Lobethal / South Australia

Oath of Allegiance and Nationalisation of Prussian Citizens

This post is paraphrased from Maureen M Leadbeater’s work from familyhistorysa.info

From the earliest days of the colony there were non-British immigrants. A German was on the Duke of York, the first ship arriving in 1836. South Australia’s naturalization laws evolved from a gathering of Prussian Lutheran colonists who volunteered an oath of allegiance soon after their arrival. Afghan cameleers, Scandinavian mariners and Chinese golddiggers added to the mix. The colony was also settled by a few from Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy and other countries. The Government recognised them as Aliens. Although, in time, the government produced a formal process, some colonists never applied for naturalization. Even those who were naturalized were not treated the same as natural-born British citizens. The concept of Australian nationality was not recognised until 1949.

The first Oath of Allegiance

Prussian Lutherans formed the first large non-British group when they arrived in 1838. On Queen Victoria’s birthday in May 1839, 121 of these German emigrants gathered by their own desire before the Governor to proclaim their Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown.I do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. So help me God. Perhaps they took the oath in German as the newspaper published the German translation: Ich verspreche hiermit aufrichtig, und schwore, dasz, ich Jhrer Majestat der Konigin Victoria, treu seyn, und wahre Anhanglichkeit beweisen will. So wahr mir Gott helfe. The Governor informed the crowd that he had the power to confer on them all the privileges of British subjects by naturalization, but this was conditional and implied a certain lapse of time.

Later, in 1839, an Act for the Naturalization of certain Persons Natives of Germany with ten names was enacted … they are hereby naturalized and enabled to purchase and hold lands and to enjoy all other privileges of Natural-born British Subjects. In the following year another Act, with 39 names, was passed by the South Australian Legislative Council. However this Act was disallowed by the British Government to whom all legislation had to be forwarded for approval. In 1841 they tried again. This list of names, now reduced to 37, was again submitted in an Act under the same title and was accepted … whereas the said Act being informal without the previous sanction of the Crown Her Majesty has been pleased to authorise the re-enactment of the same. The two names missing from this second list were Johann Philip Christian Debus and Gottlieb Lange.

An Act for enabling the Governor to grant Letters of Denization in certain cases was an attempt in 1842 to set out the process without a listing of names but it too was rejected by the British Government. Denization is another word for naturalization. In 1845 the Legislative Council passed an Ordinance to naturalize a further four German colonists.

The 1846 Act

All this time the Germans had been requesting that they be able to declare themselves loyal to their new homeland. No man who is willing to select this country as his home should feel himself an alien; or be debarred from any of the privileges or exempt from any of the duties of citizenship. Aliens suffered a number of disadvantages. They were unable to present petitions to the Council and by the laws of Great Britain they could not acquire legal title to land as they were not British subjects. Despite this, unnaturalized Germans did purchase land. Among them were Johann Friedrich Seidel of Friedrichswalde & his son August Friedrich (who had arrived aged 2 years). Likewise Albert Paul Adolph, a credit selector in 1880 at Hornsdale, had arrived in South Australia as a child. Perhaps arriving so young they did not realise they were aliens and perhaps no one asked them.

Eventually in July 1846, the Governor with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council passed an act To Amend the Laws relating to Aliens. The title German was omitted, allowing for other nationalities. Thus the process was formalized. Aliens wishing to be naturalized were required to present their application in the form of a Memorial, which had to state their full name, birth place, age, occupation and duration of residence in Great Britain, Ireland or South Australia. The application also had to be endorsed by a Pastor, Consul or two reputable colonists who were to hereby certify and declare … that the Memorialist is a fit and proper person.

Many places of birth on the Memorials are detailed, such as Plau near Crossen an der Oder, Regierungsbesirk Frankfurt, Province Brandenburg, Prussia or Butesheim near Bingen, Province Rheinhessen, Duchy of Hessen, Darmstadt; while others just have Prussia or Hanover. For family historians, the place of birth and length of residence in South Australia (and, in some cases, in Great Britain and Ireland) are significant pieces of information.

Following the Governor’s approval, Memorialists were required to take the Oath of Allegiance within 60 days. It was quite a lengthy statement demanding support for the sovereign.

