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Geographic Origins

The Kingdom of Denmark is in northern Europe. It consists of a peninsula in the North Sea and 482 nearby islands. The peninsula is bordered to the south by Germany. Greenland is a province of Denmark. The self-governing Faeroe Islands are part of the Danish kingdom. Denmark, along with Norway and Sweden, is part of the region known as Scandinavia.

History of Immigration and Settlement

It is thought that Danes were among the Scandinavians working in South Australian ports in the 1840s.

A notable Danish Australian botanist settled in South Australia in the 1840s. Ferdinand Jacob Heinrich von Muller was born in Germany of a German father and a Danish mother in 1825. After the death of his parents in 1833 von Muller was raised by his maternal relatives in Denmark. He obtained a doctorate in botany in 1846. In 1847 he came to Adelaide with his two sisters after being advised by a physician to settle in a warmer climate. He began working as a chemist and later bought 20 acres of land near Adelaide. In 1852 he was appointed as government botanist for Victoria. In 1861 the King of Wurttemberg honoured him by making him a baron for his services to botany.

Henry (Henrik) Hansen and his family settled in South Australia in the 1840s. Henry was born in Schleswig and probably migrated to Australia to escape the First Schleswig War between Denmark and Prussia in 1849. Henry was a Lutheran lay preacher. He was involved in synods of the Lutheran Church of South Australia and in building Adelaide churches. In 1859 the Hansen family moved to Melbourne.

Significant numbers of Danes came to Australia after the 1850s. They emigrated in search of land, to escape the Schleswig-Holstein wars between Denmark and Prussia and in the hope that they would find gold in the diggings of Victoria and New South Wales. Most immigrants came to Australia via Hamburg or English ports.

Jochim Matthias Wendt emigrated from Denmark in 1854 as a result of the Schleswig-Holstein wars. He was born of German descent in Dageling near Itzehoe in Schleswig-Holstein, Denmark, in 1830. Jochim was trained as a watchmaker, silversmith and jeweller. Soon after his arrival in Adelaide in 1854 Jochim opened his own business in Pirie Street. He was naturalised in 1855.

Jochim quickly gained a reputation as an outstanding craftsman. Within a few years he moved to a larger, more central shop in Rundle Street. His fame continued to spread. In 1861 and 1865 Jochim won prizes for his work in the Dunedin Exhibition in Scotland. In 1867 he made a number of silver caskets that were presented to the Duke of Edinburgh from the people of South Australia. The Duke placed an order for further work from Jochim and appointed him jeweller to his household. By this time Jochim employed 12 silversmiths and numerous watchmakers, jewellers and shop assistants.

In 1871 Jochim opened branches in Mount Gambier and Broken Hill. The following year he married Johanna Koeppen, a widow with four children. The couple later had another three children.

Jochim continued to win renown for his craftsmanship. He won two first prizes at the 1878 Paris Exhibition. He made presentation caskets from the people of South Australia for the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) upon the occasion of his marriage, and for HRH The Duke of Cornwall and York when he opened the first Federal Parliament in 1901. Jochim Matthias Wendt died in 1917. He was succeeded by his step-son Herman Koeppen Wendt. 

A number of Danes immigrated to Queensland and Tasmania between 1870 and 1900. Assisted passage schemes offered by these colonies attracted labourers, rural and industrial workers, and fishermen who wanted economic independence. Some Danes came to avoid military conscription. A few of these settlers later migrated from Queensland and Tasmania to South Australia. In 1881 there were 264 Danish South Australians.

The Norwegian scientist Knut Dahl recorded that a Dane called Oxell was one of the first five men to start digging for copper at Daly River in the Northern Territory in 1882. The Northern Territory was under South Australian jurisdiction from 1863 until 1911.

Peder Marie Jorgensen was another early Danish South Australian. He was born in Copenhagen in 1845. Jorgensen was working in Gawler as a chemist when he heard Father Julian Wood’s lecture about Port Lincoln at the Gawler Institute. He was inspired by the lecture and began his preparations for the priesthood at Sevenhill near Clare. Father Jorgensen was appointed priest to the Catholic community of Port Lincoln in 1895 and served as Port Lincoln’s priest until his death in 1916.

In 1911 there were 274 Danish-born South Australians. In that year the state offered assisted passages to potential Danish immigrants. But this was a time of declining emigration from Scandinavian countries, and few Danes took the opportunity to resettle.

A small number of Danes immigrated to South Australia for economic reasons after the First World War. Many of them became involved in the state’s dairy industry. In 1920 Messrs M. Pedersen and B A Kroumark bought 4,000 acres of land at Myponga and were pioneers of that district. The Great Depression forced them to sell all but 600 acres of their land. Mr Pedersen later became a director of the Myponga Co-operative Dairying Society. By 1921 there were 308 Danish South Australians.

