Bethany South Australian History


Neuschlesien, New Silesia or Bethanien and later Bethany, about 2 km from Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, was established by a group of Lutheran migrants who arrived with Pastor Gotthard Daniel Frietzsche in 1841. Most of these 270 immigrants had come from Posen and Silesia. After their arrival at Port Adelaide on the Skjold, on 27 October, the majority of them moved to the established German settlements of Hahndorf and Klemzig. Later some of them would move again to the newly established village of Hoffnungsthal. The young colony of South Australia had now more than 1,800 German immigrants among its population of 14,000.

Among the early residents of Bethany were several Skjold passengers including Maria Salome Grosser, who was born on the ship on 26 August 1841, Eva Elisabeth Hentschke, who later married Gottfried Nitschke and died at Krondorf on 26 September 1867, Johann George Hohnberg and his wife Anna Maria, nee Irmler and 6 of their 12 children and Christian Seidel and his wife Eva Rosina, nee Kaergel.

Bethany Map

Early in 1842 nearly a hundred of this group of migrants were joined by other Lutherans, already living at Hahndorf, to establish the first village in the Barossa Valley on land the local Aborigines referred to as Taninda. About 2080 acres were leased, and later bought, from George Fife Angas to start their new venture, Bethany. The remaining members who had come on the Skjold founded Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills.

While collecting statistical information in 1843, Daniel George Brock described Bethany, which had about two hundred inhabitants by that time, as being to the westward of the Barossa Range where a great quantity of land was roughly fenced, ploughed and sowed. Bethany is one of the townships occupied by Germans. The huts, he wrote, are of a miserable order and straggled over a long continuous space. The only one who could understand me was the schoolmaster.

By 1844 the Bethany settlers, almost all of them of peasant stock, had nearly five hundred acres under cultivation, most of them with wheat. The town was laid out in the well known German style, variously called Reihendorf or Waldhufendorf, along the southern boundary of Angas' Special Surveys. They built their cottages along the village street on their farming land which went back as far as the Kedron, later Tanunda, Creek.

Among some of the Skjold passengers to start Bethany were Ernst Gay, born in 1817 in Posen. His wife had died on board and he later remarried to Rosina Hohnberg, daughter of his neighbour George Hohnberg. Daniel Heppner, born in 1808 in Kreis Grunberg, also settled with his wife Louise Hohnberg, and young family in Bethany before eventually moving to New South Wales. Gottfried Nitschke, born in 1802 and his wife Eva Arlt settled and remained for the rest of their lives in the town. An early visiter wrote in 1843, I found a great quantity of land roughly fenced and the land ploughed and sewed between the trees. The wheat is very late and the huts are straggled over a long continuous space. The only one I could understand was the schoolmaster who was surrounded by about thirty lads and lasses.

Many of the original settlers, for one reason or another, left the village within a few years to take up land in surrounding villages such as Rosenthal, Hoffnungsthal and Langmeil and were replaced by new arrivals from Germany. Life was hard and in the early years kangaroos, possums, wild herbs, roots, ducks, turkeys and other wild fowl provided a welcome addition to their staple diet. Their meals, though simple and frugal, seemed to have been wholesome and nourishing, the womenfolk being experts in cooking and domestic economy. For many years, the pattern of their daily life, such as customs, food, dress, houses and almost anything else followed strongly established traditions. Important occasions like births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths were carefully recorded in their big black family bibles. Until recently the communal organization of Bethany could still be traced in some of the fences which ran back in straight lines to the creek.

There was a small area for common pasturage where a shepherd would look after the town's sheep and cattle. As with all newly established towns and its inhabitants, Bethany had its share of problems. Among these was the shortage of timber for building purposes and fencing. Although timber was available, legislation prohibited the removal of it from crownland, as well as stone and soil.

