They set up KZN’S German towns
Descendants remember pioneers who left their mark on the province
EVER wondered why there are so many towns in Kwazulunatal with German names? They are reminders of the valuable contribution made by the first German settlers to arrive in the British colony of Natal, and they owe their existence to a Jewish entrepreneur and a Christian missionary.
No doubt their achievements will be discussed and commemorated at the 50-year reunion of Hermannsburg School’s matric class of 1967 being held in the Drakensberg resort of Dragon’s Peak this weekend, for the organiser is a descendant of one of the pioneers.
She is Ursula Böhmer, whose ancestor named Königkramer arrived in Port Natal (Durban) on the sailing ship “Beta” in 1848.
The vessel left Bremerhaven on November 27, 1847 with 31 couples, 35 single men, 18 single women and 75 children from the Hannover-osnabruck region and arrived off Port Natal almost 100 days later on March 24, 1848.
During the long voyage, two children were born and four died, so the total number of Hanoverians was 188.
They had been recruited by a Bavarian Jew, Jonas Bergtheil, who spent three years in the Cape before moving to Natal in 1843 with the intention of growing cotton.
When the British government refused his request for settlers he found willing workers in the kingdom of Hanover, and the bewildered new arrivals were transferred by wagons to an untamed area near Port Natal which they named New Germany.
Pastor Karl Posselt of the Berlin Missionary Society volunteered to serve the community’s spiritual needs and held his first service in a tent until a church was built and consecrated on November 19, 1848.
Their fascinating story is vividly described in the displays of the Bergtheil Local History Museum in the Durban suburb of Westville.
Opened in 1990, the commemorative plaque bears the name of Ursula Böhmer’s mother, Anneliese Peters (nee Königkramer), who helped to establish the museum.
Sadly, the cultivation of cotton failed when two successive plantings were ravaged by the dreaded bollworm.
When the majority of settlers opted to try farming on their own rather than return to Europe, Bergtheil cancelled the remaining years of their five-year contracts and the land on which they lived was sold to them on advantageous terms.
Without Pastor Posselt’s intervention, the pioneers may well have foundered within a generation as they had no vision of a distinctly German community.
It was Posselt who succeeded in encouraging them to keep their religion, language and traditions alive, a situation that continues to this day.
After the majority of Bergtheil’s settlers moved into the interior, they were reinforced in 1854 by a second wave of 787 German immigrants who arrived in a scheme organised by the Rev Louis Harms of the Hermannsburg Missionary Society.
Refused entry to Muslim-ruled Ethiopia, the society’s Lutheran missionaries decided that Natal and Zululand should be their field of work and, upon being given permission by the Natal government, they bought a farm near Greytown, built a church and a school in 1856, and named the settlement Hermannsburg.
Hermannsburg School, which accepted youngsters from all over South Africa, eventually became the leading boarding establishment in the colony.
Among its scholars were General Louis Botha, first prime minister of the Union of South Africa, and Sir Frederick Moor, the last prime minister of Natal.
The Lutherans and their descendants eventually spread out into the Natal interior, establishing New Hanover, Wartburg, Harburg, Muden, Gluckstadt, Lilienthal and Luneburg.
A random sample of surnames among the two main parties of immigrants include (from the Bergtheil group) Bosse, Dinkelmann, Driemeyer, Erfmann, Fortmann, Freese, Klusener, Königkramer, Lange, Laatz, Nipper, Oellermann, Schafer, Schafermann, Schwegmann, Siecksmeyer, Thöle, Torlage, Westermeyer and Winter.
Familiar names from the Hermannsburg group include Ahrens, Bartels, Dedekind, Dönges, Engelbrecht, Gerdener, Leipoldt, Merensky, Oltmann, Prozesky, Röttcher, Stielau, Schoemann, Schmidt, Volker, Wagner and Wolff.
Ursula Böhmer is justifiably proud of the achievements of her alma mater’s students, who are found in the civil service, education, banking, medicine, law, the building industry, agriculture and livestock farming all over South Africa and overseas.
One of her former classmates attending this weekend’s reunion lives in Switzerland and another is coming from Australia.