The Emigration of the Bennier Family
By Marc Bennier


Mecklenburg was occupied by Prussia, 1759-1764, during the Seven Years War, 1756-1763, and in the Napoleonic Wars Mecklenburg was occupied by French troops, 1806-1813. All Mecklenburgers knew the period as the "Franzosentid" [period of French occupation]. The country suffered destruction, and the people great hardship, with robbery and pillage becoming commonplace. Forced to join the Confederation of the Rhine under Napoleon's protectorate, 2,000 men were conscripted to take part in Napoleon's campaign against Russia, less than one hundred returned home. After Napoleon's retreat from Russia the dukes of both Mecklenburg duchies were among the first to renounce the alliance with France and in the War of German Liberation, which followed, 1813-1815, the duchies played a significant part in defeating Napoleon and liberating Germany from France. The dukes took the title of Grand Duke in 1815 and Mecklenburg became a Grand Duchy.

With liberation and peace the conditions for the people did not improve, a period of economic depression lasted into the 1820s. In Mecklenburg at this time existed a feudalism system known as "Inherited Serfdom." The landowners controlled the economy and ruled their estates with absolute authority. The peasants were dependant entirely on the nobles who could even buy and sell them with or without their property, and produced crops for export from their vast estates by using labour of bonded peasants, servants, and labourers. The landlords drove away more and more peasants and then incorporated those peasants' plots into their estates. This callous robbery of the peasant properties was known as "peasant seizure." Those peasants who were without land became cottagers or gardeners. Eventually they were simply known as day labourers, "tageloehners," and lived in grinding poverty. The day labourers travelled the countryside, moving from estate to estate as the estate owner required their labour for ploughing, planting or harvesting crops. Serfdom was abolished in Mecklenburg in 1820, which freed the peasants from their obligations to estate owners, but this worsened the conditions for most peasants because the estate owners were freed of any obligations under feudal law to provide their tenants with any means of supporting themselves. At the time many estate owners took the opportunity to get rid of a lot of their day labourers who were now considered personally free according to the law. They began to run their lands with a minimum of permanent workers. It was very difficult for day labourers who were thrown out to find permanent work elsewhere, because they needed to receive the right of establishment from the new employer.

Many peasants and labourers left Mecklenburg and emigrated to other countries as their conditions became unbearable. Between the years 1820 and 1890 261,000 Mecklenburgers left their home country, immigrating to the United States, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. Mecklenburg had the third highest emigration count in Europe, superseded only by Ireland and Galicia [province of Austria-Hungary]. The loss of population in Mecklenburg was more prevalent in the rural areas, where 88.5% of emigrants came from. This was mostly due to the miserable social conditions caused by the right of abode and the right of establishment rules, which existed almost unchanged from 1820 to 1860.

In the first two years of colonisation of Nelson the New Zealand Company had not received the support from the English they had expected. The company knowing of the conditions that existed in Germany advertised in the German newspapers, starting in December 1839, and appointed agents in Hamburg. These agents were expected to distribute NZ Company propaganda, and to organise the emigration of their countrymen in cooperation with the Company. In 1841 a Deutsche Colonisations Gesellschaft [German Colonisation Company] was formed at Hamburg by Karl Sieveking and other representatives of leading mercantile houses there, including De Chapeaurouge and Company, and J.C. Godeffroy and Son. To this organization the NZ Company undertook to sell the Chatham Islands outright, which they believed they had bought from the local Maori. When Lord Stanley, of the British Colonial Office, was informed he told the NZ Company that its charter did not authorise it to buy land in a foreign country, nor to create a foreign colony in the neighbourhood of British settlements, and if it went ahead the Company's charter would be forfeited. The Chatham Islands had been claimed by the British in 1791, but not yet annexed. The NZ Company immediately assured Lord Stanley that 'nothing shall be done which shall in any way involve the Company in any illegal or objectionable proceedings.' However, the German Company, unaware of this hitch, issued its plan for the colonisation of the Chathams on 15 February 1842. In March 1842 when the British Government learned of this development, it informed both the New Zealand and German companies that from henceforth the Chatham Islands would form part of the colony of New Zealand, and any Germans settling there would be treated as aliens. By this date the German Company was well ahead with its plans. John Nicholas Beit, the NZ Company agent at Hamburg, then persuaded both investors and prospective colonists to allow the expedition to go to Nelson, New Zealand, instead. Beit pointed out that, as their aims were philanthropic and commercial rather than imperialist in design, they might beneficially divert the stream of migration to the British colonies of the south, where their capital would be more safely secured under British laws; and that they would best promote the substantial interests of the emigrants by allowing them to amalgamate with the British population. He applied to Lord Stanley in April 1842 for permission to conduct a number of German families to Nelson, on the understanding they would become British subjects. Stanley was very willing, and promised to authorise Governor Hobson to naturalise all those recommended by the British consul in Hamburg. He was less pleased when he discovered the composition of the party, as he was strongly opposed to labourers going out without capitalists.

