Who was Gottfried Fischer (1821-1898)?
Caroline Fischer, who married my grandfather’s grandfather, John Holdorf, at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1868, was the daughter of a German immigrant by the name of Gottfried and his wife Viktoria. Caroline was born in Germany, or more correctly, as far as I know, in the Kingdom of Bavaria (Königsreich Bayern), but left with her parents and three younger brothers in 1854, joining the swelling numbers of German immigrants to the new worlds of Australia, America and Canada. They sailed on board the sailing ship Caesar, as I have written about in a number of blogs over recent weeks, arriving in Sydney in March 1855. But what of Gottfried? Who was he and what caused him to leave his native land and risk the perils of a sea voyage around the world in search of a new home for himself and his descendants?
I have very little information about Gottfried or his wife, Viktoria. However, the little that I know indicates that he was born in the town of Harheim, which is just north of Frankfurt. Harheim appears to have been in a state called Hesse-Nassau and Frankfurt was sandwiched between Hesse and Bavaria. The states of the so called German Federation which existed from 1815 to 1866 were many and to my mind confusing. Some were kingdoms, some were duchies, some were grand duchies. Bavaria is well recognised by most nowadays because of the scenic beauty of its alps, but Hesse and Nassau are not as readily identified by us foreigners. Frankfurt is well known even to non-Germans like me because it is such a large city and a hub for flights within Europe, like other easily recognised cities in Germany such as Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.
I really know nothing of Harheim, having never been there myself. There are of course websites for the area but I have not found anything in English and I lack the patience to use google translate for every page with the name Harheim in it to see if there is something interesting there. More interesting for me are the pictures, and below is one that I found on a German blog which gives a nice impression. It seems like a pleasant but rather unremarkable town, at least looking at the pictures. It barely rates a mention on Wikipedia, unlike Bramstedt, the home of the other side of our German ancestry.
Remarkable or not, Harheim was the birthplace of Gottfried Fischer, who departed from there in 1854 with his young family for Australia. He and his wife were both aged 33 when they left. Viktoria, who was named Scherer before she married, was from Augsburg, Bavaria, which is a good way south of Harheim. The records I have indicate that their first child, Caroline, was also born in Augsburg. So the first question that comes to my mind when thinking of Gottfried is how he came to marry someone from so far away. For some reason Gottfried was living for a period in Augsburg, where he married and where his first child was born. But sometime between 1847 and 1849 he took the family back to Harheim, where his next three children, all boys, were born. Then in 1854 he decided that migration to Australia offered the best future for the family.
On the Hamburg passenger lists Gottfried is listed as a wine grower (weinbauer). However, in his later life in Sydney he apparently worked as a carpenter. It is possible that he was not a winegrower at all, but listed himself as one because that was what Australia was looking for at the time, and this occupation made an assisted passage possible. Neither Harheim nor Augsburg appear to be in wine-growing districts of Germany. I suppose it is possible that he did work in the wine making business and then decided after he came to Australia that he would become a carpenter. But I somehow have my doubts.
At the same time, I have trouble understanding why either a winegrower or a carpenter would travel from Harheim to Augsburg, a distance of at least 300km. Could there have been another reason that Gottfried was in Augsburg in the 1840s when he met Viktoria? When Caroline was born in 1847 Gottfried was 26 years old. His wife, Caroline, was the daughter of a master weaver. How did they meet? How could they have married? Given the times in which they lived I have wondered if Gottfried was perhaps a soldier, one of the few occupations that would lead a poorer man to move over such a large distance. Would a carpenter or a winegrower move that far? If so why?
What seems certain to me is that Gottfried was not a timid man. He and Viktoria decided to leave their native land and move to the other side of the world. Such a decision is never easy. It requires a willingness for sacrifice. It requires a preparedness to take risks. It implies a certain degree of adventurousness. These are characteristics that are often seen in soldiers. What is more a good number of Gottfried’s Australian descendants ended up fighting in the Great War of 1914-18 (though not on the German side!).
But the truth is I simply don’t know much about this Gottfried Fischer who left Germany in 1854 and took his family to the far side of the world.