I discovered today that two of my great-great grandparents, Daniel Burgdorf and Augusta Springer, arrived in Sydney from Germany aboard the Reiherstieg on August 5, 1852.That’s a story for another post, but for now I want to mention that aboard the ship with them was the scientist, magnetician, hydrographer, oceanographer and meteorologist Georg Balthasar von Neumayer.
When Georg arrived in Sydney on the Reiherstieg with my forebears he was 26. He was a qualified seaman who carried out geological and magnetic investigations during travels in Australia after the crew of the Reiherstieg deserted the ship for the goldfields.
He spent eight weeks on the Victorian goldfields himself and, on returning to Germany, found support and money for his plan to build and organise in Melbourne an observatory for geophysics, magnetism and nautical science on Flagstaff Hill.
King Maximilian II of Bavaria and the British Association for the Advancement of Science gave him funds, and Johann Godeffroy, a Hamburg senator and owner of a shipping company (builder of the Reiherstieg), gave Georg free transport for himself and all the observatory equipment on the La Rochelle. He arrived in Melbourne in 1857.
In 1859 he was made a member of Victoria’s “Exploration Committee” and travelled briefly with Burke and Wills. In 1864 he left his directorship of the observatory and returned to Germany.
His most spectacular achievement was completing a thorough magnetic survey of Victoria, carried out almost single-handed in 1858-64, travelling some 11,000 miles on foot or by pack horse, and setting up 230 magnetic stations from sea level to an altitude of 7200 feet.
He was elected a councillor of the Royal Society of Victoria in 1859, a vice-president in 1860 and a life member in 1864.
In 1895, Georg established the German Commission for South Polar Exploration, which culminated in the first German Antarctica Expedition in 1901, the so-called Gauss expedition.
The German polar research station in Antarctica, “Neumayer Station”, is named after him.
His fellow passengers, my great-great grandparents, lived much more ordinary lives, but did establish a successful vineyard in the rocky soil of Castlemaine.
It’s highly likely they became reacquainted with Georg Balthasar von Neumayer during some of his Victorian travels.