Schürmann, Rev. Clamor Wilhelm (1815-1893)

Prepared by: 
Christine Lockwood
Birth / Death: 

born 7 June 1815 at Ellerbeck near Schledehausen


Together with Christian Gottlob Teichelmann, the Lutheran Schürmann was the first missionary to work among the Aboriginal people of South Australia and to establish schools for Aboriginal people, working in the Adelaide, Port Lincoln and Encounter Bay areas. He left linguistic and ethnographic records of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and the Barngarla/Parnkalla of Eyre Peninsula.




Early Life

Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann (1815-1893) was born on 7 June 1815 at Ellerbeck near Schledehausen, Hannover where he grew up on his family’s farm. He was the youngest son of Johann Adam Schürmann and his wife Maria Elisabeth, née Ebcker. He was known as Wilhelm in Germany but in Australia as Clamor.1


Schürmann’s father died before his first birthday and his mother when he was ten. His mother’s Christian faith influenced him profoundly and he felt called to emulate his older brother, Johann Adam Schürmann (later Anglicised to John Adam Shurman), who studied at the Jänicke Mission Institute in Berlin and served many years with the London Missionary Society in Benares, India, translating the Bible into Urdu. As the youngest of four sons, Clamor was, according to German custom, heir to the family farm. Despite family opposition, in 1832 he renounced his inheritance in favour of an older brother, Johann Friedrich, who in return used his wife’s dowry to support Clamor through his missionary training.


Schurmann Farm Ellerbeck

Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann ca. 1890

Source: Lutheran Archives, Adelaide

St Laurentius Lutheran Church Schledehausen, Schürmann’s home church

Photo: C. Lockwood, 2011

The Schürmann farm at Ellerbeck in the nineteenth century

Source: Courtesy of Jan Schürmann, Ellerbeck



Theological Formation

From July 1832 to July 1836 Schürmann attended the Jänicke Mission Institute, the first German mission school, started in 1800 by Johannes Jänicke, pastor of the Bethlehem Bohemian Lutheran congregation in Berlin but by then in the charge of Director J. W. Rückert. Disregarding doctrinal differences, this institute supplied missionaries to serve Dutch and British mission societies while retaining their Lutheran identity. Subjects studied included Latin, Greek, Hebrew, English, world and church history, geography and preaching. Hoping to serve in India or China, Schürmann included Chinese in his studies.


In the 1830s a renewed appreciation for the Lutheran Confessions2 was in part fostered in the German states by a forced union of Lutheran and Calvinist churches in Prussia and the persecution of those who wished to remain Lutheran (‘Old Lutherans’).3 This Lutheran revival influenced Schürmann and Christian Gottlob Teichelmann who were studying together in Berlin.


On graduation, Schürmann and Teichelmann were offered positions with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Lands (SPG) on the condition that they were ordained into the Church of England, which involved accepting its Thirty-Nine Articles and Episcopal authority.4 When they rejected this offer they were told they could expect no other positions. Their dilemma helped trigger the formation in August 1836 of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden (‘Dresden Mission Society’ or DMS), the first mission society to be clearly Lutheran in its approach and committed to teaching according to the Lutheran Confessions.5


Leipzig Dresden orphanage

Nineteenth century Leipzig and Dresden.
Bottom right Orphanage Church in Dresden,
used by the DMS seminary

Source: Leipzig Mission Society headquarters

Schürmann and Teichelmann undertook further studies at the DMS’ new Mission Institute in Dresden from September 1836 to February 1838. The DMS aimed to give missionaries a sound academic education and a thorough grounding in the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions, as well as practical skills. The biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew) were taught so missionaries could properly understand and translate the Scriptures and acquire linguistic skills for studying indigenous languages.6

The DMS was planning an East Indian mission when George Fife Angas, chairman of the South Australian Company, asked for missionaries to be sent to South Australia (SA), promising to support them with £100 a year as long as he was happy with them.7 No missionaries were yet working in South Australia so the DMS accepted Angas’ invitation. It thought Angas’ support augured well for the mission’s success and indicated that he would not sacrifice Aboriginal welfare to colonists’ interests. SA’s religious freedom meant DMS missionaries would be free to establish Lutheran congregations.8 Teichelmann and Schürmann were ordained on 4 February 1838 and commissioned for work in South Australia on 8 February 1838.

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The Missionaries’ Instructions

The DMS’ approach was shaped by Lutheran teaching, the heart of which is justification by faith, the teaching that salvation is a gift of God’s grace, received through faith in the atoning life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.9 According to Lutheran teaching, faith too is a gift of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word.

This understanding of the Christian faith meant the DMS did not see the missionary’s job as remaking indigenous societies but as sharing God’s love, offering the Gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation to all people. New believers were to be free to express their Christian faith in culturally diverse ways as long as they were not incompatible with the New Testament.10 It meant, too, that missionaries must use local languages, translate the Scriptures, teach people to read the Scriptures in their own language so that the Holy Spirit could work faith in their hearts and establish congregations to nourish believers’ faith through God’s Word.