The 380-ton St Pauli had been charted and was being fitted out in Hamburg for the passage to New Zealand. Seventeen people sailed as cabin and 123 in steerage. The emigrants came mostly from Northern Germany and the Rhineland, the majority being Lutherans. A few were well educated, speaking and writing standard High German. The rest spoke the Low German dialect, Plattdeutsch. The St Pauli people were freemen, listed on the passenger list as Bauer, yeoman farmer or free peasant, and a Landwirt or husbandman, agricultural labourer. On the later Skiold they were listed as Tagelohner, labourers paid by the day. The St Pauli left Hamburg on 26 December 1842 and arrived at Nelson on 14 June 1843. They were naturalised British subjects on the day of their arrival. Most of the Skiold passengers were naturalised by an ordinance of 3 April 1845. The Nelson settlers welcomed them without any sign of prejudice, but the whole settlement was soon thrown into disorder when Maori massacred the Wakefield party at Wairau. In this state of affairs the St Pauli settlers were left to their own slender resources. Eight families settled at Moutere, near the Lutheran missions property, among them were the families of Beckmann, Haase, Huter, Jaensch, and Karsten. Another group rented land at Waimea, while a few remained in Nelson. In October 1843, NZ Company rep William Fox found it necessary to employ some on public works, because they had no other means of livelihood. The German settlement at Moutere had called their valley Schachtstal, and their village St. Paulidorf, but the valley was so flood-ridden that it had to be abandoned after sixteen months of unrewarded toil. Some of the families returned to Nelson and some went to Waimea West.

The second group of German settlers to Nelson was organised by De Chapeaurouge and Company. Most of the capital was supplied by Graf Kuno zu Rantzau-Breitenburg of Bothmer in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, [Count Kuno Rantzau-Breitenburgor] more briefly, Count Rantzau, a wealthy German nobleman, who originally had grand visions of planting a large German colony at Nelson. He hoped to combine a good investment for himself and improve the situation for some depressed peasants of Mecklenburg. The count sent out three agents to manage his estate and to care for the settlers. The trio was Johann Benoit, a Hamburg merchant, and the Kelling brothers, Carl and Fedor, farmers from Klutz. Before the Skiold left Hamburg in April 1844 the NZ Company had collapsed and the migrants were faced with an uncertain future. Fortunately for them Count Rantzau not only paid the passages of eighteen of the twenty-eight families, but also went guarantor for the venture. He had ensured that the passengers on this second voyage to New Zealand were given 'kind and fair treatment' unlike those of the earlier "St. Pauli" voyage.

