Showing posts with label Jacob Ludwig Dohne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jacob Ludwig Dohne. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dohne: tracing his origins


Part 3 of guest article by Andrew van Rensburg:

JL Dohne was born in 1811, Zierenberg, Kassel-Hesse. Archive material from that time period is very scarce, because Kassel was extensively bombed during the Second World War. However, my cousin Angus Mackenzie, did find an archive document listing JL as the son of Johann Dohne and Louise Spangenberg.  Johann Dohne in one German source was alleged to be the provisioner at Wilhelmshohe Palace (Elector Wilhelm). That seemed fair enough until I thought again about his level of education. A provisioner might at a push have been in a position to provide such an education, or perhaps he was recognised as academically gifted and 'sponsored'?

So I started to search and discovered that there is very little about Dohnes in general during that time period. The name Dohne, to add to complexity, can be represented by a wide variety of different spellings, including Thone, Doehne, Dohna, Dowhne etc. I found Dowhne connections between JL and Elizabeth von Dohna (and Ferdinand Hoffman), one of the core ancestors of many European Royal families.

That sparked my interest further and I looked for associations. Viscount Jeschke von Dohne zu Meissen lost titles and properties in a dispute with von Korbitz. There was even a source suggesting that the Dohne line was involved with the Crusades.

However, the most interesting discovery was the reference to Count Dohne. According to the story, Count Dohne had a son Jacob Ludwig (born 1811) on the Russian front during the Napoleonic wars. Apparently his wife died and an ‘orphaned’ JL Dohne was brought back to Wilhelmshohe (1814) in poor health. Count Dohne at the time of JL’s birth,was fighting on the Russian side against Napoleon, based at Gumbinnen, Stalluponene. Gumbinnen (near present-day Konigsberg) fell within Kaliningrad and only became part of Germany again after the reunification of Germany, 1871.



Count Dohne was from Wartburg Castle (the very name Dohne chose when he named his farm in Natal), and was descended from Ludwig von Thuringia und Sachsen. The sister castle to Wartburg, Eichenach, hosted the refugee Luther, where he was alleged to have thrown his ink pot against the wall in frustration.
Although Count Dohne was Prussian, this family line had close family ties with Kassel-Hesse, and Elector Wilhelm. What’s more it is no accident that Caroline Dohne married Joseph David Otto Sachse, a von Sachsen – connected with the Thuringia line. It is therefore no surprise that Dohne grew up at Wilhelmshohe, privy to a full and illustrious education. This would account for his somewhat independent, confrontational and arrogant spirit.

His military academy education at Breslau (sharing an address held by his uncle, Colonel Dohne) makes sense, considering that the Wartburg nobility used the Breslau Military Academy. Dohne, in fact held the rank of Lieutenant. The Thuringia und Sachsen line provided Teutonic Knights for the Crusades. Although there is no direct link between the Teutonic Knights (as there is with the Knights Templar) and Freemasons, it was no secret that many of the German nobility belonged to the Freemasons’ ‘brotherhood of influence’.
In fact Elector Wilhelm was a Freemason along with Mayer Rothschild, his financial advisor and ‘bank’ during the Napoleonic occupation (Westphalia). JL was a Freemason and used the secret name saddle maker. A branch of the Dohnes had a saddle and shoe making business in Ratzeburg,Schlewsig-Holstein, with a famous bridle clasp.

I’m inclined to think that Dohne used the name saddle maker because of the renowned clasp. Dohne’s Chapel has a Freemasons' sign prominently displayed (see photos below). I believe that the Berlin Missionary Society had an agenda beyond spreading Christianity in Africa. During the early 1800’s the Lutheran Church became a symbol of German nationalism and an organ of the State. It would be no surprise to me if the Freemasons were an extension of this and as a secret society, a political tool to establish more than mission stations in the new world. After all mission stations became towns and centres in Africa.



Berlin Mission Chapel, Stutterheim

The set square: a Freemasons' symbol
on the Berlin Mission Chapel, Stutterheim




















But whatever my thoughts on the subject, JL Dohne was a dedicated missionary and scholar who made significant contributions to understanding the Xhosa and Zulu peoples of South Africa. His translation work created the foundations for those who followed in his footsteps. JL never returned to Kassel-Hesse, but his farm Wartburg symbolized that for every man his home is his castle.

Dohne: Missionary Extraordinary



Part 2 of Andrew van Rensburg’s guest article on his famous ancestor.


DOHNE was primarily a missionary but his work extended far beyond the boundaries of conversions.  He was a lexicographer (art of compiling dictionaries) and philologist (study of languages in the historical sources), systematically starting the process of translating portions of the Bible into Xhosa and Zulu.  He was meticulous and shied away from expedient translations, in search of the complexities of word usage and meaning.

He compiled a detailed Zulu English dictionary (10 000 words, published 1857) and one critic remarked “It is not only the first dictionary of a South African tongue that can claim any approximation to completeness, but is also a living monument to the author’s industry, careful observation and unfaltering perseverance”. The dictionary was dedicated to Sir George Grey, to whose patronage the publication was largely due. The dictionary was regarded as a standard work for some considerable time and only by 1905 was it replaced by a more detailed work of AT Bryant.

He wrote educational books, rhymes and hymns in Xhosa for his students at Bethel. He identified the species of sourveld grass that was problematic for livestock. Dohne merino sheep (able to digest the sourveld better than other breeds) and the Dohne Agricultural Institute were named after him. His first publication was a Xhosa Catechism (1841). ‘Kaffraria and its inhabitants’ was published in 1843. Later in Natal he assisted with in-service training of new missionaries. He helped a local business as their paymaster. He was chairman of the Natal Missionary Committee. He conducted marriages of missionaries. He schooled new missionaries in Zulu. Dohne was moderator for the Berlin Mission Synod in Natal. He submitted testimony to the Natal Commission into Native Affairs – based on his knowledge of the people.

