Zwar > Migration to australia

New life in Australia

First experiences in Australia

“One at first expects everything in Australia to be easier than it really is.”

This great understatement was made by Michael Zwar when he finally got to writing a letter home. The truth was that things were so bad that he didn’t write home for another 15 months. This was a fairly common experience. Johann Mirtschin didn’t write home for over 3 years for the same reason. Before they left home there were always those who said in dismay, “Why do you want to leave our Country?” and “Why do you want to leave here?” The same questions are asked today when someone leaves Australia for overseas. When the migrants arrived in Australia they had something to prove, as did those who came out to Australia 100 years later in the big migration of the late 1940’s and the 50’s.


When the Wends arrived in Australia they were in for some shocks. They did not anticipate the degree to which they would be handicapped by not knowing the English language. Michael Zwar later wrote home:

“On the voyage out I didn’t worry about learning English, though I had books and time enough. I learnt nothing so that when I stepped ashore I didn’t understand even ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Dear brothers! Don’t think that coming to a new country is a simple matter. Imagine landing among a foreign people where one understands not a word. It often happened that I said ‘yes’ when I should have said ‘no’, and when they called me for meals, I had no idea what they meant. Added to that I had a senseless boss so that it seemed I had exchanged my homeland for hell. Had I at that time written home, my compatriots would surely have been afraid to come to Australia.”

Michael also writes:

“I had been working for an Englishman who wanted to cheat me out of 10 pounds sterling…. He had written a receipt and although I did not understand what it was, yet I signed the statement saying that I had already been paid. With God’s help I did receive 7 pounds but I was cheated out of 3. Out here one has to watch carefully that one is not deceived. Until a man knows English he has to pay education fees, (ie. he has to let others take unfair advantage of him).”

His shipmate Hoehne experienced similar problems:

“It is seldom that you meet someone who knows German and English. If ever you need such a person to tell you the right street, you have to pay 25 new silver groschen… Thus a person who comes from Germany has the last groschen drawn from his pockets. Finally he can be given no other advice than that he he take a stick in his hands and a mantle over his shoulders in order to go 200 to 260 English miles into the unsettled heathland. There he finds some sort of old shed made from the bark of trees and that is his house. The bed on which he lies is also of bark. If he takes more things with him, they are bound to be stolen. As for food, – flour, tea, sugar and meat will be sent to him. The flour is then pressed into the bark, a loaf is made out of it, and it is somehow baked in the fire. Now you have bread, meat and tea one day; the next day you have tea, meat and bread; and for variety you again have bread, meat and tea etc.”

In 1851 squatters held most of the land in Victoria under licences. The average size of a run was 24,000 acres. There was a great demand for shepherds to care for the flocks of sheep as there was no fencing. For those who did not speak any English, it was about the only job readily available. Imagine how frightening it was to live out in the wilds of a strange country, especially at night! And how lonely! Nor did it help one learn English!

Primitive Living

The Wends had no idea how primitive their style of living would be in Australia.

People lived in shacks – rich and poor alike. Some families lived in tents. Housing in the towns was not only primitive (and worse in ‘the bush’) but it was hard to come by and also expensive to rent. In summer one had to go miles to get water.

Some simple things they had taken for granted at home were lacking. The letters from Germany were often addressed in German Script which the English people working in the Post Offices couldn’t read. Sometimes they simply burnt the letters, or they sent them on to another town or city. By the time mail arrived the Wends had often moved elsewhere to find work. If mail came for them, and the Post Office could read the names, a list of names would be printed in the Newspaper so that the recipients could come and collect them. Sometimes the recipients were too late in calling and the letters had already been posted on to another town.

Church Life

In Saxony village life revolved to a great degree round the Parish Church. Nine out of ten churches were Lutheran, and the other 10% were Roman Catholic. Now the Wends had arrived in a city where there seemed to be churches of every kind imaginable, and not one was Lutheran! Hoehne was shocked to learn that there was no Lutheran Church in Melbourne, and not even a Lutheran school for the children. In fact, there was actually no Lutheran pastor in all of Victoria!


Transport in Victoria was almost non-existent outside Melbourne. One travelled to the coastal places by boat. Even if one owned a horse there were not many miles of road, but bush tracks that wandered through the trees between sheep station properties.


Some of the migrants found life so miserable that they returned home as soon as they could raise the necessary money. The Wend Hoehne was one of them. One hundred years later there would be a far greater migration from Europe to Australia. Again people went for a variety of reasons and most found it difficult at first. Some found everything wrong with the Country and returned home. Hoehne belonged to the latter category. He came out on the ship Prubislaw with Michael, and as Michael later wrote:

“Hoehne complains so loudly about everything that even the dogs want to get away from him.”