On 16 April 1844, a few days before their departure, the heads of each family had to sign a contract at Hamburg with the count, so that the men sailed in bond to their benefactors. The agreements were drawn up in High German in intricate legal language, the full impact of which must have been lost on the illiterate signatories; the document also carried a rough English translation. Which committed the Germans not only to work for the absentee Count but also to repay him the cost of their fares. Each contract stated the commitments of the count's agents, and then those of the assisted labourer. As Rantzau had promised to send the emigrant to Nelson, the Kellings and Benoit, on his behalf, undertook to give the man and his family good treatment and daily work at the wages current in the colony, less any deductions for food and clothing, so long as they behaved themselves. After the man had paid back the family's fares for the voyage at the rate of 17 10s. per adult, the agents promised to sell him on request ten to twenty acres of rural land at 2 5s. per acre. The man in return undertook to migrate to New Zealand, and to acknowledge the cost of the voyage as a debt binding upon himself and his heirs. Finally he declared: "I promise to fulfil this contract like a true and diligent worker, and I hereby renounce all later objections or excuses." It can be seen that there was nothing in the nature of charity here.

The Skiold [Skjold] was a three mast Danish ship [barque] of 460 tons, built 1839, owned by C. Petersen, Sundeborg, under the command of Captain Hans Christian Claussen. Brought the second migration of German settlers to the Nelson region of New Zealand. The ship sailed with a qualified surgeon aboard, Doctor Franz B. Braum and also a Doctor F. Qualmann. There were 141 passengers on board and a crew of about 20. There were six cabin passengers and 135 in steerage. In the steerage were sixty-six adults, including twenty-four married couples, and sixty-nine children. Most of the emigrants were agricultural labouring families from Mecklenburg. Nineteen men were listed as tagelohner or day labourers, while there were thirteen artisans, including three sawyers, three joiners, two smiths, a shoemaker, a mason, a bricklayer, a cooper, and a wheelwright. With the exception of Rausch from Bavaria and Herbst from Schleswig-Holstain, they came from seventeen villages in Mecklenburg. Among the villages, which supplied more than one family, were Klutz, Krassow, Reppenhagen, Brookhusen, Brockhagen, Hasewinkel and Tarnewitz.

Benoit from Hamburg, Braun from Kitzingen, Kelling, Kiel and Heinius from Klutz, Balk from Barnekow, Bannier [Bennier] from Kilrow [Kritzow], Braasch and Westphal from Hasenwinkel, Bruning from Glashagen, Busch, Dube and Parbs from Reppenhagen, Fanselow from Farnwilz, Gebert, Schroder and Wendleborn from Crassow [Krassow], Gerhardt from Holfersdorf, Hammerich from Dassow, Herbst from Pierstorf, Langbein from Brockhausen, Lange from Wellxin, Lankow from Clanenhorst, Meyer from Lunkow, Paap from Warnow, Rausch from Oberweisenthal, Schrap from Rankendorff, Schwass and Siggelkow from Brockhagen, Tietjen from Wismar.

The Skiold set sail after the New Zealand Company had suspended operations and in the directors' (but not the migrants') sure knowledge that certain hardship awaited them. So from Hamburg in the Kingdom of Hanover [now part of modern Germany] on the 21st April 1844 with a journey of 120 days, including a seven-day stopover in Bahia, South America, to effect repairs, they sailed into Nelson harbour, New Zealand on 1 September 1844, the day after all labourers on public works at Nelson had been summarily dismissed. There were two deaths, both children, and two births on the voyage. The Skiold was later wrecked on the coast of England in 1849 on a return voyage from Singapore to Cuxhaven.

Colonel Wakefield was more favourably impressed by the appearance of the Skiold men, who, he said, "evinced a decided superiority" over their predecessors. Most of the families settled on sections at Waimea East. Here a considerable German village grew up and for many years after their arrival most of the settlers worked for the Kellings on their allotment of 150 acres, Benoit had returned to Europe in 1845. In respect for the help received from Count Rantzau, Fedor Kelling called his homestead "Ranzau" and the whole district of Waimea East was for many years known as Ranzau until it was given the present name of Hope. Today Ranzau Road is the only reminder of the old name.

