Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Boehm, Traugott Wilhelm (1836–1917)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Traugott Wilhelm Boehm (1836-1917), by unknown photographer

Traugott Wilhelm Boehm (1836-1917), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 15147

Traugott Wilhelm Boehm (1836-1917), schoolmaster, was born on 18 October 1836 at Muschten, Zuellichau, Brandenburg, sixth son of Johann Georg Boehm, carpenter, and his wife Caroline, née Koenig, who were Old Lutherans. On 2 January 1839 the family arrived at Port Adelaide in the group of Lutheran pilgrims on Captain Hahn's Zebra, and helped form the settlement, at Hahndorf. Boehm was educated at the church school before going at 12 to G. D. Fritzsche's tiny Lobethal College to train as a teacher. He later had practical training at the Bethany Lutheran Church School and studied under Dr C. W. L. Muecke at Tanunda. 'A gifted, industrious and God-fearing scholar', he was called as a teacher by the Hahndorf congregation in 1854 and took charge of the Lutheran school where he remained three years.

In 1857, aided by an annual government grant of £70, Boehm opened a private, unsectarian advanced school in his home, calling it the Hahndorf Academy. Next year, on 12 August, he married Anna Maria Dolling; they had two children. He offered instruction, based on the German classical gymnasium, to boys and girls, including some boarders, from all religions and national groups. Although a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Australia, Boehm disapproved of excessive scriptural teaching. Languages, music and the first-hand study of natural history and science were emphasized, and conversation was 'induced' in German. The school was extended gradually from 1871, when a large two-storey building was begun. Boehm was made a justice of the peace. In 1874 his grant ended and three years later, financially embarrassed, he sold the school at a loss to the Lutheran Church for £700. It was renamed Hahndorf College and Boehm remained as principal.

In 1881 he was involved in disputes with sections of the Lutheran synod, who possibly found his views too liberal; conscious only of striving 'for light and truth', he threatened to resign. Two years later he bought back the college at the original price, and made large extensions. In 1884 he was declared insolvent, partly because he had supported his son farming in the north. Allowed to keep the college, Boehm carried on for two more years, but then had to sell. The purchaser, D. J. Byard (B.A. Oxon., 1882), was an Englishman with a love of German language and culture; he carried on in Boehm's tradition until the college closed in 1912.

Boehm moved to Murtoa, Victoria, where in 1887 he opened a private school; this was taken over by the Lutheran Church about 1894 and named Concordia College. Boehm stayed as music teacher until the college removed to Adelaide in 1904, when he retired to Warracknabeal to live with his daughter. For some years he wrote on meteorology for the local newspaper. He settled briefly on land at Yaapeet before dying at Warracknabeal on 12 May 1917. His estate was sworn for probate at £1331.

Many prominent South Australians had studied at Hahndorf College and consistently did well at the University of Adelaide's matriculation examinations. A small man nicknamed 'Chibby', Boehm wore a wide waxed moustache; some of his lessons were held in the bush, and he used a harpsichord at the college to help sweeten with music and song 'the bitterness of beginning term'. In evidence in 1882 before a commission on the working of the Education Acts, he attacked the state school system as 'little better than a mere farce', with its 'cramming and word-drenching' of pupils and its payment by results; he advocated a knowledge of psychology for teachers and the study of natural science 'to fascinate and cultivate the youthful mind'. Aware that these views would be thought 'queer', he concluded his submission with a couplet:

I may not pretend, though teaching, to find
A means to improve or convert mankind.

Select Bibliography

  • M. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • W. Iwan, Um des Glaubens Willen nach Australien (Breslau, 1931)
  • A. Brauer, The One Hundredth Anniversary of the Arrival of the Lutheran Pilgrim Fathers … (Adel, 1938), and Under the Southern Cross (Adel, 1956)
  • F. J. H. Blaess, Hahndorf and its Academy (Hahndorf, 1968), and ‘The college in the hills …’, Australian Lutheran Almanac, 1952-62
  • Walkabout, Apr 1964
  • Register (Adelaide), 21 Sept 1883
  • Warracknabeal Herald, 15 May 1917
  • J. W. Hayes, Education in the German Lutheran Community of South Australia circa 1838-1914 (M.Ed. Hons thesis, University of Sydney, 1971)
  • newsclippings, Boehm box (Lutheran Archives, Adelaide).

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Boehm, Traugott Wilhelm (1836–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/boehm-traugott-wilhelm-5280/text8903, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Traugott Wilhelm Boehm (1836-1917), by unknown photographer

Traugott Wilhelm Boehm (1836-1917), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 15147