Missionary Clamor W Schürmann (1815-1893)

Clamor W Schürmann - The Diary

The survival of Schürmann’s diary in Australia is an interesting case of the research into the resources of the Dresden missionary story in South Australia.

Dresden Mission Instructions

The instructions by the Dresden Mission board, issued to the missionaries prior to their departure, asked them to record their observations in a regular diary and to send it to Germany.1 ] The instructions by the Dresden Mission board ask [page 680]:

1. dass eine regelmässige Verbindung unter uns Statt habe. Lassen Sie uns vierteljährlich eine Abschrift Ihres zu führenden Tagebuches und so oft es ausserdem nöthig oder wünschenswert ist ausführliche Nachrichten von sich zugehen Sie werden uns selbige nicht direct sondern über London durch Vermittlung des Herrn GF Angas oder über Hamburg durch Herrn JM Heyn übersenden.  Befleissigen Sie sich in Ihren Darstellungen der Treue und Genauigkeit, der Offenherzigkeit und Unbefangenheit, so dass wir immer wissen wie es Ihnen geht und wir Ihrer nach Ihrer jedesmaligen Lage vor dem Herrn gedenken können. first that regular communication may be ensured between us.  Let us have a three-monthly copy of of the diary that you are to write, and detailed news as much as necessary or desirable.  You will send this communication not directly [to us] but via London through G.F. Angas or via Hamburg through Mr J.M. Heyn.  In you descriptions, make an effort to apply truth and preciseness, and frankness and an open mind, so that we always know how you are and in prayer can bring to the Lord your respective situation.

The instructions, of course, raise the question of the actual relevance of the missionaries’ diaries:  Were they written as an honest account of their experience or with the intention in mind to generate donor support at home — a question that will be addressed at a later point in time.

Both Schürmann and Teichelmann wrote their diaries faithfully until they formally gave up their mission in 1846.  While Teichelmann had sent his diary (as a whole or in instalments) to Dresden, the whereabouts of Schürmann’s diary appears to be a mystery.  In all likelihood it was never sent to Dresden but survived in Australia.

This is most surprising as almost everything else of his personal archive seems to have vanished without trace (apart from a few books and other legacy items held by the Lutheran Archives Adelaide, at the archive of the Lutheran Church in Tarrington, Victoria, and by family descendants).   As a theologian and missionary-turned-linguist, and later as the first Lutheran pastor in Western Victoria, CWS would have collected many notes relating to his language work, preaching, papers on church issues, letters he received and drafts of responses, and books and printed papers he had collected.  An evidence of such an archival collection is the surviving of some 60 sermon drafts for the period between South Australia and Victoria, i.e. 1852-1853, roughly 400 pages in postcard size and tiny hand writing, held by the Lutheran Archives, and some letters to and by CWS that have been preserved amongst family papers. Some of his official correspondence with the Lutheran church of his time is being archived in Adelaide.  Almost all other documents of relevance for his work within Australia seem to have been lost, or at least could not be traced by now.

Pastors Th Nickel and BA Müller

The survival of the original manuscript of the diary at the Lutheran Archives Adelaide appears to be a mystery as there are no acquisition records.  Interestingly, the last of the nine notebooks for the period 1840-1845 contains a pencilled reference to a "P Th. Nickel, Hamburg 25, Gustrow i. M.".  Internet research offers information about the German-born Lutheran Pastor "Theodor August Friedrich Wilhelm Nickel (1865–1953)" (see article in Australian Dictionary of Biography) in Germany, the USA and Australia.

Pastor Dr. Theodor August Friedrich Wilhelm Georg Gottlieb Nickel, 1865-1953
Pastor Dr. Theodor A.
Nickel, 1865-1953
(Source: Kirche zur
Heiligen Dreieinigkeit
 Hamburg)

Born 1865 in Güstrow, Mecklenburg, East Germany, his father had passed away as a local pastor and a teacher before the birth of his youngest son. Theodor August studied theology in the US, and had his first pastorates there.  Following a call to Eudanda, SA, he soon gained some prominence as a church leader in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia (ELSA).  During World War I, in 1915, Nickel was interned for one month. In 1917 he became the pastor at Tarrington (Hochkirch), Victoria, until he went to Germany in 1922.2 ].  

Nickel served the Lutheran Free-Church in Germany from 1923, became their president in 1924 and was called to a Hamburg congregation in 1925 (corresponding with the note mentioned above).  In January 1930 he "surprisingly resigned his pastorate and retired in Güstrow"3 ].  A citizen street registry from  1935 listed "Pastor emer. Theodor Nickel" in "Hinter der Domkirche 5" (behind the Güstrow Cathedral).4 ]  Nickel returned to Australia in 1935 where he continued working as a Lutheran pastor and died in 1953 at Albury.


Given the fact that most of Schürmann’s legacy has been lost (and some of the few surviving items are threatened of destruction even today), we can be grateful for Nickel’s concerns to protect this diary.  However, since he did gain possession of these documents, presumeably in the Tarrington (Hochkirch) manse around 1920, the question arises what else of the CWS legacy might have survived there amongst the Nickel papers?  Unfortunately, initial contact with the Nickel family in mid-July 2012 indicates that no other documents relating to CWS have been found in the papers of Pastor Nickel.5 ]

According to the Lutheran Archives, this hard-covered volume also contained a letter by a “Dr B. A. Müller (Hamburg, Mühlendamm 47)” to Pastor Nickel, dated December 1932, in which Müller states the return of this diary volume together with other publications relative to the Lutheran church in Australia.  According to the history of the the Lutheran Free Church in Saxony, published in 19256 ],  Müller was one of their pastors.  Given his address for Hamburg, an Internet search also produces references to a local historian by the same name, but no further details at this point of time.7 ] A comment in the letter suggests that he may have assisted in the compilation of the 1925 church history.  It is assumed that Nickel may have only brought to Germany and back again this Volume 7, while the other unbound notebooks remained in Australia, possibly amongst other documents held by the family.8 ] 

I have summarised this story here not so much as an issue of historical curiosity but  more as a quest to trace Schürmann’s notes relating to his work as linguist, and all his other paper and library collections as missionary and pastor.  In particular his language research notes would be of considerable value for the reclamation of languages and identity of Aboriginal communities today, with whose ancestors the Dresden missionaries had worked in their time.