There are two letters Hoehne wrote home in 1851 to tell the people ‘the truth’ about Australia. A few quotes:

“The Emperor Napoleon erred when he went to Russia; we erred when we decided to go to Australia.”

Concerning Hartig and the promises he had made in Germany about holiness everywhere in Australia, he writes:

“I found atrocities and cruelty here in full measure, but nowhere any holiness.” “Wild fruit does not grow here … the birds sing poorly. The grass grows sparsely.”

Hoehne was miserably homesick. When he received a letter from his brother- in-law he says:

“I took the letter outside the town and read it there. I cried and let my tears flow, as I remembered the lovely church services in your midst – services which I have to do without entirely here – the beautiful songs of the birds and the colourful flowers of the old fatherland, all of which are missing here. In Germany one calls Australia a Promised Land. Here however it is called the English Siberia, which is true. All the great robbers, thieves and other criminals that have earned the death penalty are sent out or deported to Australia from England. Now there are more than 88,000 such ne’er-do-wells spread over the whole of Australia. Here they are the greatest speculators and the most prominent gentlemen. They are masters of lying and deceiving.”

Hoehne tried to return home on a Hamburg ship but the captain wouldn’t take him. Hoehne was sure they would not take him, because if he went home and told people the truth about Australia no one would want to migrate there and the shipping lines would lose business. He also tried an English shipping agent without success.

Hoehne was in the bad books of the other Wends. A Karl Hempel of Purschwitz had written that he would have gone to Australia if Hoehne hadn’t given such a bad report back home, and the Wends at Melbourne were upset. Johannes Rusel warned Hoehne that he would throw stones at him! Mrs Zimmer asked him how the few Wends would manage here if no others came out to join them. Hoehne returned home the following year with his wife to publish his experiences in a book and tell people what life was really like in Australia.
[Note: The Hoehne book has been translated into English and published from pages 176 to 217 in the excellent book ‘From Hamburg to Hobson’s Bay’ by Thomas A. Darragh and Robert N. Wuchatsch.]

Land ownership – the turning point

The Wends who managed to stick it out for the first miserable years soon began to do well. They bought land and were soon writing letters home. These first Wends to go out to Melbourne found it much more difficult in the first years than those who had settled in South Australia. By 1850 there were thousands of Germans who had been in South Australia a number of years and were now getting established. They had a number of Lutheran Churches and schools. There was also a Wend pastor, Andreas Kappler, who had landed in Adelaide in 1848. Some of the Melbourne Wends went over to South Australia. (eg. Falant, Albinus, and Doecke).

Good points about Australia

The Wends found a number of good points about Australia too.

There were not the class distinctions that separated their society in Europe. The wealthy and the poor lived in similar circumstances. Everybody could eat meat every day, and one ate bread made from wheaten flour. (In Germany only the wealthy could afford wheaten flour. The poorer people ate Rye bread). There was no fear of war. In Germany there were always rumours of impending wars, even though they didn’t usually eventuate. The land in the country was comparatively cheap. The main problem was that the Governments in both South Australia and Victoria could not survey areas of land off for sale as quickly as people wanted to buy. So they surveyed sections of about a square mile at a time. Only the rich could afford to buy so much at a time. The Wends would sometimes club together to buy a large block and then divide it up among themselves.

After a few years of hard work, putting up with the primitive conditions, one could begin to get established. All those who wrote home stressed that one should come prepared to work. At the same time as Michael Zwar arrived in Melbourne, Michael Deutscher was writing home from Adelaide to his fellow Wends at home: (He had migrated in 1848)

“On our ship we also had some people who had never worked in their lives and thought that they could lay their hands in their laps and live off wild game or different fruits that grow here. These people have deceived themselves badly and now find that if they are not to die of starvation, they must work hard, and that for them is more bitter than wormwood. There is nothing here for lazy bones and no one gives beggars anything, because there is work enough for all and the pay is good.”

Brother Johann

When Michael eventually wrote home in 1851, his brother Johann, wife and daughter Maria had already left for Australia.

Brother Peter

Three years later Peter Zwar married and he and his bride left immediately for Australia where they landed in Adelaide in November 1854.

They left behind Andreas, Maria and Karl, and their mother Anna Zwahr, who would all remain in Saxony.

In 1880 a nephew, Ernst Zwar, the son of Andreas, went to Australia too. Michael Zwar had returned home for a visit in 1878 and convinced Ernst he would be better off in Australia.

© Kevin Zwar 2012