The problems before the Kellings were not easily solved. They had brought out 135 individuals, nearly forty being labouring men for whom they were bound to find employment. With only 150 acres they could not employ all the families. They therefore accepted responsibility for as many families as possible, about 75 persons all told, which strained their resources to the utmost. A few found private employment, but the remainder went to Adelaide, South Australia. There was in fact quite an exodus of Germans from Nelson to Hobart, Tasmania in 1844 and to Adelaide in 1844-45, most of them were destitute St Pauli settlers. Some families who went to South Australia returned to Nelson some years later, after conditions had improved. The German communities at Nelson and Adelaide never completely lost touch with each other.

Johann Joachim Carl Benier age 34, Agricultural labourer, his wife Dorothia Hanna Maria age 27, and their children Johann Frederick Joachim age 8, Joachim Christian Martin age 6, Anna Maria Christiana age 4, Dorothea Margaret Sophia age 2, and Carl Joachim Anton age 9 months of Kritzow in Mecklenburg - Schwerin, near Wismar, Germany; sailed from Hamburg on the 'SKIOLD' 21st April 1844 and arrived at Nelson, New Zealand on the 1st.September 1844, with a group of German emigrants who planned to settle there under an arrangement with the New Zealand Company.

When New Zealand Company's plans fell into disarray, the group departed Nelson on the brigantine 'SISTERS' 20th November 1844 arriving at Hobart 7th December 1844. After an enforced stay, the group left aboard the brigantine 'PALMYRA' sailing via Portland to take on water and provisions, arriving at Port Adelaide 17th January 1845.

John immediately took up land in the neighbourhood of Tapley's Hill a few miles south of Adelaide, then at Morphett Vale, where he lived for the rest of his life. Their first known home was their farmhouse at Morphett Vale. It was demolished to make way for the Stanvac Oil Refinery. A few trees remain and there is a reserve where kangaroos and wild life live.

Their second known home was in the town site of Reynella, and possibly built by or for them, as there appears to be no mention made of an existing dwelling in the Title Deeds.

Johann Joachim Carl Benier became a naturalized citizen of South Australia 16th April 1864, being a resident of 20 years, aged 54 years and by profession a farmer.

On 27th June, 1871 John, described as "Senior Morphett Vale Farmer" obtained the Title Deeds for:- "That piece of land situated in the Hundred of Noarlunga County of Adelaide comprising the allotments 77a and 78a.......the township of Reynella......Which said piece of land contains one.......and twenty perches or thereabouts......"

The document further informs that the land was originally granted to Matthew Davenport Hill on the 27th May 1839, just three years after the State was founded.

Their son John and his wife Eliza stayed on the farm when John and Anna moved. The old stone cottage at Reynella still stands and was lived in by the present owners until about 1970. It is used as a storeroom for almonds, fruit etc. The masonry is in perfect order and beautifully done with tiny windows set in walls 21 inches thick.

It is very probable that John and Anna were buried in the old Bains Road Cemetery not very far from where they farmed at Morphett Vale.

Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, Edited by, Burke's Royal Families of the World, London: Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1977.

Hughes, Michael, Law and Politics in 18th Century Germany, The Imperial Aulic Council in the Reign of Charles V1. Woodbridge Suffolk UK: The Boydell Press, 1988.

Carol Gohsman Bowen, Editor and web master, Mecklenburg-Vorpommen WorldGenWeb Page: http://pages.prodigy.net/jhbowen/index.htm

Colliers Encyclopaedia, Volume 15 page 627, New York: Macmillan Educational Corporation, 1978.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia Volume 6 pages 741-742, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc, Fifteenth Edition, Auckland: 1984.

Jones, Stan, From Serfdom to Freedom, The Schwass Family in New Zealand, Nelson NZ: Stan Jones, 1990.

Allan, Ruth M., Nelson A History of Early Settlement, Wellington NZ: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1965.

Benier to Bennier compiled by Judith Pech