Rechner, G. Julius, Rev. (1830-1900)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter
Birth / Death: 

Born: 29 December 1830 in Liegnitz, Silesia

Died: 21 August 1900 (aged 69)

Julius Rechner was a most unusual man who came to South Australia at age 19 to spearhead the migration of his whole family. He was ordained without any theological training on the strength of his natural leadership qualities, commitment and faith - a true successor to the rebellious pastor Kavel who had led 500 Old Lutherans out of Silesia into South Australia in 1838. As president of the Immanuel Synod’s mission committee for 34 years, Rechner directed the fortunes of Kilallpaninna and Bloomfield missions.





Early Years

Gustav Julius Rechner was born on 29 December 1830 in Liegnitz, Silesia (now Legnicia in Poland). His father Christoph Friedrich (Fritz) Rechner (1806-1896) was a Saxon textile worker (Leineweber) who had migrated to the burgeoning industry in Silesia. His deeply pious mother Wilhelmine Maiwald from Hirschberg (1805- 1885) worked as a cleaner. They belonged to the Old Lutheran congregation in Liegnitz.


At 15 months, Julius was immunized against smallpox and developed a severe adverse reaction, which rendered him sickly for four years, finally developing blindness. His eyesight returned during a lengthy treatment of 70 salt douches. His sisters Auguste and Pauline were born in 1832 and 1842. In the late 1830s the Old Lutheran congregation of Klemzig, some 130 kilometers distant, migrated en masse to South Australia, still refusing to obey the 1813 decree to unify Reformed and Lutheran churches. This mass migration cannot have missed its mark on the imaginations of those who stayed behind. The textile industry was under pressure from Indian textiles, and this economic downturn was exacerbated by famine in 1847. The ensuing hardship was to eventuate in a revolution in 1848. The Rechner family, meanwhile, used its faith to foment independence.


In 1840 the new Gossner Mission Society (formed 1836) invited Fritz to go as a lay missionary to South Africa, but instead he took on the direction of an orphanage for Countess Stollberg. From June 1841 to 1843 the orphanage grew from 10 to 80 children, and young Julius helped as a teacher aide.


In April 1843 the family moved to Löwenberg and then to Neukirch near Goldberg in the employ of Bormann’s textile factories. Father Fritz found the Neukirch school inadequate and sent Julius to board at Petersdorf to train as a teacher under Cantor Katthein, who instilled in the boy a great devotion to music. He learned to play violin, piano, horn, organ and drums, sang in the choir and copied music. Here the 12-year old acted as teaching assistant in the village school and wrote his first autobiography.


He also started to write a diary that reflects the daily devotional routines in his deeply religious family, and a very serious and reflective teenager. A holiday is described by the 14-year old thus:


‘The day was passed in lovely conversation. In the afternoon we went walking a little and father struck up several hymns and alternating with conversation read a chapter from the Bible. So passed another happy day in company.”1


However his father felt that the Petersdorf education lacked French and Latin, so at Easter 1845 Julius was removed from the school. His diary entries record tears shed by the cantor and the boy at the parting on 2 April. On 3 April he commenced at the Latin school in Goldberg, where he ‘liked it very much. I found what I had never known in any school, namely a warm relationship between teachers and pupils’.2 This, however, became too expensive and the 14-year old was removed from school altogether and apprenticed.


Julius portrays his father as enlightened and encouraging – coaxing, cajoling and fostering rather than authoritative and paternalistic as might be expected of a man with little education. Neukirch did not have an Old Lutheran congregation, so Julius’ father conducted weekly devotions, some of which were well attended, and they often visited the Moravian community at Gnadenberg, avoiding the state church. Perhaps this confessional independence fostered an even deeper pietism in the boy. His father, too, had undergone a conversion experience and was very pious. This spiritual environment facilitated a direct connection with God that did not depend on being channeled through an organised church sanctioned by the state.


