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The Aranda’s Pepa

III. From Missionary to Frontier Scholar

Carl Strehlow is principally known to us through remarks by his son, T.G.H. Strehlow, in Journey to Horseshoe Bend (1969) and Songs of Central Australia (1971), and recently also by his grandson, John Strehlow, in The Tale of Frieda Keysser (2011). In Journey to Horseshoe Bend, T.G.H. Strehlow records the loyalty of the Aranda and Loritja people to the ailing man and the apparent disloyalty of the Finke River Mission board as it responded in a cumbersome way to his father’s suffering. He also evokes the image of an overwhelming missionary-father. The son’s ambivalence towards the father is readily apparent in the former’s corpus. In Songs of Central Australia, T.G.H. Strehlow defends his father intellectually from the glib but damaging critiques mainly of Baldwin Spencer. His defence of his father involves revealing the limitations in Spencer and Gillen’s consultations with their indigenous informants due to their lack of language competence. Yet, he provides only a sparse sketch of his father either as missionary or scholar-intellectual which is strangely devoid of emotion, although he writes in his diary (Strehlow 1960: 155) that ‘Horseshoe Bend is a place whose shadows I can never escape’ (cited in Cawthorn and Malbunka 2005: 71). The man who peers out with a calm intensity from his best-known portrait, taken with his wife, Frieda Keysser, in 1895, remains a relative stranger.

Accounts by Phillip Scherer (1994), Walter Veit (1991, 1994, 2004a,b), Benedikt Liebermeister (1998), Harriett Völker (2001), Paul Albrecht (2002, 2006), Maurice Schild (2004a), Barry Hill (2002), and, Carl’s grandson, John Strehlow (2004a,b, 2011), provide additional biographical, historical as well as anecdotal detail, and further aspects that were formative of Carl Strehlow’s scholarly development, though they also oscillate between the two poles set by the son. These accounts about Carl Strehlow as a missionary and scholar explain aspects of his potential, but are still not sufficient to understand how a seemingly stern and at times self-righteous man could have dealt in the same serious way with two very different cosmologies and ontologies. In many ways his Lutheran world that he tried to replicate in central Australia and the indigenous world of that place were and still are so different, although the two worlds have since converged and produced a particular kind of Aranda Lutherism and narratives (see Austin-Broos 1994).

Carl Strehlow’s grandson John Strehlow (2011) has written an epic biography of the first part of his grandmother Frieda Keysser’s life naturally incorporating a narrative on his grandfather. Trying to reappraise Carl Strehlow’s legacy, he has largely followed in the vein of his father, T.G.H. Strehlow, defending and justifying his grandfather against Spencer. Veit (2004b: 92–110) also chose to write about this opposition. He contrasts Carl Strehlow’s ‘cultural anthropology’ with Spencer’s ‘social anthropology’. While this opposition indicates correctly that different ideologies motivated the two investigators, it must be remembered that modern anthropology as ‘social’ or ‘cultural’ did not exist yet at the beginning of the twentieth century. As already discussed, different poles generated the tension: one was based on evolutionism and the other on eighteenth and nineteenth century German philosophy and philology. However, Veit (2004b) remarks correctly that Carl Strehlow’s work reflects a tradition that derives from German humanistic thinking.

13. Frieda and Carl Strehlow, 1895.

Source: Strehlow Research Centre, Alice Springs (SRC 7104).

Thus, Veit as well as Schild (2004a) have portrayed Carl Strehlow’s intellectual background through his mission training at Neuendettelsau, trying to explain how this education may have made it possible for a missionary to record the cultures of other peoples in their own right. They write that Neuendettelsau instilled in Strehlow a humanistic approach towards others and encouraged language studies. Veit (2004a) indicates also that at the turn of the century the discussion in Lutheran theological mission circles on how to accommodate different religions became increasingly explicit.

In the following discussion, I pull the threads together and show how his missionary and German intellectual heritage had elements in common. It was not one or the other that made his ethnography possible, but underlying common premises and the right encouragement from an unexpected source. Three different experiences shaped the scholar that Carl Strehlow became: his youthful education at the Neuendettelsau Mission Seminary and the German Lutheran approach to language as it was reflected in the Australian practice of Lutheran missionaries; his field encounters with indigenous Australians, the Diyari, Aranda and Loritja; and finally, his correspondence with Moritz von Leonhardi, his German editor. Each engagement brought something specific to his work and mediated the final product in particular ways. Furthermore, negative encounters, especially attitudes of some Lutheran superiors in Australia to ethnographic work were countered by others – in this case, his keen engagement with indigenous peoples and von Leonhardi’s seminal intellectual influence, support and companionship.

Training at the Neuendettelsau Seminary under Johannes Deinzer

The education at the Neuendettelsauer Missionsanstalt (Neuendettelsau Mission Seminary), at the time run by Dr Johannes Deinzer, was formative for Carl Strehlow’s development and the Menschenbild (‘the view of man’) he took into the field. The seminary’s mission-theology was based on the views of Wilhelm Löhe as interpreted by Deinzer. The latter was particularly interested in the ‘outer mission’ and ethics; not the ‘inner mission’ that catered for existing and lapsed Lutherans but rather the out-reach to those who remained unconverted. Language was emphasised. Greek, Latin and Hebrew were rigorously taught at the Neuendettelsau Seminary to prepare the missionaries for their language tasks. The German Lutheran linguistic tradition, based on Luther’s view that the gospel was to be preached in vernaculars and translated into the mother tongues of peoples (Wendt 2001: 8), heavily influenced the seminary’s approach towards indigenous peoples. It went without saying that the knowledge of indigenous vernaculars was the prerequisite for successful mission work. Thus, potential missionaries were encouraged, through linguistic work, to learn about other people’s cultures. The serious study of indigenous languages lead some missionaries towards an interest in the Weltanschauung and mythology of a particular people. Neuendettelsau’s style made a major impression on the enthusiastic teenage Carl.

At the age of 16 in early 1888, Carl Strehlow was one of the youngest students to be educated and trained at the Neuendettelsau Seminary for mission work. In 1923, Ziemer remarked in Carl Strehlow’s obituary that Carl had entered with reluctant paternal consent, because his father did not wish his son, one of seven children, to be a cleric or have a higher education (Liebermeister 1998: 16). He felt that it was not appropriate for a child of such modest station to reach beyond the means of a village teacher. Carl Strehlow’s family was not in the position to finance any kind of further education for any of their children beyond that offered in the public system – at the time, a meagre training. For talented young people without any means, the only venue for further education and amelioration of social status was often the path within the church and even that left Carl’s father anxious.

