Our Story



Reasons for Emigration

The first Lutherans to settle in Australia left their European homeland in an effort to be free to worship God according to their Lutheran beliefs and practices.

The First Settlers Arrive

Pastor August Ludwig Christian Kavel was one of the main figures regarding early Lutheran settlement in SA. In 1826 he became pastor in the village of Klemzig near Zullichau where he greatly influenced the spiritual life of the inhabitants. AS the persecution continued, he thought of emigrating with his flock and went to London to seek help from George Fife Angas. He heard that Angas had considerable interest in the new colony of SA for which he was anxious to procure settlers. With financial help from Angas, 250 people boarded the Prince George and Bengalee ships on 8 July, 1838. After arriving in SA on 20 November, 1838, they settled first at Port Adelaide and then on 144 acres of Angas land on the banks of the Torrens. They named their village Klemzig.

Captain Hahn and the Zebra

On 28 December, 1838, the Danish ship Zebra arrived at Holdfast Bay with 188 people on board. Captain Hahn had been so impressed with the behaviour of his passengers that he went out of his way to see them settled in their new country. Pastor Kavel invited them to join him at Klemzig, but Hahn thought the area unsuitable and found more fertile land near Mt. Barker. The owners, Captain John Finnis, William Hampden Dutton and Duncan MacFarlane, offered the Lutherans 100 acres rent free for a year as well as provisions until harvest; seed, fowls, cattle pigs and six milk cows on credit. They also promised to assist financially with the support of a clergyman and schoolmaster. With great rejoicing, a contract granting 150 acres was signed on 18 January, 1839 and the village was named Hahndorf in honour of the good captain.

The Trek to Hahndorf

Being poor, the Lutherans had to walk from Port Adelaide to Hahndorf, arriving in early March, 1839, a journey of over a month because they had to carry their belongings. Legend has it that upon arrival, they fell on their knees without waiting to unload, and gave thanks to God for bringing them safely to this free land. The spot was marked by a large hollow gum tree on the banks of a native swimming hole in the Hahndorf Creek. Church services were held under this tree, or in an old hut in wet weather until the church was built. The village was laid our in a 'U' shape, with the church in the centre, as it was the focus of the lives of the 52 families who settled there.

St Michael's Lutheran Congregation

The congregation was established on Sunday 3 March, 1839 with a service held under the old gum tree. In the second year, the pioneers built their first church on the same site now occupied by the present St Michael's Church. It was a plain building of pug construction decked with wooden shingles, which served the congregation until 1858. On 28 October, 1841 another group of Lutherans arrived on the "Skiold" led by Pastor Gotthard Daniel Fritzsche. For a short time, he lived at Klemzig but later moved to Hahndorf where he shared the ministry with Pastor Kavel.


The Present Church Building

By 1857 the congregation had grown considerably due to more emigration and the old mud-walled church had become so dilapidated that it was decided to build a new one. It was to be erected of hard stone with brick corners, around the existing church, which would be demolished when the new structure was neared completion. The new church was erected at a cost of £1,181.18.4 and was dedicated on 3 July, 1859.


Few changes took place in the building until 1908 when the vestry was rebuilt, giving more space. The pulpit was removed from above the altar in 1928. The porch was completed in 1931 and the bell-tower in 1938. As a centenary gift, four members purchased a new church bell from St Louis, USA. The old tradition of tolling the bell at noon, for each year of a recently deceased person's life on this earth, continues to the present day. The old bell was transferred to the school yard over the road. It is one of many cast in bronze from guns and war weapons in Germany at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) by order of Prince Otto von Bismark, who presented them to the Lutheran Church in Europe.

St Michael's Cemetery

In the early days members of the congregation who died were buried in the church cemetery in the church grounds. This arrangement continued until 1885 when the cemetery was permanently closed due to an outbreak of typhoid fever. A new cemetery was opened just out of the town. In the 1950's the congregation levelled most of the area which forms the present car park and placed the names of those known to be buried in the church cemetery on bronze plaques which were fixed to the new memorial arch in 1959. A few graves in relatively good condition were preserved, the earliest date on a tombstone being 1796.


History has shown that the founding members of St Michael's weathered many trials because of their staunch Lutheran beliefs, even venturing across the world be an unknown continent to remain true to their faith. While they have left us a beautiful church building in a picturesque valley, now famous throughout Australia, their most important, lasting gift is in God's Word. Hopefully, this gift will be cherished for years to come.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16