[The following article appeared in the Mitteilungsblatt of the AGFHS.]
Pastor Wachsel - Friend of Immigrants
by Peter Kraushaar, member 638
Dr Gustav Anton Wachsel and the immigrants he helped and befriended
Much is known about St George's German Lutheran Church, Alie Street, Goodman's Fields, East London, and Dr Wachsel, the first pastor from 1763 to 1799, is often mentioned.
In 'Some Facts about St George's' which appeared in Mitteilungsblatt 45, it was related how Pastor Wachsel was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Göttingen because of the the help he gave to refugees escaping from the war-torn German provinces. A leaflet given to visitors to the church some years ago included the information that the father of the first pastor had been a teacher in Frisia and had lost his life during military action in 1761 by 'the French invaders'. Gustav had been honoured by Göttingen in 1765. This would have been just after the end of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).
Amanda Price's translation of the sermon given at the Final Service at St George's (see Mitteilungsblatt 44) tells us more of the suffering of the refugees escaping from the ravages of this war and their impression of the London of 1764, with the new church, which had been consecrated only the year before.
Reading these articles revived my interest in writing to the University of Göttingen to enquire about the background to Pastor Wachsel's early activities. Pastor Wachsel was born about 1735, seven years before my immigrant ancestor.
Firstly, since Wachsel was in London by 1762/3, did he make the hazardous journey from London to Göttingen in 1765 to receive this honour?
Secondly, was my Lutheran ancestor among those assisted in Germany by Gustav Wachsel?
There was a small group of families whose names, in various combinations, repeatedly appeared from 1763 as godparents to each other's children in baptism records or as witnesses at marriages in London churches. Some became related by marriage, but was there another bond from earlier days?
Among the name combinations were:
FESENMEYER, RUPERSBERGER, NINAU, KRAUSHAAR, MUELLER (Johann Andreus), and WACHSEL (from Halberstadt).
Dr Sylvia Möhle of Göttingen, member 1958, kindly provided the address of Dr Ulrich Hunger, the archivist at the University. A reply to my enquiry was promptly received, enclosing photocopied texts of letters in German, exchanged between the 'Committee' in London, 12 March 1765, and the appropriate authority in Hannover, 15 April. Amanda Price kindly accepted the challenge to translate these texts from the old German handwritten script, inevitably quite faint in the photocopies, and in parts apparently illegible.
From the following translation one can see that Göttingen had readily assented by letter to the proposal of the 'Committee' (which included Dedirick Beckman, Gustav's relative and founder of St George's), obviating the necessity for Wachsel to make the journey to Germany.
No records of those who became Wachsel's associates in London were found in Göttingen.
Tracing 'articles in the London newspapers' about the plight of the immigrants, as mentioned in the Committee's letter, presents a challenge, but possibly the publicity in question appeared in journals local to the vicinity of the churches, and beyond the eastern gates of the City.
Letter from The Committee:
Your Magnificence, the Right Reverend Very Learned Gentleman
We hope that Your Magnificence, the Right Reverend Gentleman, will have no objection if we engage ourselves of the freedom to turn to you in order to procure a token of our gratitude and respect for a man of worthy merit.
Your Magnificence, the Right Reverend Gentleman, will without doubt have heard not only of the misery, but also of the help rendered unto a considerable number of German emigrants during the last few months; likewise the information will also have surely reached you that these people owe their salvation to the intercession and zealous endeavours of a certain worthy minister of the cloth at the St George's Church here in London.
The merit deserving of this man and his concern for his fellow Christians and landsmen is not limited to his intercessions alone, however, before anyone else was moved to pity. It was he who provided not only for their physical needs but also for their spiritual, to the best of his ability. He accommodated, exhorted, taught and consoled these people and on their behalf, inserted articles about their plight in the London newspapers. These left a deep impression on the population who strove to help. It was therefore Herr Wachsel who had the good fortune and pleasure to be the major instigator in the alleviation of their misery.
ln order to allocate the money thus collected, a committee has been established on which we have had the honour to serve. After concerning ourselves initially with the affairs of the individual emigrants, we now consider ourselves obliged to provide a due, superior token of our respect to this aforementioned minister, Gustav Anton Wachsel, for his endeavours and service. Not merely has he saved many destitute German families of all creeds from financial hardship and misery but he has also made them available to the Realm of Great Britain as colonists of great skill and usefulness. He received as a result the most gracious communications from His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the highly esteemed University of Cambridge. We above all, however, as the most responsible and patriotic, know how much he has achieved and therefore wish to bestow upon him a thankful and resounding mark of our national pride; and as we also know that he is too self-effacing to accept any recompense for his great work and expenses incurred, we decided to make a most respectful request to Your Magnificence, the Right Reverend that the highly esteemed University of Göttingen grant Herr Gustav Anton Wachsel an Honorary Doctorate in the Holy Scripts and Divinity. We would request Your Magnificence to communicate with us personally, as we, with the greatest of pleasure, will deal with all the formalities and bear all the costs arising here.
We therefore request Your Magnificence, the Right Reverend Very Learned Gentleman that he might inform us of his thoughts on this matter and direct any communication to Mr John Christopher Haberkorn, Printer in Grafton Street, Soho, London. We humbly await your reply which we hope will be in the affirmative.
With the greatest esteem we sign ourselves
Johann Christoph Haberkorn
12 March 1765
Reply from the University of Göttingen (at the Faculty of Theology):
With reference to your gracious reports, noble, honourable, good and esteemed friends!
... We received your communication in which you, as representatives of the Committee of Emigrants in London, request that the honour of Doctor of Theology be bestowed upon Minister Wachsel.
As we have heard that Minister Wachsel has earned great respect, honour and esteem in this matter, we would like to leave the decision to your discretion. We look forward to further favourable communications in the future.
Hannover, the 15 April 1765. Royal ... in the Kurfürst ... ... government, official, befreiter Rädste.
... = words not legible enough to translate