Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Hamburg to Sydney in the 1850s

Johann Holtorf, a 28 year old farmer from Bramstedt, Holstein, sailed in November 1856 from Hamburg to Sydney on the sailing ship, Steinwärder, as I have mentioned in a previous blog. Two years earlier another German family, the Fischers of Harheim in Hessen, near Frankfurt, had departed Hamburg on the same route. They sailed on another square-rigger, the Caesar, of the Hinrich Wilhelm Köhn line. Gottfried and Viktoria Fischer travelled together with their four children, Caroline, Charles, Heironimys and William. Heironimys died on the voyage, presumably of cholera. Caroline, the eldest, was just 7 when they departed in November 1854, but she turned 8 before they arrived in Sydney at the end of the following March. She was 10 when Johann Holtorf arrived in Sydney two years later.

I imagine that the German community in Sydney in the 1850s was close knit. Though Johann was from the Danish Duchy of Holstein in the north and the Fischers were from the German state of Hesse, hundreds of kilometres south, they all spoke German, and it is likely Johann got to know Gottfried and Viktoria and their growing family during his first years in the colony. The Fischer family left Sydney and moved to Forbes for a time in the 1860s, while Johann remained in the metropolis. By the time the Fischer family moved back to Sydney, some years later, Caroline had grown into a young woman, and she obviously caught Johann’s eye; in 1868 they married, Caroline just 21 years old, Johann already 40. They moved to Goulburn and had 11 children, the first of which was my great grandfather, Charles Holdorf.

Caroline and Johann were both German migrants, but they also shared the unforgettable experience of a 4 month voyage by sailing ship between Germany and Australia, though Caroline was just a little girl and was travelling with her family and Johann was a young man and travelling alone. In the 1860s steam began to take over as the main form of transport for migrants, and even in the 1850s there were some steamers plying the seas. Although I have no record of Johann’s voyage, there is an interesting account of the Fischer family’s journey written by the ship’s doctor, a young man by the name of Ernst Middendorf. It gives a fascinating glimpse into the voyage and over the next few weeks I will highlight some parts of that account on this blog.

The description was published as “a long letter home” in a German emigrant magazine called Allgemeine Auswanderungszeitung, in Rudolstadt, Germany in 1855. The British Library has copies of all of the issues of the magazine over the period 1847-1871. The “long letter home” was published in serial form in seven instalments in September-October 1855. In 2008 an English translation of the letter by Jenny Paterson was published in an Australian genealogy publication called Ances-tree (volume 21, number 3). There is a scanned copy of this translation on the family history website of the Ubrihien family here.


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