Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “gottfried fischer”

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:


Victoria Fisher (1821-1886)

Victoria Fischer in 1868, age 46

Victoria Fischer in 1868, age 46

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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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).

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?

Frankfurt.HarheimI 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.

A view of modern Harheim (from

A view of modern Harheim (from

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.

Sailing south

The voyage of the Caesar wasn’t all misery. Ernst Middendorf does capture some of the wonder and romance of a long sea voyage in his descriptions. His favourite pastime was to climb into the crows nest and observe the world from high up. I think I would have enjoyed this too, despite my hesitancy about heights. I suspect passengers were not permitted to climb the rigging. There are advantages to being a ship’s doctor, though it would take much to compensate for carrying the burden (and in the minds of some, the responsibility) of the recent cholera epidemic. Here is an excerpt from Dr Middendorf’s journal, dated 6th January 1855.

If I really want to feel free and happy and shake off all ill-humour, I climb up the main mast, high into the top… Our whole little world lies under me, and from wholly objective observation, much in it seems more bearable to me, even engaging. But first I draw free breaths and with deep gulps enjoy the fresh air that cools me and moves my high seat in a gentle swing, back and forth. The sea affords its full magnificent impression, the waves flatten themselves in the distance and the broad expanse seems to curve towards the horizon. A glance downwards shows the slim form of the ship. It effortlessly cuts through the blue deep and with every rising and sinking, the white foamy waves rush round its bow. Behind the ship the backwash circles, a row of eddies left behind by the rudder, and beside it, the log rope that governs the sea clock that records the miles…

Gottfried Fischer leaned on the railing enjoying the same vista from deck level as that in which Middendorf revelled high in the rigging. He felt a vague envy as he glanced up at the young doctor, who he had noticed a while before swinging himself into the shrouds and clambering toward the sky. What a relief it must be, Gottfried thought, to sit in the crow’s nest, away from the crowds, with just the wind and the sea and the wide, wide world. The doctor was a decent enough fellow, obviously inexperienced, a bit full of himself, but he was not uncaring, and Gottfried had seen the toll the recent epidemic had taken on the man. Middendorf had borne the brunt of the passenger’s complaints and criticisms without trying to defend himself, getting on with his job, though It was clear there was little he could do. Once the disease had gained a hold, Dr Middendorf had not much more in his doctor’s bag than the passengers themselves had to stop it. He had stood anxiously by with the rest, wondering if his turn would come soon too. But he had not been idle or resigned himself to hopelessness and depression. He had moved from sick bed to sick bed, administering his medicines with compassion and patience, speaking words of comfort, though he knew that there was little hope. Middendorf was young, only 23 or 24, at the start of his career. To lose so many patients so soon was hardly a good way to start life as a doctor.

Gottfried’s thoughts wandered away from the doctor as his eyes drifted down to the sea racing alongside the ship. He saw dolphins at the bow, their grace and beauty filling him with fascination, even joy, despite the sadness that had engulfed him and Viktoria over recent weeks. The sea had taken Heironimys, lowered over the side in his weighted canvas shroud, his little dehydrated body released to sink into the dark waters of the Atlantic. He had been so young, just three, his life snuffed out almost before it had begun. The future that Gottfried had imagined for his children when he and Vicki had decided to emigrate was one that Heironimys would never know. Viktoria’s grief had been hard to bear, but so many were grieving. Whole families had died, and there were some children who were now parentless. How would they survive in the distant colony, he wondered?

Gottfried thought of their home in Harheim, where he and Vicki had lived their first years together, expanding their young family. They had moved back there shortly after Caroline was born. Their years in Harheim, close to his family, had been good ones but hard ones, years in which the conviction slowly grew that they should start a new life in the New World. They had thought first of America, the land that had caught the imagination of so many of his compatriots. He had seen many leave, and he had become convinced it was the best chance of a good life for his young family. Then he had heard about the Vinedressers Scheme, an opportunity for an assisted passage, not to America but to Australia, a land mysterious but exciting on the far side of the world. Viktoria had not been enthusiastic at first. How could they leave home and family for a land they had never seen?

But he had won her over, little by little, and by the time they left she was as excited as him. But the leaving had not been easy. He thought of his ageing parents, his brothers and sisters, remembered their sadness as they had boarded the Hamburg train. He felt the pain of parting again. Could it be just a month back? Already that seemed like another world, and Gottfried knew it was a world that he would never see again. It was a big thing to emigrate, to turn your back on home and family, on the country of your birth. It was a big thing to start again. He had no idea how things would turn out, but he had felt certain of his decision to leave. The death of his little boy was not something he had reckoned with and he felt the pain threatening again to drag him into regret and self reproach. He looked across the deck and saw Vicki staring out to sea, lost in her own anger and grief, little William cradled in her arms. He wondered how they would recover from their loss. They must focus on life, not death, or they would never survive.

Of course they had known there would be risks with moving, but they had not imagined that tragedy would strike them so soon after their departure. He went over everything again his mind, the nights they had laid awake arguing about this emigration, weighing up all the factors, trying to come to unity over their future. Despite everything, he was sure it had been the right thing to leave. There was no future in Harheim and Australia was a land of promise. They both knew it would be hard, but eventually life would settle down and they would know that they had made the right decision.

Gottfried’s gaze moved to the bow of the ship and the expanse of ocean that lay before them. The ship listed slightly, he heard the hum of the wind through the rigging, the crack of the full bellied sails as the ship sped southwards, up and down in the long swell. The sea was a deep blue, the air warm. It was mid-winter in Harheim, and the world familiar to him would be covered in snow. He shook thoughts of home and sadness from his head and focussed his eyes forward. Tropical breezes blew through his hair, an equatorial sun warmed his back. With so much death behind him was extra thankful to be alive. Alive and sailing south.

Post Navigation