Accordingly, the DMS’ instructed its Australian missionaries to share ‘the Gospel of God’s grace’ with the heathen and to ‘preach the word of reconciliation’. 11 They were to model themselves on the Apostle Paul who ‘became all things to all people’, live with the people as nearly at their level as possible, learn their language and culture and partially support themselves.12 They were to baptise and gather people into congregations, instruct the children, translate Luther’s Small Catechism and the Scriptures and train Aboriginal assistants. The goal was an Aboriginal Lutheran church. First, though, they were to establish a congregation among German settlers who would hopefully support their mission.13


In accordance with the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, the DMS urged Schürmann and Teichelmann to focus on spiritual work. It believed that it was the colonial authorities’ responsibility to protect and provide for Aboriginal people and believed they had undertaken to do this. It also instructed its missionaries to do what they could to relieve Aboriginal people’s physical suffering but it did not instruct them to ‘civilise’ or Europeanise them. They were to avoid imposing their own cultural standards. Rather they were to allow the Holy Spirit to guide converts to make any cultural changes needed in response to the gospel.14 Read more


Angas, however, wanted the missionaries to establish a Moravian-type Aboriginal agricultural mission settlement far from European settlement and to both ‘Christianize’ and ‘civilise’ South Australia’s Aboriginal people. The missionaries were to induce them to give up ‘war and wandering’, envy and revenge, and teach them Christianity, English and the ‘arts of civilisation’ so they could ‘amalgamate’ with European settlers as useful workers and colonisation could proceed more peacefully.15 Angas also lent money to enable a group of Prussian Lutheran refugees, led by Pastor August Kavel, to migrate to SA. He expected Kavel to oversee the missionaries and his followers to support them.


Angas led the DMS to believe it financial commitment would be minimal as colonial authorities would provide for Aboriginal welfare and allow revenue from land reserved to benefit Aboriginal people to flow to the missionaries.16 However, support proved totally inadequate, leaving the missionaries dependent on government and vulnerable to its pressure. Angas’ minimal support lasted only two years. He provided no land for a mission settlement.


Dresden Mission locations in South Australia

Dresden mission locations and related Language
areas in South Australia. Source: C. Lockwood 2014

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Mission work in the Adelaide area


The two pastors, Schürmann and Teichelmann, arrived in SA on 12 October 1838. Differences of opinion with colonial administrators soon emerged. Rev. Schürmann questioned the legitimacy of British colonial ambitions, criticised the authorities disregard for Aboriginal law and Aboriginal leaders’ authority and protested the seizure of all Aboriginal land.17 He criticised the government’s assimilationist plans, instead advocating the retention of Indigenous identity, communities and languages. He feared dispersal and assimilation would destroy Aboriginal languages and prevent the establishment of Aboriginal congregations and schools.18


Teichelmann and Schürmann suffered extreme financial constraints and uncertain support. Their plans to establish a German congregation in Adelaide to support their mission work was unsuccessful. Most Germans employed by the SA Company in Adelaide were not interested in joining a congregation and when Pastor Kavel arrived with his followers on 18 November 1838 they settled at Klemzig, about six kilometres from Adelaide. There they established their own separate congregation with Kavel as their pastor.



Schurmann house Piltawoldi
Location of Schürmann’s house (right foreground)
near the Torrens River at Piltawodli

Source: Christine Lockwood, 2013


The Piltawodli Native Location


Governor Hindmarsh (1836-38) had reserved a few acres on the banks of the Torrens River as a native reserve or ‘location’, which was moved in 1839 to Piltawodli (or Pirltawardli19) on the Torrens River near the old Adelaide gaol. The government’s plan was to teach Aboriginal people to be ‘useful’ to the colony by settling, living in houses and growing food. Rations were distributed and a school planned. Lacking resources to establish themselves elsewhere, the missionaries accepted an invitation to locate there.

Teichelmann and Schürmann made learning the language, customs and beliefs of the local Kaurna people their first priority. They took every opportunity to mix and travel with them, helping Kaurna men establish gardens and build huts at Piltawodli. Schürmann developed close and mutually respectful relationships with Kaurna men who shared with him aspects of their culture usually kept secret.




Palti Dance of the Kaurna People Piltawodli Native Location

The Palti Dance of the Kaurna people

Source: George French Angas 1847, National Gallery of Australia IRN 43839

Section of the Piltawodli Native Location monument looking towards school location

Source: Christine Lockwood, 2013


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The Piltawodli School

In December 1839, Rev. Schürmann started an Aboriginal school in the language of the Kaurna people at Piltawodli. He hoped to prove that Aboriginal people were capable of education. The school was first conducted in the open air and then in an unoccupied house until the government built a school-house in December 1840. Schürmann was delighted by the children’s aptitude for learning. They loved to sing and enjoyed the Bible stories. Reading, writing, religion, arithmetic, music, geography and English were taught. However, irregular attendance hampered the students’ progress and became Schürmann’s greatest frustration. Students came and went depending on their whims and their parents’ seasonal migrations and activities. Missionary Samuel Gottlieb Klose replaced Schürmann in the school after he arrived on 9 August 1840.


The need for Aboriginal settlements

The Kaurna moved frequently in ever-changing small groups according to the seasons and the demands of ceremonial and religious life. This made the ongoing contact necessary for language learning and evangelism difficult. The government abandoned plans for an Aboriginal settlement at Piltawodli in 1839. Unemployed Aboriginal people were discouraged from frequenting the city.