I do sincerely promise and swear, that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and will defend her to the utmost of my power against all conspiracies and attempts whatever, which may be made against her person, crown, or dignity; and I will do my utmost endeavour to disclose and make known to Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which may be formed against her or them; and I do faithfully promise to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of my power, the succession of the Crown, which succession, by an Act intituled “An Act for the further limitation of the Crown, and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject”, is, and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and the Heirs of Her body, being Protestants, hereby utterly renouncing and abjuring any obedience or allegiance unto any other person claiming or pretending a right to the Crown of this Realm. So help me God.

Fees were set out: certificate 10/6, oath 5/- and notification of confirmation £1. However the applicants were not actually naturalized until Queen Victoria’s approval was confirmed. This could take months, even years, before the notice of confirmation was published in the South Australian Government Gazette. Naturalized aliens then enjoyed all rights of natural-born subjects except they could not become members of the Council or Legislature. Anyone previously naturalized and resident for five years was deemed to be covered by this 1846 Act, as was any woman married to a natural-born subject or a naturalized person.

Act No 4 of 1847 For the naturalization of certain persons Natives of Germany recorded the name, residence and occupation of 308 persons Natives of Germany, [who] have been for some time resident in South Australia, and are desirous of settling therein. This act stated that it was expedient for their encouragement as useful subjects that they should be naturalized. When forwarded to the British Government it was approved by Her Majesty and the named persons were advised to take the Oath of Allegiance. It is not clear when this group actually took the oath.

In 1850 the Government Gazette reported that a number of Certificates of Naturalization had been confirmed by Her Majesty Queen Victoria and were ready for delivery to those who had taken their Oath of Allegiance. The fees were now certificate 10/6, enrolment 12/- and notification of confirmation £1. A total of £2/2/6. At this time a blacksmith was earning 6/- per day, bakers 4/- per day, wheelwrights 5/6 per day and miners 35/- per week. The average retail prices for basic food items were bread 1½d per lb, butter 1/- per lb, flour 1½d per lb, beef and mutton 2½d per lb, and sugar 3d per lb. Boots cost 14/-, trousers 5/6 and a shirt 3/6. Many of the applicants were unlikely to have much spare cash.


Despite the regulation that Memorials should be fairly and legibly written, there are many errors in spelling of names and places. Further errors occur on the Certificates of Naturalization themselves, some in the lists published in the Government Gazettes, some in the consolidated list of 1872, and some in the present-day index to the National Archives digitized images.

The Memorial was not written by the applicant. However he did sign it, often in German script. Very few signed with a cross. Some signatures are a curious mixture of German and English script. The clerk did not always spell the names the same as the signature. Some errors were caused by the applicants themselves. Correspondence in 1862, concerning a Memorial of 1851, states that as this mistake has occurred from Mr Schroeder writing his name Eduart the only way to rectify the error will be for that gentleman to be re-naturalized. He did reapply, and he was finally naturalized under the name Eduard Wilhelm. The National Archives index has managed to get both wrong, recording the two entries as Edwart Wilhelm and Edward Wilhelm.

Once the Memorial was approved, another clerk wrote out two copies of the Certificate of Naturalization. He often made mistakes when copying the unfamiliar names and places of birth. Generally the Memorial information appears to be more accurate, with the Certificate of Naturalization containing misinterpretations of the earlier handwriting. Further errors were made when the lists were published in the Government Gazettes. In 1857-58 there are several Errata lists where the previously published name was corrected, eg for Heil read Keil, Gene read Geue, Klaffus Gottlieb read Klaffus Gottfried, Trvelich read Froelich. Another German custom over-scores the letters m or n to indicate mm or nn, thus Zimler is read as Zimmler.

Problems with the Procedure

The Government Gazettes contain many notices concerning the process and changes required as problems arose. Some Memorials were being endorsed by persons who were not naturalized. Since there was a requirement that the signatory should know the applicant well, it may have been difficult in some German communities to find an appropriate person. In 1849, after announcing that oaths would be administered on Mondays, a second day, Wednesday, was added to suit the needs of aliens residing in the country who were obliged to travel on the Sabbath.