On the day of his confirmation his diary records for the

‘most important point of our life. ... Oh, holy earnestness gripped my heart at the confession of my sins ... higher feelings of nearness to the Lord overcame me at the partaking of the body and blood.’3


At age 16 he completed his apprenticeship, became a member of the cloth cutters’ guild, and had selected his future wife. Bertha Bergmann, a Catholic, was a year older than him and worked in the factory where he was now a clerk. She also attended the choral society he had formed. But it was decided that he should migrate to South Australia, and if successful, his family would follow. He left just before he turned 18, when the Prussian Army would have demanded three years’ military service. During their courtship and separation Bertha collected 79 letters from Julius.


In South Australia


In January 1849 eighteeen-year old Julius Rechner joined Pastor August Kavel’s Old Lutheran congregation at Langmeil in the Barossa Valley, swearing to enter no mixed marriages, and embracing chiliasm, the point of confessional difference that had caused a rift with the other Old Lutheran German congregation in the Barossa Valley, belonging to Pastor Daniel Fritzsche.4 Both of these two old Lutheran pastors offered Rechner a teaching job, but neither had money to pay him.


Within a few weeks of his arrival Julius Rechner took up some land near Tanunda with a friend called Mueller, but he was not cut out to be a farmer and struggled along for sixteen months, until a teaching vacancy became available at the Light Pass school. In June 1850 Rechner became the teacher as well as the cantor, providing the music for all church services. He now put the pieces of his life into place with evident determination. He wrote another biography. He suggested that Bertha might convert to Lutheranism, and built a cottage of pug and red gum that still stands at Light Pass 160 years later.5 In August 1850 Bertha arrived, they married on 23 October, and at age 21 Rechner became naturalised, in November 1851.


The good reputation of Rechner’s school at Light Pass soon attracted 100 children. Drawing on his experience in the orphanage and teachers college, he produced his own teaching materials, since none were available. His wages were 30 shillings a week, free accommodation, free chopped wood, the use of 3.5 acres of cropped land, and a bushel of wheat from each family in the congregation and in the school. He also received 2 shillings 6p for baptisms and 3 shillings for a wedding.6


Rechner layered his life with community responsibilities. He spent his days teaching seven hours at the school, and his evenings and weekends teaching English (starting in 1853) and playing music at church services. He became the treasurer for the school, church and mission, and agent for the German newspaper. He also acted as the scribe in English and German for the community. His weekly rhythm of evening activities was: adult English classes on Monday, church on Tuesday, English lessons for himself at Angaston on Wednesday, adult English classes on Thursday, church on Friday, adult English classes on Saturday, and church on Sunday. His diaries letters testify to his good command of English at the time.


The first three of his six children were already born by the time the rest of his family followed on the Wandrahm in 1854: his parents, his youngest sister Pauline, and his sister Auguste with her husband. The 48-year old father Fritz became a founding member of the Pilgrim congregation at Neukirch (literally ‘new church’ formed in 1854) named after the Neukirch they had just left. None of them were distracted by the gold rush that caused a wave of immigrants to ebb over Victoria. Fritz became the teacher at Neukirch.7


Of the right cloth


For the first thirteen years that Old Lutherans from Hahndorf settled at Light Pass, Pastor Kavel held church service every six weeks, at first in in the school, and a church was built in 1850. A separate congregation was formed in 1858 and the Immanuel Light Pass congregation received its own pastor, Wilhelm Staudenmayer. After Kavel passed away in February 1860, Staudenmayer took issue with Kavel’s church constitution, which required confirmands to convey their personal experience with sin and grace, but the community rallied once more behind their erstwhile Moses.8 Amid rising discontent with Staudenmayer’s attempt to normalize the Light Pass church, Rechner resigned from the school in mid-1860 and became secretary for George Fife Angas in Angaston instead.