The village pastor of Strehlow’s birthplace Fredersdorf Carl Seidel recognised the outstanding talents and potential of the child and sparked his interest in myth and song. With great dedication and effort, Seidel prepared his protégée for entry into a seminary. After Strehlow had been refused at the Leipzig Seminary, due to his young age, Seidel wrote to the Neuendettelsau Mission Seminary. He proposed that it would be ‘generally beneficial for the whole development of the child to be removed from the narrow circumstances in Fredersdorf’ and promised to try to raise as much money as he could to pay Carl’s school fees (Liebermeister 1998: 17–18). As late as 1899, seven years after he had left Neuendettelsau, Carl Strehlow voluntarily tried to pay off some of his outstanding fees from his modest missionary income in central Australia, ‘so other impecunious students may benefit from this’.1

Seidel taught Strehlow the basics of classical languages, mathematics, geography, world history and correct German syntax and orthography. Carl needed these in order to compete with other applicants who mainly came from Gymnasiums, academically demanding secondary schools, which provided their students with a classical education (Pilhofer 1967: 29). When Carl Strehlow joined the seminary, he was also familiar with the Romantics. His early teacher and mentor, Carl Seidel, was interested in the work of the Grimm brothers and folklore generally (John Strehlow 2004a) and had an understanding of the importance and meaning of mythology, in which he saw moral teaching embedded.2 These influences and the German philological tradition which emphasised the classics and comparative language studies in educated German circles gave some bearings to his inclination towards language.

The selection process at Neuendettelsau was rigorous (Koller 1924; Pilhofer 1967). The criteria for successful applicants included a high level of secondary education, as well as a strong personality and excellent health. The intense course lasted three years with a very demanding and dense curriculum. The expectations and the pressure were immense, both imposed by the seminary as well as by the students themselves. Nervous breakdowns, it seems, were not unusual (Pilhofer 1967: 29).

The classical orientation of the Neuendettelsau curriculum gave their students a solid basis to recognise structures of foreign languages, which facilitated the writing of grammars and dictionaries – essential for the translation of the Holy Scripture,3 and mission preaching and schooling. Clearly language studies were encouraged if not expected from the graduates once they proceeded to their postings. In addition to classical languages, correct German style and orthography was taught along with basic English. It was assumed that the latter would quickly improve once graduates took up posts in America and Australia. German essay and speech writing were also taught.4 Another subject that held a prominent position was music, in the tradition of Luther’s own deep engagement. Finally, even physical education was integral to an individual’s training.

Ethnographic approaches or methodology do not appear to have been part of the curriculum; anthropological study came mainly through language study. There do not seem to be any texts that were used at the Neuendettelsau Seminary that explicitly encouraged students to learn about the cultures of the peoples they were to live with. In 1929 Carl Strehlow’s brother-in-law, Christian Keysser,5 finally introduced anthropological subjects into the curriculum (Pilhofer 1967: 32) and explicitly articulated the mission approach to ethnography (Veit 1994; Liebermeister 1998: 127) when he became a teacher at Neuendettelsau after returning from his posting in New Guinea.

The focus on language prepared Carl Strehlow well for his calling. Not all institutions that trained missionaries had Neuendettelsau’s classical orientation. In the field, missionaries from other seminaries often rued their inadequate linguistic training. In 1877 Kempe and Schulze, the first missionaries at Ntaria, for instance, felt their lack of knowledge of Latin and language learning skills and tools. However, they still managed to learn and write Aranda (Kneebone 2001: 149).

Neuendettelsau had its own style of mission theology which was based on Wilhelm Löhe’s view of the innere und äussere Mission (inner and outer mission). This particular approach did not have a mission to indigenous peoples as its pre-eminent goal.6 The inner mission, according to Löhe, was to hold the Lutheran congregation together through general pastoral care that would keep them from flagging in their commitment. The outer mission had the task of finding people to be baptised, which included Germans and indigenous peoples. Once baptism was accomplished, the outer mission led automatically back into the inner mission which saw its role not only in collecting sheep, but also in caring for the congregation. This included education, and holding and sustaining pastoral assistance (Weber 1996: 353, 360), which were viewed as a responsibility of the mission. The mission then was an ongoing commitment that stretched well beyond conversion.

Wilhelm Löhe (1808–1872) seems to have originally founded the seminary with an emphasis on the inner mission. Missionaries were sent out to take care of existing Lutherans and their communities in North America where, it was thought, communities readily lost faith due to the lack of Lutheran clerics. Löhe was principally concerned with the care of German diaspora communities (Koller 1924; Pilhofer 1967). From North America, disturbing, even shocking reports had reached Löhe and other Lutheran clerics regarding perfectly good Christian parents who had up to 11 unbaptised children due to the absence of qualified clergy. The German migrants were growing up ‘like the Indians’. The dispersion and spiritual ‘decrepitude’ proved initially to be far greater than anticipated in America, so that the inner mission amongst Germans took precedence (Weber 1996: 346). However, Löhe could mention Indian and German heathen parents in the same breath indicating that the agenda was set (Weber 1996: 346). The broader pastures of North America were soon beckoning. By 1888 ‘the society for the inner mission’ added ‘outer’ to its name (Schlichting 1998: 5). The Gesellschaft für die Innere (und Äussere) Mission still exists today and has turned its attention inwards again.7

For Löhe, the inner and outer mission were parts of the same issue and church (Weber 1996: 343). Hence, missionaries and pastors received the same education at Neuendettelsau. The concepts relating to the inner mission would have been transferred immediately into the indigenous context where, after the outer mission had recruited new members, they would quickly become a Lutheran community with the potential for an inner mission. Therefore, the members of such a community (the result of the outer mission) were treated like any other member of a Lutheran community, regardless of their colour or culture.

