German Place Names on Central Australian Maps – Baron Ferdinand v. Műller

by Dr Raoul F Middelmann. 7th April 2018

In Australia, from 1838 onwards, German place names had spread wherever German-speakers with rural backgrounds had settled.

The topic of my talk results from a discussion with David Hewitt. It is based on Ernest Giles’ “Diaries of Explorations in Central Australia (1872-76)” and on websites and entries in Australian (e.g. the Australian Dictionary of Biography), English and German encyclopedias. I focus on specific comments on geographic sites mentioned in Central Australia and on German-speakers honoured by them. By my talk, may we gain a deeper knowledge of scientists of up to 170 years ago and their inputs into our lives in Australia today.

German is to be understood culturally and geographically, not politically. Politically, there was no Germany prior to 1871. From 1815 there existed the German Confederation, led by Austria. This did not prevent wars within the Confederation. This also applies to the Holy Roman Empire that ended in 1806.

In Australia, from 1838 onwards German place names had spread wherever German-speakers with rural backgrounds had settled. In the wake of the First World War practically all these names were changed. A few places later regained their original name, e.g. Lobethal and Klemzig. In urban areas, some pre-1914 names survived the war, mainly due to associations with members of the Royal Family, such as Cleve, Coburg and Heidelberg, or for specific historical reasons, e.g. Altona.

The origin and fate of German names in Central Australia are different, because, I suggest, they were, and still are, so little known. Where known, they often are an enigma even to people familiar with them. In short, I hope to throw some light on their origin and historic associations.

No doubt, Englishman Ernest Giles (1835-97) was most influential for placing German names on the map of central Australia. From 1872 he led several exploratory missions into Central Australia, with funding by private subscription from Australia and overseas. The latter was largely organised by Ferdinand Baron von Műller, director of Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens. In return, Giles honoured large and small subscribers by naming sites he had discovered. In 1875-1876 Giles was the first to cross the desert wilderness in both directions between central and western Australia.

By the end of the 19th century Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich Műller was Australia’s most prominent scientist. He was born in 1825 in the historic Hanseatic League and university city of Rostock on the Baltic Sea, Grand Duchy Mecklenburg-Schwerin. His father was “Strandvogt”, i.e. commissioner of customs. He died when Ferdinand was 9 years old. His mother then took him and his sisters abroad, to her parents in Tőnning, Grand Duchy Schleswig.  Here she ran a ferry service across the Eider River, the border to the neighbouring Grand Duchies of Holstein. She died when Ferdinand was 14. He finished “gymnasium” [grammar school] in Tőnning, and then embarked on a 4-year apprenticeship at the still existing Einhorn pharmacy at nearby Husum (Schleswig). One task given to him was to build up an herbarium, leading to his passion for, and knowledge of, botany. He spent every spare moment roaming the country botanizing and establishing links with other enthusiasts. This helped him to master his loneliness, first at Husum and later in Melbourne. Though engaged twice, he never married.

In 1845, to complete his pharmacy qualifications, Műller enrolled at Kiel University. He attended lectures in chemistry, geology, and in some medical subjects. He also studied botany under Ernst Nolte (1791-1875). He passed his State Qualifying Examination (“Staatsexamen”) in pharmacy in March 1847. Over the next 49 years, Műller became Nolte’s most famous student.

Műller was advised, for health reasons to seek warmer climes. Like for many German university graduates at the time, Alexander von Humboldt was his hero. Accompanied by two sisters, Műller arrived in Adelaide on 15.12.1847.  Not surprisingly, while on board on the Hermann von Beckerath, he is reported to have fished plants out of the sea and classified them.

In Adelaide, Műller quickly found work with pharmacist Moritz J. Heuzenroeder, 50 Rundle Street. Early in 1849, he bought land in the Bugle Ranges, between Strathalbyn and Mt. Barker, together with his friend from Husum, Friedrich Krichauff (1824-1894). However, within months finding that science was more to his liking than farming, Műller returned to Adelaide. At his own expense, he began to travel widely, including in 1851 to the Flinders Ranges. He discovered plants and published articles, including in German journals.

In 1852 he sent his essay The Flora of South Australia to the London Linnaean Society.  Founded in 1788, this Society is the world’s oldest extant biological society. The essay, when published, made Műller known internationally. It led to British botanist Sir William Hooker (1785-1865) recommending him for the position of Victorian Government botanist. When Lieutenant-governor Charles La Trobe had created a position for him in Melbourne, in 1852 Műller moved from Adelaide to Melbourne.

Almost immediately, he set off to explore the flora in the upper reaches of the Goulburn River, on the Mt. Buffalo plateau, in the Australian Alps, Gippsland and Wilsons Promontory. In 1855-66 his interests took him further. As Botanist, he joined the expedition Augustus Gregory (1819-1905) led to the Victoria River in Northern Australia and Moreton Bay [from 1860 Queensland]. This resulted in Műller discovering thousands of still unknown plants.  He classified and named them. They enriched the National Herbarium of Victoria which he had been asked to set up. The Herbarium still exists in Melbourne.

