Hill End's Malcolm is happy to challenge the Holtermann history

HISTORY'S PAGE: Daphne and Malcolm Drinkwater, of the History Hill museum, have been preparing for the release of a new book. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK 120617chgold1
HISTORY'S PAGE: Daphne and Malcolm Drinkwater, of the History Hill museum, have been preparing for the release of a new book. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK 120617chgold1

THEY couldn’t even get the name right.

That’s what Hill End historian Malcolm Drinkwater says about much of the material published about the 19th century gold, photography and business identity Bernard Holtermann.

As Mr Drinkwater publishes his re-examination of Holtermann’s life, he says myths need to be busted, preconceptions set aside and assumed facts peered at from another angle.

And just as important, he says, is for Australians to be reminded of just how much Holtermann, best known for financing the photographs that captured life in Hill End during the gold rush, managed to pack into his 47 years.

“How anyone could fit into his short life what he did was hard to believe,” he said.

Mr Drinkwater said he was convinced to update his book The German-Australian Called Holtermann - which he published in 1985, the year of the Holtermann Centenary Festival in Hill End – by members of the Holtermann family.

“Malcolm was the first to say anything positive about the poor bugger,” Holtermann’s great-grandson John Holterman (the family dropped the second ‘N’ off as a result of German unpopularity during the Second World War) writes in the forward to this new edition of the book.

“Poor Holtermann had been pulled apart, lampooned by every man and his dog by anyone who wanted to sell a book.”

Using the family members’ memories, historical documents and his own research, Mr Drinkwater set about taking a fresh look at a complicated life.

“But every question we tried to get answered, it opened up another six,” he said.

It began with the name.

“His family spells Bernard; he spelt it Bernard; when he was personally involved or anyone of his family assisted it was spelt Bernard,” Mr Drinkwater writes in the introduction to the book.

“However, the doctor signing the death certificate signed it Bernhardt and ever since most outsiders did the same, including the Mitchell Library.

“My money is on the ones who named him and the registered birth of Bernard.”

Mr Drinkwater also provides evidence to disprove the idea that Holtermann was about to go bankrupt when he died in 1885 in Sydney and challenges the idea that the businessman’s famous “life-preserving drops” were simply snake oil.

“It is a big misconception that the drops did not work,” he said.

As well, he looks again at the relationship between Holtermann and his fellow prospector Ludwig Hugo 'Louis' Beyers, famous for their association with the largest gold specimen ever found.

A big misconception that the drops did not work.

Mr Drinkwater said Holtermann remains an underrated but important figure.

“I have tried to get inside the mind of Holtermann and use reason for action and cause to predict his way of life,” he writes in his summary to the book.

“I am happy with my analysis and so are others who were sceptical from the start.”

The new version of the German-Australian Called Holtermann is available from Malcolm Drinkwater’s History Hill museum and website and from the Bathurst Visitor Information Centre.

History Hill is open to the public 10am to 4pm all school holidays and every weekend.