A petition from the German community at Burra was sent to the Governor in March 1851. They wished to become British subjects but wanted to avoid the loss of income while making the long journey to Adelaide to swear allegiance. They were answered in December when the Rev James Pollitt of Kooringa was appointed a Commissioner of the Supreme Court for the administration of the oath of allegiance.

The Government Gazettes in 1850 and 1851 published lists of Aliens who had failed to take the Oath of Allegiance within the required 60 days. Many of these names are to be found on later applications. Perhaps some Germans had not recognised their names in the misspelt lists. In 1852 it was announced that no further memorials would be approved unless the total fees, £2/7/6, were paid. In consequence of great neglect on the part of aliens in taking up their certificates after the confirmation by Her Majesty has been duly notified in the Government Gazette – thereby entailing considerable expense on the Government. Eventually the authorities saved themselves some work by not writing out the Certificates of Naturalization before the oath was taken. The fees were reduced to £2/1/6 in 1853.

When a new Act was proposed, there were many complaints in the newspapers about the current legislation. Naturalization in South Australia conferred no rights in other colonies. Delays were caused by the obligation to send the legislation to Great Britain for approval. There were calls to halve the fees.

In 1856, naturalized persons were able to join the Legislative Council after five years residence in the colony. This had been a matter of discussion for some time. Act 20 of 1857-58, An Act to amend and consolidate the Acts relating to Aliens, allowed the Oath of Allegiance to be taken before any judge or commissioner of the Supreme Court, Registrar or Deputy Registrar. This was a great convenience for country colonists.

Unfortunately the early printed Memorial forms provided up to the early 1860s did not ask for the date of application. Some are annotated with the date of approval or fees paid, but many applications are undated. New Memorial forms printed c1865 do request a date which, together with the length of time in South Australia, is useful in determining the colonist’s arrival date. Memorialists often record two occupations on these later forms. One is clearly the occupation before emigration. A few who emigrated as children state they were a minor (not a miner).

Other Colonies and Overseas

The 1860s were marked with complaints in the newspapers. A Certificate of Naturalization was only valid in the colony in which it had been issued. Farmers who left South Australia to take up land in Victoria were regarded as aliens when they crossed the border. In fact they are virtually transported, for if they leave Australia their naturalization ceases. They are subjects of no Government; they possess no nationality whatever. Although they had taken the Oath of Allegiance in South Australia, they were obliged to swear a second oath in Victoria.

Johann Heinrich Martin Uhe arrived in Victoria 1871 overland from Mount Gambier where he had submitted his Memorial in 1863. After 2 years and 7 months in Victoria, he had to reapply for naturalization, with a further fee. Since he had already taken the Oath of Allegiance in South Australia, he submitted his South Australian Certificate of Naturalization as proof. A lengthy correspondence ensued as he did not wish to take the oath again (and presumably pay another fee). Mr Uhe did eventually receive his Victorian naturalization, after payment of a further £1 for its registration.

In South Australia Certificates of Naturalization from other colonies were accepted in 1864. The applicant was required to deposit his original certificate from the other colony and make a declaration that he was the person named. He was required to take the Oath of Allegiance – again – before his original certificate was endorsed and returned. There are a few settlers who reapplied in SA having previously been naturalized in Victoria, Queensland or New Zealand.

Naturalized foreigners travelling overseas, as did many merchants and traders, found they had to take official evidence of their identity and description to obtain British passports which could only be issued in London.

Those born of foreign parents in British territory were inconvenienced by their lack of evidence that they were British subjects. The Chief Secretary said although it would be impossible, without risk of inconvenience, to issue official certificates declaring absolutely that the person named in such certificate is a British subject, yet there appears to be no objection to a mere statement of belief to the same effect. As a result, Governor Daly could issue a statement after examining a birth certificate or an affidavit of nationality of the parents. One wonders why the birth certificate itself was not sufficient.

Failed Applications

Not all who applied were naturalized. After submitting their Memorial some settlers failed to complete the process – they failed to take the oath or failed to collect their certificate. Some applicants may have moved interstate, some may have failed to see the subsequent notices in the Government Gazettes, or they may not have recognised their names due to the misspellings that appeared in the Government Gazette lists. In the early years the Certificate of Naturalization was written out when the Governor approved the Memorial, that is, before the oath had been taken and the further fee paid. Hence among the National Archives files there are apparent Certificates of Naturalization that are not valid.