Löhe’s mission theology was taught to the students of the Neuendettelsau institution by Friedrich Bauer and later on by the Deinzer brothers, university graduates, who integrated this theology into their broader academic programme. Bauer had gained fame by writing an excellent grammar of the German language which was republished 14 times alone during his life (Pilhofer 1967: 11) and became the base of the DUDEN, a standard work for correct German syntax today. Bauer also drafted the two basic manuscripts Entwurf einer christlichen Dogmatik auf lutherischer Grundlage and Entwurf einer christlichen Ethik auf lutherischer Grundlage pertaining to theological studies in Lutheran dogmatics and ethics. The style was much influenced by Löhe, but also included Bauer’s own views on education as the route to individual freedom and Bedürfnislosigkeit (lack of needs) (Pilhofer 1967: 18–19). These were regarded as general forms of ethical value that pertained equally to the inner and the outer mission. Free will and individual choice were of paramount importance in the education at Neuendettelsau and a key element in its mission theology. During a six-month probation period, recruits had to prove that they were absolutely certain of their calling.

In Carl Strehlow’s mission approach, individual ‘free choice’ was a formative concept. He perceived the indigenous people at Hermannsburg as individual human beings who could make free choices regarding their circumstances. Strehlow only accepted converts when he believed that they were firmly convinced of their step to conversion, or they were able to convince him of their sincerity. Conversion and confirmation allowed indigenous people to participate at Hermannsburg as full members of the Lutheran community. Paradoxically, Löhe’s doctrine of the inner and outer mission, and Bauer’s emphasis on freedom (from desire) may have had an unexpected consequence in the lonely and isolated setting of Hermannsburg in central Australia. Strehlow’s outer mission became his inner mission, so that the missionary became the inkata (‘ceremonial chief’ in Aranda) of, in his view, freely baptised Christians. Löhe’s Lutheran doctrines, with their inward gaze that may have signified a sect more than a broad church, became for Strehlow the basis for an unusual Christian community (Kenny 2009a: 104).

Johannes Deinzer’s particular concern led Carl Strehlow in this direction. As the main teacher and director at Neuendettelsau until 1897, Deinzer expanded interest in the outer mission to encompass Australia, Papua New Guinea and East Africa. It was under him that the first graduates of Neuendettelsau were sent to Australia. By 1914 about 40 had gone to Australia, the majority as pastors for the German immigrants to Australia (Pilhofer 1967: 22; see also Koller (1924) on Deinzer). Deinzer had another interest that may have influenced Carl: ethics. He placed a heavy emphasis on ethics in his classes and favoured students who could follow his intellectual path (Pilhofer 1967: 23). He considered ethics as more important than dogmatics, because it allowed interpretation according to (historical) context. Deinzer’s interest in ethics, encouraged among his students, may have directed their missionary task to human engagement with others; an interest in the other person as much as in pietistic formulae. It is likely that Strehlow’s propensity to acknowledge the human dignity of others, including indigenous Australians, was encouraged by Deinzer’s classes.

Neuendettelsau was less conservative and pietistic than other mission training institutions such as Hermannsburg in Germany or the Basler Mission in Switzerland, for instance. It gave its students a broad education in humanities (relative to their time of course) (Moore 2003: 23). The whole education was geared towards the development of strong personalities who would be fit for the demanding tasks and challenges that awaited them at their overseas postings. The hard training was to equip the students with self-discipline, endurance and an inner, spiritual (geistige) strength that would carry them through hardships and environments that would push them to their limits. The teachers at Neuendettelsau were painfully aware of the realities that the young people had to face once out in the field (Koller 1924; Pilhofer 1967). At the same time, community shaped by patriarchal structure was emphasised to give the individual a context and to provide fraternal support and ultimately helped to underline the natural shift from outer to inner mission within a newly formed community. These diverse ideas and influences in intellectual life, theology and human social ethics all emerged to some degree in the very different and remote context of Carl Strehlow’s Finke River Mission at Hermannsburg in central Australia. It gave its community some unusual features of humanistic engagement (along with the missionisation) hardly known in other Australian frontier settlements.

Carl Strehlow graduated with a ‘gut plus’ (good plus) in 18918 and was sent to his first posting in April 1892 (Liebermeister 1998: 19). He had just turned 20 when he was on his way to Bethesda in remote and arid Australia to join J.G. Reuther (1861–1914) who had left the Neuendettelsau Seminary four years earlier.

The second major formative factor in Carl Strehlow’s experience was his engagement with Diyari, Aranda and Loritja people. He learnt firsthand that the different Aboriginal peoples each had a particular language and mythology. His close relationships with people of completely different cultural backgrounds for nearly three decades, and his intense efforts in language learning, enabled him to appreciate, collect and translate the oral literature of the Aranda and Loritja. Through the thorough knowledge of language and its oral forms, he gained a deep appreciation and understanding of their worldviews.

Language, ethnography and the Lutheran tradition in Australia

The milieu that Strehlow entered when he came to Australia would be both a help and a hindrance when it came to his subsequent anthropological studies. German missionaries in Australia brought their linguistic tradition with them. Among the missionaries, it went without saying that it was paramount to learn the language of the people they were working with and sent to serve. It had been a crucial part of Luther’s reformation to spread the gospel in German rather than in Latin or even a German rendition of the Vulgate. Luther preached that the word of God was to be taught in vernacular and translated into a people’s mother tongue (Wendt 2001: 8). As a consequence, in the nineteenth century it was characteristic of German Protestant mission theology and practice to pay special attention to a people’s language and its implications for idiom and other dimensions of culture (Schild 2004: 54).

It was clear to German missionaries that it was essential to know a people’s language to be able to convey and persuade them of Christianity, as conversion was to be by free will and choice. Already in the late 1830s the missionaries Teichelmann and Schürmann, who had been trained at the Dresden Mission Society, started documenting the Kaurna language of South Australia (Leske 1996: 30, 92–94). Within 18 months they produced the only existing grammar of this language and a dictionary with 2000 words. Their work has allowed the partial recreation and revitalisation of Kaurna today (Amery 2004: 9–12). At least sometimes, not surprisingly, a by-product of these studies of indigenous languages was not only grammars and dictionaries but also collections of myth and other traditional laws and customs.

In the 1860s with a stream of Protestant missionaries arriving at Bethesda (Killalpaninna) and Kopperamanna in the Lake Eyre region the Diyari language and culture received a great deal of attention. One of the first missionaries at Killalpaninna Mission, Carl Schoknecht, wrote a simple Diyari grammar and a wordlist (Schoknecht 1997: 16, 80). His successors continued to collect data on the Diyari language and culture until the mission was closed in 1917. The Lutheran ethnographers of this region are well-known today. J.G. Reuther produced a monumental 13-volume manuscript on the Diyari and Otto Siebert collected a great amount of data for A.W. Howitt that was incorporated into the latter’s classic The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (Howitt 1904). The first Hermannsburg missionaries, Kempe and Schulze, studied the language and culture of the people they met at Ntaria on the upper Finke River in order to develop effective communication for their transmission of the gospel to the local population. In the course of learning about them they published linguistic as well as some ethnographic data.