The colonial government, seeing no permanent Aboriginal dwellings or cultivated fields, did not acknowledge Aboriginal claims to land ownership and appropriated all land. Schürmann feared for the future of Aboriginal people deprived of traditional food sources. He complained that a formerly honest and open people were being turned into vagrants, reliant on begging, thieving or casual work for handouts and subject to European exploitation, violence, vices and diseases.20


'A Scene in South Australia' Alexander Schramm

 ‘A Scene in South Australia’ c.1850 by Alexander Schramm. This painting portrays the effects of dispossession.

Source: Alexander Schramm, Australia, 1813 ‑ 1864
A scene in South Australia, c.1850, Adelaide, oil on canvas,25.7 x 31.8 cm,
South Australian Government Grant 1982, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 8212P30


Schürmann believed if Aboriginal people were to survive and mission work to succeed the only answer was separate Aboriginal communities. He wanted land reserved for each clan where they could be helped to settle and raise cattle or grow food as an alternative to begging and thieving. He favoured establishing a refuge for Aboriginal people five or six day’s journey from the negative influences of European settlement.21


Angas had recommended a settlement at the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers, in New South Wales where land was cheap. This location proved too dry but neither Angas nor his company were willing to provide land in SA. As a foreigner, Schürmann could not buy crown land on credit. Nor could he afford to buy it at inflated prices from other purchasers. His naturalisation application was not approved till 1848.


In August 1839 Governor Gawler invited Schürmann to start a mission at Encounter Bay where the whaling industry, established at Encounter Bay in 1837, was having a disastrous impact on the local Ramindjeri people.22 Introduced diseases including venereal disease, introduced by whalers, were decimating the population. Schürmann accepted Gawler’s invitation enthusiastically. He was already learning the Ramindjeri language, a door to understanding the languages of the strong Lower Lakes and Murray River tribes. He hoped to induce the Ramindjeri to stay put through farming.


From studying the Kaurna language and culture Schürmann was able in 1839 to report to Governor Gawler, Angas and Matthew Moorhouse (Protector of Aborigines 1939-56) that each tribe had its own land and each family its own area, inherited through the father.23 In response to Schürmann’s hounding, Gawler reserved several eighty-acre sections for Aboriginal use, including three sections at Encounter Bay.


The DMS sent missionary Heinrich August Eduard Meyer to work with Schürmann at Encounter Bay, and missionary Klose to work with Teichelmann in Adelaide. Meyer and Klose arrived on 9 August 1840. Schürmann sought DMS help to acquire cattle and provisions, but the DMS responded that it only had sufficient funds for preaching and school instruction. The missionaries should devote themselves to their true calling, teaching God’s Word, erecting schools and giving good advice. Establishing settlements was the government’s responsibility and the work of lay people.24 It was presumed that the Lutheran migrants would assist with such needs. However Kavel’s people were heavily indebted and able to give only minimal support. Moreover, Kavel was reluctant to help unless he was granted oversight of the mission, which the missionaries were unwilling to concede. Meanwhile, leading settlers protested vehemently against reserving land for Aborigines, and reserved land was soon leased or sold to Europeans .25

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Mission to the Barngarla of the Port Lincoln District

In 1839, a small settlement was established at Port Lincoln. As settlers appropriated the best coastal areas and began moving their flocks into the dry interior, clashes with the local Barngarla tribes over limited resources ensued. In the 1840s the Port Lincoln District witnessed more clashes than any other white settlement in the colony.26


In an attempt to improve relations between settlers and local people, Gawler asked Schürmann to become Deputy Protector of Aborigines at Port Lincoln instead of going to Encounter Bay. Schürmann’s rapport with the Kaurna and knowledge of their language was well known. Schürmann accepted reluctantly, as he had been excited about going to Encounter Bay, but did so as he feared Port Lincoln Aboriginal people would suffer unless someone concerned for their welfare became Protector. Missionary Meyer took his place at Encounter Bay.


Schürmann arrived in Port Lincoln in September 1840. His efforts to learn the language and win the trust of both Aborigines and settlers were hampered by clashes, thefts, and killings on both sides. By 1842 Port Lincoln was under siege. Barngarla men attacked pastoral stations and police and settlers retaliated indiscriminately to ‘teach them a lesson’. Schürmann witnessed the shooting of innocent, unarmed Aborigines, including some who had been friendly and helpful to settlers.27 His official position often conflicted with his missionary role.28 He was expected to accompany police expeditions as interpreter, pressured to inform on and testify against Aboriginal people, then left to minister to those condemned to death. While Schürmann despaired of his ability to protect Aboriginal people, settlers complained he was not protecting them and their interests.


