FW Nitschke - a life of skill nurtured with faith

The following is a copy of a speech given by Reg Butler (Hahndorf) to the congregation at the 150th anniversary of the Nain Lutheran Church and extracted from his unpublished computer working files.

Fellow worshipers at the 150th anniversary of the Nain Lutheran Church.  Many of you join with me in acknowledging this church’s builder as an ancestor – albeit rather remote in our life experience, as I think I would be correct in saying that few, if any of us, have actually met anyone who knew the man personally.

However, today marks a significant milestone for me since I stood as a small boy in front of the list of foundation settlers on the commemorative arch at Hahndorf’s Pioneer Memorial Gardens and a knowledgeable relative announced that FW Nitschke of North Lane was my great-great-great-grandfather.  Long afterwards, even when the Nain Church abandoned a regular Sunday service in 1971, because so many of the congregation were at the Nitschke Family Reunion at Hahndorf, my understanding of FW Nitschke as a creature of flesh and blood was not great.  Things are very different now.

FW Nitschke was one of a handful of passengers aboard the ship Zebra who emigrated from Prussia as a member of a clan containing three generations – in this instance with his parents and parents-in-law, as well as his wife and children and a brother and his family.  All became foundation settlers of Hahndorf during 1839.  Events unfolded to show that the Nitschkes were a most unfortunate family indeed in some respects.

During the voyage, the two daughters of FW Nitschke’s brother, Johann Gottlieb Nitschke, died.  FW Nitschke’s daughter almost died as well when the ship’s doctor tried to give her medicine containing small pieces of glass from a broken bottle which had smashed during a storm at sea.  At Hahndorf, FW Nitschke lost his wife and father during that first severe winter which the settlers experienced while still erecting their new homes.  Two years later, FW Nitschke took his new wife’s two nephews into his care because their parents had both died during the passage of the ship Skjold to South Australia in 1841.

Several years further on, FW Nitschke’s childless sister-in-law became a deserted wife when her British-born husband fled Hahndorf forever and the Widow Farrell and her aged parents had to depend on the goodness of relatives and friends to survive.  When Pastors Fritsche and Kavel parted company, FW Nitschke, a devoted Kavel follower, eventually decided to leave Hahndorf for Nain in 1854, leaving behind his eldest son who had married a supporter of Pastor Fritsche.  Even at Nain, FW Nitschke was no longer able to worship in the church which he had built, because further quarrels divided the congregation.  His loyalty to Pastor Kavel meant that he had to transfer membership to another church erected across the road.

FW Nitschke survived because had had a strong Christian faith and wisely decided to become a farmer and builder in order to support his extended family.  Both occupations provided reliable sources of income.  While fellow members did his farm work, Wilhelm Nitschke erected the stone church which became the headquarters of the new congregation at Nain.  FW Nitschke ended his days in a comfortable stone home on his farm at Bagot Gap to the north of Nain, where he maintained his mother, wife, children and nephews, as well as several newly-arrived more distant relatives from Germany who stayed until they had established themselves in their new homeland.

Brother Gottlieb Nitschke was not so fortunate.  Like Wilhelm, he was a loyal Kavel follower.  He soon left Hahndorf in the 1840s for farms at Klemzig and then back into the Adelaide Hills, near Littlehampton.  When part of Pastor Kavel’s Hahndorf congregation moved to Nain in 1854, Gottlieb Nitschke decided to join them, preferring though, to establish himself at Walton, in the low ranges towards Tanunda, rather than at Nain itself.  Joining Gottlieb was his only son, FW Nitschke the Younger, and his new bride.

However, mining rather than building drove Gottlieb Nitschke in addition to farming.  That same interest also inspired his son.  The two men prospected for minerals in the Adelaide Hills and the Baarossa Ranges – all with singularly little success.  Backed by a small syndicate of local investors from Adelaide and Kapunda, their much-vaunted copper mine at Walton, the Wheal Nitschke Mine, soon fizzled out.

Then FW Nitschke the Younger died unexpectedly in the prime of life.  He lies buried beside the Nain Church built by his uncle, FW Nitschke the Elder.  The weather-worn slate tombstone above the grave still intrigues visitors.  A sorrowing wife and young family returned to live with her parents at Hahndorf.

The Gottlieb Nitschkes faced yet another real crisis in their lives.  Only one of their daughters subsequently born in Australia survived to adulthood, and she had died as well, soon after marriage.  There was only a Hahndorf-based daughter-in-law and grandchildren as near relatives, struggling to make ends meet through the proceeds of a small market garden and doing other people’s washing.  Nearly penniless, Gottlieb and Eleonore Nitschke eked out the remainder of their lives in a cottage on Crown land near Hahndorf, where Gottlieb fossicked for gold at German Gully.  There, Eleonore Nitschke died, and Gottlieb was subsequently admitted to the Destitute Asylum in Adelaide.  Both these South Australian pioneers lie buried in unmarked graves in Hahndorf’s public cemetery on Pine Avenue.

No wonder the 150th anniversary of the Nain Lutheran Church holds a special place in the heart of so many people.