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Arnold Wienholt (1877–1940)

by P. J. Greville

This article was published:

Arnold Wienholt (1877-1940), army officer, adventurer, pastoralist, politician and author, was born on 25 November 1877 at Goomburra station, near Allora, Queensland, eldest son of Edward Wienholt, pastoralist, and his Victorian-born wife Ellen, née Williams. Educated in England at Eton, Arnold returned to Australia and gained experience in the pastoral industry. Enlisting in the 4th (Queensland Imperial Bushmen) Contingent, on 18 May 1900 he embarked for South Africa; he was promoted sergeant in June and established a reputation for firmness and fairness. The contingent saw twelve months active service before being disbanded in Brisbane on 10 August 1901.

In 1908 Wienholt became manager of Wienholt Estates Co. of Australasia Ltd and was responsible for the firm's Queensland properties. He was a good cattleman and published a method of dealing with the ravages of tick. Entering politics in 1909, he was the member for Fassifern in the Legislative Assembly until 1913. That year, having failed to win the Federal seat of Wide Bay, he decided to go on safari to German South-West Africa (Namibia). While hunting, he was mauled by a wounded lion; his wrist was mangled and he lost full use of his right hand.

Learning of the outbreak of World War I, Wienholt made his way to Rhodesia. His offer to scout for the British was refused and he returned to Brisbane. In March 1915 he sailed for Africa accompanied by Ivan Lewis, a friend. They served briefly on border patrol as special service troopers in the British South African Police, then enlisted in the East Africa Mounted Rifles. Early in 1916 they were seconded to the Intelligence Branch and Wienholt was promoted warrant officer. Leading a patrol into German East Africa (Tanzania), he collected valuable information before being wounded and captured on 1 July. He escaped six months later and spent fifteen days crossing unfamiliar country to regain his own lines. For his gallantry he was awarded the Military Cross. Wienholt performed further successful reconnaissance missions, among them an arduous six-month expedition during which his party was frequently attacked by superior enemy forces. His courage and endurance won him the Distinguished Service Order in October 1918. A bar to his M.C. had been gazetted in September; he had also been promoted captain.

Two months after arriving home, on 29 April 1919 Wienholt married Enid Frances Sydney Jones at St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney. They made their home at his property, Washpool Farm, near Kalbar, Queensland. That year he was elected to the House of Representatives as National Party member for Moreton and immediately urged the government to repeal restrictions on German settlers disfranchised during the war. A prudent businessman, he spoke against public indebtedness and state enterprise. He voted in accordance with his conscience on all matters except 'motions of censure or want of confidence'. He did not contest the 1922 election. In 1930 the Fassifern electorate returned him to the assembly. Retaining the seat in 1932, he did not contest the 1935 election. He had published The Story of a Lion Hunt (London, 1922), an account of his adventures on safari and in World War I, and gone lion-hunting on four occasions between 1923 and 1929.

Following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Wienholt arrived in Addis Ababa in December 1935 as war correspondent for the Brisbane Courier Mail. Two months later he joined the Ethiopian Red Cross as a transport officer and left for the front. Impeded by Italian air attacks and hostile tribesmen, he skilfully assisted various philanthropic groups to retreat to the capital. He recorded his experiences in The Africans' Last Stronghold: in Naboth's Vineyard (London, 1938) and continued to promote the Ethiopian cause in Australia and England, but failed to gain official or public support for his stand. On the outbreak of World War II he sailed to Aden; while awaiting Italy's entry into the war, he learned Arabic and Amharic. In anticipation of a commission in the British Army, he was ordered on 31 August 1940 to proceed overland from the Sudan to Ethiopia in charge of a small party of natives. Wienholt's group was a component of Military Mission 101, a force tasked with fostering rebellion against Italy. Ambushed and wounded, probably on the morning of 10 September, he was last seen scrambling into the bush and was presumed to have died.

Of military bearing, with a moustache and short beard, Wienholt had been alert and restless. At Eton 'he was conspicuous as a straight running, fearless boy of great energy'. The boy was father to the man: he never smoked or drank alcohol, and his physical fitness more than once saved his life. Although taciturn, he liked to tell a good yarn, and to listen to one. As a soldier and scout, he was brave and resourceful, in the style of the heroes in his book, The Work of a Scout (London, 1923). A man of 'ruthless integrity and exacting truthfulness', he abhorred sentimentality and exaggeration. Consequently, his books understated his deeds. An 'uncompromising individualist', he had affection for the peoples of Africa. Wienholt lived much of his life alone, and died alone for a cause which he embraced eagerly and with passion. His wife survived him, as did their only daughter Anne who became a prominent artist. His Queensland estate was sworn for probate at £174,978.

Select Bibliography

  • P. E. von Lettow-Vorbeck, My Reminiscences of East Africa (Lond, 1920)
  • M. J. Fox (compiler), The History of Queensland (Brisb, 1921)
  • A. D. Mickle, Many a Mickle (Melb, 1953)
  • C. G. Grabs, Australian, and a Hero (Toowoomba, Qld, 1987)
  • W. Thesiger, The Life of my Choice (Lond, 1987)
  • Canberra Times, 11 May 1968
  • R. C. Foot, Arnold Wienholt: A Biography of an Independent Australian (manuscript, privately held)
  • Wienholt collection (University of Queensland Library).

Citation details

P. J. Greville, 'Wienholt, Arnold (1877–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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