Early May Family Ancestors (Ch4-March 2007)

The following information was extracted basically 'as is' from Reg Butler's (Hahndorf Historian) unpublished computer working files as at c2014.

In association with this page is May and Juncken - Tanunda Land Purchase  (Ch6-March 2007)

Additionally to the above, JK Stokes information regarding the May Family (Mt Barker) is also available.

Arrival of the MAY family from Clausthal.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, eight days after the birth of Sarah SLATER at Reed Beds, South Australia, George MAY, aged 12 months, arrived in the Colony of South Australia. George was accompanied by his father, mother, brother and four sisters. Twenty years later in 1866, George would marry Sarah in Adelaide and they became the progenitors of our MAY family.

The father of George was Heinrich Julius Wilhelm MAY and his mother was Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine (nee SPENGLER). I will refer to them as the partriarch and matriarch of the MAY family in South Australia. The family was Germanic or more correctly Hannoverian. They came from the small mountain town of Clausthal in the Kingdom of Hannover. Today, Clausthal is called Clausthal-Zellerfeld, and is located in Lower Saxony, Germany about 100 km south of the city of Hannover as depicted in the map shown. The fact that the ancestors of the MAY family came from the Kingdom of Hannover was completely unexpected. While there was no information regarding the origin of the MAY family when this research began in early 2006, it was presumed that the family came from England, possibly Cornwall. One of the best known MAY families in South Australia was headed by Frederick MAY, a prominent engineer and manufacturer who established an empire at Gawler, South Australia. However he came out from Cornwall, England in 1858, 12 years after our MAY family arrived from the Kingdom of Hannover.

Evidence for a Germanic root came early in the research from the records of South Australian births, marriages and deaths. These records confirmed that Dad’s father, Norman Spencer MAY died tragically in Adelaide at aged 29 years on 30 May 1917, when Dad was only three years of age. The birth certificate of Norman revealed for the first time that the father of Norman was George August William MAY (who married Sarah SLATER). The death certificate of George stated that he was born in an “unknown town in Germany.” This was a surprise.


It should be noted at this point, that German people adopted the practice of giving multiple first names. Generally, the last name was the child’s personal name. Any names in front of this were to honour an ancestor or godparent. Hence the patriarch Heinrich Julius Wilhelm MAY was called Wilhelm. Early records show his name as Julius Wilhelm and he married as such; Heinrich appears to have been added after he arrived in South Australia, for whatever reason. The rule that the last name was the personal name did not always apply and Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine MAY was in fact called by her first name, Johanne. I will attempt to simplify the situation by underlying the name that I know or assume was the personal name. To further complicate matters, when the full name was written by German people the last baptismal name was sometimes bought to the front.

After several years in the colony, many German people anglicised their names. This was not so for Wilhelm who retained this name rather than William. George MAY arrived in the colony with the name Georg August Wilhelm MAY but later anglicised it to George August William MAY. He was however called by his first baptismal name George, rather than William, presumably to avoid confusion with his father.

Use of the German umlaut, that is the two dots over a, o or u, is also to be noted. When the umlaut is omitted it is replaced by an e. For example, MÜLLER can be written as MUELLER.

Some common German names and the English equivalent are for females: Auguste, Augusta; Dorothea, Dorothy; Johanne, Joanne; Wilhelmine, Wilhelmina or Minna; and for males: Carl, Charles or Carl; Christian, Chris; Friedrich, Fred; Johann, John; Heinrich, Henry or Harry; Wilhelm, William. Many German female names end with an ‘e’ and this is pronounced as an ‘a’ and so Johanne is pronounced as Johanna.

The Kingdom of Hannover.

In early history, The Electorate of Hannover was ruled by a Duke with the additional title of Elector. In 1714, the Elector also became the King of Great Britain and for about 140 years the Electorate of Hannover and Great Britain were ruled by the same sovereign. How did this happen?

