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Karl Wilhelm Edward Schmidt (?–1864)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Karl Wilhelm Edward Schmidt (d.1864), missionary, was born at Stargard, Pomerania (Poland). After education at the Universities of Halle and Berlin, he was the first theological student at the missionary seminary of Rev. Dr J. E. Gossner, minister of the Bethlehem Bohemian Church in Berlin and later founder of the Evangelical Union for the Spread of Christianity among the Heathen. Schmidt was recommended as the clerical leader of a party of nine artisan missionaries also trained by Gossner for service with an English society. In 1837 Samuel Jackson, London manager of the Union Bank of Australia, and friend of Gossner, brought them to the attention of Rev. John Dunmore Lang who was seeking recruits for a Presbyterian-sponsored mission to the Aboriginals at Moreton Bay. The party consisted of five married artisans, Ambrosius Theophilus Wilhelm Hartenstein (1811-1861), Johann Gottfried Haussmann (1811-1901), Johann Peter Niqué (1811-1903), Franz Joseph August Rodé (1811-1903), Johann Leopold Zillmann (1813-1892), and four single artisans, August Albrecht (b.1816), Ludwig Dögé, Friedrich Theodore Franz (1814-1891) and Johann Gottfried Wagner (1809-1893). Lang engaged them to conduct a mission somewhat on the Moravian plan.

Schmidt married, and was ordained by the consistory of the Prussian Church at Stargard. Lang also engaged a married missionary surgeon, Moritz Schneider, from the Missionary Society of Leipzig. The missionaries were designated at the Bethlehem Church on 9 July 1837 and at Greenock, Scotland, they were joined by Rev. Christopher Eipper. The missionaries, their passages paid by the British government, arrived in Sydney in January 1838 in the Minerva. Schneider, who had attended the typhus fever victims on board, died in quarantine, and his widow later married Franz. Schmidt, with Eipper, was admitted as a member of the Presbyterian Synod of New South Wales. Although leader of the mission he did not sail to the station but ministered to a German congregation in Sydney and helped to incorporate the New South Wales Society in aid of the German Mission to the Aborigines, which was to support the mission in conjunction with government funds. On arrival in Brisbane in June 1838 Schmidt found that the first party had selected a site which they called Zion Hill (Nundah).

In 1840 the missionaries were reported to have fired upon the Aborigines. Seeking an explanation, Lieutenant Gorman, commandant at Moreton Bay, learnt from Schmidt that the missionaries fired their guns only to frighten Aborigines who raided their gardens and menaced their families. By July 1841 Schmidt reported progress in his school for Aboriginal children. In 1842 Governor Gipps threatened to withdraw support unless the mission site was changed. In June 1842 Schmidt, with nine Aborigines, explored the country round the Bunya Mountains in the Wide Bay district; his reports and published extracts from his journal drew attention to the belief that Aborigines were being poisoned by the squatters in the area beyond the limit of authorized settlement. In a later controversy it was alleged that the missionaries had not followed up their suspicions through fear of the squatters. Schmidt made a journey to Toorbul in December 1842 and January 1843, and soon afterwards entertained Ludwig Leichhardt, who was favourably impressed by the mission.

When both government and the Sydney committee withdrew support because of general lack of funds and the apparent failure to 'civilize' the Aborigines, Schmidt became dissatisfied with the mission's organization and the 'most shameful, treacherous, backsliding work' of supporters in Berlin and in Sydney. He decided to accept a call to a Lutheran church in New York State, but changed his mind and stayed at Zion Hill until 1845, despite Lang's attempts to persuade him to form a congregation in Sydney.

In 1846 Schmidt and his wife returned to England. After ministering to a German Lutheran congregation in London, he applied to the London Missionary Society and in 1848-57 served as a missionary in Samoa. His wife died at Falealili, Upolu, on 25 May 1855. In 1857 Schmidt resigned and conducted a free school for children of foreign residents at Apia. Also in 1857 he married Salaneta, a Samoan by whom he had one son. He died at Apia early in 1864. Though somewhat difficult and querulous Schmidt was dedicated to his calling. Disillusioned at the spiritual results of missionary work both in Queensland and Samoa, he devoted much time to the collection of vocabularies, translation of portions of the Bible into the local Aboriginal dialect, and the translation and revision of the Samoan Bible.