Therefore, if you, the reader, should know more, please send us a message.  Thank you. –

Author Edwin A Schurmann

In the early 1980s, the short story and children book author Edwin A. (Ted) Schurmann (1917-2009)9 ] researched the story of his great grandfather CWS and published it in 1987 as “I’d rather dig potatoes”.10 ] In his acknowledgements [Page 11], Schurmann writes:

Great difficulty was experienced in finding a translator for the C.W. Schurmann diaries, written in an archaic German script. The original exercise and note book pages had been photographed and were on microfilm in the Adelaide Library Archives, but were frustratingly indecipherable. Then fortunately I met Hans Spoeri, who had learnt the script in his early school days in Switzerland, and who was able, after much time and effort, to translate the 500 or more pages. My deepest thanks are due, and extended, to Hans.

Author Edwin A Schurmann (ca 1987) (Photo: Adam Gaines)
Author Edwin A Schurmann
(ca 1987) (Photo: Adam Gaines)

I have not yet been able to locate the microfilm containing the CWS diary, while another microfim with his letters is being held by the University of Adelaide library.  Whether Ted Schurmann had access to the manuscript paper version of the diary at the Lutheran Archives in Adelaide, is not yet clear.

Nothing more is known at the time of writing about Hans Spoeri.  His transcripts with notes by Ted Schurmann had been handed over to Philip Jones, then one of the curators at the SA Museum in Adelaide, and are held in their archive.11 ]

The book compiles the story of the Dresden missionaries through the eyes of Clamor Schurmann.  It has been edited considerably, and recent re-transcribing and re-translation shows important omissions and some errors.  Ted Schurmann added third party information relating to the story from other historical and contemporary sources.  Given the means available to both Schurmann and Spoeri, however, their achievement is remarkable and pretty complete.  Ted Schurmann remarks in his acknowledgements:

It was found that during the years many mistakes have been made and repeated in historical writings, so wherever possible I have gone back to original sources.

“I’d rather dig potatoes” was first presented at a Schurmann family reunion in Western Victoria in 1987 and has been one of the most important documents in the research of the story of the Dresden missionaries in South Australia and their language for a long time.

Pastor Geoff Noller

Upon request by the Lutheran Archives, retired Lutheran Pastor Geoff Noller re-transcribed and re-translated the entire Schürmann diary (and many other documents related to this story) in 2007/08.  The Noller-edition is now awaiting further editing and possible republishing.

  1. Instruktion für die beiden Missionare der evangelisch-lutherischen Missions-Gesellschaft zu Dresden Chr. G. Teichelmann aus Dahme Herz Sachsen und Clamor W. Schürmann aus Schledehausen (bei Osnabrück), in: Rheinwald, Georg Friedrich Heinrich. 1838. Acta Historico-Ecclesiastica seculi XIX. Published by G. F. H. Rheinwald. Jahrg. 1835-37. Pages 676-682. [Google Book]. - Translation: Gerhard Rüdiger. [ ▲ ]
  2. ADB [ ▲ ]
  3. Webpage: Pastoren der Dreieinigkeitsgemeinde Hamburg (visited 2.5.2016). [ ▲ ]
  4. in a house belonging to a sister or aunty "Fräulein Meta Nickel"; Jörg Schleede, Einwohnerverzeichnis von Güstrow 1935 (visited 2.5.2016). [ ▲ ]
  5. pc with Dean Zweck in mid-July 2012 [ ▲ ]
  6. see the Wikipedia article and literature [ ▲ ]
  7. This Müller published an article, for instance, in the Zeitschrift des Vereins für Hamburgische Geschichte in 1911:  Hamburger in einem Stammbuch des 17. Jahrhunderts, in: ZVHG 16, 1911, S. 241.;  also: Friedrich Lübkers Reallexikon des klassischen Altertums. Achte, vollständig umgearbeitete Auflage, hrsg. von J. Geffcken  und E. Ziebarth, in Verbindung mit B. A. Müller, unter Mitwirkung  von W. Liebenam, E.  Pernice, M.  Wellmann  ì  E. Hoppe u. a.  Leipzig, B. G. Teubnen 1914 [ ▲ ]
  8. pc with Lutheran Archives Adelaide mid-Juli 2012 [ ▲ ]
  9. Trove, Australian Literature Resource [ ▲ ]
  10. Schurmann, Ted, and C. W Schürmann. 1987. I’d rather dig potatoes : Clamor Schurmann and the aborigines of South Australia 1838-1853. Adelaide: Lutheran Pub. House. [ ▲ ]
  11. Archive of the South Australian Museum Adelaide, Call No: AA 283 Schurmann. [ ▲ ]

For reference:

Administrator. Missionary Clamor W Schürmann (1815-1893) :: Clamor W Schürmann - The Diary, in: Pirltawardli Research Website. Adelaide 2019.
(Created: 11.11.2014. Last updated: 03.05.2016.)
Direct URL: <www.grweb.org/cpo-pirltawardli/en/detail.php?rubric=people_colonial_SchurmannCW&nr=270>. Viewed 24.08.2019.