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Georg Gustav Freiherr von Schleinitz (1834–1910)

by S. Firth

This article was published:

Georg Gustav Freiherr von Schleinitz (1834-1910), hydrographer and governor, was born on 17 June 1834 at Bromberg, Prussia (Bydgocsz, Poland), son of Hans Eduard von Schleinitz, civil servant, and his wife Johanna, née Gottlieb. After a voyage as ship's boy in a trading brig, he entered the Prussian navy in 1849 and served in the Danzig, Amazon and Gesion. He fought in the 1856 operations against the Riff pirates and joined the naval expedition to China in 1860-62. About 1872 he married Margot von Hippel, who had been brought up in Mexico City and Havana as daughter of a surveyor in the government of Emperor Maximilian. They had four children.

Von Schleinitz was given command of the imperial corvette Gazelle in 1874-76 to carry out a voyage of circumnavigation and research. He spent the summer of 1874-75 at the Kerguelen Islands where astronomers observed the transit of Venus and in mid-1875 moved to New Guinea waters. While others studied plants, animals, rocks, waters and the climate of Melanesia, he collected anthropological data and named the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain after his ship. On the way home they visited Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Back in Germany in 1876 he reported to Bismarck on German influence in the South Pacific. Appointed in charge of the Admiralty Hydrographical Office, he worked in 1880-86 on the publication of the expedition's research; it appeared in five gilt-edged volumes in 1889 and 1890 as Die Forschungsreise S.M.S. 'Gazelle' in den Jahren 1874 bis 1876 Unter Kommando des Kapitän zur See Freiherrn von Schleinitz, containing unique descriptions and illustrations of contemporary Melanesian artefacts.

Described in 1886 as 'a not exactly imposing middle sized, already ageing gentleman with pince-nez who looks like a scholar. He speaks and moves just as he looks', von Schleinitz resigned from the navy in February to go to New Guinea with his family as the first governor (Landeshauptmann) of the protectorate of the New Guinea Co. En route he told guests at a banquet at Cooktown of Germany's endeavour to impart some of its 'high culture to the native races'; on reaching the capital Finschhafen in June he shared his employers' hopes that Germany could also make large profits in New Guinea. Visiting New Britain in November, he was impressed with the success of cotton and coconut palm plantations near Kokopo owned by Thomas Farrell and 'Queen Emma'; he became the first European to bring labourers from the New Guinea islands to work on the mainland (Kaiser Wilhelmsland): towns were built, a shipping service established and scientific expeditions were launched including one up the Sepik River in 1887. He published a number of scientific papers.

When his wife died after seven months in the colony, Schleinitz sought relief to save his children from the dangers of the wet season, but was unable to sail before March 1888. In Berlin he resigned after he had failed to convince the directors of the continuing need for heavy investment. His last twenty-two years were spent at Haus Hohenborn near Bad Pyrmont, in Saxony. He died there on 12 December 1910.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. H. Schnee, Deutsches Kolonial-Lexikon (Leipzig, 1920)
  • O. Schellong, Alte Dokumente aus der Südsee (Königsberg, 1934)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1886
  • Reichskolonialamt records (Zentrales Staatsarchiv, Potsdam, German Democratic Republic)
  • Reichsmarinamt records (microfilm copies at State Library of Victoria, State Library of New South Wales, and National Library of Australia).

Citation details

S. Firth, 'Schleinitz, Georg Gustav Freiherr von (1834–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 26 May 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]


17 June, 1834
Bydgoszcz, Poland


12 December, 1910 (aged 76)
Bad Pyrmont, Saxony, Germany

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