The Pastor’s House

I described the interesting and unusual origin of the house at 121 Dornoch Terrace in a previous post, The Mistress’s House.

Litmus verdun 3

121 Dornoch Terrace, Highgate Hill, previously known as “Verdun” and “Lutmis”. (P. Granville)

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”.

Otto Theile Lutmis Highgate Hill

Brisbane Courier Monday 23rd April 1923. (TROVE)

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.

german settlers Bethania 1872

German immigrants on their farm at Bethania, 1872. (State Library of Queensland)

Here he met and married Leonora Schmidt in 1906. She was also born in 1880, in Bundaberg. Two children followed shortly after.

bethania lutheran church

Otto Theile was Pastor at the Bethania Lutheran Church for around 22 years. The church was built in 1872. (P. Granville)

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.

Lutmis Dornoch terrace

Photo from Theile’s 1938 book “One hundred years of the Lutheran Church in Queensland ” (National Library of Australia).

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.

missionary flierl

One of the missions administered by Otto Theile was run by Johann Flierl who spent some 44 years in New Guinea. ‘Year book of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission in New Guinea 1926’ .National Library of Australia).

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.

F Otto Theile

Pastor F. Otto Theile Taken from his 1938 book “One hundred years of the Lutheran Church in Queensland ” (National Library of Australia).

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.

Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947), Saturday 27 January 19

The Telegraph (Brisbane) 24th January 1945. (TROVE)

Otto Theile passed away later in 1945 aged 65. Leonora survived him for 21 years and died aged 85.

Theile grave blog

The Theile’s resting place in South Brisbane Cemetery. (P. Granville)

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. The house still had its original appearance complete with the distinctive rooftop belvedere in 1954.

lutmis_May 1954 qut

Verdun/Lutmis in 1954. (Jack Bain collection, QUT)

By the early 1970s, it had gone, the bay window had disappeared and the veranda enclosed.

lutmis ca 1973

Lutmis ca. 1973.

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.

121 Dornoch Terrace Highgate Hill

121 Dornoch Terrace, Highgate Hill in 2019. (P. Granville)

In 1949, the City Council took over running the Dornoch Terrace bus service and the terminus was located near the house. A toilet facility for bus drivers was still in existence under the house at the time of writing this blog. For more information, please see my post Omnibus Families of the Southside .

lutmis toilet

The toilet for drivers of the number 29 bus located under Litmus. (C. Filmalter)

The 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.

Further Reading:

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 :

One hundred years of the Lutheran Church in Queensland by F. Otto Theile

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:

Interwar transformation of German-Australian identity: the case of Queensland pastor Friedrich Otto Theile, 2012

The Year book of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission in New Guinea 1926 gives further background information.

© P. Granville 2019 – 2021

8 thoughts on “The Pastor’s House

  1. Pingback: John Sankey and Sankey Street | Highgate Hill and Its History

  2. Pingback: The Mistresses’ House | Highgate Hill and Its History

    • I really enjoyed reading about the historical value of this beautiful home. I happened to pass the hiuse, which is presently being painted and have interior renovations to begin. Being a aficionado of gorgeous architecture, i stopped to chat with the painters who are taking it back to the original colour pallette, that of 1914, Queen Anne. And then Cheryl who was on the veranda gave me the scoop that they are already insitu and will begin the interior reno post painters. They are also going to rebuild the Belvedere.


  3. Hi
    I ‘ve just purchased “Lutmis ” and am so greatful for the information in your blog. Wondering have you come across any other photos of the house in your research? I’m interested in replacing the belvedere but cannot find a good photo.


    • Hi Cheryl congratulations on purchasing such a fascinating house. Unfortunately the best photo is the one you can see on the blog. However you could get a better definition copy by downloading a larger sized version from the State Library website. You could also possibly ask them to do a scan of just that part of the photo.

      The other missing feature of the house is the front bay window which has been turned into a balcony. If you’re interested I can show you the historic titles I obtained doing the research. I also have several photos obtained from SLQ when they still copied from negatives.

      We live just across the road.

      You can contact me at



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