In April 1842 three settlers were murdered.29 In the hope of protecting innocent Aboriginal people, Schürmann agreed to interpret for an expedition accompanied by troopers. He left the expedition in protest when the innocent Numma, whom Schürmann knew personally, was shot and turned to Schürmann for comfort as he died.30 Schürmann’s negative report to Moorhouse led to his Deputy Protector’s position being abolished. But Governor Grey, recognising how important Schürmann’s presence was on Eyre Peninsula, offered the Lutheran Mission in South Australia £100 annually on the condition that a missionary remain in Port Lincoln. Schürmann stayed but was placed under the supervision of the Government Resident, Charles Driver. Schürmann despaired that Aboriginal people would ever receive justice, especially as Aboriginal evidence was not accepted in court.31


Schürmann felt his efforts to protect and build trust with the Barngarla were hopeless. He advised the DMS to give up mission work at Port Lincoln because of the Aboriginal people’s migratory habits and the lack of support. Schürmann felt it was impossible to build a lasting Lutheran church where the people were so few and scattered and requested reassignment to work among sedentary people, but the DMS refused.32 Schürmann’s efforts to learn the Barngarla language were frustrated by the limited opportunities for ongoing contact. Eyre Peninsula’s dryness kept the Barngarla people constantly on the move. Schürmann tried living with them but feared he would soon be stripped of all his belongings through begging or by force and would have to live totally as an Aboriginal person, a difficult task for a European.33


Tyilkilli and Mintala, by George French Angas


Tyilkilli: a young man of the Parnkallah tribe, Port Lincoln; Mintala a man at Coffins Bay 1846-47 from South Australia Illustrated by George French Angas (London: Thomas McLean. 1846-7

Source: George French Angas, print after

Unknown lithographer, Australia

lithograph, printed in colour, from multiple stones; varnish highlights by brush sheet 37 x 55.6 cm

National Gallery of Australia

Gift of anonymous donor 196643890

Schürmann questioned the DMS’ sole emphasis on spiritual work. He believed the Aborigines’ lack of food and resultant wandering lifestyle were the main hindrances to mission work and progress in spiritual matters depended on their physical needs first being met. He became increasingly convinced that this could only be done by encouraging the people to settle as farmers. Believing the government was responsible for Aboriginal welfare, he asked it to reserve land for Aboriginal people (like the government of New South Wales) and provide a labourer to teach farming and similar skills. Governor Grey labelled the plan impractical. He believed Aboriginal people were dying out and money spent on them was wasted.34 He preferred to disperse them among Europeans as servants and labourers, believing the sooner Aboriginal culture and communities were broken down the better.


Ignoring both the DMS instructions and the Governor's objections, in 1843 Schürmann began farming on six acres about four kilometres south of Port Lincoln which he acquired the use of. He employed Barngarla men, using government rations as payment and hoped to show the government what Aboriginal people were capable of if given the opportunity. Results were mixed. Obstacles included his workers’ need to fulfil tribal obligations, the burning of fences, and crop loss to fire, animals, birds and theft. Moreover, Grey stopped providing rations.


Realising it was impossible to achieve much alone, in 1844 Schürmann again approached the government with a proposal for a settlement at least ten miles out of Port Lincoln to discourage Aboriginal people from picking up European diseases and vices in town. He proposed that they should be prevented from begging or doing odd jobs. Unless they had a regular work agreement with Europeans, they should choose between maintaining their traditional lifestyle or supporting themselves on an agricultural settlement. He hoped such a station would reduce conflict with settlers, forestall the numerical decline of the Port Lincoln tribes like that of the almost extinct Kaurna in Adelaide, and be self-supporting within two or three years. Hermann Kook, supervisor of the Hahndorf German Lutheran settlement, offered his services free for the first year. The DMS offered £100 for the project provided the government matched it. 35 Grey considered Schürmann’s estimated cost of £300 unrealistic and instead suggested £1500 would be needed.36 Grey left the final decision to Governor Robe (1845-1848) who felt unable to grant such an amount. Schürmann continued farming his few acres with Barngarla people until the repeated seasonal burning of his fences forced him to give up in 1845.


Throughout his time on Eyre Peninsula Schürmann regularly gathered and addressed Aboriginal people on religious matters, followed by lively discussion. In February 1844 Grey had offered Schürmann the charge of a new English Aboriginal school being established in Walkerville, now an Adelaide suburb. Schürmann refused, reluctant to leave Port Lincoln and unwilling to submit to the government’s policy of separating children from their families as young as possible, teaching them English and ‘useful’ skills and assimilating them as servants.37 Schürmann instead pressed the governor to support a school at Port Lincoln but Grey countered that all funds were needed for the government’s Native School Establishment in Adelaide.38

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Encounter Bay

In January 1846 the four missionaries decided to concentrate their work in two locations, Adelaide and Encounter Bay. This meant losing the government’s £100 subsidy, which was conditional on a missionary remaining in Port Lincoln.39 The key factor in making this decision was the government’s refusal to match the DMS offer of £100 for a Port Lincoln Aboriginal settlement. This convinced the missionaries that the government would never help to settle Aborigines. Without government help the missionaries were powerless to do anything. Schürmann joined Meyer at Encounter Bay in March 1846. He took over Meyer’s school while Meyer focused on the adults. But by then the mission was struggling to survive because the government had withdrawn all support and with the collapse of whaling in 1846, most adults moved away and the children soon followed.