There was still a strong core of Kavel’s people who were not going to cave in on the question of religious freedom, which had displaced them from their homeland in the first instance. They distrusted pastors trained in institutions that were based on state churches, or ‘interdenominational’ (meaning various strands of Protestantism) and they were displeased with Staudenmayer. They argued with him over strictly confessional issues, but he was, after all, a stranger among them as a Wuerttembergian with a different tongue, a different history, and a different cultural background.9


Twenty-five families separated from the Immanuel Light Pass congregation to form their own congregation, selecting their beloved teacher Rechner as their pastor. They built a church almost identical to the Immanuel Lutheran church, across the road from it, and called it ‘Zur engen Pforte’ (Strait Gate) after Matthew 7.14: ‘strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it’. Meanwhile Staudenmeyer continued at the Light Pass Immanuel church across the road (and at Gnadenfrei and Ebenezer St John’s church) until 1865.


If the Old Lutherans wanted a pastor of the right cloth they had to train their own, as Pastor Fritzsche was doing at Lobethal. Rev. Christian Auricht who had migrated as a child with his parents and studied under Pastors Fritzsche and Kavel to be ordained by Kavel in 1858, became Kavel’s rightful successor approved by the congregation. Auricht on his part now resolved the tension at Light Pass by ordaining Julius Rechner on 3 February 1861 to give his seal of approval to the popular choice. Lutheran pastors all over Australia and in Germany strenuously objected to this unorthodox ordination, but in vain. The Strait Gate church was dedicated on 4 August 1861, by Reverend Rechner.


Without a shred of institutional theology between them, Auricht (1832-1907) and Rechner became the central pillars of the synod for forty years, with Auricht carrying on as president (1900-1907) after Rechner’s death until his own. In 1862, shortly before Fritzsche’s death, they ironed out their differences on the question of chiliasm to forge a reunion with the Bethany-Lobethal synod,10 in order to combine forces for mission work in the remote north. The two major missions were the Dieri mission at Coopers’ Creek, later Killalpaninna, and Bloomfield in North Queensland, with the former always getting more attention. Rechner visited it four times, and Bloomfield once. Together Auricht and Rechner imported, trained, and sent into the desert generations of young missionaries with whom they also became engulfed in family connections and for whom they acted in loco parentis.


Rechner became the Immanuel Synod president in 1874 and immediately set about forging a union with a Victorian Lutheran Synod headed by Pastor Hermann Herlitz from Basel, which caused a renewed rift between the two South Australian Old Lutheran synods. Ten years later Rechner on his part took issue with the interdenominational training at Basel, and the collaboration with Herlitz ended in mutual accusations. From that time the Immanuel Synod started to recruit from Neuendettelsau, including two candidates who became Rechner’s sons in law, Johannes Stolz and J. G. Reuther, who became Pauline’s first and second husbands.


The Light Pass Synod also encompassed North Rhine (Sedan) and Grünberg, named after a place in Silesia (now Zielona Góra) which is famous for its bitter wines. Grünberg (near Tanunda) was formed when as a result of the Fritzsche/Kavel schism in Hahndorf, Kavel was evicted from the Manse by verdict of the Supreme Court.


Rechner was president of the Immanuel Synod for 26 years, until his death. He had received no institutional training in dogma, and was raised to be an independent thinker. He was remembered as gentle, decisive and visionary, a mediator and conciliator, but at Light Pass he presided over several bitter disputes between closest brethren. Rechner remained a stout supporter of G. Steicke, who had been a foundation member of the Strait Gate parish in 1860 and later served at Bloomfield mission.


The Strait Gate church was a narrow construction indeed, admitting no Catholics, no Calvinists, no state church Lutherans, and not even the Old Lutherans from across the road - more narrow, surely, than the apostle Matthew had imagined. The parish stayed in the family, its pastors being Julius Rechner (1861-1900), Adolf Sabel, son-in-law of Rev. Auricht, (1892-93), Rechner’s grandson Johannes J. Stolz (1900-1903), and later another of Rechner’s grandsons, R. B. Reuther (1936-66).


