Moving tribute to German forebears

00:00, Nov 20 2012

Barry Brown is a man with a good understanding of the importance of a person knowing where they came from. For 30 years he has been helping New Zealanders whose forebears were German retrace their ancestry and organising trips back to Germany.

On Sunday it was his turn to pay tribute to his family. In a simple but poignant ceremony at the Ranzau Rd Lutheran Church in Hope he unveiled a memorial plaque in memory of the Lankow family who left Germany in 1844.

One of them was his great grandmother, Elisabeth, who was just 8 years old. She and other Lankows are now buried in unmarked graves in the church cemetery, the wooden crosses having been destroyed in a fire.

The plaque states: "In memory of Johann and Christine Lankow and their seven children who emigrated from Elmenhorst, Mecklenburg, Germany arriving in Nelson, September 1844 aboard the Skiold."

Johann Lankow was a blacksmith, who, like the other settlers, came with the dream of owning his own land.

It was a dream that became a reality as they built new homes in the Aniseed Valley, on the Waimea Plains and at Upper Moutere.


Mr Brown, who lives in Sanson in Manawatu, was pleased that more than 30 people gathered at Hope to acknowledge the pioneers' fortitude.

For him, it was an emotional moment. "If these people had not come to New Zealand, we would not be who we are today," he said.

In a reverse tribute to the Lankow family, a plaque was presented in September to the Elmenhorst church in Germany when a group of Lankow and other New Zealand German settler descendants visited.

The plaque, in the form of a plate, will be used to hold the wafers during communion.

Mr Brown, who learnt German at night classes after leaving school so that he could learn more of his origins, takes regular trips of eight New Zealanders to Germany to learn more about their ancestors.

He calls it a hobby, and it is one that has its rewards. "Over the years it has been very heartening working with these people and seeing a descendant say ‘wow! I'm standing where my great grandmother stood'. I never tire of it."

He will lead another tour next year, marking the 170th anniversary of the arrival of German settlers on board the St Pauli ship in Nelson.

The Nelson Mail