On the ‘5th Sunday after Epiphany 1838’1 two Lutheran missionaries from the Dresden Missionary Society, Christian (Gottlieb|Gottlob)[see comments below] Teichelmann and Clamor WIlhelm Schürmann, were ordained in Altenburg, the capital of the small central German duchy of Sachsen-Altenburg. They were being sent to establish a mission to the Aborigines of South Australia, but the spreading of the gospel was not to be their only occupation. Their trip awakened the interests of Altenburg’s legion of amateur and semi-professional scientists – a common fixture of many German cities of the time – who were eager to hear reports and receive specimens from a far-off, exotic land. The missionaries were urged in their official instructions to collect ‘specimens of the products of South Australia’ for the missionary society’s scientific friends:
If you can support the works of the mission in Europe by sending, without too much cost, some specimens of the products of South Australia for the friends of our society who research the natural world, then we would hope that you will not want to withdraw from this labour of love for the advancement of science.2
Church St Bartholomäi, Altenburg, where Teichelmann and Schürmann were ordained. Photo by André Karwath.
Among the beneficiaries of the missionaries’ scientific work was the local nobleman and government minister Hans-Conon von der Gabelentz,3 whose passion was researching the languages of the world. He established a correspondence with Teichelmann over linguistic matters in South Australia. So far one letter from Teichelmann to Gabelentz has come to light, and there are undoubtedly many more waiting to be found. Gabelentz made active use of Australian data in his general linguistic work. In his monograph Über das Passivum (1861), an early typological work on the passive, he mentions data from Parnkalla and Kaurna from South Australia (citing materials from Teichelmann and Schürmann, as well as their fellow missionary Meyer) and Awakabal from New South Wales (citing ‘Threlkeld’s Grammar’).
The physical specimens that the missionaries collected were sent to the Naturforschende Gesellschaft des Osterlandes. The Naturforschende Gesellschaft was an amateur scientific society whose main aim was to research the natural history of the local area. Osterland is originally a historical designation for a region in what is now eastern Germany, but the society used the term as a romantic name to describe the area from the River Saale to the Erzgebirge, which could perhaps be more prosaically called ‘Greater Saxony’. Although their focus was on the local area, they were very excited about receiving specimens from afar, as their official report on the reception of birds Teichelmann collected for them shows:
However the most important delivery in terms of the number of specimens and their beauty and value we received last week from Missionary Teichelmann in South Australia. You [those present at the delivery of the report] have undoubtedly observed these today with pleasure at the society’s premises. The delivery consists of 336 specimens of around 170 species, which are all without exception new to our collection. The complete worth cannot be judged until the animals can be identified and valued in terms of their relative rareness in comparison with their size and beauty. In any case, these animals have a very significant worth. And for these treasures we owe our thanks to the care, diligence and selfless service of our honoured friend in Adelaide.4
Unfortunately, this contact between Adelaide and Altenburg ended with Teichelmann and Schürmann’s mission to South Australia. The objects and documents that they sent back to Altenburg have had to withstand some trying times, with the various turbulent events that have shaken little Altenburg over the past one hundred and fifty years. The most significant of these are the Second World War and its aftermath. The von der Gabelentz family library, which was considered to be one of the greatest collections of books on non-European and especially East Asian languages, was largely transported to Moscow and Leningrad as war reparations. And many of the natural history specimens and papers that the missionaries sent to Altenburg lay neglected during the time of the GDR.
But the scientific heirs of Altenburg, the staff of the Naturkundemuseum Mauritianum and the Thüringische Staatsarchive Altenburg, have begun to open up and explore the old collections. And contact between Adelaide and Altenburg is also being re-established. Late last year and again earlier this year, I accompanied Rob Amery, the convener of the Kaurna Warra Pintyandi (KWP) group at the University of Adelaide, and Gerhard Rüdiger, who is researching the history of the Dresden Missionaries in South Australia, on visits to Altenburg. The high point was a talk that Rob Amery gave in the Mauritianum about Kaurna language revitalisation, which was very well attended. Later this year the Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri peoples will be sending a delegation to Germany for the 175th anniversary of the Dresden Missionary Society and to gather their own impressions of this far-off, exotic land.
My thanks to Rob Amery and Gerhard Rüdiger for reading this blog post and making comments and providing additional information that led to its improvement.
- This is the date as given in the full title of the Darstellung der Ordinationsfeier, edited by Dr Fr Hesekiel, 1838. Altenburg: Pierer. This date correspondes to 4 February 1838
- ‘Können Sie … das Missionswerk in Europa dadurch fördern, ohne bedeutende Kostenaufwand, von den Produkten Süd-Australiens für die Naturforschenden Freunde unserer Gesellschaft einige Exemplare übersenden, so wünschen wir, dass Sie sich in diesem Liebesdienste zur Beförderung der Wissenschaft nicht entziehen wollen.’ Instruktionen 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.), p.682. In Rheinwald, George Friedrich Heinrich. 1840. Acta Historico-Ecclesiastica, Seculi XIX. Hamburg: Friedrich Perthes, pp.676-682.
- The son of Hans-Conon von der Gabelentz, Georg von der Gabelentz, went on to have a successful career as a linguist and sinologist. He often cited the influence of his father on his view of language. It has been claimed that as a particularly influential teacher of Saussure in Leipzig he could be considered a grandfather of structuralism, which, I suppose, makes Hans-Conon von der Gabelentz a great grandfather. See: Coseriu, Eugenio. Georg von der Gabelentz und die syncrhonische Sprachwissenschaft, in Gabelentz, Georg von der. 1972. Die Sprachwissenschaft: ihre Aufgaben, Methoden, und bisherigen Ergebnisse. Tübingen: Tübingen Beiträge zur Linguistik, pp.3-35. French original: 1967. Georg von der Gabelentz et la linguistique synchronique. Word 23, pp.74-110.
- ‘Die an Zahl, Schönheit und Kostbarkeit der Gegenstände bei weitem wichtigste Sendung jedoch erhielten wir vergangene Woche aus Süd-Australien durch den Missionar Herrn Teichelmann. Sie haben sie heute im Gesellschaftslocal gewiß mit Vergnügen bertrachtet. Dieselbe besteht aus 336 Exemplaren in etwa 170 Arten, sämtlich ohne Ausnahme für unsere Sammlung neu. Der vollständige Werth läßt sich nicht eher beurtheilen, als bis die Thiere bestimmt und nach ihrer relativen Seltenheit, im Vergleich mit ihrer Größe und Schönheit geschätzt seyn werden. Jedenfalls aber haben diese Thiere einen sehr bedeutdenden Werth. Und diese Schätze verdanken wir der Umsicht, Gewissenhaftigkeit und überaus großen Gefälligkeit unsers geehrten Freundes in Adelaide.’ Apetz, J H. 1844. Jahresbericht der Naturforschende Gesellschaft des Osterlandes. Mittheilungen aus dem Osterlande, 7, p.66.