Before Schmidt left the mission, a second party from the Gossner society arrived in Sydney in January 1844; its four artisans had been designated as missionaries for the New Hebrides at the Bethlehem Church on 21 August 1843, but on Lang's advice two of them, Carl Friedrich Gerler (1817-1894) and Johann Wilhelm Gericke, decided to reinforce the mission at Zion Hill. Although the missionaries now had to support themselves, the mission temporarily revived, and a branch station was begun at Burpengary near Caboolture. In keeping with their policy of assimilation to the Australian community they had anglicized some of their names. By 1850, however, there were few Aboriginals at Zion Hill, and some missionaries left to pioneer other districts.

Godfrey Wagner was the first of the lay missionaries to extend his work to other areas. In Sydney on 7 February 1850 he married Anna Catharine Weiss, who bore him five children. After working as a catechist in the southern districts of New South Wales he was ordained by the Presbyterian Synod in October 1850, served in Tumut for a year, and then returned to Nundah on account of his wife's ill health. In 1856 he was appointed to an itinerating ministry embracing Ipswich, the Burnett district and the Darling Downs.

After the abandonment of the mission Godfrey Haussmann entered the Australian College and was ordained by the synod in December 1851. He was appointed itinerant chaplain to the English and German settlers in 'the Northern district'. For eighteen months he was stationed at Maryborough and ministered to the settlers in the Burnett and Dawson districts. There in 1853 missionary work among the Aboriginals was recommenced by Rev. William Ridley with Haussmann as his assistant. In July 1855 Haussmann moved to Victoria where he was pastor of Germantown (Grovedale, Geelong) until 1861 when he became pastor of the Nazareth Lutheran Church in Brisbane. In 1863 he began services in the Beenleigh district. He never completely abandoned his missionary calling and in 1866 established the Bethesda Aboriginal Mission at Beenleigh, conducting it with help from other Gossner missionaries until the mission property was sold in 1883. He died at Beenleigh on 31 December 1901.

Haussmann was a man of great energy and dedication. His 'unconfessional' Lutheranism brought him into dispute with the more orthodox Gossner missionaries and Lutheran ministers, but he extended the Lutheran cause among both German and English settlers, and won regard as the patriarch of the German settlers in Queensland. One of his sons, Rev. John Haussmann received a university education in Germany before returning as a Gossner missionary to join his father in 1866. He served at Rockhampton and Mackay and later joined the Presbyterian Church.

Gerler, whose educational and personal qualifications assured his leadership of the remnant of the mission, was ordained to be their pastor by Rev. Matthias Goethe on 28 October 1856. He was a pioneer viticulturist in the district and remained the leading figure of the mission until his death at Nundah on 14 December 1894.

Peter Niquet and J. W. Gericke were both ordained by the Synod of New South Wales on 4 November 1856. They had been recruited by Goethe for mission work on the Victorian goldfields. Niquet served as Evangelical Lutheran pastor at Ballarat (1856-64), Light's Pass (1865-88) and Adelaide (1891-92). He died at Mount Gambier in March 1903. Gericke ministered to the Germans at Bendigo until 1857. He later became a settler in the Gympie district in 1867.

Of those who remained at Nundah, Franz and Zillman became pioneers of the Caboolture district. Rodé and Zillman both gave evidence before the select committee of the Legislative Assembly on the native police force in 1861. Zillman took an active part in Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist churches. His second son, Rev. Dr Leopold Zillman (1841-1919) was successively a Methodist, Congregational and Anglican minister and a chaplain of prisons in New York; he married five times and wrote an autobiography and several works of history, fiction and verse.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Lang, Appeal to the Friends of Missions, on Behalf of the German Mission to the Aborigines of New South Wales (Lond, 1839)
  • J. D. Lang, Cooksland, or the Moreton Bay District of New South Wales (Lond, 1848)
  • J. J. Knight, In the Early Days (Brisb, 1895)
  • H. J. J. Sparks, Queensland's First Free Settlement 1838-1938 (Brisb, 1938)
  • F. O. Theile, The Lutheran Church in Queensland (Brisb, 1938)
  • W. N. Gunson, ‘The Nundah Missionaries’, Journal (Royal Historical Society of Queensland), vol 6, no 3, 1960-61, pp 511-39
  • newspaper clippings (State Library of Queensland)
  • John Dunmore Lang papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Schmidt, Karl Wilhelm Edward (?–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Apia, Upolu, Samoa

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