Wilhelmine Charlotte Schurmann

Wilhelmine Charlotte (Minna) Schürmann

Source: Tarrington Lutheran Church archives

With few results to show and reluctant to accept money from the DMS which could more profitably support its flourishing Indian mission, in September 1846 the missionaries, while retaining their association with the DMS, relinquished its monetary support.40 This support had always been inadequate and unreliable. The DMS, after realising its missionaries’ dire straits, had for a while tried to make up each missionaries’ salary to £100 after all other sources of income were taken into account, in 1844 reducing this to £80. The missionaries now decided to support themselves, seizing whatever evangelistic opportunities arose. Schürmann and Meyer bought land at Encounter Bay and farmed with a few Ramindjeri who still frequented the area. On 11 February 1847, Schürmann married Wilhelmine Charlotte Maschmedt (Minna), who had recently migrated from Osnabrück, Hannover, with her family. At last he had found a ‘true Christian woman’, a fellow Lutheran and fellow country-woman to marry.41


The Church of England’s Adelaide diocese was formed in 1847. The new Bishop, Augustus Short, hoped his church would become the established church in SA. He demanded the right to supervise the Dresden missionaries, with all converts becoming members of the Church of England as they were English subjects.42 Seeing no future for a Lutheran church, the missionaries asked the DMS to release them.43 The Lutheran Missions at Encounter Bay and Adelaide were closed early in 1848. The missionaries planned to individually assist Indigenous people as they were able.44



Schürmann returns to Port Lincoln

Legislation passed between 1844 and 1849 allowed for Aboriginal evidence and unsworn interpreters to be used in court but a lack of interpreters prevented Aboriginal evidence being heard and caused lengthy court delays which tempted settlers to seek redress outside the law.45 In 1848 Governor Robe asked Schürmann to return to Port Lincoln as court interpreter. Schürmann had misgivings due to earlier confrontations with the justice system, but he was persuaded to accept by the possibility of a regular salary of £70 but, more importantly, by his awareness of the Barngarla people’s need of an interpreter if they were to be heard in court.. This time he was accompanied by his wife Minna and an infant son, arriving at Port Lincoln on 12 December 1848. He supplemented his meagre income by farming.


Terror reigned on Eyre Peninsula.46 Besides interpreting in court, Schürmann was expected to accompany the Protector and police in murder investigations and write reports. He was distressed as settlers took the law into their own hands and police punished guilty and innocent Aborigines alike. Periodically, he travelled to Adelaide to interpret for court cases involving Port Lincoln Aboriginals.


In late 1849 Governor Young (1848-1854) offered Schürmann a salary of £50 to start a school for Aboriginal children. Young did not expect any permanent educational benefits but hoped the school would improve relations between the Barngarla people and European settlers.47 Schürmann started a school in the Barngarla language at Wallala, near North Shields, 12 kilometres north of Port Lincoln with minimal Government expenditure. Both parents and students were positive about the school.48 Schürmann won his students’ confidence and affection and had few attendance problems, student numbers limited only by the supply of government rations.49 He shared the gospel also with adults. Though Minna did not particularly like Port Lincoln because of the loneliness, both Schürmann and Minna enjoyed working with the students and were optimistic about the school’s future.50


Schurmann Wallala school Remains of Schurmann house

Location of Schürmann’s Wallala school and Poonindie

Photo: Theo Modra

Remains of Schürmann’s house and school at Wallala

Photo: Theo Modra


Schürmann’s school was short-lived. Young, as an Anglican, preferred to support Anglican mission work. With government financial support, in October 1850 Archdeacon Mathew Hale established an agriculture-based mission settlement on a native reserve at Poonindie on the Tod River, five kilometres from Schürmann’s school.51 The settlement used the English language and took in young couples educated at the Adelaide Native School Establishment with the aim of separating them both from depraved European influences and from their own people so they would not revert to tribal ways.52 Barngarla adults and students were initially excluded from Poonindie as not being sufficiently ‘civilised’ and too close to their own tribes. Schürmann’s school was for Barngarla children and ‘wild’ Aborigines could visit it.53 Hale urged Schürmann to join him at Poonindie but, because of his Lutheran convictions, Schürmann was unwilling to join the Church of England as would be required.54


However, circumstances were about to overtake Schürmann’s school. On 12 January 1852 Schürmann received a request from German and Wendish Lutherans moving to Western Victoria to accompany them as their pastor. Schürmann was content where he was and reluctant to move once again. He was unwilling to desert his students until a ‘dedicated’ successor could be found to continue the school, though he acknowledged that Hale would probably be happy to find an Anglican for the job so the two institutions could run hand in hand.55 Also in January 1852 Schürmann’s employment as interpreter was terminated as the economic impact of the eastern states’ gold rushes forced the South Australian government to lay off officials. Meanwhile Aboriginal parents in Adelaide were becoming reluctant to send their children to the Adelaide Native School for fear they would be sent to Poonindie. This forced the Adelaide school’s closure in 1852, cutting off Hale’s main source of students. Governor Young agreed to Hale’s request to transfer Schürmann’s students to his charge.56 Schürmann bowed to the inevitable and accepted his call to Western Victoria. From 1 January 1853 Hale assumed responsibility for Schürmann’s school. In February it was closed and its twenty-one remaining students were transferred to Poonindie.


Schürmann and his family moved to the Hamilton area and finally Hochkirch (Tarrington, five miles from Hamilton) in Western Victoria in 1853 where he served as pastor for the rest of his life and taught in the school for a number of years. At a time when there were few pastors for the Lutheran immigrants flooding in, Schürmann ministered to them as far afield as Mt Gambier, Portland, Warrnambool, Geelong and the Wimmera until other pastors were found. From 1883 he was editor of the Kirchenbote and in 1885 became President of the newly formed Victorian District of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia.