Just as big a problem was the lack of reliable transport. Roads in the early day were often in a terrible condition and a round trip to Adelaide with a bullock team, to sell or buy supplies, could take more than a week. Lack of pasturage for their animals was another problem keenly felt by the farmers. Although the young town had its own blacksmiths, wheelwrights, shoemakers and ropemakers, it never developed its own business centre. One of the reasons was the fact that the main road bypassed Bethany and ran though the centre of Tanunda.

A further reason, maybe even more important, could have been that Tanunda was proclaimed the Official Postal Centre for the area. As most people walked to nearby Langmeil and later Tanunda to post or collect their mail they would also do their shopping there. One of Bethany shoemakers, Johann Wilhelm Eduard Engelhardt, married Anna Rosina Rau in 1844, had a row of shops in Tanunda and in 1868 published in Berlin 'A Contribution to the History of the Church in South Australia'. The village of Bethany was created by F.C. Hamdorf and C.H. Thiele in 1857.

During the first year Pastor Fritzsche had opened a school and appointed Carl Wilhelm Rohr, who had come out with him on the Skjold, as first teacher. He was quickly replaced by Friedrich Topp. Topp married Anna Maria Bothe in 1843 and instructed the local children for more than forty years until 1887. The next teacher A. Hensel, son of Pastor Hensel of Blumberg (Birdwood), took over and served the town and its children until 1917. The school was closed that year as a result of the war and ill feeling towards anything German. Hensel stayed on as Saturday School teacher, organist and church warden until finally resigning after fifty years of service in 1938.

Early church services were held under a tree or in a tent or the huts of settlers. For nearly two years services were conducted in the home of Albert and Anna Grosser, two of the original settlers. Pastor Fritzsche, while living at Lobethal, regularly visited Bethany to conduct church and other services. Even Pastor August Kavel would make the trip to the Barossa Valley at times. By 1845 the town had its own church and belfry. The bell was rung each day at various times and finally at sunset, marking the end of another working day.

In 1848 Pastor Heinrich A.E. Meyer was appointed and served the community until 1862. Meyer, and his wife, had arrived during 1840 as a missionary to the Aborigines at Encounter Bay. When younger members of the Bethany congregation left the town to take up land and establish such towns as Ebenezer, Neukirch Schoenborn, Gnadenfrei, Steinau and Eden Valley, Meyer followed them to carry out his pastoral duties. Although deeply religious, the Lutherans had their differences which eventually led to a split lasting 120 years. When religious persecution ended in Germany after the 1840s, migrants came to Australia for social, family or economic reasons.

On 24 August 1866, the ship Sophie arrived at Port Adelaide. Among its passengers was Pastor Georg Heidenreich who gave his inaugural sermon at Bethany on 2 September and stayed until his death on 8 August 1910, aged nearly 82. Other passengers were missionaries E.Homan, J.F.Gossling and lay helper H.H. Vogelsang. They would establish the mission stations of Kopperamanna and Killalpaninna on the Birdsville Track. Many Bethany residents would later be involved to get the Hermannsburg Mission started on the Finke River in Central Australia.

One of the best known industries of the town and the valley is the production of wine. As early as 1840, Johannes Menge predicted to Angas, 'I am satisfied that New Silesia will furnish the province with such a quantity of wine that we shall drink it as cheap as in Cape Town, and we shall see vineyards and orchards which are matchless in this colony'. He was correct, the Barossa Valley now produces most of Australia's wine. It is most likely that the first vines were planted at Bethany in the mid 1840s by members of the Aldenhoven and Fiedlers families.

The Aldenhoven brothers, Ferdinand and Marno, arrived in South Australia from Schleswig-Holstein in 1838 and settled at the Reedbeds before moving to Bethany where they established themselves as winemakers and farmers. Johann Fiedler, born in 1796 at Klemzig, Prussia, came to South Australia in 1838 with his relatives the Kavels. He first settled at Klemzig before moving to Bethany and planting vines in 1847. Both properties adjoined and children from the Fiedlers and Aldenhovens later married each other. After more than 150 years Bethany still grows grapes and has some well known wineries.

Bethany Cemeteries


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