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Hübbe, Ulrich (1805–1892)

by David St Leger Kelly

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Ulrich Hübbe (1805-1892), by unknown photographer

Ulrich Hübbe (1805-1892), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 9042

Ulrich Hübbe (1805-1892), journalist, farmer, teacher, interpreter, land agent and legal scholar, was born on 1 June 1805 in Hamburg, the third son of Heinrich Hübbe (1771-1847), notary and registrar of the Hamburg Admiralty. He was educated at Johanneum Gymnasium and read law at Jena and Berlin in 1826-30 and at the University of Kiel (D.U.L., 1837). He had held a junior post in the Prussian Civil Service but became a barrister in Hamburg where he helped religious groups, including one led by Pastor Gotthard Fritzsche, to migrate to South Australia. After the great fire in Hamburg in 1842 he went to England and with aid from George Fife Angas sailed in the Taglione, arriving at Port Adelaide on 15 October. He leased 560 acres (226.6 ha) in the Barossa Valley and tried to sublet it. He did not succeed and on 29 June 1843 was gaoled for insolvency. After discharge he was naturalized and opened schools at Kensington in 1847 and Buchfelde in 1851. In 1855 he returned to Adelaide and taught languages, of which he was reputedly fluent in eleven.

In 1856 the press became interested in methods of transferring and encumbering real property. Hübbe advocated the system of registration and indefeasibility of title used in Hamburg and other Hanse towns. He was brought to the notice of (Sir) Robert Torrens who in 1857-58 piloted through the parliament the original Real Property Act, which simplified the registration of land titles now used throughout Australia and many other countries. Hübbe assisted Torrens in several ways. At Angas's expense he published in 1857 The Voice of History and Reason Brought to Bear Against the Absurd and Expensive Method of Encumbering Immoveable Property, which encouraged the movement for reform, criticized the first draft of Torrens's measure and translated the Hanseatic system of land registration and transfer. He advised Torrens and his supporters in the passage of the bill and was responsible for important changes in its second and final readings. Although spurned by Torrens, he helped to defend the Act from attacks by the legal profession and by Benjamin Boothby and Edward Gwynne in the Supreme Court. He was secretary of a committee formed for that purpose of the Land Titles Association in 1874. He also wrote pamphlets defending the Real Property Act from its opponents, particularly Gwynne.

In 1857-66 Hübbe was government German interpreter at £100 a year and was compensated with £75 when he lost office. He applied for many other government posts without success but retained his interest in law reform. He ardently supported the abolition of primogeniture which was effected in 1867 and gave evidence to the royal commission on Real Property, Intestacy and Testamentary Causes Acts in 1873. He proposed a consolidation of statutes passed in, or applicable to, South Australia with tables of amendments and repeals, drafted a bill to make succession on intestacy uniform and suggested an index and epitome of the colony's laws; all these failed to attract official interest. He abandoned teaching and, after acting as a land agent, interpreter and translator, became editor of the Neue Deutsche Zeitung in October 1875, but resigned in April 1876. His eyesight failed and he lived with his daughter, Isabel, in Spalding and later moved to White Hut where both his wife and daughter were teachers. In 1884 friends petitioned the House of Assembly for a grant because of his indigent circumstances and his unpaid contributions to the Real Property Act. He was later given £250. Always of a literary bent he wrote a few minor poems and an unpublished epic on the progress of German civilization towards free trade. When he finally went blind, he learned to read by Dr Moon's raised-type method and presented copies of the gospels to the Blind School for the use of fellow Germans.

Though deeply religious, Hübbe disagreed with August Kavel on such matters as mixed marriages, but he joined the Adelaide Lutheran congregation in 1855, became a lector in 1857 and by 1867 was a leading member of Bethlehem Church. He opposed the abolition of the Bible in schools; though tolerant towards other denominations he was anti-authoritarian in both church and state. He gave much advice and help, both secretarial and legal, to his fellow Germans in the colony and was active on committees for protecting German interests. His main importance, often underestimated, lies in his contributions to the Real Property Act. Anthony Forster was one of several who later claimed that without Hübbe's help the Act might never have been passed.

In 1847 Hübbe had married Martha, daughter of John Gray of Glasgow and widow of Colonel Fuessli, a Swiss officer and early migrant to South Australia. Of their four children, a son was a captain in the 3rd South Australian Bushmen's contingent in the Boer war in 1899 and was killed in action. Hübbe was reputedly learning to speak Gaelic when he died at Mount Barker on 9 February 1892. He was buried in Hahndorf cemetery, predeceased in 1885 by his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Brauer, Under the Southern Cross (Adel, 1956)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1884
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1884 (112)
  • ‘The Real Property Act’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 32, 1930-31, pp 109-12
  • E. H. Tilbrook, ‘The Hübbe Memorial at Clare’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 41, 1939-40, pp 39-42
  • Lutheran Almanac, 1934, 1968
  • Register (Adelaide), 29 Aug 1884
  • Observer (Adelaide), 11 Oct 1884.

Citation details

David St Leger Kelly, 'Hübbe, Ulrich (1805–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/hubbe-ulrich-3808/text6041, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Ulrich Hübbe (1805-1892), by unknown photographer

Ulrich Hübbe (1805-1892), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 9042