In 1658, Duke Ernest Augustus married Princess Sophia, a granddaughter of James I, King of Great Britain. In 1692 Duke Ernest Augustus became the first Elector of Hannover; he died in 1698. Princess Sophia, a Protestant, was declared heiress to the throne of Great Britain by an Act of Settlement of 1701 which decreed that Roman Catholics could not accede to the throne. Sophia died shortly before her cousin, Queen Anne, James II’s daughter, and so Sophia’s son George succeeded to the English throne. As King George I, he served as both the Elector of Hannover and King of Great Britain from 1714-1727.

Other Electors of the House of Hannover and of Great Britain were George II (1727-1760), George III (1760-1820), George IV (1820-1830) and William IV (1830-1837). In 1814, Hannover became a Kingdom so the British monarch George III was the King of both Great Britain and Hannover. Similarly, his son King George IV and King William IV were Kings of both Great Britain and Hannover. When William IV died in 1837, the British crown passed to Victoria, Queen of Great Britain. However, royal succession in Hannover was for males only. Hence King William IV’s brother, Ernest Augustus I, Duke of Cumberland was appointed King of Hannover and he ruled from 1837-1851. In 1866, following war with neighbouring Prussia, Hannover became a Prussian Province and then finally part of Germany in 1871.

Thus when Wilhelm MAY and Johanne SPENGLER married in 1828 in Clausthal as outlined soon, their King was the British monarch, King George IV, and when the MAY family left the Kingdom of Hannover in 1846, the Duke of Cumberland was their King.

Clausthal and Mining.

Clausthal is an historic mining town nestled in the Upper Region of the Harz Mountains with its high mountains and deep valleys. Nearby cities are Göttingen (60 km), Braunschweig (80 km), and Hannover (100 km). Clausthal is surrounded by huge fir trees, woods, meadows and numerous mountain lakes. The word Harz means “forest”. The people of Clausthal and its adjoining town of Zellerfeld together with those from the many surrounding small towns, intensively mined the rich deposits of iron, lead, copper, zinc and silver ores located in the mountains. The raising of cattle that grazed on the forest floor was also a profitable occupation. Mining in the Harz area began in the 16th century and Clausthal was the administrative centre for mining activities. A Mining Academy was opened in 1775 for the specialised education of mining engineers and smelters. Today the Mining Academy, now the Clausthal University of Technology (Technische Universität), teaches sciences and engineering and plays a key role in the economy of Clausthal-Zellerfeld, so called after amalgamation of the two towns in 1924. The current population of Clausthal-Zellerfeld is 16,000. As an aside, a renowned inhabitant of Clausthal was the physician and bacteriologist Robert KOCH who was born in Clausthal in 1843 and grew up there. The local hospital bears his name.

Records from the Lutheran Churches in Clausthal and St Andreasberg.

A feature of Clausthal to this day, is the town’s Lutheran Church rebuilt in the 17th century after a fire. As was the custom, the Church was located in the town’s market square and was known as the “Marktkirche zu Clausthal” (Market Church of Clausthal) and also as “Marktkirche Zum Heiligen Geist”, Market Church of the Holy Ghost or Spirit. It is an impressive wooden structure that holds 2000 people and was built to accommodate the large number of religious miners. The white painted Church is the oldest and largest timber-built church in Europe (see photograph). It can readily be seen on Google Earth. The Technische Universität is across the street from the Church (see map of Clausthal).

Since records of births, marriages and deaths were kept only by the local Church in these early days, a vital question was whether the registers of the Clausthal Market Church would have information on the MAY family and as well, the SPENGER family. A fellow scientist in Adelaide, Dr Martin RÖSLER who was born in Germany, kindly agreed to assist. He made contact via telephone calls and emails with the “Evangelisches Kirchenbuero in Clausthal,” which was the “Office of the Lutheran Church in Clausthal” and it was located in the Market Church. He spoke to the church archivist, Mr Karl-Heinz HÄGE who to search the Church registers. To my delight, he found a great deal of information on the MAY family members and relatives. These records were in German and were translated by Dr RÖSLER. A copy of a letter from Mr HÄGE together with his fee is shown. Note that his letterhead displays the Market Church. It became clear from these records that the SPENGLER family originated in the nearby mining town of Sankt (Saint) Andreasberg and Mr HÄGE travelled to this town to collect copies of records from the local Lutheran church.

The following is a summary of the information obtained from the church records.

