A COLOURFUL CHARACTER

Johann Christian Heussler. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 127316

One of the ethnic communities participating in the John Oxley Library’s Discovery Day on Saturday, June 2, is the German community. Many Queenslanders are of German descent, and this community has a long and rich history in Queensland.

Our history features a large cast of colourful characters. A notable member of this company is one Johann Christian Heussler. He was born in Germany in 1820, and migrated to pre-Separation Queensland in 1854; he was a merchant by training and occupation; and on arrival here he went into partnership with fellow German immigrant Frederic Alterwicker and they established a business in South Brisbane. From this modest start he embarked on an eventful and varied career: as a wine merchant, importer/exporter, a labour bureau (an employment agency for Germans), an immigration agent, a sugar planter, a Member of the Legislative Council, and a founder member of the Queensland Club.
He had already acquired experience of finding jobs for German immigrants, as part of the commercial activities he undertook with his new partner, Reinhard Francksen.

However, according to a notice that was published in the Queensland Government Gazette on Saturday, 19th May, 1862, Messrs Heussler and Francksen informed the public at large that they had become German immigration agents under the bounty immigration scheme. The German emigrants recruited in this way left Germany for Queensland on ships that departed from Bremen and Hamburg. Johann Christian Heussler is credited with recruiting some 2000 German emigrants to settle in Queensland. Thus the ancestors of many Queenslanders of German descent came to the newly-minted colony.

He was an enterprising businessman, and in the course of his career he experienced both boom and bust; he was bankrupt more than once, though this did not prevent him from serving as a Member of the Legislative Council. In 1864/65 he had built a desirable residence at Paddington: in fact, this house was one of the first houses built in Paddington. The name of this house was Fernberg. Here the Heussler family lived until 1872, when more economic woes forced Johann Christian to sell the house. A subsequent owner of Fernberg, one John Stevenson, extended the house.

Its first owner became the German consul for Queensland in 1880, and in 1895 he became a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau, a Dutch order of chivalry. He died in 1907. However, his legacy lives on. In 1911 the Queensland government acquired Fernberg as a permanent Government House for the sum of ten thousand pounds. It was restored and extended, and it is our Governor’s official residence to this day.

The John Oxley Library’s collections include several items relating to Johann Christian Heussler. There is a biography of him, “A Colonial father: the story of German-born Queenslander J C Heussler, by his great-grandson Robert Heussler. There are three items in particular in our manuscript collection: the J C Heussler illuminated address, the Heussler Family papers, and finally one of the treasures of our collection, the Johann Christian Heussler presentation album, 1897.

Fernberg, Government House residences, Paddington, 1952. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 87681

Trudy Bennett – Librarian, State Library of Queensland