KOITHAN, Friedrich Albert (1879-1973)
[MANUSCRIPT] Writing exercise book of Friedrich Albert Koithan, pupil at the German Lutheran School at Steinfeld in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, 1889-90 (and 1897).
Small square quarto, 205 x 170 mm, original cloth backed marbled papered boards (heavily worn and almost detached) with the owner’s manuscript title label in English to front ‘Exercise Book / Albert Koithan / Steinfeld, 9th October 1889’, containing approximately  ruled pages entirely filled with manuscript in ink, predominantly in German but with numerous sections in English, comprising dictation, written expression and formal letter writing exercises, bilingual vocabulary lists, pieces of religious instruction (such as Bible passages and a life of Martin Luther), and the lyrics to a number of spiritually and morally uplifting songs (these with delightful watercolour illustrations in the margins); the book was evidently later used by one of Albert’s younger sisters, Caroline, and contains numerous exercises written in her hand at the Bethanien (Bethany) Lutheran School during 1897; corrections and comments of the schoolmaster (or mistress) appear frequently in red; occasional marks and a tiny amount of silverfishing to the edges, but the entries are clear and legible throughout, and the book has survived intact.
This plain-looking exercise book is in fact a deeply fascinating artefact that opens a window onto the world of young German children growing up in tiny and strict Lutheran Barossa Valley communities in the late nineteenth century.
The small township of Steinfeld lies midway between Nuriootpa and Blanchetown in the north of the Barossa Valley. Like most of the Barossa, its origins are connected with the German Lutheran immigrants who settled this rich wine-growing and pastoral region from the 1840s on. Friedrich Albert Koithan was a member of a family that had emigrated from Lower Saxony, and although he was born in South Australia his mother tongue was German. The Steinfeld Lutheran congregation was established in 1882, and a Lutheran school – which young Albert attended – existed from the 1880s until 1917, when it was forcibly closed by the government during World War I.
Friedrich Albert, who was known as Albert or simply “Bert”, was born on 19 August 1879 in the tiny community of Stockwell, near Steinfeld. He was one of ten children of Johann Friedrich and Anna Eleonore Koithan, and had three brothers and six sisters. He married Anna Auguste Meta, and lived all his life in the Barossa. He died on April 12 1973, at the grand age of 93, and is buried in Tanunda.
Internal evidence in this exercise book indicates that the Koithan family moved to Turkey Flat, near Tanunda, at some point in 1890, where Albert and some of his siblings attended the Bethanien (Bethany) Lutheran school. Here is one particularly poignant extract, headed ‘Tanunda 7th August 1890’. It is a “letter” by Albert to one of his sisters, written just before his eleventh birthday:
‘My Dear sister! Pray forgive me for having struck you. I did it in the passion, without thinking, but now I feel it was very wrong and cowardly, and I am ashamed of my self. Forgive me my dear Sister, for indeed I do love you. Your affectionate brother, Albert.’