In March 1863 Lutheran congregations in SA decided to begin mission work which resulted in the Killalpaninna Lutheran Mission on Coopers Creek.57 Schürmann was asked to undertake this work.58 He felt inclined to accept but declined. As he was forty-eight he said a younger, stronger man was needed, he had a sick wife and a young family and his Hochkirch congregation opposed his accepting.59 He also feared the mission required greater means than its supporters were willing or able to provide.60


Minna bore nine children, of whom four sons and one daughter reached adulthood, the latter dying in childbirth. Minna suffered much ill-health and predeceased her husband on 28 October 1891. Clamor never recovered from her death and died on 3 March 1893 while attending a church conference at Bethany (SA). He was buried in Adelaide but reinterred in the South Hamilton Lutheran Cemetery.

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Schürmann’s Significance

Schürmann and his colleagues were South Australia’s first missionaries. Like all Australian Aboriginal mission of the first half of the nineteenth century, their work did not continue long. The local Aboriginal population was rapidly overwhelmed by the flood of European settlers. In 1888 Schürmann said, ‘The happy, healthy and numerous tribes around Adelaide and the neighbourhood have been so decimated by excesses, sexual offences, disease, exposure and malnutrition that there would be scarcely one remaining to tell the tale.’ 61


Today Schürmann is most widely remembered for recording the Kaurna and Barngarla languages and customs. In 1841 he and Teichelmann published Outlines of a Grammar, Vocabulary, and Phraseology, of the Aboriginal Language of South Australia, Spoken by the Natives in and for Some Distance around Adelaide. The last fluent Kaurna speaker died in 1929 and the Kaurna lost their identity as a people. Since the 1990s University of Adelaide linguists have spear-headed Kaurna language reclamation and cultural awareness programs based on the missionaries’ records. As a result, hundreds have reclaimed their identity as Kaurna people.


In 1844, Schürmann published A Vocabulary of the Parnkalla Language, Spoken by the Natives Inhabiting the Western Shores of Spencer's Gulf and in 1846, The Aboriginal tribes of Port Lincoln in South Australia: their mode of life, manners, customs, etc. In 2012, Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann, Chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages at the University of Adelaide, together with Barngarla communities in Port Lincoln, Whyalla and Port Augusta, launched the reclamation of the Parnkalla/Barngarla language utilising Schürmann’s 1844 publication.


Schürmann’s linguistic and ethnographic records provide many cultural insights. In January 2015, the Barngarla people were granted native title over two-thirds of Eyre Peninsula. This was made possible because they were able to satisfy the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) that in the claim area today they continue practices described by Schürmann.


Schürmann resisted government policies of assimilation and Europeanization. He envisaged independent, self-supporting Aboriginal communities living on their own land and maintaining their own languages and identity while embracing Christianity. Schürmann acted as a conscience to the community. He stood beside the marginalised and oppressed, fought for justice for them, contributed to reducing violence and healing relationships between Aboriginal people and Europeans. He argued for admitting Aboriginal evidence in court and as interpreter allowed this evidence to be heard. He refused to accept the extinction of Aboriginal people as inevitable but tried to offer them a future alongside the colonising settlers. Land was reserved largely because of Schürmann’s pleas and his and Teichelmann’s proof of Aboriginal land ownership. These reserves still form part of the SA Aboriginal Lands Trust. Schürmann demonstrated Aboriginal capacity for education and founded Aboriginal education in SA. But Schürmann actually felt that he and his mission society had failed Aboriginal people.


Schürmann baptised no Aboriginal people and established no Indigenous Lutheran church but he was involved in foundational mission work with fellow missionaries Teichelmann in Adelaide and Meyer at Encounter Bay. Klose built on Schürmann’s work. Many Aboriginal people heard the Christian gospel for the first time and some accepted it because of these men and their wives. They laid the foundations for Anglican mission work in Adelaide and Poonindie as well as the Raukkan (Lake Alexandrina) Mission. These missions played an important role in the survival of Aboriginal people in the settled parts of SA.


Other linguists drew on Schürmann’s work. Later Lutheran missionaries learned from Schürmann’s experience, establishing missions far from European settlement and accepting responsibility for Aborigines’ physical as well as spiritual wellbeing.


Church historian Dr A. Brauer wrote:

Pastor Schürmann in [his] letters…always exhibits the spirit of charity…He was of small stature, and ruddy of complexion. He was of a particularly genial disposition. He was held in the highest esteem by the whole Lutheran Church, because of his geniality, meekness, kind-heartedness, straightforwardness and conscientious devotion to duty.62


Schürmann was widely respected. Governor Gawler called him ‘sincere, intelligent and persevering.’ Governor Robe said he was ‘a very intelligent and zealous person.’ German botanist C. Wilhelmi, who visited Schürmann’s school near Port Lincoln, called him a ‘most excellent man.’ Schürmann also had a rare ability to win the confidence and affection of Aboriginal people, aided by his considerable linguistic gifts. The Hamilton Spectator wrote of Schürmann on 4 March 1893, ‘As he has preached, so he has lived and died a shining example to all who knew him.’



2 Lutheran Confessions: writings setting out Lutheran teaching and collected in the Book of Concord of 1580.

3 Scherer, James A. 'The Triumph of Confessionalism in Nineteenth-Century German Lutheran Missions', Missio Apostolica, 1, No. 2, November 1993: 71-81.