Johann Gottlieb Felsch’s original application was approved 9-3-1849. A second Memorial dated 9-7-1849 is annotated This person now dead took the Oath of Allegiance under a previous Memorial. The two Memorials are endorsed by different colonists. The first was by R Hilmers (who was naturalized under the 1847 Act) and Maximilian Louis Rodemann (who took his oath 29-3-1849). The discovery that Rodemann was not actually naturalized at the time he signed the Memorial, required Felsch to complete a second Memorial. Unfortunately Felsch had died 26-8-1849 before he could take his oath under the valid application.

Elias Andreas Dittmar from Erfurt in Germany, a farmer of Gawler River aged 30 years, submitted a Memorial in July 1849 claiming a residency of one year. He was listed in a Government Gazette of March 1850 as having failed to take the oath. He had a second Memorial dated July 1851. On this, formerly from Erfurt, Kingdom of Prussia, he was a carpenter of Lyndoch Valley aged 32 years with 2½ years in the colony. He took the Oath of Allegiance in September 1851. Confirmation of Queen Victoria’s approval was not published in the Government Gazette until August 1853, four years after his first application.

Consolidated List of 1872

The fees were reduced in 1872 – depositing and oath to be 10/6. At this time a consolidated list of those who had been naturalized was published as Parliamentary Paper No 147 of 1872 and was repeated in the Government Gazette. It is a curious list of misspellings and errors. Some names appear twice – they are not always father and son. Some of these repeats appear to be those who were once listed as having failed to take the oath in time and subsequently re-applied. Some have lost their surname and are recorded under one of their given names. Franz Joseph Ehrhard Rosenberg is recorded as if his surname was Ehrhard. Johann Gottlieb Rochow appears twice as Koehow and Roehow but not under the correct spelling. Johann Franz Anton Laufkotter also appears as Kotter; Seekamp also as Leckamp; Jessel also as Tessel. Many letters caused the 1872 compilers difficulty. Lountag & Sountag should be Sonntag, Sunter should be Irmler, Yuhlcke should be Zuhlcke. Another name error occurred when the residence was recorded as a given name. Johann Gottlieb Winsker of Walton near Nuriootpa has his residence added as a third given name.


A scan of the 1872 list indicates that the majority of naturalizations, some 95%, were of German colonists. Of these only 45% were farmers. The occupations of carpenter, cabinetmaker, miner, shoemaker and blacksmith were well represented. The range covered all aspects of society – architect, baker, doctor, draper, goldsmith, musician, saddler, tanner, tobacconist, weaver, etc.


A new form of the Oath of Allegiance was scheduled in 1864. Those with poor English skills must have been grateful for its brevity. I do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, as lawful Sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of this Province of South Australia. So help me God.

For the first time in 1890 a minimum period of residence, six months, was specified. Some of the early arrivals had applied for naturalization after only a brief stay. August Albert Klei claimed a residence of five days when he applied in 1849, while several others wrote “few days”. Obviously the requirement that the applicant must have resided in the neighbourhood of the person certifying to his eligibility, a sufficient time … to have a proper knowledge off his habits and pursuits was not taken seriously in the early years. The Oath of Allegiance could now be taken before a Justice of the Peace, but not the same JP as had endorsed the Memorial.

After 1891 the names of those naturalized were no longer published in the SA Government Gazette. Also the oath of allegiance was taken at the same time as the Memorial was submitted. From November 1895 the text on the Certificate of Naturalization was simplified and the length of time in the colony was omitted from this document. In 1895 the fees were abolished. There had been many complaints over the years that the high fees had been a deterrent.


After the Federation of the colonies in 1901, the current acts of each colony remained in place until the new Aliens Act was passed in 1903. From then on, naturalization became a Federal matter and hence the records, including those back to the 1840s, were deposited with the organisation currently known as the National Archives of Australia. The files are held in each state office and many have been digitized and can be viewed on the internet. Unfortunately not all records have survived.

