Zwar > Migration to australia

Saxony in the 1800s

The Wends

The Zwars were Wends, and not Germans.

The Wends of Lusatia, an area in the Eastern part of Germany, make up the smallest group of the many Slavic races who include the Poles, Czechs, Russians and other Slavic peoples.
The Wendish language the Zwars spoke is closely related to Polish and Czech.

The German cities of Bautzen and Cottbus are the main centres for the Upper Wends [Bautzen] and the lower Wends [Cottbus]. The Wendish language is still the first language spoken by many Wends who live in villages in this area of Germany. Estimates vary, but there are maybe 30,000 Wends who still speak their native tongue. The Wends have inhabited this area, called Lusatia, for over 1,500 years, and in earlier times their territory was much larger and included Berlin, which was originally a Wendish settlement.

In Germany the name ‘Sorb’ is usually preferred to ‘Wend’ by the German people, but the term ‘Wend’ has usually been preferred in the English speaking countries where the Wends have settled, including Australia, Canada, South Africa and the U S A.

Upper and Lower Lusatia

The Zwars lived in Upper Lusatia, in the Kingdom of Saxony. We need to distinguish between two groups of Wends. The whole area the Wends inhabited is called Lusatia. Those living in the lower (northern) part of Lusatia were under Prussian rule. Their Wend centre was the city of Cottbus. The upper Wends, with their main city of Bautzen, were in the kingdom of Saxony. There was a distinct variation in the way each area wrote and spoke the Wend language. With different dialects within these areas they even had difficulties at times understanding a Wend from a different area. In giving reasons for the migration of the Wends we need to remember that the Wends came from two different kingdoms or countries. What applied in one country may not apply in the other.

The Zwars lived in Upper Lusatia, the Kingdom of Saxony, only a few kilometres from the main Wend city of Bautzen. King Frederick II lived in the capital city of Dresden, about 75 kilometres away. He had been the king of Saxony since 1834 (and co-regent with his brother since 1830) and he was to rule until his death in 1854.


Saxony was a German kingdom. The official language etc. was German. This caused a lot of difficulties for the Wends in their area. They were a minority group. A number of the Wends, particularly the women and children, could not speak the German language. (eg. Maria Zwar, who came to Australia with her parents (Johann & Magdalena) when she was three, did not learn German until she was about ten years old. Until then it sounded like “geese chattering” to her.) The Germans would have said the same about the Wend language. The languages are not at all related. Wend is a Slavic language – related to the Czech, Polish and Russian languages. The Wend alphabet has about 40 letters.

In Saxony all legal papers had to be written in German. Each town had its official ‘new’ German name and its old Wend name which the Wends continued to use. The name of the town the Zwars lived in was officially ‘Drehsa’, but the old Wend name was ‘Drzdzija’. The same applied to surnames (and Christian names too). Zwar or Zwahr was the official German name. When Michael’s first letter home was printed in the Wend newspaper however he was ‘Michala Sswore’ from Drozdzija.

Migration, Revolution and Wars

Overall it must be borne in mind that this was the time of a great emigration from Europe to the ‘New Countries’. From 1850 to 1870 about 5 million emigrants left Europe and went to the U.S.A., largely from Germany, Scandinavia and Ireland.

Only a relative trickle went to Australia!

They left Europe for many reasons, but mainly because they thought there would be better opportunities for a future life overseas in the new countries.


A sprinkling of German immigrants had found their way to Australia (eg. Sydney) in the first part of the century. The first large migration from Germany was to South Australia in 1838. 500 people went out in three shiploads to escape religious persecution in Prussia. For several years other shiploads arrived and by then the persecution had ceased. After 1840 no persecuted Lutherans emigrated to Australia. However the new arrivals wrote home and their letters were widely reported in the newspapers of the German kingdoms so that a few more emigrated during the 1840’s.

There was never any persecution of Lutherans in the German Kingdom of Saxony. There is a myth believed by some South Australians that all the Lutherans who emigrated to their colony in the 19th century went there to escape persecution in Germany. It was true only of the first ones till 1840, and they were few compared to the thousands who emigrated in the 1850’s. None of those came from Saxony.

The Zwar families lived in Saxony and in this German Kingdom there was no persecution. They experienced the opposite. On arrival in Australia the Wends were confronted with a variety of squabbling Lutheran groups, sometimes attacking and persecuting each other in ways we would now consider disgraceful! The Wendish newspaper used this to warn the Saxon people they were better off to stay with the one united Lutheran Church in Saxony.

