Internee 1/5126, Robert Paterson

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This year’s Anzac day post concerns the imprisonment without trial of my great-great-great uncle in 1916, and begins with an extract from my late father’s A Family History (1997), which had only private circulation. Family and military history is all he wrote so this is probably his one chance at a guest post:

Carl Zoeller (1868-1926) was a German merchant who came to Melbourne in 1885, and settled in Brisbane in 1886. He spent 5 years in New Zealand and New York, and was highly successful in various enterprises, and prominent in the German community in Brisbane. In 1898 he married Minnie Luya, my mother’s great-aunt. Their children were Richard, b 1902, d in infancy, Lisette 1905, Herbert 1908, Mary 1910 and Barbara 1914. In 1907, his father died and Carl renounced his German inheritance, a pottery factory at Grenzhausen in Nassau, and was naturalized in 1908.

Carl and Minnie and their family were victims of an awful vilification during the Great War. It is hard to imagine the Australian government, let alone the people, having been so brutal in their treatment of naturalized citizens and their Australian-born offspring. Apart from Carl’s summary arrest and internment for the duration of the war, his whole family, irrespective of their having been born in Australia, were snubbed by friends and neighbours, verbally and physically assaulted, and finally deprived of their citizenship rights. Their Lismore branch store was wrecked by a mob on Christmas eve, 1915, and Carl was arrested in February 1916. He was sent first to Holdsworthy, and later to Berrima, where the Emden survivors were interned.

He was deported to Hamburg in 1919. Minnie’s Australian citizenship was taken from her, and she and the children joined him at Grenzhausen, near Coblenz, in mid 1922. Germany did not want them, and their brief residence there was a misery. Minnie and the children came back to Australia, to an unhappy existence, in 1924 (Mary remained until 1926).

Carl applied to numerous former friends for help to re-enter Australia, but no-one, not even his in-laws, helped him, although his mother-in-law, Eliza Luya, prayed for him daily until her death in 1923.

Finally, he was allowed entry to South Africa, and he left England for Capetown in June 1926. His daughter Lisette left Australia on 12 October to visit him, but on 17 November he committed suicide, knowing that Lisette would reach him four days later. Minnie died in 1948.

All this was told to me on various occasions by my mother [Nancy Clare Holloway (1902-1977)], although she had forgotten some dates and details. But the story is now recorded in Robert Paterson’s book, Internee No 1/5126. Robert is the son of Mary Zoeller, and has since sent me a copy of his book.

David Clare Holloway (1927-2014)

Paterson’s self-published book naturally provides much greater detail, particularly of Zoeller’s frequent appeals against his imprisonment and subsequent deportation; of the (Billy) Hughes war-time government’s vilification of German-Australians; and of the mistakes and blame-shifting involved in the government’s ongoing refusal to accept that Zoeller was stateless and had never at any time been German. The  ‘Demit’, granted prior to his departure in 1885, releasing him from Prussian citizenship, was conveniently lost for a number of years by Australian authorities around the time of his deportation after the war.

The Zoellers were in fact from Grenzhausen (near Coblenz) in Nassau. The Duchy of Nassau was taken from the Austrians by the Prussians in 1866, and was subsequently incorporated into a newly united Germany in 1871. Carl Zoeller, by renouncing his right to German citizenship and emigrating before his 17th birthday was never ‘German’ and this was belatedly accepted by (parts of) the Australian government only after his deportation, when they were obliged to return (some) of his property which they had, as it turns out, illegally seized or sold up during the war.

On his arrival in Australia, Zoeller worked in Melbourne and Brisbane and then spent four years in business in NZ, before returning briefly to Germany, via New York, on a visit to his family in the 1890s. He was able to become the agent for a number of German medical products and returned to Brisbane and established a business which was soon flourishing.

As dad writes, he married Minnie Luya in 1898 – and let’s be clear, Minnie was Australian born, of Anglo/Irish heritage. Her father was a timber trader/shipper from Gympie Qld, and her mother was the illiterate Eliza Clare, out from Ireland as a servant (no doubt via one of the bounty schemes) I mentioned in my post of a couple of years ago, Educating Women. Zoeller’s wife Minnie, and my great great grandmother Maria were both sisters of Abraham (‘Eb’) Luya, who headed the trading conglomerate later known as Luya Julius, and whose trucks, by then part of Fleetways Ltd, were still prominent on Qld roads when I worked there briefly in the 1980s. Eb Luya was also for a while Chairman of the Queensland National Bank.

