They set up KZN’S Ger­man towns

De­scen­dants re­mem­ber pi­o­neers who left their mark on the prov­ince

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD RHYS JONES

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.

The Bergth­eil Mu­seum, opened in 1990 in Westville by Ger­many’s ambassador, Immo Stabreit. In­side, above right, the floor­boards date to the 1800s. Jonas Bergth­eil, right, brought the first group of Ger­man set­tlers to Na­tal in 1848. Pas­tor Karl Pos­selt,...

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