From 1857 to 1873, as director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, he not only introduced many plants into Victoria from around the world, but also made known the excellent qualities of blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus). This resulted in their spread in southern Europe, North and South Africa, California, and extra-tropical South America.

His articles spread his fame around the world. In 1859, Műller became foundation president of the Royal Society of Victoria. In 1867, King Karl of Wűrttemberg (1823-1891), one of the member states of the German Confederation, granted him the right to call himself “von Műller.” Four years later, at their silver wedding celebration King Karl and Queen Olga (1822-1892) followed this up by granting him the heritable title of “Baron” (in English: Baron Sir Ferdinand von Műller).

In the early 1870s von Műller became an enthusiastic supporter of explorer Ernest Giles. He arranged finance by subscription, especially for the 1875-1876 expedition he wanted him to lead. The offer of naming sites was important for attracting funds. For donors, family pride was important for attracting subscriptions, as well as their scientific and political interests. Giles responded by naming a mountain in the northwest of South Australia “Ferdinand,” as well as a range, a river and a glen, i.e. not including the name “Műller.” In 1937, the Presbyterians set up their Ernabella Mission in Glen Ferdinand.

On 24.5.1874, at Baron von Műller’s specific request, Giles named a crescent-shaped and wall-like range running from Weld Pass (WA) to Gill’s Pinnacle (WA) Schiverin, corrected later to Schwerin, Mural Crescent in honour of Műller’s country of birth after Princess Marie of Schwerin (1854-1920).  Princes Marie’s husband was Prince Vladimir (1847-1909), the second son of Tsar Alexander II. Geographically, quite appropriate, Giles named the pass over the range Valdimar’s Pass, misspelling Vladimir’s name. The name is in fact misspelt twice. The Russian name “Vladimir” is in German “Waldemar.” Australian maps often give the third spelling, i.e. “Vladimar.”

David Hewitt sent me the name “Lueman Springs.” It struck me as being neither German nor English. Some 110 km west of Vladimar’s Pass, I found on the map Luehman Springs. On 25.1.1874 Giles had named it Luchmann’s Springs. With the printed “c” being read as an “e,” the name became Luehmann. Later the second “n” was dropped and then often the “h”. Luchmann was an employee of the Melbourne Botanical Garden and assistant to von Műller. In 1888 John George Luchmann was Government Botanist and in 1897 curator of the National Herbarium of Victoria. The births of his children gave me the name of his wife: Maud Isoline, nee Merchant. From 1883 president of the German Association of Victoria, on 1.7.1895 Luchmann hosted the 70th birthday party of Sir Ferdinand Baron von Műller KCMG at the Association’s headquarters, at the corner of La Trobe and William Street, in the true Renaissance-revival-style building afterwards occupied by the Royal Australian Mint.

Near Luehmann’s Springs, Giles named Groener Springs. Carl August Groener of Hannover was another employee of the Botanical Garden. In 1882 he married Louisa Hebblewhite of Kent.

Following Giles’ discovery in 1872 of a large Salt Lake, he suggested that it be named Lake Ferdinand, and the mountain he had found after the wife of King Charles I of Wűrttemberg, the former Grand Duchess Olga of Russia.  However, von Műller insisted that the 1,032 km² large lake be named Lake Amadeus, after Amadeus, (1845-1890), Duke of Aosta, and from 1870 to 1873 King of Spain. Amadeus’ father was Vittorio Emanuele II, from 1861 King over a united Italy, the first since the 6th century. Mt. Olga is still the popular name for the mountain west of Uluru though “Kata Tjuta” is slowly replacing “the Olgas.” Olga’s father was Tsar Nicholas I, and her mother Charlotte of Prussia, making Olga aunt of Prince Vladimir mentioned already.

Friedrich Krichauff, whom Ferdinand Műller had left behind on the farm in 1849, had attended the University of Kiel and then been apprenticed to the botanical garden in Kiel. In 1846, he matriculated to the University of Berlin. He may have been among students who in March 1848 guarded the Prussian royal palace. When the German revolution failed, Krichauff decided to follow his friend Ferdinand Műller to South Australia. He arrived in the Alfred on 6.12.1848. He remained on the farm they had shared until 1866 when he set up a land agency in Adelaide. In 1854 he entered local politics, retiring in 1893 from a seat in South Australia’s Legislative Council. With a lifelong interest in scientific agriculture, in parliament he spoke most often on subjects of land use and afforestation. As “father of forestry in South Australia,” Australia’s driest colony, he may well be the father of forestry industry and science of all of Australia. On 5.9.1872 Ernest Giles named the range south of today’s Hermannsburg, NT, Krichauff Range.