May Family Tree

The earliest MAY ancestor (see the family tree).

The earliest traceable ancestor was Johann Philipp MAY who had a son Johann Georg Christian MAY born about 1749. The mother is unknown. It was clear from this earliest record and all subsequent Church records in Clausthal that the name of MAY was always used rather than the more common German name of MAI. However, to confuse the issue many of the old records located in South Australia for members of the MAY family used the name MAI and sometimes MEI.

Philipp MAY was described as the “Marktmeister zu Göttingen,” that is the market inspector, a person authorised by the town of Göttingen, to control the price and quality of goods that are sold and bought at the town market. Göttingen located about 60km southwest from Clausthal was an important trading town at the time. It seemed reasonable to assume that son Christian MAY was born in Göttingen about 1749. However a search by the “Office for Books in Göttingen” which holds records for the five Lutheran churches in the city, failed to locate any information. There also was no record for Philipp MAY. Hence there is nothing known about the place of birth of Christian MAY nor the place where he was raised.

At some time, Christian moved to Clausthal (there is no record of his birth in Clausthal or Zellerfeld). At age 25 years he and Maria Charlotte KÖNIG, had an illegitimate son, or a ‘spurious child’, called Georg Carl Christian MAY born on the 25 January 1775 in Clausthal.

Christian next emerged when at 50 years of age, he married Henriette Louise Christiane (also known as Luisa Juliana) BLECHSCHMIDT in Clausthal on 3 April 1799 in the Market Church. Christiane was half the age of her husband. She was born in Clausthal on 24 July 1774 and was baptised four days later in the Market Church making her 25 years of age when she married. Her father was Heinrich Christian BLECHSCHMIDT, an appraising officer/valuer and a miner in Clausthal and her mother was Henrietta Philippina Julia (nee EY). Christian MAY’S occupation when he married Christiane BLECHSMIDT was given as “Friseur, Bergmann”; this was an unusual combination of professions with a Bergmann being a miner, and a Friseur a hairdresser. Since he was 50 years of age when he married perhaps he had retired as a miner in Clausthal and had assumed the less hazardous occupation of a hairdresser.

Christian and Christiane MAY had five children, including Julius Wilhelm

The miner/hairdresser, Christian and and his wife Christiane had five children, three of whom were born in Clausthal. By the time the last was born, Christian was 62 years of age. He died three years later in Clausthal on 13 May 1814.

Their first child was a son, Georg Heinrich Julius, who was born on 7 June and baptised on 16 June 1799 in the Clausthal Market Church, some two months after the marriage of Christian and Christiane. Georg Heinrich Julius lived to be 93 years of age and died in Clausthal on 24 October 1892.

The second child, also a son, was Julius Wilhelm and he is of particular interest to this family history. He was born on 2 May 1803 but not in either Clausthal or Zellerfeld and his birth place remains unknown. (He later assumed the name of Heinrich Julius Wilhelm as mentioned already).

The third child Philippina Juliana Christiana was born in 1806, but not in Clausthal or Zellerfeld. She died at only three years of age.

The fourth child, Carl August Julius was born on 11 November and baptised on 27 November 1808 in Clausthal but died at two years of age.

Finally, the fifth child Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine was born on 13 October and baptised on 3 November 1811 at the Clausthal Market Church. There is no further information on her.

From this data it can be concluded that the parents Christian and Christiane MAY left Clausthal somewhere between 1799 and 1808 for another town probably for occupational reasons and so there is no record of the birth place of Julius Wilhelm (or of his sister Philippina Juliana Christiana). On the Certificate of Naturalisation for Julius Wilhelm in 1851 when he resided in South Australia, he stated that he was a “native of Clausthal” no doubt because he had spent most of his life in that town.

Julius Wilhelm MAY (the patriarch) marries Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine SPENGLER (the matriarch)

Julius Wilhelm MAY became a miner in Clausthal. At aged 25 years, he married Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine SPENGLER aged 23 years in the Clausthal Market Church on 27 April 1828. This is an important marriage in the context of the family history. A copy of the marriage certificate is shown followed by its translation. The father of Wilhelm, the miner/hairdresser Christian MAY, had died at age 65 years some 14 years before the marriage. Wilhelm’s mother, Christiane, whom you will remember was half the age of her husband, was alive at the time of the marriage. She died at age 62 years on 6 January 1846 in Clausthal a few months before Wilhelm and his family left for South Australia.

