Queensland’s German Connections – Dr Ernst Wuth

Born in 1833 in Hannover, Ernst Magnus Wuth graduated from the University of Giessen in Hessen, and responded to an advertisement in the Weser-Zeitung offering free passage for a working ship’s doctor on an imminent voyage to the fifth continent. So Wuth joined the 37.6m (123ft) barque Solon in Bremen, sailed from there on 15 December 1858, and worked an eventful passage, electing to disembark at Moreton Bay.

Realising that staying in Brisbane would be too costly, and besides, there were already too many doctors there, Dr Wuth ventured onto the Darling Downs to a little town of Dalby on a borrowed horse and with nothing in his pockets. After six months he had paid his credit, which was very high because of the rent he had to pay. He lived very poorly, never wasting money for brandy or other things, but using every penny earned during this time to pay off his debts. His credibility was so good that he could buy a new house in one of the better parts of the city for 312 Pounds Sterling. He arranged the purchase that way, so that he had to pay the whole amount within two years, every 6 months a quarter of the price. 

But in the meantime, he had made some other speculations. He bought 80 acres farmland partly in the city, partly outside. He also bought 1⁄2 acre land for £6, and sold the same three months later to one of his handymen for £18. Also, if he had nothing to do in his practice Dr Wuth would ride to the auctions and buy wild horses, which he rode himself till they were good riding horses and then he’d sell them for double the amount. 

Some of his observations at that time reveal an independent, at times feisty, personality which speaks volumes about this quick-thinker and the challenges and attitudes of the time: 

On Aborigines:

‘The Aboriginals (sic) are friendly people as long as we are peaceful towards them. Once I got lost in the bush for five days and I did not see one Aboriginal (sic) – and how much I wished I had found one, for they are good hunters and know how to survive in the bush. 

‘My only food was ‘Blakmussels’, as you know them at home. If you see Aboriginals (sic) you only see them in groups. Sometimes they arrive or come to our city to do little jobs for a glass of brandy or tobacco. I am known amongst them like a brother because my practice takes in patients from a distance as far as 100 miles. They never stay in one place for a long time, they don’t want to try. 

On Work Ethics:

‘If one is healthy, has an iron will and determination and is not afraid of the devil (it is not necessary to be a devil oneself) one can make as much money in one day as you can make it in Germany in one week.  One can do what one likes, as long as one has the above-mentioned qualities, then it will be enough to get lucky in Australia. Free travel is gladly arranged through the Gentlemen Heussler and Francksen. Every newcomer to our new Colony (Queensland) as from the 1st of January receives £2. 

On Marriage:

‘Generally speaking, getting married is not good in this country, because they do not import the right kind of women; besides, women drink here like the plague. To marry an English woman is only wise if she has three times as much money as oneself, because she is spending three times more than a German woman. If I encounter such an opportunity, I will think about marriage, but these chances are rare – very very rare – and because of this it is perhaps better to wait until somebody right arrives from Germany.’

In spite of his previous comments about marriage, Dr Wuth married Eliza Watson (of Greek birth, incidentally) in November 1861 at Dalby. They had seven children. 

Dr. Wuth’s medical practice was interrupted when the new Medical Board of Queensland declined to recognise his qualification, which had not been endorsed by local registration. After a two-year hiatus, formal recognition of his German degree by the University of Melbourne confirmed his practice in Queensland, and he worked in Springsure, Tambo and Townsville. 

The Wuths selected land at Springsure in 1868 where he worked at Springsure Hospital.

Eliza collected MEL specimens at Springsure Mountains. Her husband also collected MEL specimens, including the type of Tetracera wuthiana F.Muell. (1876), named for him. (MEL is the Herbariorum code of the National Herbarium of Victoria)

The original Springsure Hospital (now its museum)

Eliza and her husband seem to have become estranged, and he disappears from records after resigning as resident surgeon of the Townsville Hospital in 1882. 

While overseas in December 1885, Dr Wuth died in a Philadelphia hospital, apparently after a very, very big night out. His death certificate from Philadelphia indicates opium poisoning. Opium addiction was not uncommon for Doctors of that era.

Eliza and her children remained in Springsure, and she died in 1925 aged 84.

(Extracted from ‘Queensland’s German Connections’)