Accession 6341: Dr Wilhelm Lorenz Rechnitz Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Reverend Dr. Wilhelm Rechnitz, 1930 (Image number 6341-0001-0001)

In 2006 the State Library of Queensland received an extensive collection of correspondence, personal papers, photographs and scholarly articles of Dr Wilhelm Rechnitz (1899-1979).
Wilhelm Lorenz Rechnitz was a German citizen born in Cottbus, southeast of Berlin, on 24 October 1899. In the mid 1930s he was living in England, working as a teacher and a private tutor.

In 1940 Rechnitz was deported to Australia on HMT Dunera and imprisoned at Tatura Internment Camp in Victoria. After his release, he lived in Melbourne and in the Torres Strait. On 28 March 1954 Rechnitz was ordained as an Anglican priest. Until his retirement in 1973, he worked as a priest for the Diocese of Carpentaria.

A linguist by training, Rechnitz worked for many years on translations of The Church of England services and of sections of the Bible into the Meriam language (a Papuan language spoken by the people on the Torres Strait Islands of Erub, Ugar and Mer). Many letters in this accession are from various publishing houses responding to Rechnitz’s requests to have his articles and books published.

In the early 1970s Wilhelm Rechnitz retired to Brisbane, where he died in 1979.

I have started listing and describing the collection, beginning with Rechnitz’s correspondence. A prolific writer of letters, Rechnitz kept in touch throughout his life with many relatives, friends and acquaintances in England, Germany and The United States.

Accession 6341, Series 1: Correspondence

Accession 6341, Series 1: Correspondence


Accession 6341, Series 1: Correspondence


Accession 6341, Series 1: Correspondence

Several letters are about the loss of Rechnitz’s book collection. Before his forced departure for Australia, Rechnitz left his books in the care of Reverend P. Wilton Vale. The books were stored in Vale’s church in London and were destroyed when the church was hit by a bomb.

Accession 6341, Series 1: Correspondence

A friend, Fred Robinson, writes often from England and Germany. In a letter from 1964, he describes his shock at seeing Berlin again after the war. Some parts of the city had simply disappeared in the bombing raids. In another letter, sent from London, Robinson writes about his visits to the theatre and ballet performances, expressing his lack of enthusiasm for Rudolf Nurejev. In a letter sent in 1966, Robinson writes about being bored by the current theatre productions of plays by Chekhov and Turgenev, despite the fact that Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud and Michael Redgrave had parts in them.

Another friend, John Egles, a teacher, writes from England in 1962 about exhibitions and theatre performances. He mentions an exhibition of Oscar Kokoschka’s paintings and a performance of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

Series 1 of this accession, Correspondence, contains many letters from publishing houses, German and Australian, discussing manuscripts sent by Rechnitz to be considered for publication.

There are several letters in the collection from a young woman, Gisela, whom Rechintz met through his friend Joseph Moffett in London before World War II. These were sent in 1943 and 1944. Gisela repeatedly asks Rechnitz if he has any plans to travel to Europe. In one letter Gisela asks Rechnitz what makes him believe in God.


John A. Moses and Wilhelm Lorenz Rechnitz, Wilhelm Lorenz Rechnitz: altphilologe und priester: schriften (St Lucia, Qld: Broughton Press, 1992)

“A lost plea (a curiosity from the archives),” Tom Wrobel, accessed on 10 November, 2014,

Veronika Farley, Archivist, Queensland Memory, State Library of Queensland

Posted in Collections, Miscellaneous, People | Tagged , , , , , Jo Browse John Oxley Library
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  1. Prof . Garry A. Rechnitz

    It is gratifying that my late uncle is receiving some recognition for his missionary and linguistic work .

    His relocation to Australia was involuntary but there was nothing involuntary in his devotion to the Torres Strait islanders .

    • Terence Elliott

      Dear Dr. Rechnitz, I am a former student of your uncle Wilhelm Rechnitz when he taught at St. Christopher’s Church of England School for Boys in Brisbane, Queensland during the years 1951-1952.
      I would like to know where his gravesite is located if that would be possible.
      Best wishes,
      Terence Elliott

    • Dr. Alfred Hübner

      Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,
      could you please tell me, wether Wilhelm Rechnitz is related to Moritz Rechnitz, who lived 1893 in Görlitz/Germany. He was the husband of Marie Recvhnitz, born Erdmann. They had a daughter, born in Görlitz in 1893, Ruth Edith Rechnitz. Ruth married Rudolf Zech and went with him to Buenos Aires in 1923. In 1929 she left her husband and went to Montevideo. Rudolf Zech is the brother of Paul Zech (1881 – 1946), a well known german poet. As I write the biography of Zech, i’m interested to find traces of Ruth Edith Rechnitz.
      Kind regards from Germany
      Alfred Hübner

      Dr. Alfred Hübner
      Am Wartberg 14
      D – 75181 Pforzheim

      0049 – 7231 – 56 44 28

  2. Terence Elliott

    In 1951-1952 I was a student at St. Christopher ‘s School for Boys in Brisbane, Australia and Dr. Rechnitz came from Thursday Island to teach us at our school. I remember him as a kindly man who had a gift for drawing beautiful birds and he taught us many songs from the Mission on Thursday Island. I often think of him and wondered what had become of him.
    Terence Elliott

  3. As a PS, there’s a sequel to the ‘Lost Plea’ story below, with some of Rechnitz’s correspondence with the Academic Assistance Council in the 1930s.

    It isn’t a very happy story, I’m afraid, which is why I’m so delighted by this page. I don’t think I can post links, but if you search for ‘Wilhelm Rechnitz A lost plea II’ then you’ll find it.

    best wishes


  4. Wolfgang Ehrhardt

    The Diary of Gisela Rechnitz exists in the “Bundesarchiv ” in Berlin. She was the best friend in school in the 30ties of my mother. I met her in Hamburg i n the eighties of last centuriy. W. Ehrhardt Hamburg, Germany


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