Upon arrival in 1892 at Bethesda Mission near Lake Eyre, Carl Strehlow immediately started to study the language of the Diyari. According to Otto Siebert and Reuther’s son, the linguistic achievements at the mission were Strehlow’s rather than Reuther’s who was ‘lame at languages’. Even for the Diyari grammar Strehlow is said to have been ‘the mainspring of the work’.9 In Reuther’s defence, it has to be remarked, that the comment ‘lame at languages’ was made in comparison to Carl Strehlow, who was an outstanding linguist, as well as a competent musician (Lohe 1965: 5), and to Otto Siebert, who was particularly interested in languages and ethnography for mission purposes (Nobbs 2005).

At Hermannsburg, Strehlow became fluent in Aranda and preached in vernacular within months of his arrival in 1894 (Schild 2004; Eylmann 1908). In 1896, two years later, Gillen (Mulvaney, Morphy and Petch 2001: 118–119) remarked in a letter to Spencer that ‘Revd Mr Strehlow’ spoke the language of the Finke very well and used his services as a translator for his anthropological research in Hermannsburg. Strehlow published in 1904 a Service Book called Galtjindintjamea-Pepa Aranda Wolambarinjaka which included 100 German hymns translated into Aranda. This work was partially based on the work of his predecessors, in particular Kempe’s catechism.10 After he had completed the compilation of Aboriginal mythology and cosmology he translated the New Testament into Aranda between 1913 and 1919.11 Parts of it were published after his death (Hebart 1938: 317) as Ewangelia Lukaka (1925) and Ewangelia Taramatara (1928), without mentioning his role as translator.

As soon as Lutheran missionaries at Bethesda and Hermannsburg had managed to acquire a moderate proficiency in the vernacular, they used indigenous languages in church services and schools. Lessons were also held in German and English (Moore 2003: 24). This ready and constant deployment of languages meant that the missionaries were constantly developing their proficiency moving towards that time when their skills would be sufficiently developed to begin the translation task. The latter required familiarity with idiom and generally this came only through immersion and through trial and error.

John Strehlow (2004b: 82) suggests that his grandfather began his anthropological research not long after his arrival in Australia. In 1893, with the translation of the New Testament into Diyari, Carl Strehlow spent much time with senior Aboriginal men evaluating terms and concepts which would be appropriate for the translation. This early research, though, was not geared towards anthropology, but towards his linguistic mission task. Early ethnographic research by Carl Strehlow is documented in letters by Gillen to Spencer in 1896 and by Otto Siebert who forwarded information and charts on Aranda marriage rules and subsection systems collected by Carl Strehlow to A.W. Howitt in 1899.12 On the 14 July 1896 Gillen wrote to Spencer that he had ‘Mr Strehlow on the job and he, having a fair knowledge of the Arunta language, should be able to learn something shortly’ (Mulvaney, Morphy and Petch 1997: 130). Other loose notes in Gillen’s notebook of the 1890s, mention Strehlow in connection with research on particular ceremonies, called Inkura in Carl Strehlow’s work and Engwura in Spencer and Gillen’s. One of the notes is labelled ‘to Strehlow’, dated ‘26/8/96’ and a remark reads: ‘Have the old men any tradition as to the origin of “Rev C Strehlow” Engwura did it originate with altjirra Knaribata?’13 This intriguing note is part of a longer piece, but unfortunately the rest appears to be missing.14 Finally, Strehlow’s personal interest in Aboriginal mythology is evident in occasional remarks in letters published in the Kirchlichen Mitteilungen.15

Strehlow’s first report on Hermannsburg, written at the end of 1894, for example, shows his interest in myth. He describes briefly how the palms at Palm Valley (then called Palm Creek), were created according to the beliefs of the ‘Aldolinga tribe’. He wrote: ‘According to the old heathen beliefs the gods from the high north brought the seeds to this place.’16 He would later collect a detailed story and its associated songs (Strehlow 1907:88–90; 1910: 129–132) about Mt Rubuntja and the fire ancestors who came from the north to Palm Valley; this is still a well known myth among Arandic people. It was one of these in passing observations that drew in 1901 Baron von Leonhardi’s attention to Strehlow.

In Australia, Strehlow had access to Warneck’s Allgemeine Missionszeitschrift17 as well as to the Kirchlichen Mitteilungen, the monthly newsletter of the Neuendettelsau Seminary and Kirchen- und Missions Zeitung of the evangelic-Lutheran church of Australia, published in Tanunda South Australia. These monthly publications were not only parish and community announcements, but also included numerous ethnographic reports on different countries and their cultures, including religion, mythology and cosmology. Through this reading, Strehlow was well aware of other cultures and religious belief systems. In his letters to Baron von Leonhardi, for example, he makes comparison between Aranda and West African beliefs18 and Aranda and Chinese ancestral worship.19 Neither, he maintains, are comparable to the Arandic perception of ancestors.

Like other theologians, clerics and missionaries, Dr Gustav Warneck, Professor at the Halle University, emphasised the importance of learning local languages for missionaries to transmit God’s word (Wendt 2001: 8; Veit 2004a). He was one of the main Lutheran scholars of mission studies and well known in German nineteenth century missionary circles through his prolific writing on relevant topics. In 1874, he founded the Allgemeine Missionszeitschrift, and was its editor for decades (Lueker 1954: 1120). This journal published ethnographic material from all over the world as well as theological and other theoretical treatises. Warneck’s main thoughts on missionising were synthesised in Evangelische Missionslehre. Ein missionstheoretischer Versuch (1897). His chapter on the justification of ethnographic work for mission purposes gives some insights into how and why missionaries could become interested in ethnography (Warneck 1897: 278–304).

The nucleus of Warneck’s thinking was that Christianity had the universal capacity to adapt to all peoples and thus could assimilate its teachings to all ethnic, social, cultural and state forms (Warneck 1897: 279). In his view, all humans in all times, climates and cultures had religion and language (Warneck 1897: 285).20 He maintained that since there were no peoples in the world that were speechless, there also could be no people that were without religion. This was evident in the fact that the gospel could be preached in all languages and all languages were suited for bible translation.

