Joachim Matthias Wendt was born on 26 June 1830 at Dageling, Denmark. His parents were Joachim Matthias Wendt and Christina, nee Schlichting. His mother died in 1839 and he and his two sisters were brought up by theirs father. At the finish of his schooling he was apprenticed to a watchmaker and silver smith.
After completing his apprenticeship with the village watchmaker, he decided to migrate and arrived at Port Adelaide in 1854. Within a short time, he had established himself as a watchmaker in Pirie Street and within twelve months became a naturalized British subject. He soon became a well-known watchmaker, gold and silver smith and jeweller.
In July 1856 he advertised his Rundle Street shop in the Register and other newspapers, including the Adelaider Deutsche Zeitung. He would do so for many years. Two years later he took over the business of JH Heinemann and in January 1863 that of J Schomburgk. He had also moved from 68 Rundle Street to number 84. In 1864 and 1865 he gained first prizes at the Dunedin Exhibition in New Zealand.
Wendt was also awarded a prize medal for his work from New Zealand in 1865 and a year later from Victoria. In 1867 he was appointed Jeweller to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and gained two gold medals for his work from South Australia. By this time he employed 12 silversmiths as well as watch makers, jewellers and shop assistants.
In 1867 he produced 70 gold medals and 100 silver medals for the Adelaide Jubilee International Exhibition. His establishment was in high demand for such items, as well as Cups, special mementoes, watches and clocks. In July 1869 he advertised in the Borderwatch that he had opened a shop next to the Mount Gambier Hotel.
New South Wales awarded him a medal in 1870. By now he had a well-established business in Rundle Street and that same year, at age 40, he married Johanna Koeppen, a widow with four children.
In 1878 he won two more first prizes for silverware at the Paris exhibition. Apart from his interest in gold and silver smithing and watch making he was also involved as a member of a syndicate that erected the Adelaide Arcade, in which he had a shop, and eventually became the owner of the Arcade. Other interests were the Freemason Hall in Flinders Street and later, with August Helling, invested in a land development of 60,000 acres in the Mallee scrub.
Wendt was also very involved in the mining industry and was director of several South Australian companies, including the Lyndoch Valley Mining Company, of which W.S. Whitington was secretary. Among some of its shareholders were Dr William Gosse, who had assisted Tolmer at Mount Alexander 15 years before and George Henry Catchlove of North Adelaide.
In 1868 he was on the Board of Directors of the West Kanmantoo mine and also invested in the Bird in Hand mine at Mount Torrens. While a shareholder in the Nil Desperandun he pressed for an extraordinary meeting on 9 December 1869. The purpose of this meeting was to remove all its directors because 'of their many mistakes and blunders'.
In 1870 Joachim Matthias Wendt was involved with the Eclipse Gold Mine, discovered in 1870 by Captain Terrell. When gold was discovered in the Northern Territory, he became heavily involved in the Douglas Gold Mine. Later he became a shareholder and director of the Alma Gold Mine in South Australia. During the silver boom of the 1880s Wendt opened a store at Broken Hill and crafted a model of the Block 10 mine. At different times he was a director of the Adelaide Ice Company, the Metropolitan Brick Company, the Triumph Plough Company and the Tintinara Land Venture.
The Observer reported in December 1895 that Mr JM Wendt as a citizen and a tradesman, has built up an unassailable and enviable reputation, both in private and for the prosecution of the avocation which he has followed Successfully. Mr JM Wendt's establishment in Rundle street is undoubtedly one of the most prominent in the city. From the cheaper articles to the more costly, are to be seen in the windows and in the expensive glass cases, and here it may be said that the windows have been most tastefully dressed. The articles are not too crowded, and there is a graceful and inviting appearance about the wealth of wares.
A specialty is the great stock of articles admirably adapted for Christmas gifts, and the public have shown their appreciation of Mr Wendt's enterprise in this direction by helping considerably to diminish the array of silver brooches and links. Pretty little plush cases, containing in some instances a bangle and a brooch, and in others a bangle and a thimble, and so on, have found many admirers, while the cigar cases of tinted crocodile and other exquisitely prepared leather, as well as tempting pocket books.
The Kapunda Herald wrote in January 1901 that one has no conception of the enormous, varied, and costly stock which Mr Wendt finds it imperative to keep on hand to meet the multitudinous tastes of his customers, who hail from all parts of the State, requiring all manner of gold and silverware and precious stones.
This business is one of the land marks, as it were, of the city jewellery trade. The large windows fronting Rundle street are stocked with watches, brooches, rings, and almost innumerable other articles, whilst inside in large show-cases are the choicest of designs in gold and silver goods.
Amongst them presentation plates, cups, salvers, tea, coffee and other table sets and church altar furnishings. Trophies for competition are made a specialty by Mr Wendt and his selection is a most elegant one. Speaking of trophies, it may be mentioned that the Kapunda and Light Agricultural Society has been the recipient annually for many years of a sample of M. Wendt's workmanship in the form of a cup for competition in the champion sheep class.
At the turn of the century Wendt, who was now 70, was joined by his son and stepson who took on most of the work making it possible for him to retire. Joachim Matthias Wendt died on 7 September 1917 at his home in Wakefield Street and was buried at North Road Cemetery.
He left an estate valued at more than 33,000 pounds. The business was carried on by family members for almost another 100 years. Some examples of his or his employees' work are held by the Art Gallery of South Australia and the National Gallery in Canberra.
Wendt never sought official or public positions. He was prominently connected with the erection of the Adelaide Arcade then the largest of its kind in Australia. Other instances of his enterprise were his building of the Theatre Royal in Hindley street, and the Freemasons' Hall, Flinders street. Mr Wendt was one of the old-time type of colonists whom the community honoured, a man who was thoroughly upright and honest in every sense of the words. Last year when in his eighty-sixth year of age and his sixty-second year as a South Australian colonist he wrote to the Register as follows,
I understand that it is thought by many that the Germans living here should give some proof of their loyalty to Great Britain. I think this is quite proper; and, although I never was, strictly speaking, a German, I gladly take this opportunity to express my loyalty to the King and my admiration of Great Britain and the British Umpire. I was born a Dane, in Itzehoe, a small town in Holstein, then a Danish province, in the year 1830; and my ancestors, all of whom were Danes, lived there, before me.
In 1848 Holstein was conquered by Prussia from Denmark; and the German rule was so distasteful to me that I left the country and came to South Australia in 1854. I immediately found that I liked South Australia and its people, and decided to make it my home, and within the first year of my stay I took out my naturalization papers and became a naturalized subject of Queen Victoria.
I can truthfully say, after living in comfort and happiness under British rule for 61 years, that I am filled with gratitude for all the blessings I have enjoyed. The terrible atrocities practiced by the Germans fill me with horror and loathing, and must be punished; and I am proud to say that two of my grandsons are now with the Australian troops to help to inflict the punishment, and to maintain the British Empire. The Germans say, 'God punish England!' but I say, 'God bless England, and grant her the victory over her enemies.
Mrs Wendt died at her home, Wakefield Street on Friday 16 May, at the age of 88 years. She had been ailing for some time. Mrs Wendt was born in Hamburg and came to South Australia with her parents Mr and Mrs Ohlmeyer. She married in 1871, and there survive two sons and four daughters. Mrs Wendt was highly esteemed for her many unobtrusive acts of charity.