Schwaebsch Family of Northcote

The Schwaebsch family arrived in Victoria in September 1849.  They probably immigrated in response to the 1847-48 European tour of prominent Melbourne businessman William Westgarth, promoting Victoria as the place to live.  Westgarth had been impressed by the industry, frugality and sobriety of earlier German settlers to South Australia and was keen to establish the Melbourne settlement of Westgarthtown, known today as Thomastown.  The uncertainty of life during the German unification may also have contributed to the Schwaebsch family’s migration from their home in Zuellichau, Prussia.  They did so with a number of other families.  The ship Emmy brought Carl Augustus, his wife Johanna (nee Grund) and two boys both named Carl to Portland, Victoria.  At the time the Colonial Land Fund sponsored fares for agricultural workers.  This became controversial when it turned out that few of those on the first four ships fitted the criteria to qualify for assisted immigration.  As a market gardener Augustus Schwaebsch did qualify, but he did not end up in any of the areas intended for German agricultural settlement.  Eight farming families from Zuellichau established what became known as Germantown near Geelong.  The Schwaebsch family however was not among these.  For whatever reason, they instead made their way to Northcote and along with the Heiner, Scholz, Fritsche, Hellwig, and Schwerkolt families, were settled there by the mid-1850s.

It appears to be a tradition in the Schwaebsch family to pass on the Christian name of Carl.  The name appears regularly through the generations.  Carl Augustus gave it to three of his four sons and they subsequently became known by their second or third names, Heinrich, Theodore, Robert and Oswald.  Oswald was born in 1853 in Merri and became the first of many descendants born in Northcote.

Four German families purchased land in Separation Street to lay down Northcote Cemetery and it was not long before the street became known locally as German Lane and the original locality name Cawdortown was lost.  Augustus Schwaebsch established a market garden in the street with his son Theodore working alongside him.  Heinrich was the only one of the four boys not to survive into adulthood.  The other three married English girls from Northcote settler families and remained in the neighbourhood.  Theodore married Jane Bendall and moved his new family into nearby High Street where they lived for 70 years.  Oswald married Fanny Bedford in 1881, the widowed sister-in-law of his brother's wife Lydia.  Robert's first marriage to Lydia Bradford produced three children but ended with a double tragedy during the birth of their last son John August.  In general however, the Schwaebsch line was strong with descendants still living in the area today.

The most prominent perhaps among them was Miss Freda Northcote, the stage name of Elfreda, eldest daughter of Carl Adolph August and Amy Schwaebsch.  Freda enjoyed a long musical career alongside her husband Ernest Wilson from the 1920s through to the 1950s.  Her father Carl Adolph August became a Northcote councillor in the First World War era.  It must have been a tense time for families living with German surnames and Councillor Schwaebsch was called upon more than once to publicly defend his family.  Outspoken on the Northcote Council he defended his family stating that his father was one of the oldest ratepayers in town and his mother an Englishwoman.  By that time the Schwaebsch family had been in the neighbourhood for 60 years.  Most of the Schwaebsch family, their children and grandchildren were born, lived and died in Northcote or surrounding suburbs.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Saturday 2 February 1878 p. 1
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Tuesday 6 december 1932, p.1
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Saturday 17 July 1920, p.11
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Tuesday 8 December 1931, p.1
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Saturday 3 October 1936, p.7

View the Schwaebsch family tree online