Warneck’s arguments on humanity’s spiritual unity reflected his homogenetic outlook which stemmed from his reading of the Old and New Testament. He used current German anthropological literature of the time by eminent scholars like Waitz, Ratzel and Müller to support his theological views, maintaining that ‘Humanity is a unity, despite of its multitude’ (Warneck 1897: 285) and that the unity of mankind was an ethnological fact. His views were consistent with those of Herder and the Humboldts. He too postulated that humanity’s spiritual and intellectual unity was particularly manifest in languages which were a common feature among all humankind. He was of the view that each language is a masterpiece of Geist (Warneck 1897: 286) and that there were no peoples with an inferior language and that the word of God (due to its universality) could be translated into any language and transmitted in any language. For many missionaries this was a fact because the bible had been translated into all known languages. Among Jesuit missionaries and scholars, and there were many, this had been common knowledge for a long time (Foertsch 2001). Protestant clerics had made a similar experience by translating the bible into a variety of mother-tongues in Europe and overseas since Luther’s Reformation.

Owing to this universality of a spiritual propensity to Christianity, in Warneck’s view it was never necessary to destroy a culture in order for its people to become Christian converts (Warneck 1897: 282). Rather, the object was to learn about them so Christian thinking could be culturally and linguistically appropriately conveyed. Although it is not clear that Strehlow was taught Warneck’s principles on language and religion (or ethnography) at the Neuendettelsau Seminary, Veit writes that it is reasonable to assume that he was at least familiar with some of these Warneckian thoughts about the ‘foreign and the familiar’ (Veit 2004a: 146). Strehlow’s approach to language and culture at his two Australian postings and his anthropological work are consistent with Warneck’s approach.

Carl Strehlow’s keen interest in mythology is thus the result of a number of factors including his education in the classics at the Neuendettelsau seminary and earlier by Seidel who also emphasised German folklore. He was probably from the outset open to the oral literatures and worldviews of the Aboriginal people he met, because he may have felt that the ancient worlds of the Old and New Testaments as well as Greek mythology which he knew from language studies of Greek and Hebrew, had affinities. Such a view seems to appear in a statement he made towards the end of his life:

The well-constructed language of the Aranda remind one of the old Greek language; in fact, it has more moods than the last mentioned. It possesses an indicative, conditional, optative, minative, and imperative, it has not only the usual tempora, present, imperfect, perfect and future, but also three aorist forms, aoristus remotus, aoristus remotior, and a remotissimus; besides, it has dual for all three persons. In the declination of the noun there are not only a double nominative (transitive and intransitive) and a genitive, dative, and accusative, as in other old languages, but also a vocative, ablative, a double locative, an instrumentative, a causative, &c. The derivations and compounds are often quite marvellous. Then the great number of words! It is difficult to count them on account of the many derivations and dialectical forms but, the latter included I estimate, that the Aranda language possess not less that 6000 words.21

Carl Strehlow was a scholar, with a positive and intimate appreciation of the ancient biblical and classical worlds which were older and different to his own; in Australia he came in contact with another different world, which seemed to him in some ways analogous to these remote worlds. This new world opened itself up to him through his intensive study of its languages and his personal interest in myth and song, and allowed him to enter the world of Aboriginal mythology which gave him a glimpse of the worldviews of the Aranda and Loritja.

Language went hand in hand with culture and its particular intellectual concepts, it was not a big step to ethnographic and other scientific research (Wendt 2001: 9). Strehlow’s predecessors Kempe and Schulze had already compiled some ethnographic data published in the 1880s and early 1890s. Schulze had even communicated with Howitt on aspects of Aboriginal culture – it goes without saying that this data included ‘marriage rules’ – between 1887 and 1889.22 Thus, precedence for ethnography as a by-product of language studies in the mission context existed at Ntaria.

Yet missionary Siebert’s experience shows that on the local Australian scene, ethnographic pursuits – as opposed to linguistic ones – were viewed with more ambivalence, if not suspicion, by the Lutheran church. In the course of his anthropological research, his superiors alleged that he was neglecting his calling for the sake of this scientific work. In a brilliantly argued letter of 28 March 1900 to the Lutheran committee at Point Pass, Siebert rejected these allegations. He made a strong case for the use and application of ethnography in evangelism (Siebert 2005: 46–53). His letter reads like a manifesto for ethnographic research in the name of God and the mission, and convinced the pietistic Point Pass committee to concede, albeit grudgingly. They allowed Siebert to pursue his scientific research as long as it did not interfere with his mission duties (Nobbs 2005: 39).

Strehlow knew about this dispute between Siebert and the Lutheran committee.23 It may have led him to heightened circumspection regarding his own research. Strehlow’s letters to friends, family and superiors are devoid of any indication that he was conducting a major ethnographic research project between 1901–1909. He only made passing references to his anthropological endeavours to his brother-in-law, Christian Keysser,24 and to Carl Seidel in this period. His communications on ethnography were all directed to his editor, von Leonhardi.25 This reflects more about Strehlow’s mission board in Adelaide than it does about his own interests or aspirations. It is likely that he thought that his ethnographic research would meet the same kind of resistance as did Siebert’s and later on Reuther’s work with his superiors in the Barossa Valley. J.M. Bogner26 had written to Strehlow that Siebert had wasted his time trying to explain his endeavours to their superiors in the Barossa Valley, because ‘they would not understand it’.27 In 1904, Reuther had send some Diyari myths from his collection to his superior Kaibel who was not impressed:

If instead of the big piles of legends and fables you have collected, which are of no use to anyone – who would anyway finance their publication? – you would send us brief monthly reports, you would be fulfilling your duty, satisfying us and be doing something useful.28

Carl Strehlow’s circumspection about his anthropological work would prove justified. Kaibel’s reaction to the first volume of Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien in 1908 surpassed the one to Reuther’s work:

My heartfelt thanks for sending me your work on the Aranda. It is a beautiful monument of German diligence. In any case, the material is the most worthless one can think of which has been brought into written language. Almost all is chaff with hardly a kernel of moral value here and there. It certainly needs not a little self-denial on your part to have recorded those thoughtless legends in which only an ethnographer could be interested in.29

Left solely to this barren field, the seed of Strehlow’s interest would surely have withered and died in the isolation of central Australia. Lutherans in Germany had furnished Strehlow with linguistic skills, social and ethical dispositions and even a theology that could nurture his budding interest in ethnography. However, in the Australian milieu, this came with a pietistic parochialism and anti-intellectualism that could have been his undoing. While his superiors in the Barossa Valley of South Australia supported linguistic studies that had a tangible use in spreading the gospel, ethnography was seen as an indulgence and possibly to a certain degree as blasphemy. This made the contribution and support of another and different type of mentor and friend absolutely crucial for Carl Strehlow’s ethnography.