In 1930 the South Australian Farmer’s Co-operative Union brought Mr A.L.V. Hansen out from Denmark to produce the first South Australian-made continental cheeses. Mr Hansen joined the Myponga Co-operative Dairying Society in 1937 as manager and remained with the society until his retirement in 1969. Many other Danes were brought out because of their expertise, particularly in cheese and bacon preparation.

Christen Hansen’s laboratory was established at Walkerville in 1935. The laboratory used a technique that had been developed in Denmark to commercially produce rennet, an animal by-product that is used to separate milk and thicken cheese. Previously, all rennet had to be imported to Australia. The laboratory soon became a leading exporter. The laboratory has now ceased its operations in South Australia.

By 1947 the number of Danish South Australians had dropped to 143. However, a significant number of Danes resettled in South Australia after the General Assisted Passage Scheme was extended to Scandinavian immigrants in that year. These migrants were attracted to Australia by its post-war economic boom. Many of them worked as carpenters, painters, laboratory technicians or in the dairy industry. In 1961 there were 629 Danish South Australians.

In 1966 the Australian Government introduced a Special Passage Assistance Program in response to the decline of European immigration. Approximately 50 Danish immigrants arrived in South Australia under this program in the mid-1970s. Most of these people were economic migrants. 

Danish immigrants have continued to settle in South Australia. They are employed in a range of occupations and have mainly settled throughout the metropolitan area.

Community Activities

Many Danish South Australians belong to the Scandinavian Association of South Australia. For further information see the Scandinavian entry.

Fastelavn, Danish National Day, Saint Hansaften, an annual Winter Ball, the Scandinavian Festival and Mortensaften are the main cultural days celebrated by Danish South Australians.

Fastelavn is a carnival celebration which takes place before Lent, the season of fasting leading up to Easter. A picnic is usually held to mark the event. Traditional games played at this event include the Danish medieval ‘cat-in-a-barrel’. To play this game a toy cat, lollies and fruit are placed in a barrel, which is then put in the branches of a tree. The first competitor to knock the cat from the barrel is hailed as that year’s Kattekonge, King of the Cats.

Danish National Day is also known as Grundlovsdag, Constitution Day. Its celebrations on June 5 commemorate the end of absolute monarchy in Denmark and the giving of the Constitution, Grundloven, in 1849. The Scandinavian Association of South Australia usually holds a combined celebration for Danish and Swedish National Days, as Swedish National Day falls on 6 June. The event is marked with speeches on historical themes, the singing of national songs and a communal meal including dishes such as Danish open sandwiches.

Saint Hansaften, Saint John the Baptist Eve, is celebrated on 23 June. The Swedish festival of Midsummers Day also falls on this day which roughly coincides with the June solstice in the northern hemisphere. Since pre-Christian times it has been celebrated with bonfires to keep away evil spirits. The night is said to have magical powers which in turn bring out these evil spirits. In South Australia the evening is celebrated with a bonfire, singing and dancing. The Scandinavian Association of South Australia also celebrates the evening in this way.

Mortensaften, Saint Martin’s Eve, is celebrated on the eve of 11 November. It commemorates a Danish medieval cleric who was reluctant to become a bishop. When it was decided that this honour was to be bestowed upon him, he took flight and hid in a goose pen. The honking of the birds alerted his pursuers, who caught him and made him bishop despite his protestations. The new bishop decreed that on the anniversary of his capture all Danish people should eat a goose dinner in his memory! This event is celebrated with suitable poultry at the Scandinavian Association of South Australia.

Danish South Australians celebrate Christmas on 24 December. The Scandinavian Association of South Australia celebrates Lillejulaften as close to Christmas Eve as possible with a large feast, singing of carols and dancing around the Christmas tree.

Organisations and Media

  • Scandinavian Association of South Australia Inc.: publishes Vikingen, a monthly newsletter
  • 5 EBI-FM Danish Radio Program

Statistics

According to the 1981 census there were 680 Danish South Australians.

The 1986 census recorded 695 Danish South Australians. 2,055 people said that they were of Danish descent.

The 1991 census recorded 731 Danish-born South Australians. 1,005 people said that their mothers were born in Denmark, and 1,314 that their fathers were.

According to the 1996 census there were 675 Danish-born South Australians, and a second generation of 809.

The 2001 census recorded 631 Danish-born South Australians, while 2,293 people stated they were of Danish descent.

The 2006 census recorded 610 Danish-born South Australians, while 2,891 people said that they were of Danish descent.

The 2011 census recorded 558 Danish-born South Australians, while 3,016 people said that they were of Danish descent.

The 2016 census recorded 542 Danish-born South Australians, while 3,202 people said that they were of Danish descent.
 

By Migration Museum

This article is part of the From Many Places project documenting the diverse cultural groups in South Australia. It is a project started by the Migration Museum in 1992 and continued in partnership today. 

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