Thursday, December 20, 2012

A German Colonial Christmas

Picnic Group at Enoggera Reservoir, Brisbane

In 1865, about ten years after the first German emigrant ship arrived in Moreton Bay direct from Hamburg, a reporter from the Brisbane Courier wrote of the German settlers’ Christmas celebrations, highlighted by a picnic and shooting contest “in a pretty little valley” in Toowong.[1]

ERSTES DEUTSCHES SCHÜTZEN-FEST. (The First German Shooting Fest)

SOCIABLE fellows are our German brethren, and they really enjoy a holiday as it should be enjoyed. They determine upon having a good picnic after their own fashion, and they always succeed in carrying it out in a manner not to their own satisfaction only, but to that of those who belong to other nations. They have the happy facility of creating sunshine, even although a large cloud hangs above them always joyous, and never depressed by adverse circumstances.

William Leworthy Goode Drew 

The picnic which they gave yesterday was certainly a great success. Although postponed for a week, those who were present yesterday at the pleasant gathering which took place in a pretty valley which lies beyond Mr. W. L. G. Drew's residence, and near to the homestead of Mr. W. C. Belbridge[2] - appeared thoroughly to enjoy themselves, and the delay which had been occasioned through the unpropitious weather a week before had not had apparently any effect in checking the enthusiasm which was universally displayed by those who were present for entering into and enjoying the games and sports associated with their own fatherland.

Many members of the German community of the Ipswich District came down-river by paddle steamer.  The catering was professionally done by Mr. Lenneberg, of the prestigiously named “Cafe de Paris” although the heat of the Queensland summer was not kind to the temperature of the drinks.

Excursion group arrive by  Brisbane River steamer

The steamer “Diamond” took down a large number of the visitors, but there were many who proceeded to the trysting-place in cars and other vehicles. At one time it was estimated that there about three hundred persons on and near the camping-place. To Mr. Lenneberg, of the “Cafe de Paris”, was entrusted the task of satisfying the thirst of all, and considering the bad spot which was selected for the encampment, he managed very well.  The ginger-beer and lemonade were certainly very hot, as also were other equally enticing liquors. Fowls and pigs had a sultry appearance about them; but what of that? It was a picnic.

Picnic at Brookfield ca. 1888

Johann Heussler, a prominent member of the German community, dominated the shooting program.  Among other things, he was a merchant, emigration agent, and German Consul. His grand mansion built on a prominent hill in Brisbane is now Queensland Government House.  The reporter lamented the poor quality of the rifles but praised the crafting skills of the German ladies who had adapted the native flora to a European-style victory wreath.

Johann Heussler

First on the programme was the Erster Teil[3] or rifle-shooting at a target 200 yards distant. We cannot compliment the gentlemen who entered for the prizes upon their good firing, but we think that in this case (for a wonder) the rifles were not comme il faut[4]. They were not what they should have been for short distance firing. The bull's eye was hit only once and that by Mr. Heussler, who was firing off a tie. He consequently obtained not only the first prize, but also a prettily wreathed scarf manufactured by some ladies out of gum-sprigs and wild flowers.

The shooting events were interspersed with musical entertainments, especially of glees - unaccompanied songs featuring multiple voices, rather like a barber-shop quartet – which were very a popular German tradition.

To the English visitors the various glees sung during the day afforded a great deal of pleasure. At about one o'clock the national song of "Vaterland " was sung most admirably; and, considering the present juncture of affairs in Europe, it is pleasing to know that here the Germans are united, and that, although they can meet together and enjoy themselves, they still preserve the national love for their country in a proportion equal to that displayed by Englishmen for theirs.

The bucolic joys of a bush picnic

After luncheon Dr. Emmelhainz addressed the ladies and gentlemen present at some length, and so interesting was the speech that it was listened to with the greatest attention, although other sports were in anticipation. He referred briefly to the stand in the cause of freedom which had always been maintained by the German people.

Shortly afterwards he distributed the prizes which had been won by the rifle shooters, some of which were very valuable, making the ceremony of distribution pleasant by various happy remarks. The hoop-game for ladies then followed, and after that dancing, though by the way that was kept up at intervals throughout the day. Merriment in every form contributed to prolong the day's enjoyment, and it was late before the sounds of music were lost to the pretty little valley which was, the scene of the Erstes Deutsches Schützen Fest.

William Henry Von Lossburg

The final address was given by the elegantly bewhiskered Dr. Von Lossberg (note the aristocratic appellation “Von”), who spoke on behalf of the many German residents of the rapidly developing Ipswich District.

We may mention that in the course of the day Dr. Von Lossberg[5], of Ipswich, stated that he had been requested by the Germans of that town to represent them, and to express a hope on their behalf that on a future occasion they would be able to join their countrymen in Brisbane. 

The following year Christmas celebrations were reported in the German settlements along the Logan River.  The phenomenon of decorated trees, festive dishes, and Yuletide songs was, at the time, a particularly German tradition, which would be introduced into England by Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert.[6]

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrate Christmas

Christmas on the Logan has been kept up with all honour and custom. Social visits have not been neglected, and the weather was cloudy and cool for the season. The Germans keep up their fatherland customs; they have had their Christmas trees and medley dishes, and sung and prayed, and watched the old year out and the New Year in. The old year has been a memorable one for them.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Brisbane Courier 3.1.1865
[2] Situated in what is now the Brisbane suburb of Toowong.
[3] First section. (German)
[4] Being of the accepted standard. (French)
[5] Medical practitioner and Colonial Officer for the district of Ipswich.
[6] The Brisbane Courier 9.1.1866

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