Baron von Leonhardi’s anthropological influence

Without doubt, Baron Moritz Wilhelm Georg von Leonhardi (1856–1910) was an important and direct influence on Strehlow’s development as an anthropologist. He was a man representative of the nineteenth century German anthropological tradition, and turned Carl’s use of language towards an ethnographic method. He furthered Strehlow’s anthropological training by posing research tasks, thereby pursuing empirical research with him.

He was born on the 9 March 1856 in Frankfurt am Main, the son of a wealthy, aristocratic family of the principality of Hessen. Moritz attended the Darmstadt Gymnasium (Secondary School) receiving a classic German humanistic education. He matriculated in 1876 and took up law in Heidelberg (Völker 2001: 176). However, he was soon forced to terminate his law studies due to ill health. After recovering from illness, he turned his attention to the subjects of natural science and philosophy. Although he was the Archducal Chamberlain of Hessen and a member of the Upper House between 1892–1910, Baron von Leonhardi spent much of his time studying on his country retreat in Gross Karben.

Von Leonhardi was a contemporary of nineteenth century German writers and thinkers such as Bastian, Virchow, Ratzel, Frobenius, Graebner, Schmidt and Boas. He was familiar with the current trends of the cultural sciences and had a close understanding of their main intellectual ancestors like Herder, Kant and the Humboldt brothers. His letters to Carl Strehlow show an interest in the Humboldtian ideas of the unity of man and the project of languages, Herder’s concept of Volksgeist, Bastian’s belief in independent invention due to the psychic unity of mankind and the emerging diffusionist Kulturkreislehre (theory of culture circles).

In the last decade of von Leonhardi’s life, anthropology moved into the centre of his interests. He became a classical armchair anthropologist, corresponding and debating from his study with a number of well-known scientists in Europe like A. Lang, N.W. Thomas, P.W. Schmidt, H. Klaatsch, F. von Luschan and numerous representatives of the natural sciences,30 and reading everything on anthropology available to him. According to Dr Bernhard Hagen (Strehlow 1911), the director of the Frankfurt ethnological museum, von Leonhardi had a close to complete anthropological library, including books not readily available in Germany (Völker 2001: 178). His library held not only books but also most anthropological journals published in America, Britain, France and the German-speaking world. He subscribed to all major journals on anthropology including the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie; Man, Folklore, American Anthropologist and Anthropos. He was also an occasional contributor to the German weekly journal Globus. His library31 and his letters to Carl Strehlow, document what von Leonhardi had read and make it possible to gauge what his methodological and theoretical position had been. A number of comments and comparisons by von Leonhardi on American, African, Australian and Melanesian indigenous peoples, Asian ‘high cultures’ and theories by Frazer, Lang, Schmidt, Graebner, Foy, Fison, Howitt and Roth, indicate his broad knowledge of nineteenth century international anthropology. In several letters to Carl Strehlow he refers to anthropological hypotheses and debates of the day, which he asks him to test, so they could deflate some of the current ‘fairy-tales’ such as ‘group marriage of primeval times’32 or ‘a disaster … like the one of Spencer and Gillen’s reincarnation theory’33 or ‘A sun cult, which exists without doubt amongst the North American Indians, but does not seem likely to me in Australia’.34

In line with the Zeitgeist of nineteenth century German anthropology, von Leonhardi believed that thorough empirical research had to be conducted before universal laws pertaining to humankind and ideas of origin could be approached and generated. The evolutionistic position of the English anthropological establishment seemed highly speculative to him. Although he did not subscribe to an evolutionary proposition, due to his grounding in a humanistic tradition which paid tribute to the plurality and particularity of human kind, like most European cultural scientists, he believed that the indigenous cultures of the colonised world were doomed.

In this context, religion was one of the most discussed and written about topics around the turn of the century. Central Australian Aboriginal people, the Aranda in particular, occupied the centre of this anthropological discourse. Through Spencer and Gillen’s work they had attained collective celebrity on the international anthropological stage (Morton 1992). The Horn Expedition report and The Native Tribes of Central Australia (Spencer and Gillen 1899) had intrigued and fascinated von Leonhardi like the rest of the anthropological world. Indigenous Australian religion became particularly worthy of study. Von Leonhardi perceived the need for further empirical research among the Aranda. The existing material, in particular on mythology and language, was not sufficient or adequate to give an idea of the Geist of the Aranda or any other central Australian people. Still, mid 1908 von Leonhardi complained to Strehlow about the low standard of available linguistic materials:

I did not think that you would be satisfied with Basedow’s work.35 Our periodicals always accept such work; because – with incredibly few exceptions – we have no other vocabularies. The vocabularies in the 3-volume work of Curr are not much better and yet we have to work with them. And that is really depressing. In regard to phonetics, there are no correctly recorded Australian languages at all in the existing literature, even Threlkeld, Günther, Meyer are inadequate.36

This German intellectual background and its conditioning determined how von Leonhardi guided Carl Strehlow’s ethnographic research and formed their methodological and theoretical approaches. His comments on methodology to Strehlow reveal his commitment and desire to see indigenous peoples described in their own right without considering any theories and making hasty inferences. This intention is clearly reflected in the style of Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien. Carl Strehlow’s monograph is pre-eminently descriptive and factual rather than theoretical, thus belonging to the tradition of German ethnography which was interested in source material rather than premature theoretical insights.

Von Leonhardi’s dedication and persistency kept Strehlow to the task and provided him with the intellectual support and recognition he needed to sustain his research into the cultures and oral literatures of the Aranda and Loritja of central Australia.

