German immigrants in Sydney: 1855-1886

Gottfried and Viktoria Fischer arrived in Australia in March 1855. Both were 33 years old. They had three children, Caroline (8), Charles (5) and William (1). Their fourth child, Heironimys, aged 4, had died of cholera on the voyage out. Five months after they arrived Joseph was born, in August 1855. In 1860, five years after their arrival, Michael Frederick was born. So from this it seems clear that the Fischer family lived at least for the first five years in Sydney, and the birth certificates of the two boys indicate that the family lived in Kent Street, on the Darling Harbour side of the city centre. They had come out on the Vinedressers Bounty Scheme, but there is no indication that Gottfried worked as a vinedresser or indeed in any agricultural employment. Documents from later in his life suggest he was a carpenter and cabinet maker, and since German craftsman were highly sought after at that time he was likely to have found employment readily in the city.

In 1863 the family appears to have been living in Forbes. Two events happened in that year that indicate their presence there. The first was the death of Joseph, the first of their Australian born sons, who died on 12 March 1863, aged 7, of typhoid fever. The second was the birth, four months later, of Martin, the last of Victoria’s children. It was as if history had repeated itself. Victoria was pregnant with Joseph when Heironimys died in 1854. She was pregnant with Martin when Joseph died in 1863. Martin, however, survived to adulthood.

Why the family was in Forbes and how long they remained there is uncertain. The next recorded major event in the life of this German immigrant family was the marriage of the only girl, Caroline, in 1868, to John Holdorf. They married at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney (which was temporarily housed in a wooden structure after the first cathedral burnt down in 1865), which would suggest that they had moved back to the city. It also indicates that the Fisher family was Catholic, which is in keeping with their origins in Bavaria (Viktoria) and Hesse (Gottfried). John Holdorf was from northern “Germany”, from the duchy of Holstein, and was Lutheran.

The anglicisation of the family can be seen in the changing of the spelling of their respective names. Viktoria became Victoria. Fischer became Fisher. Johann Holtorf became John Holdorf. Michael and Martin, the Australian born boys, certainly sound more English than German, though even the older children had quite English names (Caroline, Charles and William). Heironimys was perhaps the most German sounding of the children’s names, but he had perished at sea. Had he made it to Australia I can imagine that he too would have adopted an English name.

Gottfried and Victoria lived out the remainder of their days together in Sydney, in the inner eastern suburbs, what is now known as Darlinghurst, but which has previously been regarded as part of Woolloomooloo. They raised their daughter and their four boys in town. Gottfried was a carpenter and a cabinet maker and it would appear that Charles Benedict learnt the same trade. Charles married a girl called Emily and they had a family. Caroline and John moved to Goulburn shortly after their marriage and built a life there, raising a large family. What became of William and Michael I am unsure of at this time. Martin, however, the youngest of the Fishers (born 1863), married Louisa Stallwood and they lived in Paddington. The exploits of two of their sons, Fred and Les, in WW1, have been well documented by Pauline Cass on her blog. The Fishers and their descendants were a Sydney family.

In 1877 Charles was renting a house at 202 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, the owners of which were registered as Fisher and Usher, presumably his father Gottfried and a business partner. Gottfried had been in Australia for 22 years by this stage and had clearly built a business and a name for himself. The building was demolished and rebuilt by Gottfried and his son Charles Benedict, and appears to have been owned by Charles until his death in 1926 when he left it to the Presbyterian church. The same building passed into the hands of the Department of Main Roads in 1969 and thereafter was used as emergency housing by the department of housing.

As for Gottfried and Victoria, they lived in Darlinghurst, at 259 Bourke Street, (behind the present day school, SCEGGS, Darlinghurst, which did not exist in Gottfried and Victoria’s day) until Victoria died in 1886 at the age of 64. Gottfried lost his life partner whom he had met so many years before in Augsburg, Bavaria and with whom he had crossed the world to start a new life in the New World. It was surely a hard time for him. He seems to have retired, packed up his life and moved to Goulburn where he lived for the remainder of his life with Caroline and John and their huge family. He died 10 years later in 1896, 74 years of age.

See also:

Transcript of Victoria’s funeral notice:
The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 3 April 1886
THE FRIENDS of Mr. GOTTFRIED FISCHER are respectfully invited to attend the Funeral of his deceased beloved WIFE. Victoria ; to move from her late residence, No.259, Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo, this Saturday afternoon, at quarter before 2 o’clock, for the Necropolis. PKIRBY, Undertaker.

Transcript of Martin’s marriage notice
SMH Thursday 28 April 1887
FISCHER-STALLWOOD.-April 20, 1887, at St. James Church,by the Rev H I Jackson, Martin, youngest son of Gottfried Fischer of Bourke Street, to Gertrude Louisa Stallwood, second eldest daughter of Reuben Stallwood, of Glebe Point, Sydney.

St Mary’s Cathedral:

4 thoughts on “German immigrants in Sydney: 1855-1886

  1. HI David,

    Better late than never I have just found this amazing story all I had of my 2nd great grandfather was a 1 page document found in my mother’s belongings she was Laurel Gertrude Presland, Mona Gertrude Fischer’s daughter. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to see them Take care Jennifer

    1. Hi Jennifer, nice to hear from another Fisher descendant. I take it there have been a few Fisher family reunions over the years, but I have never attended one. It would be, as you say, really fascinating to meet some of these people whose lives we can only imagine. I suppose there is something of them in us…

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