The Harz

Old Mine Buildings Lautenthal
The Harz Mountains are situated in central Germany between the Elbe and Leine Rivers, about 200 kilometres south-west of Berlin. The plateau is about 600 to 700 metres hight with higher peaks rising over 1100 metres high. The upper Harz area was first mined for iron in the 12th century by miners from Goslar. At that time it was a region covered by the forest of the German Emperors and became the hunting grounds of the princes and earls. Goslar became prosperous under the protection of the Emperor and became the preferred residence of the German Emperors.

The Harz Mountains were inhospitable and did not encourage settlement. The winter climate was harsh and snow covered the ground for many months. In the 13th century the Cella monastery was founded by the Benedictines in the Upper Harz and existed for just over two hundred years. The fields around the monastery gave rise to the name Zellerfield and are now the site of the twin towns of Clausthal – Zellerfield (Cella-field).

Early mining was restricted to veins near the surface. Mines were often flooded by water and new locations had to found. Mining was bought to a standstill in 1349 when the Black Death killed almost a quarter of the population. A lot of miners and their families sought refuge in the mines and ultimately died there.
Winter in the Harz Mountains

Mining was revived in 1521 when Duke Henry the Younger took up mining. He was responsible for the first mining laws. Ores found in the Upper Harz include iron, silver, lead, copper and arsenic. To encourage miners it was necessary to offer them privileges. A miner had the right to cut his own wood to build his own house. He also had the right to brew, bake or render any other service. Mining was a dangerous occupation and families were always aware that their men might not return home. Before commencing work they were required to attend a chapel service at about 4 or 5am.

Coins minted during Napoleons time in the Harz

Following the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Protestantism became popular in the northern regions of Europe while most people in the south remained Catholic. This division contributed to a series of wars that ended with the Thirty Years War in which most of Europe was involved. Zellerfield was partly destroyed by Count Tilly’s troops in 1626. French troops invaded the Harz during the Seven Years War in 1756 which bough misery and destruction to the Harz. After the French Revolution, Napoleon again over ran the Harz in 1807. Because England had stopped the exportation of lead, the Harz miners became the lead supplier of Napoleon’s army. Mining came under his special protection and the miners were prosperous. War service was suspended for miners and foundry workers. Others fled and joined the German-English legions. Eventually Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815. With the end of the Napoleonic wars large quantities of lead from Spain and England appeared on the market and the price of lead dropped to about one quater to what it had been. The mines of the Upper Harz could no longer support the growing population. In 1825-26 there was much emigration to Brazil and Mexico.

By the 1840s only one member of each family was allowed to work in the mines or foundries. When the potato harvest failed many wished to emigrate. The preferred destination was the United States but some ventured to South Australia. The first miners from the Harz were bought out by the South Australian Company on the Coromandel, arriving in January 1837 when four miners accompanied Professor Menge, a geologist from Hanover. In 1846 Mr E Henkel, who had been a mining captain in the Harz, emigrated to Glen Osmond with 16 to 20 miners, to work the Wheal Gawler Mine. Heinrich Nagel was among this group of miners who sailed on the Heerjeebhoy Rustomjee Patell from Bremerhaven. Between 1848 and 1854, 1100 people left Hanover for South Australia. The Hanoverian Government agreed to pay the fares for these people and to provide them with between £1 and £2 in ready cash on their arrival. Heinrich’s brother Ernst Nagel was among the miners from Lautenthal to emigrate to SA with his family in 1848.
Clausthal - Zellerfield

The first mines of the Upper Harz continued to produce lead and silver but by the beginning of the 20th century they were closed. Mines produced few profits after The First World War despite modern methods being adopted. Mining ceased in 1957 and by 1968 the foundries at Clausthal and Lautenthal were shut down and demolished.

The Upper Harz is now the Naturpark Harz and has become a holiday area both for skiing and snow winter snow sports. Extensive reafforestation has largely restored this area to its natural beauty.

From The Nagel Family of the Harz and Australia by Shirley Kalisch 1993 ISBN 0 646 14288 7  Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide SA 5000