When Carl Strehlow began to work with von Leonhardi, the conditions for successful research were in place: he had lived with the Aranda and Loritja for over ten years and fluent in their languages. He had also gathered some ethnographic data with a publication in mind,37 including myths and songs.38 By April 190639 Strehlow had collected over 50 Aranda myths and investigated the concept of tjurunga as well as recorded ‘300 Tjurunga’40 songs.41 A few months later he informed N.W. Thomas that he had 500 songs.42 These numbers are somewhat ambiguous, because his published collection of Aranda songs amount to 59 and Loritja songs to about 20. This count may relate to verses rather than to songs. While his interest in indigenous language and through language in culture was not unusual for a German missionary in Australia or at any other overseas posting, his interest in ethnography and in particular in mythology was reinforced and encouraged by von Leonhardi. On the 9 September 1905 von Leonhardi explicitly articulated what would become their linguistic agenda which included the collection of indigenous text and made Carl Strehlow’s work unique for its time in Australia:

Myths in the Aranda language with interlinear translations would be of great value; and a dictionary and a grammar would provide the key to them. A dictionary outlining the meaning of words as well as short explanations of the meaning of individual objects, characters in the myths etc., is highly valued in science.43

Von Leonhardi’s suggestion is reminiscent of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s view that there were two steps in language research which needed to be undertaken to be able to make statements about a people’s culture and language. The first step was to describe the structure of a language (grammar and dictionary) and then its use (Gebrauch) (Humboldt 1994: 16), with which he meant oral literary text (Foertsch 2001: 113). He repeated this view, again in reversed order, after he had read a transcription of an Aboriginal song by R.H. Mathews (Martin 2007: 127):

We are still lacking good texts in the original language with interlinear translation; of course the texts would have to have been recorded with the greatest precision. Such texts, though, would be more pertinent at the moment than grammars and vocabularies, which the scholar in the end – if the texts are only somewhat extensive – could derive from them himself.44

Nevertheless, von Leonhardi repeatedly emphasised the importance of a publication of a comprehensive grammar and comparative dictionary of Aranda, Loritja and Diyari. According to Carl Strehlow,45 the dictionary was going to be part of the publication on Aranda and Loritja cultures, literatures and languages. The language study had been planned as a separate publication, which von Leonhardi thought would be the culmination of Strehlow’s ethnographic work:

As the coronation of the total work, you must finally write a language study of Aranda and Loritja.46

This language study would be the last piece to unlock the inner thoughts of the Aranda and Loritja. By the time the first volume of the Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien was published at the end of 1907, Strehlow had collected over 6000 Aranda and Loritja (Kukatja) words and derivations as well as hundreds of Diyari words. His dictionary contains extensive references to kinship terms, ceremonial vocabulary, mythology and material culture, as well as historical incidents. The ‘coronation’ of his masterpiece never came to be. It is still an unpublished handwritten manuscript, bound and sewn together by hand, based on work commenced during the 1890s. It probably represents the largest and most comprehensive dictionary of indigenous Australian languages compiled around the turn of the century and possibly to date. It is a unique documentary record in Australia.

Strehlow’s linguistic and philological communications on language and indigenous text were very detailed. They ranged from pronunciation47 and grammatical, etymological to semantic interpretations of key terms like Altjira – aljeringa reflecting his intimate knowledge of Aranda and Loritja intellectual life. He also tried to systematically and consistently employ (Breen 2005: 94) an orthography of the indigenous languages he was documenting at a time when spelling systems and the study of language were not well developed in Australia (Moore 2003). He remarked on his system:

When you compare my work with Spencer and Gillen’s, you will see immediately that our orthographies are completely different, because the two gentlemen choose the English spelling, I in contrast use the continental one. It is a pity that Spencer and Gillen did not use the latter as well, which Mr. Spencer as professor in Melbourne must have known.48

Initially their approaches to language seemed to differ. Strehlow’s studies of language and culture were used in applied ways for bible translation, education and ultimately for conversion. For von Leonhardi ethnography and language studies had a wider scope. They were primarily to further human knowledge about the world. Language was not only a research tool, it also had a crucial philosophical dimension; it showed how other people thought and different modes of perception. It gave insight into people’s worldviews and their true spirit and intellect. Language also had an historical dimension in von Leonhardi’s methodological and theoretical framework, which he discussed with Strehlow. He was exploring the use of comprehensive descriptions and documentations of languages to help explain some hypotheses of the infant theory ‘Kulturkreislehre’ of the German-speaking world. Von Leonhardi’s understanding of language in the Kulturkreislehre was informed by close reading of the limited amount of existing material in the first decade of the century and his correspondence with P.W. Schmidt. Von Leonhardi makes first explicit mention of the Kulturkreislehre in relation to language to Strehlow in early 1908. At the time a number of very basic wordlists and grammars of Aranda, Loritja and Diyari were being published and Schmidt was studying and comparing Australian languages.

Von Leonhardi viewed language as the embodiment of a people’s mind and spirit. Language and culture could not be separated. Language was method and phenomenon. His language project echoed in many ways German linguistic traditions and often sounded Boasian. Text collection was paramount in Boas’ ethnography; it was part of the methodological foundation. Boas understood the study of language and its literature as an aid to unravel the history of indigenous peoples and traditional worldviews. Through language, phenomena like myths and social institutions as well as material culture that seemed similar, related or identical, could be established as specific within their own cultural and linguistic context. Carl Strehlow’s Lutheran tradition and von Leonhardi’s nineteenth century German anthropological tradition both emphasised the significance of language for understanding other peoples’ particularity and saw languages as the embodiment of peoples Geist; this view had been part of mainstream intellectual life in Germany for over 100 years. A number of principles of these traditions overlapped. They were based on some of the main thoughts on language emanating from Herderian and Humboldtian philosophy, which were explicitly expressed by Bastian, Virchow and their anthropological circle, and by Boas in North America.

Clearly Strehlow’s ethnographic oeuvre stands in the German fin de siècle anthropological tradition that was language based and through language, which implied understanding, tried to document cultures in their own right, avoiding deduction and preconceived theories. Ultimately language was not only method for him, but final evidence that the Aranda were part of the universal plurality of one humanity. After 27 years studying the Aranda language and culture, the Lutheran pastor Carl Strehlow made this clear in his last published remark in regard to Aboriginal people on the 7 December 1921 in Adelaide’s newspaper The Register:

If you see in the present type of the aborigines the missing link, you require 11 more links from the present type of the aborigine to the common ancestor of man and ape, because the greatest difference between an ape and an aborigine is not the bodily structure, but the wonderfully structured language of the aborigines, and their religious beliefs.