Five years later, Lutheran missionaries arrived from Hermannsburg in the Lűneburg Heath, in what in 1866 had become the Prussian Province of Hanover. They arrived with “Helpers” from farms of the area. Some 130 km west of Alice Springs, as in the Middle Ages they set up the mission station, learning the language, and teaching the Bible and different crafts.

Running west from Alice Springs for 223 km along the MacDonnell Ranges, the Larapinta Trail ends at Mt. Sonder, named by Giles after Otto Wilhelm Sonder (1812-1881). Born in Bad Oldesloe, Holstein, in 1828 Sonder began a pharmacy apprenticeship in Hamburg, finishing it in 1832.  Next, in the tradition of journeymen, Otto spent time at pharmacies in southern Germany to gain professional experience.  He then went to Berlin. In 1835 he passed here his pharmaceutical State examination, at the German Confederation’s newest university. By now his love was botany. Professor Heinrich Friedrich Link (1767-1851), one of the last natural scientists whose knowledge of nature was all-embracing, tried to retain Otto for the University of Berlin. However, Sonder’s father wanted him to join Holstein’s University at Kiel. In the end, his father provided funds for expeditions to the Alps and areas around the Mediterranean Sea, to collect extensive herbarium material on which subsequently Otto worked in Hamburg.

In 1841 Sonder bought a pharmacy in Hamburg. In his spare time, he did botanic research and published, and thereby gained recognition in systematic botany. In 1846, the University of Kőnigsberg, East Prussia made him an honorary doctor. With William Henry Harvey (1811-1866), he co-authored Flora Capensis (7 vol. in 11, 1859–1933) and, in 1851, he alone authored Flora Hamburgensis. He created an extensive botanical collection, containing hundreds of thousands of specimens. When it had grown too large for him to manage on his own, he sold it to his friend Baron von Műller. The latter then sold parts of it to the Swedish Museum of Natural History. The bulk of the collection, about 250-300,000 specimens went to the National Herbarium of Victoria.

From Mt. Sonder, in the east lie the West MacDonnell Range and to the south-west Gosse’s Bluff. Some 35 km to the west is Mt. Zeil (not Ziel). It stands out. With a height of 1,531 m it is the highest mountain on Australia’s mainland west of the Great Dividing Range. It was probably Giles who named the mountain after Karl Maria Eberhard, Prince (Count) von Waldburg-Zeil-Wurzach (1825-1907). Alternatively, it was Baron von Műller who wrote the introduction to Ernest Giles’ Geographic Travels in Central Australia from 1872 to 1874 (1875). Von Waldburg belonged to the old Alemannic Waldburg-Zeil family who, prior to 1806, had for centuries ruled a territory east of the Black Forest. The family had lost it to the Kingdom of Wűrttemberg. In his introduction, von Műller also refers to Baron Martin Theodor von Heuglin (1824-76) after whom, next to Mt Zeil, Giles named Mt. Heuglin. Born in Ditzingen, Wűrttemberg, von Heuglin was a son of a Lutheran Pastor, a mining engineer, an explorer, and an ornithologist. Von Waldburg-Zeil and von Heuglin had distinguished themselves in waters around Spitzbergen and, the latter also by zoologic research done in North Africa. It probably was von Műller’s admiration for their achievements rather than their wealth and social standing that led to both names today being on maps of Central Australia.

In 1872 explorer Ernest Giles also named Haast’s Bluff, an outcrop 227 km west of Alice Springs. Geologist Julius von Haast (1822-1887) was born to a merchant in Bonn, Province Rhineland, Prussia. Von Haast attended school in Bonn, followed by a grammar school in Cologne. At the university of Bonn, he studied geology and mineralogy. While he did not graduate, he travelled throughout Europe before settling in Frankfurt and trading in books and mineral samples he had collected. In 1858, fluent in English, he travelled for a British shipping firm to New Zealand to report on its suitability for German migrants to settle. He arrived in Auckland on 21 December 1858 and, the following day, met Austrian Ferdinand von Hochstetter. As close friends, both were to played significant roles in New Zealand.

North of Haast’s Bluff is Mt. Liebig of 1,274 m. Giles named the mountain after Justus (from 1845 “von”) Liebig (1803-1873). The latter is known as the founder of organic chemistry. He was born to a drysalter and hardware merchant father in Darmstadt, then Landgraviate Hesse-Darmstadt. He attended grammar school from the age of 8, but left, age 14, without a certificate. In 1816 he suffered through the “year without summer” when the volcanic winter destroyed most food crops in the northern hemisphere. The “subsistence crisis” led to Liebig’s fascination with organic chemistry. After a few months’ apprenticeship with a pharmacist in nearby Heppenheim, he worked for two years for his father.  He then entered the University in Bonn, studying under Karl W. G. Kastner (1783-1857) and followed Kastner to the University of Erlangen. Late in 1822, he went to Paris on a Hessian government grant and worked in the private laboratory of Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (1778-1850).