What is known of the matriarch, Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine SPENGLER?

The SPENGLER family (see the family tree).

The parents of Johanne Christian Wilhelmine SPENGLER were Johann Caspar Gabriel SPENGLER and Charlotte Christiane Henriette (nee BÜTTNER). The latter was also recorded as Johanne Charlotte Christiane BÜTTNER. The SPENGLER and BÜTTNER families did not originate from Clausthal, but from a nearby mining town called Saint Andreasberg. This town is located 25 km southeast of Clausthal and is the highest town in the Harz Mountains. It was noted for its silver mines in particular the Samson silver mine.

Johanne’s father, Gabriel SPENGLER, was born in Saint Andreasberg on 24 August 1777 and baptised four days later in the only Lutheran Church at Saint Andreasberg, called Martini Kirche zu St. Andreasberg (Martin Church of St Andreasberg), the church being named after Martin Luther. The original church in which Gabriel was baptised was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1796 and rebuilt in 1811 as a simple wooden structure. At age 22 years, Gabriel married Henriette BÜTTNER who was also born in Saint Andreasberg on 16 March 1778. They married on 21 April 1799 and since the original church had been destroyed three years earlier, this marriage took place at a temporary site. Gabriel was a miner (eisensteinbergmann) in Saint Andreasberg at the time of his marriage.

The first daughter of Gabriel and Henriette was the matriarch, Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine SPENGLER who was born in Saint Andreasberg on 20 May 1805 and baptised six days later in the temporary Martini Kirche. She was the first of five children. A copy of her birth/baptismal certificate is shown followed by its translation. The family moved to Clausthal after the birth of Johanne. The next child was Johann Heinrich Carl SPENGLER who was born in Clausthal on 25 March 1810 and baptised in the Clausthal Market Church. He became a miner and he and his family were also on the ship that bought the MAY family (with his sister Johanne) to Adelaide in 1846. The three remaining children of Gabriel and Henriette were born in Clausthal in 1812, 1815 and 1819.

Hence both the patriarch and matriarch of the MAY family in South Australia, that is Julius Wilhelm and Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine, spent their early years in Clausthal and were married in this town. Johanne was born in nearby Saint Andreasberg but the birth place of Wilhelm is unknown. Both were born in the month of May!

Children of Julius Wilhelm and Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine MAY.

Wilhelm and Johanne MAY had nine children all born in Clausthal and baptised in the Market Church. Six of these children survived and came to South Australia.

There were two sons. The first child was Heinrich Julius Wilhelm, with the same name that his father adopted. Heinrich Julius Wilhelm was illegitimate and indeed was baptised nearly one year before the marriage. He became known as “Carl”, would go on to become one of the outstanding early cabinetmakers in Tanunda, South Australia. The second son, Georg August Wilhelm was the last child and was born nearly 20 years after his brother. Since we descended from him, I have included a copy of his birth certificate and its translation. Of the seven daughters, three died in Clausthal before they were 3 years of age. At the time, medical practice was primitive, hygiene poor and the death of infants common through infections.

The details of these nine children are as follows.

  • Heinrich Julius Wilhelm: born 7 May 1827 and baptised 3 June 1827 in the Clausthal Market Church; Godfather Heinrich Julius MAY (probably his uncle).
  • Henriette Louise Wilhelmine: born 2 January 1829 and baptised 1 February 1829 in the Clausthal Market Church; Godparents Heinrich Georg Anton Wihelm WENTZEL, Henriette Augustine Louise BLECHSCHMIDT and Dorothea Henriette Caroline WETZEL.
  • Caroline Louise Henriette: born 9 August 1830 and baptised 12 September 1830 in the Clausthal Market Church; Godparents; Georg Heinrich Julius MAY (her uncle), Johann Heinrich Adam KILLIG, Louise Christiane Henriette MAY (her grandmother) and Henriette Caroline Wilhelmine MAY (unknown MAY). Died 18 April 1832 and buried 21 April.

