years and chairman of the finance committee.

In 1886 he had won a by-election for the House of Assembly seat of East Adelaide; his constituents were the many Germans in this district and city workers. He had been endorsed by the Trades and Labor Council. A protectionist, he advocated free education and was rarely on his feet without urging increased taxation on the unimproved value of land. Unlike many Germans, who were increasingly conservative, Scherk remained a liberal and supported Charles Kingston's government. He was a council-member of the South Australian Federation League. He consistently topped the poll for East Adelaide until 1902, after which he represented Adelaide.

Theo Scherk's earnestness was enhanced by his dark, flowing moustache and beard. 'Adwance, adwance, South Australia' was his characteristic cry; his 'spontaneous disbursements of eleemosynary gifts' were many, and his Grenfell Street office was besieged by electors seeking help. An unexceptional orator, Theo was awarded 'the white flower of a blameless life' by one journalist; another thought him to be 'humility itself'; one rhymed:

Who to quarrel is not known?
Good old Scherk.
Who for bread will not give stone?
Who is not a lazy drone?
Who will never drink alone?
Good old Scherk.

Good old Scherk was an indefatigable committee-man; he was president of the German Club and the Fortschritts Verein (Union and Progress Club), active in several cricketing associations, a council-member of the South Australian Zoological and Acclimatization Society, and a governor of the Botanic Garden. He was chairman of the Grand United Friendly Societies' Demonstration and, a Freemason, was also the first honorary member of the United Daughters of Australia.

In 1905 Scherk lost his parliamentary seat; he continued to operate as an agent until 1918. On 10 August 1923 he died in Adelaide and was buried with Methodist forms in West Terrace cemetery; his wife and seven daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of South Australia, vol 2 (Syd, 1890)
  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1877 (102)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1887, p 938
  • Quiz and the Lantern, 16 Jan 1891, 24 Feb 1893, 30 June 1898
  • Critic (Adelaide), 7 July 1900
  • Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, 1, 1975, p 48
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 11 Aug 1923
  • Observer (Adelaide), 18 Aug 1923
  • I. Harmstorf, Germans in the South Australian Parliament, 1857-1901 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Adelaide, 1959).

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Scherk, Theodor Johannes (1836–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 June 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]


8 July, 1836
Holstein, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany


10 August, 1923 (aged 87)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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