In 1911 his business was doing so well that Zoeller was able to purchase for cash a house in Wilston on a large block of land – he ran cows, an orchard, and 60 chooks – which he “gave as a present to my wife and children so that they will always have a roof over their heads”. He named the house “Munna”, and in 1983 it was still in use for wedding receptions, at twenty-nine Murray Street.

In 1912 Zoeller and Dr Euchariste Sirois built a private hospital at Marburg near Ipswich, and Zoeller also provided the backing which enabled Fred Peters, the owner of Eskimo Pie, to establish Peters Ice Cream. Fred Peters was later Mary Zoeller’s godfather.

War was declared against Germany in August 1914, and the sentiment against German-Australians was strong right from the beginning. Late that same year Zoeller was the first person prosecuted under The Trading with the Enemy Act (1914) and received a £100 fine for importing some small items of medical equipment from Germany on a client’s order. Zoeller was kept under surveillance and in 1915 his file with the local (Brisbane) military read “believed to be disloyal but nothing can be obtained against him”.

In Feb. 1916 he was “detained for the duration of the war”. The actual conditions of his detention at Holdsworthy and Berrima weren’t too bad, but unfortunately Zoeller wrote an intemperate letter to his sister in law, which after sections were cut out by the censor, ended up being pasted together to read:

Xmas here in camp … we all prayed extra hard for an early German victory on all fronts, wished damnation to war … if only half the curses which I heap on those flaming Australian idiots who are responsible for my internment hit their mark they will roast in hell for all eternity … Am taking every possible care of myself so as to be as fit as a fiddle when the fight for Germany’s commercial and economic victory comes to be fought.

This letter and the conviction for ‘Trading with the Enemy’ were held against him (and were all that could be held against him) through all his appeals to officialdom for the remainder of his life.

In 1919 Zoeller’s naturalisation as an Australian citizen was removed and in late September, after 20 years as a prosperous Australian businessman, he was one of “5,276 [Germans] deported in nine ships which sailed at various dates between May 1919 and June 1920.” He had no option but to return to his family home in Grenzhausen where he lived with a cousin but was able to obtain only minimal employment. “Luckily”, as the German economy slowly collapsed into hyper inflation what little money he was able to obtain from Australia was sufficient to keep him going.

Zoeller missed his wife and children, and they missed him. We have the evidence of his considerable correspondence with one of two men who stood by him throughout, Dr Sirois (the other was his attorney, Arthur Birley). As his appeals to be allowed to return continued to be refused, Minnie and the children had no choice but to join him in Germany. Minnie applied for a British passport, but the most she could obtain was an obnoxious ‘permit to travel’ which identified her as a ‘German national’. They stayed from 1922-24 but conditions in Germany continued to deteriorate and they came back to Australia, leaving just Mary, who was thriving in boarding school.

Even after restrictions on Germans emigrating to Australia were lifted in 1925, Zoeller continued to be denied (re)entry. On the advice of Australian officials, he was also denied entry into NZ and so he sent Mary home and in June 1926 he moved to South Africa from where he wrote “being back in an English colony is to me like being in heaven.” However in November of the same year he wrote to his sister in Germany, “I do not want to be a burden on my beloved ones and therefore I have decided to put an end to my life with a bullet tonight.”

Paterson paints a clear picture of his grandfather as a cheerful, optimistic and loving family man ground down by the obduracy of an Australian government playing up to anti-German hysteria for which it was largely responsible in the first place. Shades of 2017!

 

Robert Paterson, Internee 1/5126, self published, Brisbane, 1983


29 May 2017

I’ve been contacted by a distant (third, I think) cousin who came across this post by googling ‘Zoeller Murray St’ after the house, recently renovated, was entered in a TV competition. He reminds me that I failed to mention that Minnie’s story was also told in the novel Struggle of Memory (1991) by Joan Dugdale.