Johanne Christiane Augustine

  • Wilhelmine: born 5 September 1833 and baptised 29 October 1833 in the Clausthal Market Church ; God parents Joh. Augustine Wilhelmine MAY (unknown MAY), Augustine Eleonore MAY (unknown MAY), Joh. Caspar SPENGLER ( her grandfather), child’s father. Died 28 September 1834 and buried 5 October.
  • Johanne Augustine Wilhelmine born 14 Jan 1836 and baptised on 5 February 1836 in the Clausthal Market Church; Godparents were the parents.
  • Johanne Christiane Wilhelmine born 24 June 1838 and baptised 22 July 1838 in the Clausthal Market Church; Godparents were the parents.
  • Ernestine Wilhelmine Emma born 17 October 1840 and baptised13 November 1840 in the Clausthal Market Church: Godparents were Emma REDDECKER, Ernst REDDECKER and the parents.
  • Henriette Louise Wilhelmine born 31 July 1843 and baptised 27 August 1843 in the Clausthal Market Church: God parents Joh. Christian Wilh. MAY (unknown MAY), Doroth.Louise Henr. MAY (unknown MAY), Heinr. Julius Wilhelm MAY (her brother). Died 9 May 1846.
  • Georg August Wilhelm born 9 October 1845 and baptised 2 November 1845 in the Clausthal Market Church. Godparents Georg May (his uncle), Augustine May (unknown MAY), parents.

As mentioned, the death certificate of George August William MAY in South Australia stated that he was born in an “unknown town in Germany”. This mystery has now been solved. George, my direct ancestor, was born 9 October 1845 in Clausthal and baptised as Georg August Wilhelm. His godparents were Georg MAY (his uncle) and Augustine MAY (possibly Georg’s wife).

There are several unknown MAY family members who were godparents to the nine children. These were Henriette Caroline Wilhelmine MAY, Johanne Augustine Wilhelmine MAY, Augustine Eleanor MAY, Johann Christian Wilhelm MAY and Dorothea Louise Henriette MAY. These could be related to Georg Carl Christian MAY born 1775 or Georg Heinrich Julius MAY born 1799- wives or children perhaps?

A note of “clarification”: The eighth child Henriette Louise Wilhelmine MAY born in 1843( and who died soon after) had the same name as the second child born in 1829. The second child who subsequently came to South Australia, was called Henriette Dorothea Louise MAY within the family (but this name was not used on any of the official records uncovered in South Australia).

Why did the MAY family emigrate?

Unlike the Lutherans from Prussia who migrated to South Australia notably between 1838-1841 because of religious persecution, the Lutheran people who arrived from the Harz region, did so because of the severe economic depression. In the early 1820s, there began a serious down turn in the government owned mining industry in the Harz Mountains. The British opened up mines in Brazil and Mexico and around 1827 large quantities of lead and other ores appeared on the world marked. This depressed the price to an extent that miners in the Harz could no longer compete and many lost their jobs. The area was plunged into an economic recession which was to last for decades since it coincided with the fact that mining in the Harz was becoming more difficult with mine shafts reaching great depths making the raising of ore more expensive. From 1825 until 1846, the population of the Harz increased by 5000 but only a further 700 men were employed. In 1845, disease wiped out the potato crop, the only crop that could be grown in the poor soil of the region. By 1847, the situation was desperate and many people began to emigrate both to America and Australia.

A large number of the Harz Mountain emigrants arrived in Adelaide from 1848 onwards. This sudden influz from the Harz came about because the Ministry of Finance in Hannover and the local authorities in the Harz decided that in order to improve the economic situation of the region, emigration should be encouraged and the Hannoverian government provided financial aid in the way of interest-free loans. The consul of the Kingdom of Hanover to South Australia was in Bremen at the time and he offered to help the emigrants to migrate to South Australia and to collect the interest-free loans (although these loans were almost never repaid). Hence between 1848 and 1854, hundreds of families left the Harz for South Australia. Between 1849 and 1855, 1100 migrants arrived. They settled throughout South Australia and Victoria.

