Franz Heinrich Ernst Siekmann
After deciding to migrate to South Australia in the 1850s, Ernst Siekmann became a very successful wheat buyer, land and commission agent, civic leader and mining director. He made a significant contribution to the development of the mid-North of SA.
Franz Heinrich Ernst Siekmann, commonly known as Ernst, was born in Bünde, District of Minden in Prussia on December 1, 1830. Raised and educated in the Prussian fortress town of Minden, Ernst undertook his apprenticeship with a firm of linen merchants before working in Bremen for the firm of Koch and Bergfeld, silversmiths. In 1853, he set sail from Bremerhaven to seek a new life in South Australia. After working at several jobs in Adelaide, which included establishing a grocery store in Rundle Street, he spent three years from 1856 to 1859 managing a large grocery business in Kooringa (Burra). With his earnings he purchased a store that had just been built in Saddleworth, then a tiny community in the mid-North wheat country. By dint of hard work and careful management he was able to establish a very profitable business as a merchant and wheat buyer, going into partnership with his brother-in-law John Moule. In 1863 he married Mary Brinkworth and had seven children, three boys (Francis, Frederick and Thomas) and four girls (Caroline, Franciska, Bertha and Ella). Bertha and Ella died in infancy at Saddleworth. At Saddleworth, Ernst was a pillar of the community: he subdivided the land for the development of the town, built the town’s first flour mill, supported the local school, institute and churches, lobbied for its roads and the railway through the town, organised and chaired political meetings, debates and local events, sang and acted at concerts and became Chairman of the District Council. Siekmann and Moule’s wheat store was an early hub of community life and political debate in the town.
In 1878, Ernst took his family to Caltowie, another fledgling community which had emerged as a new town in 1872. His business empire was so big that he opened branches in other mid-North towns and set up a head office for the firm of Siekmann and Moule in King William Street, Adelaide. Apart from setting up a new store in Caltowie, he built a wheat-handling facility (which included a short railway spur line from the Gladstone-Burra railway line which he lobbied hard for) and broadened his activities to include working as a J.P., a land and commission agent and auctioneer. Once again he threw himself into community life, and besides emulating his experience in Saddleworth, became involved in a range of new activities such as judging at agricultural shows and race meetings. When he was at his most prosperous in 1881, he and John Moule were forced into insolvency as a result of extending too much credit to local farms and businesses. The settling of his assigned estate took ten years, but he continued to operate at Caltowie as a wheat buyer, land agent and auctioneer. In 1890 he helped establish the Mount Minden Mining Company, which he directed. It held the leases at Iron Knob and began mining iron ore for use by the smelters at Port Pirie. A few years later, he and Mary moved to Adelaide to live. Mary died in 1894 at their home at Kent Town. By 1899, through a series of unfortunate events, the mining leases were taken over by Broken Hill Proprietary Company. Ernst sought in vain to regain the leases, but a parliamentary enquiry turned him down. He continued to take an active interest in mining, politics and farming until his death on June 27, 1917 of “senile decay”.
1 December 1830
27 June 1917
Place of Burial
North Road Cemetery, Nailsworth, Adelaide, SA, Australia
Brinkworth, Peter "From Westphalia to South Australia: The Story of Franz Heinrich Ernst Siekmann" 2nd Edition, Coromandel Valley, S.A.: P. Brinkworth, 2012 Franz Heinrich Ernst Siekmann: Summary Record, PRG 571, State Library of South Australia
Other Useful References
Brinkworth, Peter "Dear Sir: Letters to the Editor and other correspondence of Ernst Siekmann (1830-1917)" Coromandel Valley, S.A.: P. Brinkworth, 2011