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The TOPPERWIEN Family History

Click here to view the TOPPERWIEN Family Tree,

Click here to view the FOX - TOPPERWIEN Family Tree,

The connection between the NEWMAN family and the TOPPERWIEN family was made when Dina NEWMAN married Eldon FOX whose mother was Ivy May TOPPERWIEN.

Some Topperwien Background History

The Topperwien family came from the Lanau in the Harz Mountains in eastern Germany where they had lived for many generations. Some years ago I was in correspondence with a member of this family, Annemarie Topperwien, who still lived in Germany although not in the same area as her ancestors. She sent me the following piece of writing which was written by her father-in-law, Heinrich Ernst August Topperwien (born 8th November 1892, Hertzberg, Germany - died 3rd October 1956, Solingen, Germany) who was the son of Heinrich Karl Topperwien and Friederike Soffker. Both men seem to have been known by their last forenames, August and Karl. The grandmother he speaks of would have been Dorothee Benhausen. Map showing the Harz Mountains where the Topperwien family lived for many generations.

Translated from the German by Anna Fuchs.

In the middle of the 17th century the iron ore industry in Lonau came to a standstill [the Thirty Year's War]. In 1667 things were set in motion again in Lonau. After 1732 the iron smelting industry centred more on Andreasberg. In 1766 the industry finally closed down at Lonau but the Lonau foundry (near Hertzberg) continued to function. It is the latter that must account for the description of Conrad Topperwien as "coal worker at the iron works" in 1809. In the village the only sources for making a living that remained were charcoal burning, timber felling, animal husbandry and arable farming on a subsistence level.. Toward the end of the last century coal mining and the railway almost completely destroyed the charcoal burning industry. Herman August Topperwien (1833-1892) [see Topperwien Family Tree] was the last of the family still to have been employed as a charcoal burner in his younger years, as from the last third of the last century the more able of the village youths sought their living and their fortune in increasing numbers in the wider world; this was also the case of Karl Topperwien (1861-1903).

Our ancestors have been iron workers, respectively charcoal burners, since the beginning of time, i.e. for about 300 years. My great-grandfather and my grandfather were charcoal burners. The tradition passed down leads to the conclusion that even our ancestors before these were charcoal burners rather than iron mine workers. Apart from this at least as long as they lived in Lonau, they were also small-scale peasants owning about half a dozen Morgen [about 0.9 acres] of fields and meadows. The work of looking after the land and the animals was largely left to the mother and the older children. The husband would only stay at home when it came to planting the potatoes, to mowing, to lifting the potatoes and to killing the pigs. Fr. Gunther in his book "Harz", 1910 gives an excellent description of the trade of charcoal burning.

"While the forestry workers will spend at least one night a week under the same roof as their families the charcoal burners will only see their village on very special occasions during the whole of the summer, half of the year, because the charcoal kilns will burn on Sundays as much as during the rest of the week. But once a week the charcoal burner's wife will be on her way with her wicker basket in order to bring bread, something to eat with the bread and other supplies to her husband. Since one master's charcoal clearing usually consists of four to six kilns that are kept working at any one time but are at different stages, one visit at one of the clearings will suffice to become acquainted with all the work of the charcoal burning industry! - Here we are watching the erection of a kiln: Two poles form the centre of a circular `coal area', round pieces of timber are placed around them almost vertically, layer by layer, in such a way that an air shaft is left between the poles right down to the ground and down on the ground there remains a horizontal air shaft. In another place assistants are busy covering a completed kiln construction about 3 meters in height with twigs and grass and also with a whole lot of earth and coal dust. Once the kiln is ready the charcoal burner (master) will set it alight by means of a folded-up, resin-filled piece of bark that he inserts, with the help a stick, through the air shaft into the pieces of wood in the middle of the kiln.

The construction of a charcoal kiln

Several kilns are already burning away. The one with the white-greyish smoke was lit only the day before yesterday, another one, blue on all sides, has reached the stage at which the charcoal is already `fermenting'. The control over the fire, `governance of the fire', is the charcoal burner's special skill. Quite frequently he has to re-route the wind shafts and create draft holes on the leeward side of the kilns. At other times he has to repair cracks in the kiln's covering as the fire keeps wanting to burn the coverings. For this purpose he uses a long pole or he will try to heal the cracks by means of covering them with pieces of turf. The charcoal burner cannot relax either day or night and - like the captain of a ship - he has to divide up the time into `watches'.

A charcoal kiln in the forest

It is a real pleasure to watch the filling up of the burning kilns in the evenings. You can see the sooty figures enveloped in smoke, by the light of the brightly burning glow of the coal, as they handle their material most vigorously on top of the kilns. For a whole week the kilns must be refilled with wood each day to the extent to which they have burnt down. The charcoal burner will lay his `steps' consisting of a thick, long log with carved-in footsteps against the kiln, he will climb up these `steps', will shovel away the covering from the sunk-in lid, will push down the coal with his long pole, will hammer in the wood that his assistants pass up to him, will then replace the lid protecting it with further coverings (of ashes and twigs and moss). All this has to be completed as quickly as possible, since the longer the kiln is allowed to burn away in the open the more of the coal will turn to ashes. When the coaling process is completed the kiln will turn into one glowing mass, a terrifyingly beautiful sight in the dark night.