Many of the Wends who went to Australia were deeply religious people. One could hardly have found a more zealous pair of Christians than Johann and Anna Zwar at Ebenezer. Some people would consider Johann a religious fanatic. One can see this tendency in the letters he wrote home as they are mainly religious messages. His brother Peter was glad to move north and get well away from Johann in South Australia to be free of his brother’s religious tirades. (From Arthur Zwar, grandson of Johann).

Military Service

Michael Zwar was the first of his family to emigrate to Australia. I am fairly certain the main reason Michael left was that he turned 20 and was called up for the 2 years military service all the 20 year olds had to go through in Saxony. The story has always been passed down by his family in Australia that Michael hid under a load of vegetables to make his escape. His brother Peter was called up for military service at this time too but was declared to be medically unfit. Peter had intended going to Australia at this time too, but for some reason changed his mind.

1848 Revolution

In 1848 there were political uprisings throughout Germany. They emanated from Paris, and had the ideals of the French Revolution of Freedom & Equality as their cause. The Wends of Saxony took the opportunity to present a special petition to the Royal Saxon National Assembly. A delegation travelled to Dresden in July where they presented the Petition to the Prime Minister, Dr. Braun. The delegation also spoke to the King who treated them most graciously. However only a few of their requests were met. The Petition had been printed as a booklet and widely circulated, and 130 years later a copy was found in Johann Zwar’s old homestead at Ebenezer in South Australia. The Petition gives a good insight into the difficulties the Wends experienced living under German Saxon rule.

In 1849 there were riots in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, about 50 kilometres from the Zwar home. The King fled the city and Prussian troops were brought in to put down the uprising.

“The people seized the town and barricaded the streets; Dresden was almost destitute of troops; and the King fled to the Königstein. The rebels then appointed a provisional Government. Meanwhile Prussian troops had arrived to aid the Government, and after two days’ fierce street fighting the rising was quelled. The bond with Prussia became closer, and (King) Frederick entered with Prussia and Hannover into the temporary “alliance of the three kings”.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol 20 p. 36

The riots in Dresden were in May, and Michael left three months later. If he had been in a desperate hurry he could have gone to Hamburg in several days by train.

Other Influences on Migration

I am sure there were other influences that led Michael and his companions to emigrate to Australia:


One reason was famine. There was a great famine in Saxony and also other parts of Europe, including Ireland, from 1844-48. R. J. Burger describes the famine in Saxony:

“In 1844 there was a failure of the grain harvest. The next year blight destroyed the potato crop. In the following year unseasonable and intense heat in early summer shrivelled the grain; the potato blight also struck again. Many began to look for a way out of their difficulties, especially when the situation grew even worse in 1848, so that bread had to be baked from a little rye mixed with native roots. Desperate with hunger, the people clamoured for food at the weekly market where the stalls were empty. Ugly scenes developed and business come to a standstill. Migration now came to be seen by these dejected people as the only way out of the bleak situation in Lusatia.”
The Coming of the Wends, 1976


Another reason was religion. There was some dissatisfaction with the Church by some Wends who preferred a very personal religion called Pietism. A Lutheran pastor was secured to travel on the same ship as Michael. He died before they left.

Industry Changes

Another reason was the changes coming with the Industrial Revolution.

“The rural populace, especially farmers of western Europe felt the changes most painfully. For the most part these farmers were barely emerging from the final stages of medieval feudalism. Suddenly a new society created by steam-powered industrialisation was making the old-style guild craftsman obsolete, the factory was putting an end to home-based manufacture, and changes in agricultural methods and machinery deprived many of present livelihood and future security. By the 1830’s in Germany, particularly in the Saxon territories where the ancient guild system still prevailed, the home-based textile industry was increasingly hard-pressed by competition from British factories.”
The Lutherans in North America, 1975

R. J. Burger describes how initially the end of feudalism made life even worse for farm and garden workers:

“The landlords agreed to give the peasants their freedom, but only if they bought the land they wished to till. For most peasants this would have meant exchanging their serfdom for a lifelong bondage under heartless money-lenders. Added to this, the land owners were now either unable or unwilling to engage those seeking work on their estates, which led to widespread unemployment. All this was cause enough to turn the thoughts of many to migration and beginning a new life elsewhere.”
The Coming of the Wends, 1976

All of Michael’s ancestors are described as ‘’Gartennahrungsbesitzer’‘, which I have translated as ‘market gardener’, and the economic changes would have affected his family.

