Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Carl Friedrich Alexander Franz Schirmeister (1814–1887)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Carl Friedrich Alexander Franz Schirmeister (1814-1887), Lutheran pastor, was born on 22 July 1814 at Eberswalde near Berlin, son of Hans Schirmeister, civil servant, and his wife Albertina, née Muszel. After graduation in theology at the University of Halle he became a tutor in the home of Baron von Puttkammer. Prompted to missionary work by the death of the baron's son, Schirmeister became clerical leader of a missionary party trained by Rev. J. E. Gossner for work 'in the South Seas, preferably New Zealand'. The five missionaries were designated at the Bethlehem Church, Berlin, on 12 June 1842 and sailed from Bremen in July. Destined for Blind Bay (Nelson), they landed at Otago Harbour. At Cloudy Bay (Blenheim) Samuel Ironside, Wesleyan minister, suggested that they should go to the Chatham islands, and they commenced a mission to the Moriori people there on 20 February 1843.

Their isolated and difficult existence was relieved in 1846 by the arrival of three deaconesses sent out by Gossner as prospective wives. Schirmeister married Maria Alwine Gericke who bore him two daughters. Bishop G. A. Selwyn visited the mission in 1848 and failed to persuade Schirmeister to accept Anglican orders or Church control. In 1853 he removed to Pitt Island and became tutor in the family of Frederick Hunt for two years. In 1855 he became dangerously ill and was taken to Wellington by Selwyn.

In 1857 Schirmeister arrived in Sydney where J. D. Lang, as agent for the Gossner mission, persuaded him to visit the German station at Zion's Hill near Brisbane, founded by K. W. E. Schmidt and C. Eipper. Determined to set up a Lutheran ministry, especially among the German settlers, Schirmeister travelled widely preaching on many stations. Registering himself as a Lutheran pastor, he formed the first congregation in Brisbane in 1858 and obtained grants for church sites. The Bethlehem Church (later St Andreas) was dedicated in December 1861 and a church at South Brisbane next year. Schirmeister continued to itinerate and organize in the country.

In 1863 Gossner's society sent out Rev. C. A. Anger to be Schirmeister's assistant. He settled at Toowoomba and in 1864 Schirmeister sought his de-registration. Another party of Gossner missionaries arrived in Queensland in September 1866, followed by Rev. C. Gaustadt from Gossner's Indian mission in 1869. Schirmeister's zeal for a united Lutheranism led to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Queensland in 1885; he remained as foundation president until his death. Although supported by other Gossner and Basle-trained men, he failed to prevent formation of the United German and Scandinavian Lutheran Synod of Queensland which remained as a separate body until 1921.

A skilled musician, Schirmeister was described as a sensitive and exemplary missionary. His stress on orthodoxy antagonized some of his Gossner colleagues, particularly J. G. Haussmann, who allowed laymen to preach and ordained some of them without theological training. Without him most of the early Queensland Lutherans would probably have been absorbed in the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches. He died of lung cancer on 8 October 1887 and was buried in the Toowong cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Hunt, Twenty-Five Years' Experience in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands (Wellington, 1866)
  • Th. Hebart, The United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia, J. J. Schultz ed (Adel, 1938)
  • F. O. Theile, One Hundred Years of the Lutheran Church in Queensland (Brisb, 1938)
  • W. Holsten, Johannes Evangelista Gossner Glaube und Gemeinde (Göttingen, 1949)
  • W. N. Gunson, ‘The Nundah missionaries’, JRHSQ, 6 (1959-61)
  • Die Biene auf dem Missionfelde (Berlin), 1842-87 (microfilm, 1836-57 PMB)
  • Australische Christenbote, Oct 1887
  • J. D. Lang papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Lutheran Church Archives (Adelaide).

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Schirmeister, Carl Friedrich Alexander Franz (1814–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 July, 1814
Berlin, Germany


8 October, 1887 (aged 73)
Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.