The charcoal burner's hovel, his living quarters, is not unlike that of the forestry worker. Young spruce of the thickness of an arm are knocked into the ground forming a circular shape. They are bent at the top to make a conical shape and are covered with large pieces of bark on the outside, the gaps on the inside are plugged with moss. A low opening with a small overhang serves as both door and window; in the middle of this hovel a stone construction makes a fireplace and there are benches all around this standing close against the wall. Covered with pine twigs and moss these benches also make up the sleeping quarters, the master on the right, his assistants on the left and the boys somewhere in the background. Several small cupboards contain the eating provisions. In the evenings the tired workers will camp around the crackling fire whose smoke tries in vain to escape and they will prepare their beloved charcoal-burner's soup consisting of slices of bread, water, salt, pepper and butter; they will complete their meal with bread and sausage and a sip of brandy. After this they will make up the fire once more, close the door and soon it will only be the breathing of the sleepers that will intercept the silence and loneliness of the forest.

The `Hillebille' (alarm), a beech plank and a wooden hammer fixed between two trees, that in the old days used to serve the charcoal burner to assemble his comrades for meals from distant kilns and also as an alarm signal to gather all men of the same trade from considerable distances has not been in use for a long time.

The charcoal burner whose loneliness is usually shared by a shaggy dog is on the most friendly terms with the animals of the forest. The shy deer will play happily within his vicinity and the careful stag will trot through the smoke of the kiln without special concern."

The Topperwien House.
The oldest house known to have been inhabited in Lonau by a member of our family was the one directly on the left of the church, building No 75. It was still inhabited by Heinrich Christoph Topperwien (1752-1817). The third of the building facing the church was only added in the eighties of the last century. Ever since the days of Heinrich Christoph's son, Heinrich Conrad (1788-1871), our family has been living in `am Wasser', that is by the Lonau [River], house No 21. The author (of these extracts) spent almost all his holidays in that house until the death of his grandmother (1908), his Lonau playmates would, therefore, call him `water August' (as in fact his father had always been nicknamed `water Karl'.

Typical village houses in the Harz Mountains

He maintained the peasant style of the house, in inextinguishable memory; the back of the house (with sturdy settee, the simple blue food cupboard on the inside of the door of which the grandmother had noted important dates in chalk, with the table that contained a box for the preparation of cheese below its removable top); the living room in which he so often sat with the grandmother taking the evening meal by the light of the paraffin lamp and then listening to the hum of the spinning wheel and trying to get the laconic lady to talk about old times - and on one occasion, but on one occasion only, he got the hard, surly lady to sing a song from the time of her youth `In des garten dunkler Laube', the Sunday-room, in which the sun's rays would play all day long on the broad planks of the painted floor and on the strong polished surfaces of the ashen furniture and in which unending fascination was exercised by the clock case that contained grandfather's construction books and other rarities (new year's pistol, old knives, etc., etc.) by the old pictures of relatives above the sofa; the lumber room upstairs with the home made lute that belonged to a musical great-uncle who died young (Ernst Ludwig) and with grandfather's false teeth; the baking room in the adjoining bake-house into which the father when a boy would retire with his violin in order not to burden the grandmother with his `silly noise'; the attic below the boarded tiled roof which contained all sorts of old pots to collect the rain that seeped through in various places when the weather was wet (grandmother could not be persuaded to prevent the greatest part of the damage by having a few new tiles put on the roof), the deep vaulted cellar lit by two holes in the wall, the mice's abode (grandmother did not own a cat, probably because she resented having to give up some of the milk to the animal), access to which was by a completely dark, stone staircase without handrail and in whose entry there stood a dusty little bottle that father had filled with Easter Water from the Lonau some time in the sixties; the little garden on the slope between the house and the brook with its ancient, tempting pear tree and the wild hop whips; the village brook whose rushing noise would send the boy to sleep in the evening and wake him up in the morning; the steep, high meadow behind the house with its path from which the talented, adventurous great uncle, Heinrich Philipp, the joiner, waved for the last time when on his way to Osterode in order to set off on his big voyage to Australia from there, never to be seen again. Now the timber frame of the dear house that had been blackened by age has been covered with wood all around and has been painted and has acquired quite a different appearance.
August Topperwien

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The Heinrich Philipp mentioned in the last paragraph is the grandfather of Ivy May Topperwien and great grandfather of Eldon Fox. Annemarie Topperwien in Germany also wrote to me the following in 1995:- According to our family tree all news of him [Heinrich Philipp] ends after this point, but there is one wonderful Tobacco case on inlaid work made by him and respectfully given from father to son for the last 100 years. Until now we didn't know anything about this skilful craftsman. That there is a considerable family [in Australia] too we learned just now by your letter.

It would seem also from the mention in the above account of the handmade lute and the violin with its `silly noise' that the grandmother did not like, that there has always been an interest in and love of music in the Topperwien family. This has been carried on now in almost every branch of the Australian Topperwiens.

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