Schmidt, Karl Wilhelm Edward (-1864)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter

Schmidt was one of the original twelve candidates with whom Gossner set up his mission institute in Berlin in 1836, and was the clerical leader of the Gossner missionaries setting up Zion Hill mission in 1838, representing the first sending out of Gossner candidates. He became disillusioned with the prospects in New South Wales and became a missionary in Samoa, with a Samoan wife.


Karl Wilhelm Edward Schmidt was born at Stargard in Pomerania (now Poland) and educated at the universities at Berlin and Halle, renowned for its theological faculty. He became the first theologically trained student at the new Gossner Mission, being one of the group of 12 with whom Gossner commenced his mission institute in 1836, along with Haussman, Franz, Olbrecht, and Wagner who all went to Zion Hill with him. As the first Gossner priest to be sent into heathen mission, clearly great expectations from Gossner rested on his shoulders.

He had been a minister of the Bethlehem Bohemian church in Berlin, and therefore possibly had with links to the Moravians, but was ordained and married in his hometown of Stargard in the Prussian church (Lutheran state church). On their arrival in Sydney he and Eipper were admitted as member of the Presbyterian Synod of New South Wales.
Schmidt’s task as head of the mission was to liaise with the local government, and to send regular reports on the mission’s progress to the mission committee in Sydney. In practice, he shared these responsibilities with Eipper, the only other trained priest in the group, who had greater facility in English, but was not Gossner-trained. As soon as the party arrived in Sydney Schmidt set about liaising with the Presbyterian mission committee (the ‘Sydney committee of the Society in Aid of the German Mission to the Aborigines’) and the colonial government to ensure their financial support for the mission. He therefore stayed behind when the first party departed for MoretonBay in April, and rejoined them in June.
As head of the mission he bore the brunt of any criticism, such as when the mission was held to account by the commandant at MoretonBay for reputedly firing on Aborigines in 1840. In 1842, responding to government threats to withdraw funding, Schmidt explored the BunyaMountains and WideBay district with nine Aborigines to select an alternative site for the mission, but failed to bring to the attention of the government reports that Aborigines in this area, beyond the settled boundaries, were being poisoned.
Schmidt became disillusioned with the mission and its cumbersome organisation through Sydney and Berlin. Rev. Eipper’s departure in 1844 left him as the only ordained missionary at Zion Hill. He stayed on until 1845, although he had been offered a position in New York in 1843.
He returned with his wife to England in 1845, became pastor in a German parish in London and two years later he became a London Missionary Society missionary in Samoa, where his wife died in 1855. In 1857 he resigned from the LMS and married a Samoan woman, Salaneta, with whom he had a son, and ran a free school for expatriates in Apia. He was deeply disillusioned with the missionary enterprise. He died in Samoa in 1864.
He collected vocabularies and translated the Bible into Samoan and portions of the Bible into the local Aboriginal dialect. The AIATSIS library catalogue refers to two publications by him, held with the Lang papers at Mitchell Library, Sydney. [1]  

[1] All details for this biography are from Gunson, N. ‘Schmidt, Karl Wilhelm Edward (- 1864)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006, retrieved: October 13, 2008, from; and Weiss, Peter, Short General and Statistical History of the Australian Lutheran Church, Lutheran Archives Australia, 2001-2007.