All in all he had a full and meaningful life, making a significant contribution to the inroads of Christianity into Kaffraria and translation work of the Bible. He was also a dedicated husband and father: Berthe Gohler (1839), Auguste Kembly (1845 - died, leaving him with two children) and finally Caroline Watermeyer and their nine children. The eldest of the nine children, Caroline Dohne (1848) married Joseph David Otto Sachse (my direct ancestors).

But if one looks at Wikipedia or other sources on JL Dohne there is very little about his childhood, early years and who the man Dohne actually was. When I read the much-quoted passage 'Dohne was a saddle maker who found his way to Berlin', it struck me as odd. Compounding this I found the reference 'tutored by Gossner' equally strange.

Jacob Ludwig Dohne was a brilliant linguist and academic, fluent in English in addition to his native tongue, German. He also studied Hebrew, Greek and Latin. In 1820's and 1830’s Germany it would have been highly unlikely that a saddle maker would have this level of educational grounding. Further to this, Gossner was a 'renegade' tutor in Berlin, focusing on poorly educated recruits, whom he schooled in the basics of the Bible, and shipped out to Australia. Gossner’s first ordained missionaries took place in 1837, the year after Dohne had left for South Africa. Also Dohne was unable to work with or process leather to make shoes whilst in Kaffraria, and in fact requested artisans to be sent out to teach the people. If he were a saddle maker, he would have had these basic skills.

To be continued …

Monday, January 28, 2013

Jacob Ludwig Dohne Part 1


Guest article in 3 parts by Andrew van Rensburg:

My great ancestor Jacob Ludwig Dohne was one of the first Berlin Missionary Society pioneer missionaries in Kaffraria (and Natal). He arrived in Cape Town 1836 (with Lange, Wuras and Kraut) and was initially allocated a post in Franschoek. This district fell under the jurisdiction of the Dutch minister of Paarl, and Dohne had difficulties with the issue of predestination - in conflict with his Lutheran teachings. Being of an independent spirit, Dohne responded to the call for missionaries in Kaffraria and unilaterally decided to join missionary Kayser in the Ciskei area. The directors of the Berlin Missionary Society however sanctioned the move, having already decided there was a need for missionaries in Kaffraria.

After a short period with Kayser, Dohne set off alone to start missionary work amongst the people of Gasela, in the Gonubie River area. Later Gasela relocated them to the Stutterheim area, where Dohne established his mission station Bethel (the home of El - old Hebrew name for God). It was an arduous period, alone amongst the Xhosa people. He had to build his own house and fend for himself. His first house collapsed due to poor construction (he was not from an artisan background).

Gasela, initially welcoming, soon viewed Dohne as a threat to his leadership and fuelled by superstition and cultural beliefs contrary to the new Christian faith, made life very difficult for the solo missionary.  Matters improved marginally with the arrival of superintendents Pehmoller and Schultheiss and his first wife, Berthe Gohler (1838). But tragedy struck when Berthe died during the birth of his son, who also died a few months later.


Challenges aside, Dohne made significant strides with baptisms and educational programs for Xhosa children and adults. Bethel also became a refuge for vulnerable women and Dohne taught (hands on) the local people methods of improved crop production. Missionaries Posselt, Leifeldt and Schmidt joined Dohne at Bethel in 1842, the year of the measles pandemic. Xhosa children approached Dohne to pray that they be spared from the epidemic. Christianity in Kaffraria was taking hold.


The seventh Frontier war intervened (1846) and the missionaries had to flee, first to the Moravian mission station Silo in Queensown and then to Bethanie in the Free State. Theophilus Shepstone invited them to come to Natal and establish mission stations and The Berlin Mission Society General Gerlach, agreed that inroads into Natal were necessary. Months passed while placement decisions relating the recent displacement of Zulus (due to conflict) were being debated. Dohne, again displaying his independent spirit, responded to the call for religious leadership amongst the Boer farming community of the Pietermaritzburg district. He filled the shoes of the Dutch minister rev. Daniel Lindley, creating conflict with the Berlin Missionary Society which resulted in his resignation. Director Wangemann wrote at the time “Our mission loses one of the most qualified and pleasant missionaries, and our Zulu mission suffered from the loss from the outset of an exceptional missionary”.

His intentions were to focus on the farmers’ Zulu workers but instead he spent much of his time preaching to the Dutch Reformed congregation and travelling to various centres around South Africa. Dohne declined the offer to become the Dutch minister and instead accepted the offer by the American Board of African Missionaries to set up a mission station at Tafelberg, near Pietermaritzburg. He completed his Zulu dictionary (by 1857), detailed and accompanied by copious illustrations.

Dohne once again accepted an offer to rejoin the Berlin Missionary Society (the American Board  did not have an alternative mission station location for him) and relocated to the Berea area north of Durban. Bible translation work continued sporadically in conjunction with missionaries such as Posselt. Dohne was used to working alone and differences of opinion soon surfaced, slowing the translation work down.

Dohne and his wife Caroline (Watermeyer) bought a farm which he named Wartburg. From here he went to Utrecht near Vryheid where he did mission work. From Utrecht he moved to Vermaakskraal, Biggarsberg (Dundee district) where he once again ministered to the Boer farming community.

Wangermann closed the chapter of this Berlin Missionary Society endeavour with “Dohne’s relationship with the Berlin Mission Society once again became more cordial. The oft proven brother in his commitment to both black and white, developed a flood of blessed co-operation., as a result of which we can only wish him the Lord’s mercy from the bottom of our hearts”.

Dohne died on his farm in the turbulent year 1879.

Fort where Dohne is said to have taken refuge during the Frontier War

To be continued ...