The 1903 Act relating to Naturalization deemed anyone previously naturalized in a colony or state to be a naturalized British subject. Two years continuous residence was required or a Certificate of Naturalization obtained in the United Kingdom. Aboriginal natives of Asia, Africa or the Pacific Islands, except New Zealand, were excluded. The application had to be supported by a statutory declaration with the usual requirements of name, age, birth place, occupation, residence and length of time in Australia. A woman marrying a British subject and children of naturalized persons were deemed naturalized under this new act.

World War I

When the Great War broke out in 1914, naturalized Germans believed they were protected by their Certificates of Naturalization. Some had immigrated as children or young men, perhaps 50-60 years ago, spent their working life in South Australia, and their children and grandchildren were born in South Australia. Yet the War Precautions Act of 1914 controlled not only aliens, but also naturalized British subjects of enemy origin. It did not make much difference whether Germans were naturalized or not, whether they were born in South Australia or Germany. They were either interned, that is imprisoned without trial, or were required to report to military authorities weekly for the duration of the war.

Fischer reports that 6,890 persons were interned in Australia. Of these about 700 were naturalized British subjects and 70 were Australian by birth. In South Australia, despite the high numbers of resident Germans compared to other states, relatively few were interned. It was claimed that people were not interned to be punished but to secure the safety of the country. However families were disrupted by losing their bread-winner. Even those not interned were regarded with suspicion and mistrust. Some were dismissed from their jobs or forced to resign. Some landlords gave them notice to quit. Destitute men were forced to voluntarily intern themselves so that their families would receive an allowance – a wife was paid 10/- per week and 2/6 for each child under 14 years.

Large numbers of Germans were disqualified from voting in the second referendum held in 1917 on compulsory overseas military service. Any naturalized British subject born in an enemy country and any person whose father was born in an enemy country was excluded. However, if such a person had enlisted or had applied for enlistment and had been rejected on medical grounds, he was allowed to vote. There was an additional provision that if a German made a statutory declaration that at least half of his sons aged between 18 and 45 had enlisted, he could vote.

There were calls for the Germans to be disenfranchised. Settlers of German descent were denounced in parliament. Yet a glance at War Memorials and Honour Boards across the state reveals that many of those who served with the Australian Imperial Force and died for King and Country were of German descent. Lawrence Juers and Lyal Hasalby Fuss were taken Prisoners of War in France. Their grandfathers, having arrived in the late 1840s, were naturalized in 1867. Ernst Gustav Heinrich Glatz had arrived as an infant in 1848 but did not apply for naturalization. His Australian-born son Albert Glatz was killed in action at Gallipoli, serving under the name Alexander Glades. During the war some people with Germanic names changed them by deed poll.

After the war a member of the Intelligence Staff travelled from Keswick to Holdsworthy Camp in NSW, where the internees had been transferred from Torrens Island, to sit in judgement on the appeals of more than 100 South Australian unnaturalized Germans who are whining against deportation. Whining? This was their adopted land.

The Alien Regulations also affected numbers of Italians who had not been naturalized. They were deported in early 1918.

Changes in Attitude

The naturalization records and the South Australian Police Gazette deserters lists indicate the origin of many non-British colonists. The Government Gazettes have numerous lists of those who applied for naturalization, had been approved, had taken the oath of Allegiance and/or had their naturalization confirmed. The newspapers reveal the changes in attitudes over the years.

Initially the non-British colonists were welcomed. The Germans were described in 1839 as conscientious and industrious in service, regular, sedate … cheerful and pleasant. In 1845 they were … a steady hard working class of men, possessed of sufficient means to purchase land and properly cultivate it. While others in the colony called themselves British, the Germans referred to themselves as South Australians. Years later, when business was at stake or war broke out, prejudice led to the persecution of non-British settlers across the state in all occupations.

Daniel Henry Schreyvogel, the German who was on the Duke of York in 1836, died in 1886 without applying for naturalization. He was one of many non-British settlers who came to South Australia but were not naturalized. Sailors, merchants, artisans and workers from many countries were beneficial to the founding, development and consolidation of the colony. While the families were linked to their birth places and homelands by customs and culture, the majority were loyal to their chosen land, whether naturalized or not.

A clear explanation that sorted a lot of questions I had with the process. In particular why original Lobethal settler Johann Gottlieb Felsch had multiple papers recorded!

For the full article go to: http://www.familyhistorysa.info/sahistory/naturalization.html


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