Wilhelm MAY and family clearly saw the problems looming and left Clausthal in 1846 before the main exodus of emigrants. Had they waited for another two years, their passage to South Australia would have been “paid for” by the Kingdom of Hannover!

Why was South Australia attractive to the Harz miners and the MAY family?

The world’s attention was focused upon discoveries of rich deposits of copper in South Australia between 1841 and1851 and the state was the centre of Australia’s mining industry. There was a great deal of publicity overseas about the mining industry in South Australia and thousands of miners from both Cornwall and to a less extent from the Harz were attracted to the colony. In 1846 many South Australian mines were listed in German newspaper reports. The first report of a mineral find in South Australia was at Glen Osmond in the Adelaide foothills with the discovery of silver-lead ore in 1840. By 1845, the mine Wheal Gawler at Glen Osmond was a busy silver-lead field with rows of miner’s cottages. However the mining industry story was all about copper with discoveries at Kapunda (the Great Kapunda Mine), at Burra Burra (the Monster Mine), and at Kanmantoo. Indeed there were about 50 copper mines in South Australia that stretched from Strathalbyn in the south to Burra Burra in the north. By 1845 South Australia was known as the “copper kingdom.” The flow of migration breathed new life into the colony that was struggling in the 1840s.

MAY family leaves Hannover from Bremerhaven in 1846.

The MAY family made their way from Clausthal to Bremen where documents were processed and then to the port of Bremerhaven on the North Sea coast of the Kingdom of Hannover. The family travelled on the wooden three-masted barque the “Heerjeebhoy Rustomjee Patel” referred to as the Patel, leaving Bremerhaven on 27 June 1846 and arriving at Port Adelaide on 28 October 1846. Wilhelm MAY, was 43 years of age and his wife, Johanne, 41 years of age. Their six children ranged in ages from Heinrich Julius Wilhelm (19 years) to Georg who was the youngest at 12 months. The eighth child Henriette Louise Wilhelmine had died at 3 years of age, just a few weeks before the MAY family left Clausthal.

Unfortunately, early official shipping lists of passengers in Bremen have all been destroyed. However, the captain of each ship compiled as best he could, a list of passengers and on arrival at Port Adelaide, the newspaper the South Australian Register sent a reporter to each ship to interpret the captain’s list and to publish it in the next issue of the newspaper. Many spelling errors occurred in the published list. As well, there were often omissions in the captain’s list. Of the 250 cabin and steerage passengers on board the Patel, about 214 have been accounted for. In the published passenger list for the Patel there was the entry “May, Mr (miner) and wife and 3 children”. In fact there were six children.

In addition, there was listed “Spingler, Mr and wife and three children.” This was Johann Heinrich Carl SPENGLER, a miner from Clausthal and Johanne’s younger brother as mentioned earlier. He and his family settled at the Kanmantoo mine in the Adelaide Hills where they were farmers and miners. At least another 20 other mining families from the Harz region arrived on the Patel.

Reporting the arrival of the Patel, the South Australian Register stated “ On board the crowded Bremen ship there was not a single death; but, on the contrary, the original number of souls intended to be added to our community was increased by five born on the passage”.

Arrival in the colony.

Where the MAY family lived for the first five years in the colony is not known. On arrival in the colony, many of the Harz miners settled near Hahndorf and Lobethal and worked at the Glen Osmond mine where there were deposits of silver and lead as mined in the Harz region. As mentioned, Johanne’s brother took his family to Kanmantoo. However there is no evidence that the MAY family was ever involved in mining.


  • Registers of the Lutheran Market Church in Clausthal and the Lutheran Martini Kirche in St Andreasberg, Germany: sourced by Mr HÄGE.
  • Lutheran Year Book 1973: Passenger Arrivals- The Patel 1846, pge 52. Also the South Australia Register, October 1846.
  • The SPEHR Family History in Australia 1847-1986, supplied by Kingsley IRELAND that gave detailed background information on Clausthal.
  • Bound for South Australia shipping passenger lists: website of Diane CUMMINGS.


A special acknowledgement to Dr Martin RÖSLER for his persistence and enthusiasm.