Hörlein, Johann Sebastian (1871-1908)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter

Hörlein was one of two successive Lutheran missionaries who completely foundered on the challenges of missionising at Bloomfield. He arrived bristling with vigour and enthusiasm, full of innovative, renovative, missionary zeal. After ten years at the mission, he was broken in health and spirit, and he died seven years later at age 37. His frank, long and frequent letters make agonising reading.





The correct way

Hörlein and Bogner
Johann Sebastian Hörlein at age 20, graduating with Johann Mathias Bogner
from the Neuendettelsau seminary.
Photographed at Kitzingen, 17 November 1890.
Source: Lutheran Archives Australia.
Johann Sebastian Hörlein was born on 17 March 1871 in Brünnau, Bavaria. He attended the Neuendettelsau seminary from 1888 to 1891 and received his call from the Immanuel Synod in South Australia. After his ordination at Langmeil-Tanunda in May 1891, he was held back for two months to improve his English, and then sent for missionary service to Bloomfield, where Rev. Carl Meyer, now in his early 50s, eagerly awaited a replacement in a mission that was disintegrating over staff discord. 
Hörlein came to Bloomfield to set things right. He was age 20 and bristling with optimism and vigour. He believed in perfection and competence, and was quite unused to setbacks from false or misleading or incomplete information. He was incredulous how difficult it was to find a ‘German hotel’ by asking around in the streets of Brisbane and Sydney, clearly even the policemen he asked were highly incompetent, how else could they have failed to know where the nearest German pastor lived.  
His first letters to the mission directors show a vigorous youth, who was very much at the centre of his own universe, and gave a detailed account of his voyaging adventure with stormy sea passages, peppered with English terms to show how familiar he had already become with life in Australia. He clearly assumed that the personal hardships he suffered on the journey were of general interest. On the boat to Cooktown he encountered two Presbyterians from Victoria who were travelling north to initiate a Moravian mission at Cape York. It occurred to him that he really should have paid a visit to the Chief Secretary while in the State capital. He could not quite understand why nobody had suggested it to him.[1]
In Cooktown there had been heavy rains and floods, and it was going to take a few days before the journey to Bloomfield could be attempted. But young Hörlein was not going to waste any time. He quickly decided to visit Rev. Schwarz at Cape Bedford. His account of that ill-fated journey is almost comical. It shows an unshakeable belief in the cultural superiority that made him incapable of understanding the passive resistance of indigenous people. Hörlein’s version was that the Aboriginal guides ‘got lost’ - proof of their incompetence:
We had taken along two blacks as guides. But after only 12 miles we had lost the way. The blacks, who knew the way, had let us ride ahead and strolled behind at their own pace. We made a rest stop and waited for them. When they came up to us we asked them
‘is this the right way?’ and they replied,
‘depends which way you want to go’.
‘Well, we want to go the right way, of course, you’re supposed to show it to us, we don’t know it.’
‘Well, the right way was six miles back.’
We did find the way eventually but towards evening we had lost it again.[2]
The upshot was that they spent two nights in the bush without any provisions. They hadn’t even brought a water flask, and had to rely on their Aboriginal guides to make dishes from palm leaves. Hörlein gradually realised that the path which their guides were following was marked by incisions in trees, and that the creeks really were too swollen to be crossed, since the bridge to the mission had been washed away.
Hörlein arrived at Bloomfield in July 1891 and swept with a new broom. First, the house of the Kochs was too far from the mission, a 15-minute walk away. It had to be shifted closer at once. Koch had come from the Immanuel Synod mission in Central Australia, and had some experience of the enclosed life on a mission. He resented having to shift closer to the settlement, but it ‘must be done’:
Even just for the sake of orderly appearance it is necessary that this house stands next to the others. Anyone who comes here could not possibly notice that the house, which is a quarter of an hour away, also belongs to the mission.[3]
Shifting the house was to occupy several months, and was interrupted by the wet season, much to Hörlein’s annoyance. Soon after it had been moved the Koch family left the mission.
Hörlein also engaged a teacher because ‘a missionary should not spend his valuable time teaching the ABC’. The only available candidate was former seaman Curt Schulz from nearby Ayton about whom Hörlein had some considerable reservations. Worst of all, Schulz was engaged to an English girl, whereas ‘our station is supposed to be German Lutheran’, and should not be stained with an English patina. Still, Schulz would do as a casual staff member.
Within the first half year Hörlein found fault with all the staff on the mission. He felt the mission was in such a slack and disorganised state that nobody even appeared to notice that he was manager. Everyone seemed to be going about their business without even consulting him. Thanking God who had given him open eyes to notice things that others did not even consider, he was gradually going to put things right.
What was urgently needed was a copy press to keep copies of all outgoing correspondence, and a mission seal. This mission seal was to read exactly as in the draft designed by Hörlein , and must not be in English, but in German: ‘Ev.-luth. Missions Station’ (not mission station).[4]
Rev. Meyer had come under criticism from the government and local settlers, and word of his frequent drunkenness was spreading. Hörlein wanted his Neuendettelsau friend Bogner to join him at Bloomfield, and hammered away at Meyer’s reputation: ‘Meyer doesn’t teach, he doesn’t instruct in religion, he doesn’t work on the language, and he only gives a half hour sermon on Sundays which the blacks attend because they get fed afterwards’. They hadn’t been taught any hymns. As a matter of fact, ‘The English are right when they say this is a labour colony.’[5]
Meyer was altogether too weak and passive for Hörlein’s liking, not daring to criticize anyone. Nobody could have accused Hörlein of such a meek attitude. He found it unacceptable that Koch and Steicke had reduced their working hours to the six hours a day that the indigenous mission residents were required to work. Having spent his first month in the tropics during winter, Hörlein already knew that a six-hour day was not enough physical labour to justify a £12 annual salary.[6]
He criticized the women on the station for not contributing to the mission in any way, and felt that Mrs. Meyer was exhausting herself with work that she didn’t need to do. ‘She doesn’t do anything for the black women, she doesn’t teach them anything, and prefers to do everything by herself.’[7]
In November 1891 Koch asked for some travel money to go to Cooktown, probably to welcome his wife’s family who were arriving from Germany. Hörlein was outraged that Koch planned to take his wife and child along: ‘I won’t pay a penny for her trip, she doesn’t need recuperation, she is as big as a barrel.’[8] To demonstrate the authority with which he planned to govern the mission, Hörlein gave a verbatim account of the firm stance he took with the Kochs. ‘Do you think you are your own master here? You have to ask first if you want to go to Cooktown at the expense of the mission, or if you want to invite strangers into your house.’ He implored the committee not to reimburse the Kochs for this trip, at least on this occasion, otherwise his authority at the mission would be undermined. ‘Unfortunately these people have become used to playing their own masters here.’ [9]
Hörlein also criticized decisions that had been taken before his arrival. He could not understand how anyone could have been ‘so stupid’ as to sell the mission boat Fairy Queen. (‘Ich kann nicht begreifen dass die Leute so dumm waren’).[10]
When Hörlein arrived at Bloomfield the mission was in a financially sound position. Within half a year of his arrival, Steicke resigned because he had been asked to work an eight-hour day, Koch withdrew and took up a private selection with his wife’s family, and the timber-getters were making approaches to government to have the reserve rescinded.