1 Carl Strehlow to Inspector Deinzer of the Neuendettelsau Seminary, 20.1.1899 (Neuendettelsauer Missionswerk).

2 Carl Seidel to Carl Strehlow, 12.9.1908 (SH 1908-2-1).

3 House tradition of the Neuendettelsau seminary was to use the Greek source for translation (Dr Hauenstein of the Neuendettelsauer Missionswerk, Neuendettelsau, pers. comm., August 2005).

4 This can be gleaned from the handwritten chronicles held at Neuendettelsau’s archives.

5 Christian Keysser published a number of ethnographic works.

6 Wilhelm Löhe is seen today as one of the fathers of World Lutherism. He also made significant contributions to social development and education, at a time when the state was not much engaged in social amelioration and this was left to the church’s care. See Schild 2004b; Weber 1996: 15; Schlichting 1998: 7; Farnbacher and Weber 2004.

7 For more information see: <> (accessed 31.5.2013).

8 Zeugniss der Neuendettelsauer Missionsanstalt, 17.4.1892.

9 Tindale interviewed Siebert and Reuther’s son in the 1930s. Tindale Collection Acc. No. 1538, South Australian Museum.

10 Carl Strehlow’s letters to Kaibel (1899–1909) held at the LAA. Strehlow had been able to draw on published and unpublished Aranda language material (Schild 2004a; John Strehlow 2004: 83). The SRC and LAA hold unpublished material by Kempe produced between 1877 and 1891.

11 Carl Strehlow’s letter to the Mission Friends on the 9.1.1920, Albrecht Collection Acc. No. AA662, South Australian Museum.

12 Otto Siebert to A.W. Howitt, 22.4.1899 (Howitt Collection at Melbourne Museum).

13 Loose pages in Gillen’s Field-diary 1896 (Barr Smith Special Collection).

14 Did Gillen forget to reference a crucial informant on Engwura? And who is this altjirra Knaribata [old man altjirra]?

15 The Kirchlichen Mitteilungen was a monthly church newspaper about mission work in North America, Australia and New Guinea that had been publishing since 1868. It also published letters and sometimes even brief accounts on indigenous languages, beliefs and customs. It was edited by the university-educated mission inspector Deinzer, the head of the Neuendettelsau Seminary where Carl Strehlow had been educated and prepared for his calling.

16 Carl Strehlow, Kirchen- und Missions-Zeitung 3, 1895: 20.

17 Carl Strehlow to von Leonhardi, 23.10.1907 (SH-SP-14-1).

18 Carl Strehlow to von Leonhardi, 23.10.1907 (SH-SP-14-1).

19 Carl Strehlow to von Leonhardi, 2.6.1906 (SH-SP-2-1).

20 Warneck uses the plural: Kulturen (cultures).

21 Carl Strehlow, The Register, 7.12.1921.

22 Schulze’s letters to Howitt, 1887–1889 (State Library of Victoria, Howitt Papers MF 459, Box 1051/Icc).

23 Bogner to Carl Strehlow, Bethesda, 8.5.1900 (SRC 1900-21-2).

24 Christian Keysser to Carl Strehlow, 4.9.1905 (SRC 1905/26(a)).

25 However, Seidel’s reaction to the first volume in 1908 suggests that Strehlow may have written about his research. Seidel organised public talks on Aboriginal culture for Carl when he was in Germany in 1910.

26 J.M. Bogner was a co-missionary of Carl Strehlow between 1895 and 1900 at Hermannsburg. He too was a graduate from the Neuendettelsau Seminary.

27 Bogner to Carl Strehlow, 8.5.1900 (1900-21-2).

28 Kaibel to Reuther, 18.2.1904 (LAA). Hercus and McCaul (2004: 36) have also translated this passage. I am not sure if their interpretation of genden as ‘liar legends’, is correct. The spelling of this word may also be due to Kaibel’s particular German dialect and not a Freudian slip.

29 Kaibel to Carl Strehlow, 6.8.1908 (LAA). Also quoted in Veit (2004b: 95).

30 Von Leonhardi also corresponded with missionaries Reuther and Siebert in Australia (see Völker 2001: 173-218).

31 Baron von Leonhardi’s library survived World War II. It is still in Gross-Karben. However, the ethnological publications were integrated into the library of the Frobenius Institute in Frankfurt which holds a large amount of early anthropological publications.

32 Von Leonhardi to Carl Strehlow, 10.4.1907.

33 Von Leonhardi to Carl Strehlow, 15.12.1907.

34 Von Leonhardi to Carl Strehlow, 7.8.1906.

35 Basedow published in 1908 a vocabulary of Arunta in the German journal Zeitschrift für Ethnologie.

36 Von Leonhardi to Carl Strehlow, 29.8.1908. The vexed question of Western Aranda/Arrernte/Arrarnta orthography has not been solved to this day (see Kenny and Mitchell 2005: 5; Breen 2005: 93-102).

37 Carl Strehlow to Kaibel, 30.8.1904 (LAA).

38 Carl Strehlow to von Leonhardi, 30.7.1907 (SH-SP-17-1).

39 Carl Strehlow to von Leonhardi, probably 8.4.1906 (SH-SP-1-1).

40 Tywerrenge (modern spelling), usually means today ‘sacred object’ and is not often spoken about (Breen 2000: 60). The term tjurunga (Carl and T.G.H. Strehlow’s spelling) is a very complex term that can mean songs, stories, dances, paraphernalia or sacred objects associated with ancestral beings (see Appendix 2). Here it does not refer to the objects.

41 Carl Strehlow to von Leonhardi, 2.6.1906 (SH-SP-2-1).

42 Carl Strehlow to N.W. Thomas, mid to end of 1906 (SH-SP-6-1). The end of this quote echoes his editor’s language programme, articulated in 1905.

43 Von Leonhardi to Carl Strehlow, 9.9.1905.

44 Von Leonhardi to R.H. Mathews, 9.6.1908 (Thomas 2007: 247). Translated by C. Winter.

45 Carl Strehlow to N.W. Thomas, mid to end of 1906 (SH-SP-6-1).

46 Von Leonhardi to Carl Strehlow, 23.12.1908.

47 Von Leonhardi to Carl Strehlow, 23.9.1909.

48 Carl Strehlow to von Leonhardi, 13.12.1906 (SH-SP-7-1).

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