4 C. W. Schürmann, 'Obituary for Pastor C .G .Teichelmann', Der Lutherische Kirchenbote für Australien, July 1887, translated by W. E. Meier; Eighteenth annual report of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden, 17 August 1836 to 10 August 1837:9.

5 Eighteenth annual report of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden, 17 August 1836 to 10 August 1837:34.

6 Eighteenth annual report of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden, 17 August 1836 to 10 August 1837:11-17.

7 Angas to Wermelskirch, 26 August 1837, ALMW 1.48/45, London Files, Leipzig Mission Archives, Halle: Francke Foundation Archives; Eighteenth annual report of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden 1836-1837:19-20.

8 Eighteenth annual report of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden, 17 August 1836 to 10 August 1837:22.

9 Augsburg Confession Article IV, Robert Kolb and Timothy J Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord, The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (1580), Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2000:38.

10 Later Karl Gaul (DMS Director 1844 -1861) was further to develop this line of thought, emphasizing the need to build on existing social and economic structures a Volkskirche (people’s church) consciously embracing a particular people’s cultural distinctiveness. Volker Stolle, Wer seine Hand an den Pflug legt: Die missionarische Wirksamkeit der selbständigen evangelisch-lutherischen Kirchen in Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert, Bleckmarer Missionsschriften, 1992:38.

11 'Instructions for the two missionaries of the evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society at Dresden, Chr. G. Teichelmann from Dahme (ducal Saxony) and Clamor W. Schuermann from Schledehausen (via Osnabrueck) 1837', in George Friedrich Heinrich Rheinwald (ed.), Acta Historica-Ecclesiastica Seculi XIX, Hamburg, Friedrich Perthes, 1840:676-82. A translation from the German can be found as a Appendix A in Christine J Lockwood, ‘The Two Kingdoms: Lutheran Missionaries and the British Civilizing Mission in early South Australia,’ PhD University of Adelaide, 2014.

12 DMS to W. Smillie, 18 March 1843, G26, Assorted Correspondence, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder G, Adelaide, Lutheran Archives Australia (LAA).

13 Instructions for the two missionaries of the evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society at Dresden, Chr. G. Teichelmann from Dahme (ducal Saxony) and Clamor W. Schuermann from Schledehausen (via Osnabrueck) 1837', in George Friedrich Heinrich Rheinwald (ed.), Acta Historica-Ecclesiastica Seculi XIX, Hamburg, Friedrich Perthes, 1840:676-82.

14 Johann Georg Gottfried Wermelskirch, 'Gutachten der Dresdener Missions-Gesellschaft, die Vielweiberei betreffend', Dresdener Missions-Nachrichten 1839:136,138.

15 Angas to Schürmann and Teichelmann, 28 May 1838, PRG174/10/140d-f,i, George Fife Angas Papers 1808-1880, PRG174, State Library of South Australia; Angas to Gawler, PRG174/10/170-172, George Fife Angas Papers.

16 Kavel to DMS, 31 March 1837, ALMW 1.48/16, London Files, Leipzig Mission Archives, Halle Francke Foundation Archives.

17 Schürmann to DMS, 10 December 1838, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA, Translated by Marcus Krieg and others; 21 June 1838 and 1 Sept 1838, Schürmann Diaries 1838-1845, C. W. Schürmann box 1, LAA, Teichelmann to Wermelskirch, 11 Dec 1838, Teichelmann Correspondence 1838-1853, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 3/Folder TB, LAA.

18 16 June and 1 September 1838, Schürmann Diaries 1838-1845, C W Schürmann box 1, LAA.

19 In 2010 the spelling of ‘Piltawodli’ was changed to ‘Pirltawardli’. Piltawodli, however, is the more commonly known spelling.

20 Schürmann, ‘The Natives of South Australia’, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, S57 LAA.

21 Schürmann to DMS, 8 February 1839, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

22 Graham Jenkin, Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri: The Story of the Lower Murray Lakes Tribes, Point McLeay, Raukkan Publishers, Reprint edition 1985:26,30,46..

23 Schürmann to DMS, 19 June 1839, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

24 DMS to Schürmann and Teichelmann, 27 July 1840, Correspondence from Dresden Mission Society to all missionaries as a group, 1839-1949. Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder A, LAA.

25 South Australian Register, 1 August 1840.

26 Protector of Aborigines’ Report 15 July 1849, SA Government Gazette: 313.

27 24 April - 9 May 1842, Schürmann Diaries 1838-1845, C W Schürmann box 1, LAA.

28 Schürmann report to Moorhouse, 18 May 1842, GRG24/1/1842/195, State Records Office of South Australia (SRSA).

29 For more detail see Robert Foster and Amanda Nettlebeck, Out of the Silence, Kent Town SA, Wakefield Press, 2012, Chapter 3; John Wrathall Bull, Early Experiences of Life in South Australia and an Extended Colonial History, Adelaide, E.S. Wigg & Son and Sampson Low, London 1884 (Facsimile edition 1972).

30 25 April 1842, Schürmann Diaries 1838-1845, C W Schürmann box 1, LAA.