In April 1824 Liebig returned to Darmstadt. Two years later, now aged 21, recommended by  Alexander von Humboldt, Liebig became professor extraordinarius at the University of Giessen, with a small stipend, but neither laboratory funding nor access to facilities. This changed on 7.12.1825 when he was appointed to the “ordinary” chair of chemistry, receiving a rise in his salary and a laboratory allowance. By the 1840s, Liebig applied theoretical knowledge from organic chemistry to real world problems of food supplies. His Die organische Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologie (Organic Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology, 1840) promoted the idea that chemistry could revolutionise agricultural practices. With this, intensive farming on small acreages became economical, i.e. leaving land fallow was no longer necessary.

Some 120 km further west of Mt Liebig on 28.9.1872 Giles named Mt. Ehrenberg after Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (1795-1876), one of the most famous and productive scientists of his time. Born near Leipzig, he studied theology (Leipzig), then medicine and natural sciences in Berlin. A friend of Alexander von Humboldt, in the early 1820s Ehrenberg was with an expedition to the Middle East (Egypt, Lybia, Syria, Arabia, Sudan and Abyssinia). In 1827 he became professor of medicine at Berlin. In 1829 he accompanied Humboldt through eastern Russia to the Chinese border.  From 1836 he was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and from 1837 a foreign member of the Royal Society of London. In 1839, he won the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London. In 1849 he became a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At the end of his life he investigated microscopic organisms of the deep sea and various geological formations. He died in Berlin on 27.6.1876.

On 12.3.1874 Ernest Giles records that he named Central Australia’s Petermann Ranges after German cartographer August Heinrich Petermann (1822-1878). The ranges were formed some 550 million years ago during the Petermann Orogeny. They run for some 320 km across the border into W.A. At their highest point they reach 1,158 m above the sea. Geologists believe that they once had a height like the Himalayas of today.

Aged 17, Petermann entered the Geographical School of Art in Potsdam, founded in 1839 by Heinrich Berghaus (1797-1884). In 1845 he joined Dr Keith Johnston in Edinburgh to assist him in preparing an English edition of Berghaus’ Physical Atlas. On the suggestions of Prussian diplomat Christian Karl Josias von Bunsen, in 1852 Queen Victoria appointed Petermann “Physical geographer and engraver in stone,” working directly to the Queen. In 1854 he became director of Justus Perthes’ geographical institute, founded 1785 in Gotha. Thereby, in 1855 Petermann became editor of its popular Geographische Mitteilungen (Journal). By way of the latter, Petermann greatly elucidated geography world-wide, especially in interior Africa, Australia and in Polar regions.

Some in Australia are still amazed about the note in Giles’ diary of 19.10.1872 that he had with him “a small German map of Australia, given to him by Baron von Műller, published by Justus Perthes, Gotha.” The quality of the map was outstanding, based, most probably, on the quality of the use of engravings in stone.

In summary, from 1815 onwards Australia benefitted greatly from the arrival of craftsmen and scientists from member states of the German Confederation. Individually, they had benefitted from the French Revolution (1789) and the end of the Holy Roman Empire (1806). After some 20 years of French occupation and decisions applying Europe-wide made at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), rulers within the new German Confederation recognised to varying degrees their need to earn, or re-earn, the loyalties of their subjects. Local governments were greatly strengthened everywhere, thereby increasing career opportunities locally. Dramatic changes in higher education and in teaching sciences were imposed. The founding of the University of Berlin in 1811 by William of Humboldt (1767-1835), brother of Alexander (1769-1858), set the trend. At the same time, while guild controls were weakened, traditional education in the crafts was widened and applied to ever more crafts, including new ones.

The result within the Confederation was an increase in skills in crafts and in the availability of scientists.  This was not generally accompanied by advances in democracy. Given the failure then of the 1848 German Revolution, emigration of German-speaking craftsmen and scientists was inevitable, especially to countries promising funding like the USA and Australia, in the latter based on gold finds from 1849 to the early 1890s.

As a final comment. Nearly all German family named here and found on Central Australian maps are of German-speakers of middle class origin such as Liebig, Sonder, Mueller, etc. They earned their place due to academic achievements. One name not of middle class origin mentioned is that of Zeil.  It is one from the list of names of hundreds of so-called “Ruling Families”, i.e. dynastic rulers at the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Nearly all of them lost their right to rule in 1806, families like the Isenburgs and the Wittgensteins. Ruling families then surviving lost their power to rule in 1918, including the Saxe-Coburg family. However, this is another topic.