Free settlers

There were people in Australia who had vested interests in getting migrants to travel to Australia. The Australian colonies needed free settlers.

In the early 1840’s Melbourne was a growing town of 4,000 people. There were several other smaller settlements along the southern coast of what is now Victoria – at Geelong and Portland – and there were a few settlers working their way inland. There were a number of moves to bring more free settlers to the new colony. William Westgarth, a merchant and general importer was a prominent figure in these moves. (When Victoria became a separate colony in 1853 he topped the Melbourne poll for a place on the Legislative Council).


In 1847 Westgarth visited many places in Germany to arouse interest in migration to Victoria. He wrote a pamphlet which was widely distributed. A bounty of £2.10.0 ($5) was offered to travel agents for each vinedresser, agricultural worker and shepherd who could be induced to go to Victoria. As a result of his efforts a shipload of German immigrants arrived in Melbourne early in 1849.


G. F. Angas, a member of the South Australia Company since its inception, had financed many of the first German settlers who had gone out to South Australia. He was afraid that too many might arrive there. Already in 1839 (three years after both colonies had begun) Angas wrote to Mr. La Trobe (who would later become Lieutenant Governor) in Melbourne suggesting that Victoria should take some German immigrants. La Trobe was agreeable. (La Trobe’s father was a Moravian minister; his wife was Swiss – and her husband had spent times in Switzerland). In the 1840’s La Trobe encouraged the Germans who went to Melbourne. When the ‘’Wappaus’‘ arrived in Melbourne in March 1849 with 100 German immigrants, La Trobe personally went on board the ship to greet them. More shiploads of Germans (and a few Wends) arrived the same year.

Travel agents

In Germany the travel agents received a commission from the shipping lines for each passenger they could induce to board ship. It is not much different with travel agencies today! The agents naturally spread glowing reports of the wonderful future in the new countries overseas, the way they display magnificent posters today encouraging tourists to go there for a visit . The industrial changes had made travel much easier throughout Germany. One could go from Lusatia (on the extreme East of Germany) right across to Hamburg on the other side in two days by train. Some agents made their living organising groups of people to migrate.

The Ship Prübislav

Michael Zwar sailed on the Prubislaw. The agent who organised the shipload of passengers for the Prubislav was a Mr. Hartig. He received 3 Taler (21/–) commission for each passenger who boarded ship. He was good at his job of getting people to Hamburg. He wrote letters to people whom he heard might be interested in the new country of Australia, explaining the great opportunities and the wonderful people waiting there. If they did not reply he would follow the letter with a personal visit, also taking his wife who had a special way with women. Karl Hoehne, who came out on the Prubislaw with Michael Zwar later wrote:

“In Europe they prophesied how we would experience splendid things … Hartig wrote in this way from Liegnitz whilst I was still in Steindorfel, telling me that I could migrate to Australia through his aid. I didn’t reply to his letter, but it wasn’t long before he himself came to Steindorfel … In these letters it was stated, “In Australia everyone is a Christian, nothing but lovely, good people, good land, good country,; everything is nice decent and holy … There is nothing but holiness everywhere and nowhere else can you find this except in Australia”.

An advertisement appeared In the Tydsenske Nowiny (The Wend Newspaper at Bautzen) 21st April 1849:

“An association of migrants numbering 60 has been established. Further interested persons are urged to apply for membership so that they can help with the planning. Among the important questions still to be resolved are the following: the securing of a pastor and teacher, also the most necessary tradesmen and servants.”

The securing of a pastor would encourage the religious people of Lusatia to apply. The deeply religious would not consider migrating if their religious life was to suffer. The Church was the centre of their village life. If a schoolteacher would agree to go as well there would be a better chance to get the families with young children to go along too.

On 7th July the paper reported that Pastor Andreas Pench of Bautzen and Johann Zimmer of Weissig had been signed up, and that the voyage would begin at the end of the month. The fare was 76 Thaler (25 pounds)(children under 8 years 40 Thaler and infants free).

Join the Adventure!

If anyone had doubts they were reassured by the large number of others who had already migrated or were about to go. As Hoehne said –

“This one is migrating, that one is migrating, and so I’ll migrate too.”

© Kevin Zwar 2012
The above article was originally written by Kevin Zwar as part of an unpublished “Story of Michael Zwar.”