Pastor Rechner died in office at age 69 on 21 August 1900, eight weeks before his golden wedding anniversary. He was buried in the ‘Strait Gate’ cemetery at Light Pass. He was survived by his wife Berta and four sons and two daughters, one of whom, Pauline, married Georg Reuther and is responsible for a large group of descendants issuing from that family. The Rechner descendants include twenty ordained pastors and thirteen women who married pastors.



Front view of the Rechner cottage Rechern Cottage Wall
On the right is the Strait Gate church (Zur Engen Pforte)
founded by Rechner, on the left the Immanuel
Lutheran church of Light Pass, Tanunda. 

Ganter 2011
The Rechner cottage at Light Pass.
Source: Ganter, 2011
Rechner Cottage Outbuilding Rechner Cottage Outbuilding 2
The walls of the Rechner cottage are slowly deteriorating
revealing the structure of the building.

: Ganter 2011
An outbuilding of the Rechner cottage with working implements
Source: Ganter 2011
Rechner tombstone in cemetery   The grave of Pastor Julius Rechner.
Ganter 2011


1 G. J. Rechner Diary, 10 August 1845, cited by Peter Rechner in Judy Gale Rechner, G. J. Rechner and his descendants: Rechner, Fischer/Fisher, Stolz and Reuther journeys, 2008 (self-publication), p. 10.

2 G. J. Rechner Diary, 2 and 3 April 1845, cited in Gale, p. 20.

3 G. J. Rechner Diary, 9 April 1856, cited in Gale, p. 20.

4 Kavel had led 500 migrants out of Klemzig in 1837. They first settled in Adelaide in early 1839, calling their settlement Klemzig, and in 1842 they moved to land purchased from their sponsor G. F. Angas in the Barossa Valley, and called it Bethany. Some of them made a further move to settle at Light Pass in 1845.

5 According to Arnold Reuther the cottage which still stands was inhabited by Rechner’s parents after they arrived in South Australia. However, Judy Rechner writes that the parents lived at Neukirch until Wilhelmine died (1885), and Fritz then moved to live with his son at Light Pass.

6 Arnold Reuther, The Migrants and their Descendants: Rechner, Stolz, Reuther. Unpublished MS, 1993:2.

7 Hebart, Th., The United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia (U.E.L.C.A.) Its History, Activities and Characteristics, 1838–1938, (Transl. Johann J. Stolz), Lutheran Book Depot, Adelaide, 1938:255.

8 Hebart, p. 68-69.

9 Staudenmayer’s origins are not certain. He does not appear in the Basel Mission Society register, and his entry in the Weiss register of German pastors in Australia only commences with his ordination in the Kavel Synod at Light Pass. He was in the Kavel Synod 1858-60, then in the Tanunda-Langmeil Synod until 1866, when he retired and returned to Germany due to ill health. He died in Wuerttemberg in 1876. According to Reuther he was from the state church, which he must have been if he was trained in Wuerttemberg. In Wuerttemberg there had not been much Lutheran resistance to unification with Calvinists and Reformed churches, and therefore never a prosecution of Lutherans. Johann Peter Weiss, A General and Statistical History of the Australian Lutheran Church (MS), 1999/2007. Arnold Reuther, ‘The Migrants and their Descendants: Rechner, Stolz, Reuther’, Unpublished MS, 1993:3.

10 The Bethany-Lobethal synod (1846-55) was formed by Pastor Daniel Fritzsche, and became called ELSA (Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Australia). August Kavel’s synod (1838-60) became the Langmeil-Light Pass Synod (1860-74) and then the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Synod (1874-1921). The union between the two synods disintegrated again in 1874 because Immanuel synod united with a Victorian synod led by Hermann Herlitz from Basel, and was healed again and in 1921 with the formation of UELCA (United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia). In 1966 this became the Lutheran Church of Australia.