The trouble with women

Steicke had been caught up in ‘black velvet’. It is impossible to ascertain whether this might mean a steady relationship with an Aboriginal woman, or various sexual encounters with Aboriginal mission girls. 
Meyer’s fate had been sealed, he was to be withdrawn. The only open question now was what should happen with the native Evangelist Johannes Pingilina who had come up from Bethesda with the Meyers. Pingilina had lost his wife and was pining for home. Hörlein felt that Pingilina was too useful to be let go. He should be allowed a six-month spell in South Australia, but be ordered back to Bloomfield where he was useful.
Because of a seven-year gap in the correspondence it is difficult to ascertain what happened next. Meyer finally left in 1892, and it seems that Pingilina was not allowed to go back home with him. Hörlein’s friend Bogner did arrive in December 1891. He was ten years older than Hörlein, and being the assistant missionary must have changed their earlier friendship. Bogner stayed for less than three years. The South Australian Kirchen- und Missionsblatt kept a seven-year silence, and after a first guarded report from Bogner followed soon after by a more colourful one from Hörlein, the Neuendettelsau mission newsletter Kirchliche Mitteilungen did not carry any news from Bloomfield for five years. 
Hörlein reported that both he and Bogner had ‘little daughters’. Timbora had been taken in by Meyer and adopted by Hörlein, and Tokopati, had become Bogner’s daughter. Both of them could speak a little German, and Tomi (presumably Tommy) whom Meyer had brought from Cooktown, worked well enough to save a full staff member. He wanted Hörlein to get him a wife from Cape Bedford, but the missionaries there were not agreeable.
It seems that everyone at the mission was pining for a wife. Bogner married in 1893, but his wife suffered from malaria and they left Bloomfield in 1894 to work in the drier climate of Hermannsburg mission and at Bethesda.
Christian Mack, who replaced Bogner in 1895, was introduced to a woman on his arrival by Pastor Döhler at Yorketown. He only saw her for fifteen minutes, and kept asking about the ‘results’. 
I haven’t heard anything since then. And you write practically nothing. I don’t know whether she’ll take me and whether the union is God’s will. If I was down south myself the matter would soon be settled. I expect an answer from you as soon as possible and if another option doesn’t turn up one way or another I’ll have to come south myself. To do this I am expressly asking you for some travel money. I do not intend to burden the mission. That’s why I have been saving some of my pocket money in order to use it, if necessary, to obtain a wife. [11]
The wedding of Rev. Sebastian Hörlein and Anna (nee Heinrich), at Yorketown, 1896

Source: Lutheran Archives Australia

Hörlein, too, felt the loneliness of his position at Bloomfield. By the end of his first year, as he was enclosing a list of required materials, he sheepishly asked ‘Can one request a wife by the same means?’

Agonising end

By January 1899, when the extant correspondence resumes, Anne Hörlein was sick with fever. In the following summer she was again gripped by fever, lying unconscious for several hours a day. Brother Mack offered little help, he had been asked to leave the mission house when Anne fell sick. But Steicke was back on the mission and looked after her while Hörlein himself also went down with fever. In February they took her to Cooktown, where she died a slow and painful death in the hospital after 19 weeks of illness, on 17 February 1900. They had been married for only three and a half years. Hörlein placed three-year old Victor into private care in Cairns, which cost more than he was earning at 10/- a week.[13]
He was heartbroken. He wanted to leave. For the next few months he wrote long and agonizing letters describing his descent into illness and depression. His symptoms ranged from aches in his limbs and back, to loss of voice, blurred vision, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, loss of appetite and crying fits. He blamed himself for having taken his wife to such a place and to have caused her death. 
The mission was disintegrating from staff discord and a public scandal caused by Steicke. The Swiss gardener Fritz left for Cooktown, Steicke took up work on the tin fields, and committee cast around for options to withdraw from Bloomfield. Mack was recalled in mid-1900, leaving Hörlein behind, broken in spirit and body. ‘I never thought I’d be the last German in this place.’ He started to sell everything that could be sold, including the bee hives, the chickens and the goats, so that his sources and supplies of food kept dwindling. In October he commenced taking opium-based pain relief, and at Christmas he wrote ‘I am still here, is this meant to be a punishment or a test?’ In March 1901 he was running seriously low on food and found he had ‘wasted a whole year of my life’. At Easter he was still at Bloomfield, the tin miners were starting to come by to say farewell. By mid-April the flour had run out, the mission girls were living on coconuts for the last three days, and Hörlein was living on pumpkins. This is the last letter in the collection. Hörlein had spent ten years at Bloomfield.
In September 1901 Hörlein was in Melbourne with his son, and in January 1902 he became pastor at Plainland near Laidley, where he died only six years later, at age 37 (30 August 1908).
There are a number of unfathomable twists in Hörlein’s story. Why did he place his baby son in care in Cairns, so far away? Why did he start selling off food-producing stock, like chickens and goats when his departure had not yet been set? Why did he have to stay so long at Bloomfield?

[1] 22 July 1891 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[2]10 August 1891 Hörlein to friends of the mission, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[3] 17 August 1891 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[4] 30 August 1891 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[5] 8 November 1891 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[6] 31 August 1891 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[7]8 November 1891 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[8] 8 November 1891 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[9]16 November 1891 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[10]16 November 1891 Hoerlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[11]16 July 1899 Mack to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[12] 21 December 1891 Horlein toRechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.
[13]2 March 1900 Hörlein to Rechner, Bloomfield correspondence, Lutheran Archives Australia.