Maria Dorothea GIEHL 1837-1915

Dorothea and her sisters Katharina and Margaretha were from an unusual domestic background. Though their parents lived together in the village for a number of years, they never married. Perhaps this was related to the fact that their father, Konrad Giehl, was himself illegitimate – as were his two brothers. Konrad was fathered by a journeyman hat maker from Sachsen gaining work experience with a merchant in nearby Butzbach, Christoph Bingel; he was known only as Friedrich.

The Giehl family, as relative newcomers, had only limited rights in Nieder-Weisel and Konrad had to rely on offers of casual farm work to support his de facto wife, Maria Katharina Bill and, in time, three children. Maria Dorothea, born 5th January 1837, was the youngest of the three and she was barely four months old when her father died suddenly and her mother was left with two little girls and a baby. With no income, the only course of action left open to her was to find another bread-winner and, at the end of the year, she married Johannes Gross, a son of Matthaus Gross and his wife, Anna Juliana Wetzel. The Gross family, who were sieve-makers, had recently moved from Hoch-Weisel. Anna Juliana was a daughter of Katharina Giehl/Wetzel, who was the elder sister of Konrad Giehl’s grand-father Johannes; that is to say, Maria Dorothea’s father and her stepfather were second cousins.

Maria Katharina wanted her children to escape the stigma of their births; after their confirmations (in the name Giehl), she encouraged them to leave the village. Katharina obtained permission to go to England but later went on to Victoria, as each of her sisters did; the details of these journeys have not as yet been found. Katharina, married to Georg Jung of Nieder-Weisel, settled in Sandhurst but the other sisters stayed in the Smythes Creek area, south of Ballarat. In December 1858, Margaretha married Christian Schwab, an immigrant from Sweden.

Maria Dorothea chose her life partner from among the many Nieder-Weisel immigrants in the Smythes Creek area. Jakob Heinz, a son of the cartwright Konrad Heinz II, had arrived on the goldfields in 1855 with one of the earliest groups of migrants from Nieder-Weisel. The couple exchanged vows on 16th March 1859 in the Lutheran Church at Ballarat.

Jakob prospected around the various diggings and then settled at Happy Valley. Maria Dorothea was kept busy during the next sixteen years producing her family of three boys and four girls: Christina 1860, Peter 1862, Jacob 1864, Hannah Katharina Susannah 1866, Frederick William 1869, Mary 1873, and finally Louisa in 1876.

In 1878 Jakob contemplated moving to Mossgiel in New South Wales but he changed his mind and took his family instead to Gippsland where he went on the land. It was a move that had mixed blessings as their sons Jacob and William each died in his early thirties. William had married and left his widow with young children, whom Maria Dorothea was able to help raise. With all four daughters married, her grandchildren helped fill the final years of Dorothea’s life.

The entire family gathered in Geachville to help Jakob and Maria Dorothea commemorate their fifty years together on 16th March 1909. Jakob’s health was poor, but Maria Dorothea’s life ended before his early in 1915, just after her 78th birthday. She was buried in the Leongatha cemetery.

View Maria Dorothea's Family Chart

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