I described the interesting and unusual origin of the house at 121 Dornoch Terrace in a previous post, The Mistresses’ House .
Pastor Otto Theile
The Lutheran Church purchased the house in 1923. Pastor Otto Theile and his wife Leonora took up residence in the same year. The house was renamed “Lutmis”, an abbreviation of “Lutheran Mission”.
Friedrich Otto Theile was born in 1880 at Summerfield (originally Summerfeldt) in South Australia. His father was Friedrich Carl Theile, a blacksmith, and his mother Christiane Ernestine Riedel. At the age of 17 he decided to become a Lutheran pastor and travelled to a seminary at Neuendettelsau in Bavaria for his education. At the time there was no Lutheran seminary in Australia.
Theile had wanted to become a missionary but instead was sent to the parish of Bethania, to the south of Brisbane, where he remained for some 22 years. This parish, originally called Bethanien, had been established in 1864 by German immigrants mainly from Brandenburg.
Here he met and married Leonora Schmidt in 1906. She was also born in 1880, in Bundaberg. Two children followed shortly after.
Missions run from “Lutmis”
His opportunity to become involved in missionary work arose as a result of World War One. With New Guinea cut off from Germany, Theile took over running the missions in 1914. After the war, what was previously the German colony of New Guinea became an Australian administered League of Nations Mandated Territory.
After spending 7 months in New Guinea in 1922, the following year Theile took up the role of “Director of Australian and American Missions, New Guinea” based in the Highgate Hill house “Lutmis”. He had to juggle carefully the relationships between stakeholders in Germany, the USA and Australia. He made further trips to New Guinea over the years as part of this role, staying around 6 months on each occasion.
In 1936 Theile travelled to Europe on church business. There he unsuccessfully and naively sought a meeting with Adolf Hitler to determine if Germany planned to regain its Pacific colonies. At the time, the Australian Administration had placed restrictions on German missionaries travelling to New Guinea, hampering church activities. He did manage to speak to some lower level officials whose opinion was that the Third Reich had no interest in the old Pacific colonies.
Theile interned and released
In Australia, there was general suspicion of many Lutherans as they had continued to use the German language and exhibited what was seen as German nationalistic tendencies. After the outbreak of World War Two, “Lutmis” was raided and private correspondence collected revealed damaging pro-German attitudes and criticism of Britain.
Theile was interned at Gaythorne in October 1941. He objected and the Advisory Committee recommended his release, which occurred in January 1942. The main charge against him was that he knew of strengthening Nazi influence in the mission at Finschafen and had failed to advise Commonwealth authorities of this. In 1921, he had given an undertaking to the then Prime Minister Billy Hughes that the missions would not be centres of propaganda.
It emerged that he had advised the Australian Administrator of New Guinea of the issue in 1939. Also it was thought that the impact of continued internment of a prominent Lutheran pastor, who in reality had little sympathy for the Nazi regime, would have a detrimental effect on the loyalty of all Queensland Lutherans. He was also supported by the character evidence of Anglican Canon Needham, Chairman of the Australian Board of Missions.
Otto Theile’s last years
Later in that year, there were newspaper reports of German missionaries in New Guinea assisting the Japanese forces.
George Henry Johnston, author of ‘My Brother Jack’, wrote a book called “New Guinea Diary” in 1943 based on his experiences as a war correspondent . In this book he also made claims about the disloyalty of Lutheran missionaries. Whilst the publishers issued an apology in 1945, all this took a strain on Theile, who also suffered from diabetes.
Otto Theile passed away later in 1945 aged 65. Leonora survived him for 21 years and died aged 85.
The house since 1951
The house was sold by the Lutheran Church in 1951 and in the following year was approved for multi-dwelling. It passed through numerous hands over the following decades. Aerial photographs show that the distinctive rooftop belvedere feature disappeared some time between 1946 and 1960.
Only one subsequent owner appears to have left his mark with occasional newspaper references including the theft of postal notes when working as a postal deliverer, being sued for misrepresenting the turnover of a business he was selling when working as a real estate agent and constructing a building on the Gold Coast without Council approval.
Restoration work on the house was done a number of years ago, and at the time of this update (December 2019) some further work has been done to prepare the house for sale.
The interior has attractive original plaster ceilings, woodwork and stained glass.
Passers-by certainly admire the unusual design of the house, but few would be aware of its interesting past.
The house appears on the Brisbane City Council Heritage Register though its interesting history appears to have been unknown at the time of the listing.
Otto Theile’s book can be read online using this link :
I’m indebted to Christine Winter for the information I found in her interesting discussion of Otto Theile and the inter-war period that can be found here:
The Year book of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission in New Guinea 1926 gives further background information.