31 Schürmann to a friend in Adelaide, reprinted in Edward John Eyre, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Aborigines and the State of Their Relations with Europeans. eBooks@Adelaide, 2010 <>: Chapter 1; Schürmann to DMS, 3 July 1843 and 15 April 1844, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

32 Schürmann to Wermelskirch, 22 August 1842, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

33 Schürmann to DMS, 27 November 1843, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

34 Schürmann to Wermelskirch, 22 Aug 1842, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, S159 LAA.

35 Schürmann to Moorhouse, 17 May 1844, GRG24/6/1844/488, SRSA; Missionaries’ Conference Report, 15 April 1844, Collected letters from the missionaries and conference reports, 1838-1846, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder A, LAA. Hermann Kook, 17 May 1844, GRG24/6/1844/488. Schürmann and Kook to Moorhouse, 17 May 1844, GRG24/6/1844/488; Schürmann to DMS, 19 August 1844, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA; DMS to Grey, enclosure no. 4, GRG24/6/1844/488, SRSA

36 Schürmann to Dresden, 2 February 1846, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

37 Schürmann to DMS, 15 April 1844, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

38 Schürmann to DMS, 11 Dec 1844, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA. To read more see Anne Scrimgeour, "Colonizers as Civilizers: Aboriginal Schools and the Mission to ‘Civilize’ in South Australia, 1839-1845." PhD, Charles Darwin University, 2007.

39 Meyer and Schürmann to DMS, 22 January 1846, Collected letters from the missionaries and conference reports, 1838-1846, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder A, LAA.

40 Teichelmann to DMS, 5 January 1847, Teichelmann Correspondence 1838-1853, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 3/Folder TB, LAA.

41 Schürmann to DMS 10 October 1846, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, LAA.

42 Evangelisch-Lutherisches Missionsblatt, Dresden, ELMS , 1 July 1849:195; Meyer to DMS, 29 August 1848, H. A. E. Meyer, Correspondence with the Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden 1839-1850, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) 2/Folder M, LAA.

43 Hermann Karsten, Die Geschichte der evangelisch-lutheran Mission in Leipzig, Guenstow, 1893:65.

44 Klose to Robe, 15 February 1848, GRG24/6/1848/207, SRSA.

45 Alan Pope, One Law for All? Aboriginal people and criminal law in early South Australia, Canberra, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2011:64.

46 Police Commissioner Tolmer quoted in Ted Schurmann, I'd rather dig potatoes: Clamor Schurmann and the Aborigines of South Australia, 1838-1853, Adelaide, Lutheran Publishing House, 1987:185.

47 Gov. Young to Secretary of State for the Colonies, Despatch no. 50, 21 March 1850, GRG2/6/1850/5, SRSA.

48 South Australian Gvernment Gazette, 18 July 1851:433.

49 Phillipa Walsh, 'The Problem of Native Policy in South Australia in the C19th with Particular Reference to the Church of England Poonindie Mission, 1859-1896', BA Hons., University of Adelaide, 1966:70; South Australian Gvernment Gazette, 24 March 1853:193.

50 Schürmann to Meyer, 23 August 1851 Schürmann, C W 2/Correspondence file no. 2, LAA.

51 Peggy Brock, Doreen Kartinyeri, and Aboriginal Heritage Branch, South Australia, Poonindie: The Rise and Destruction of an Aboriginal Agricultural Community, Adelaide, Government Printer and the Aboriginal Heritage Branch, Dept. of Environment and Planning, South Australia, 1989.

52 Short to SPG, 17 Aug 1851, quoted in David Hilliard, Godliness and good order: a history of the Anglican Church in South Australia, Netley, SA, Wakefield Press, 1986:35, 37; Mathew B. Hale, The Aborigines of Australia: Being an Account of the Institution for Their Education at Poonindie, London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1889:67-69.

53 Phillipa Walsh, 'The Problem of Native Policy in South Australia in the C19th with Particular Reference to the Church of England Poonindie Mission, 1859-1896', BA Hons., University of Adelaide, 1966:74.

54 Schürmann to Meyer, 23 August 1851, C W 2/Correspondence file no. 2, LAA.

55 Schürmann to Meyer, 17 January 1852, C W 2/Correspondence file no. 2, LAA.

56 Young to Secretary of State for the Colonies, Despatch no. 64, 7 May 1852 GRG2/6/6/1852, State Records Office of SA.

57 For a fuller account see Lois Zweck, 'For they are our neighbours', Journal of Friends of the Lutheran Archives, No. 22, December 2012. Mission work began in 1866 at Kooperammana and later at Killalpaninna.

58 Ph. J. Oster to Schürmann, 8 March and 16 March 1863, Minute Book of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission in South Australia 1863-1875, translated by Werner Hebart, LAA.

59 C. W. Schürmann to Rev. P. Oster, 12 April 1863, Minute Book of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission in South Australia 1863-1875, LAA.

60 Schürmann to Cordes, 14 August 1863, Schürmann Correspondence 1838-1893, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 2/Folder S, S209, LAA. Schürmann’s predictions proved largely correct.

61 C. W. Schürmann, 'Obituary for Pastor C G Teichelmann', Der Lutherische Kirchenbote für Australien, July 1887.

62 Quoted in Ted Schurmann, I'd rather dig potatoes: Clamor Schurmann and the Aborigines of South Australia, 1838-1853, Adelaide, Lutheran Publishing House, 1987:207.