German ship’s 175th anniversary

Date posted: 16 October 2012

The descendants of some of the state’s first German migrants are celebrating the 175th anniversary of the landing of the ship that carried their ancestors here.

The English-owned Solway arrived at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island on 16 October, 1837, bringing with it 52 settlers from Hamburg.

Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources Maritime Heritage Officer Amer Khan said the landing of the Solway was a significant event in South Australia’s settlement.

“It appears the migrants were recruited by the South Australian Company and were under contract to work on company holdings,” Amer said.

“Conditions on Kangaroo Island at the time were harsh, with infertile soil, water shortages and low wages, so one by one the families left for the mainland, where they settled mainly in the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa and Burra areas.”

Jan Heppner, a fifth-generation descendent of one of the Solway migrants, has been involved in organising the commemorative events.

“We are holding a descendents’ reunion in Kingscote this weekend, with a dinner, a church service and a commemoration on Tuesday to mark the actual landing,” Jan said.

“We feel this is an important date to celebrate, both for the families and as a South Australian historical event.

“German migration has played a big part in shaping this state and many South Australians are proud to remember the ancestors who travelled to the other side of the world in search of a new life.

“Before he came here, my great-great-great-great grandfather, F.W. Kleemann, had worked as a teacher and labourer in Cammin in north-eastern Germany.

“We believe he decided to migrate because he found life very difficult due to the widespread poverty, drought and religious turmoil in the country.”

Built in 1829, the wooden-hulled Solway weighed 337 tonnes and had tree masts. Her story ended soon after she dropped off her passengers and cargo.

She left Kingscote early in December, bound for Encounter Bay, but she never arrived.

While she was anchored at nearby Rosetta Harbor during a storm, she broke her moorings and was grounded on the same reef that had caused the wreck of another ship, the South Australian, just two weeks before.

No lives were lost, but efforts to refloat the Solway failed and the wreck still lies on the seabed in Rosetta Harbor, about 1.5km north of The Bluff.

The ship’s anchor was retrieved and is now on display in front of the Victor Harbor Visitor Centre. Protected by the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981, the Solway has the distinction of being the earliest shipwreck to have been located in South Australia.

A team of divers from DEWNR’s Coastal Protection and Heritage branches and Flinders University inspected the wreck site recently, carrying out investigations including confirming its coordinates, assessing future conservation requirements and examining the growth of marine life on the wreck.

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