Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Johann Heinrich Stähle (1840–1915)

by Robert Kenny

This article was published:

Johann Heinrich Stähle (1840-1915), missionary, was born in 1840 at Alpirsbach, in the German kingdom of Würrtemberg, son of Johann Heinrich Stähle, manufacturer, and his wife Katherina Elizabeth, née Trion. Young Johann served on the medical staff of the Prussian Army in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) then entered the seminary of the Moravian Church to train as a missionary. He was ordained in 1871 and married Marie Magdelene Stainer, a Moravian sister.

The Stähles reached Melbourne from England in the Essex in May 1872 and took charge of the school at the Ebenezer Aboriginal mission in the Wimmera, then under the management of F. W. Spieseke. In October Marie died giving birth to a daughter, who also died a month later. These deaths may have contributed to Stähle's decision to leave the mission, although his then deficiency in English (expressed in a letter back to Germany) probably made teaching difficult. He was appointed manager at the government mission at Coranderrk near Melbourne early in 1874. On 19 November that year at Chalmer's Presbyterian Church, Melbourne, he married with Lutheran rites Mary Anne McLean, a governess from Scotland, then also living at Coranderrk.

In 1875 Stähle accepted an offer from the Church of England to take charge of its Aboriginal mission at Lake Condah in the Western District of Victoria. His second marriage, to a non-Moravian, apparently led to a withdrawal of Moravian recognition of his ordination. Refusing to be re-ordained as an Anglican, he was thus limited as a minister, not being permitted to conduct Holy Communion. He managed Lake Condah for most of its existence. As for most mission managers of this period, reports of his conduct at Lake Condah ran to extremes: that he was beloved by the Aborigines, or hated and resisted. He was certainly authoritarian, causing rebellious reaction from such Aborigines as Ernest Mobourne. As early as 1876 one resident charged him with assault; the charge was dismissed but Stähle sought more power to discipline his charges. Yet, after the 1886 Aborigines Protection Law Amendment Act, which required that all Aborigines who were not 'full blood' leave the missions, he attempted to gain land grants for those required to leave Lake Condah and criticized government policy. The number of residents declined greatly after the 1886 Act (as was the intention) and the last years of his supervision witnessed the mission's decay.

Stähle was naturalized in January 1898. He and his wife resigned when the mission closed in June 1913 and lived on a pension at Portland. John Henry Stähle, as he was by now generally known, died there on 23 August 1915 and was buried in the local cemetery with Anglican rites. His estate was sworn for probate at £5676. His wife and their three daughters and four sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Cole, The Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission (Bendigo, Vic, 1984)
  • B. Dickey (ed), The Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (Syd, 1994)
  • J. Critchett, Untold Stories (Melb, 1998)
  • B. Edwards, Moravian Aboriginal Missions in Australia 1850-1919 (Adel, 1999)
  • C. W. Schooling papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • A712, item 1897/F12740 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Moravian archives (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).

Citation details

Robert Kenny, 'Stähle, Johann Heinrich (1840–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stähle, John Henry

Alpirsbach, Württemberg, Germany


23 August, 1915 (aged ~ 75)
Portland, Victoria, Australia

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