Recently digitised portraits provide knowledge and intrigue

Two portraits of early Queenslanders were digitised recently, adding context to the story of Nundah’s Zion Hill Mission, also known as the German Mission Station.

Oil portrait of Frank August Joseph Rode by an anonymous artist. State Library of Queensland.

Oil portrait of Frank August Joseph Rode by an anonymous artist

The first portrait is of Franz Joseph August Rode, who was one of the 13 German missionaries who arrived in Moreton Bay in 1838 to establish a settlement at Zion’s Hill, seven miles from Brisbane at Nundah. According to Librarian Dianne Byrne, missionaries were to be proficient in both theological studies and in the mechanical arts, since at the time, it was believed that an understanding of the arts of civilized life would assist in the communication of Christian knowledge.

Rode was a lay missionary who had been born on 18 July 1811 in Prussia and at the age of 15 was apprenticed for five years to a cabinetmaker in Breslau.  He then worked as a craftsman before joining a group of young men studying for missionary service under Pastor Goszner in Berlin before arriving in Australia.

Portrait depicting either Julia Emilia Rode, first wife of Franz Rode, or Wilhelmina Rode, his second wife. State Library of Queensland

Portrait depicting either Julia Emilia Rode, first wife of Franz Rode, or Wilhelmina Rode, his second wife

There is intrigue and debate about the second portrait.   The debate is about the identity of the subject of this painting. It was thought for a time to be Wilhelmina Rode, Franz Rode’s second wife, but a researcher claiming knowledge of the family has questioned this identification, believing the sitter to be Julia Emilia Peters, Rode’s first wife,  whom Franz Rode married in Berlin at the age of 26. The difficulty or intrique is that the portrait depicts an elderly woman, seemingly a second, rather than a first wife. The work is a companion to the portrait of Franz Rode. According to information long held in State Library, both works were executed in Hong Kong from photographs sent back there by Chich Ton, a Brisbane merchant.  The portraits are in fact overpainted photographs.

Catherine Cottle – Digital Collections Curator, State Library of Queensland