Victoria Fisher (1821-1886)
Victoria Fisher was born Viktoria Scherer in Augsburg, Bavaria on December 23, 1821. Her father, Joseph Scherer was a master weaver, and her mother’s name was Maria. I know nothing of her early life, or her siblings, though I believe she was from a Catholic background. Indeed I know little of Bavaria in the 1820s and 30s. When she was around 25 she married Gottfried Fischer, of Harheim, Hessen-Nassau. How they met is a mystery. Their first child, Caroline, was born in Augsburg in 1847, which suggests that Gottfried was living in Augsburg at the time of their marriage and for some time afterward. However, the fact that their next three children, all boys, were born in Harheim, indicates that sometime between 1847 and 1849, they moved back to Gottfried’s hometown from Augsburg, and lived there until they departed for Australia in 1854.
Five months after their arrival in Sydney, on 21 August 1855, Viktoria had another baby, Joseph. The date of his birth indicates that he was likely conceived just prior to the departure from Hamburg, and not on board. Indeed, intimacy on board the Caesar was almost non-existent for passengers, given the crowded conditions and the likely segregation of male and female passengers. So as the Caesar sailed the stormy waters of the English Channel Viktoria was in the first weeks of pregnancy, which would hardly have made the seasickness easier. She was clearly a strong woman; within weeks of their departure she also had to endure the death of her second son, Heronimys, from cholera. And she had a one year old, William, to care for too during that long and tedious voyage. Five year old Charles and 8 year old Caroline probably had to care a lot for themselves.
They arrived in Sydney, then, a young German speaking couple with three children aged from 1 to 8, and Viktoria about 4 months pregnant. The early years in Sydney cannot have been easy for a young mother, as she struggled to learn language and build a home for her young family, at the same time as going through pregnancy, labour and delivery in a nation quite foreign to her and far from everything that was familiar or reassuring. Her husband meanwhile was trying to make a living to support all the hungry mouths.
I imagine that it was in those first years in their new home that Johann Holtorf was introduced to the Fischer family. He was a farmer from Holstein a German-Danish duchy in the north, and arrived on a ship from Hamburg almost exactly two years after the Fischers. The German community in Sydney was likely quite close, and took care of new arrivals. Caroline turned 10 in 1857 and Johann was 28, a farmer from Holstein, north of Hamburg. Viktoria and (probably neither of them) could hardly have imagined that 11 years later her daughter would marry this young man, when Caroline was 21 and Johann, who by then was known as John, was 39.
In 1860, five years after their arrival in New South Wales, Viktoria had a second Australian son, Michael Frederick. By that time she was doubtless fluent in English, though her accent would bear the marks of her German origins all her days. With Michael just a toddler the family uprooted and moved again, to Forbes, though exactly why is a mystery. Gottfried was a carpenter and there must have been work for him in the city, but there was a gold rush drawing people away into the inland wilderness, the “bush,” as it was called, and perhaps Gottfried succumbed like so many others to the lure of gold. In 1863, living in Forbes and with Viktoria expecting yet another child, Joseph, her German conceived but Australian born, son, now 7 years old, died of typhoid fever. His death certificate records his name as John, and the family address as Rankine Street, Forbes. Victoria’s last child, Martin, was born 4 months later in July 1863, in Forbes.
By 1868 the family had returned to the city, and in that year Caroline, now 21, married John Holdorf in St Mary’s Cathedral, becoming the first of Viktoria and Gottfried’s children to marry. Soon after, Caroline and John moved to Goulburn, where they lived for the remainder of her mother Viktoria’s life. Viktoria and Gottfried remained in Sydney, living at different locations including Palmer Street, Sydney, and Bourke Street, Surrey Hills. Gottfried worked as a cabinet maker and carpenter. I imagine that one by one the four boys got married and had families (though I have at present little information about the Fisher children other than Caroline), and the ageing German-Australian couple enjoyed each new grandchild born into the family. Viktoria died in 1886 at the age of 64. By then she had lived 31 years in Australia, her adopted home. Her childhood and early life in Bavaria and later Hessen-Nassau by then had receded into the realms of memory, a different world, another life.
- The picture above of Viktoria was taken in July 1868, a few months after the marriage of Caroline and John, when Viktoria was 46. I was sent this picture by a fellow family history blogger, Pauline Cass, after she had stumbled upon my blog and realised that she had a picture that was relevant to our family. Her own blog is a veritable goldmine of genealogical information, and even has some entries about other descendants of Gottfried and Viktoria (specifically Les and Fred Fisher and their WW1 war service). The picture of Vitkoria is interesting to me in that it appears that there is a slight downward turn of Viktoria’s mouth on the right side, perhaps even a very slight drooping of the right side of her face. I have wondered what this means? Was it just that she naturally had a slightly asymmetrical face, or was she suffering from a stroke, or a Bells Palsy? Again something that I will probably never know.
- The information above comes largely from a typed document that I have in my possession authored by Bev Smith and Elizabeth Brain. It contains notes put together by them for a Fisher family reunion which took place in 1988. My father gave me a copy of this document but I have never had any contact with either of the authors. I am thankful for all their genealogical research which has provided lots of interesting stories about my forbears (and theirs).