Carl A. A. Schwaebsch, known to his family as Adolph, was a Northcote councillor from 1911-1917. He belonged to a pioneering Northcote family and was one of seven Schwaebsch boys traditionally named Carl. His grandfather Carl Augustus (known as Auguste), brought the family out in 1849 from Zuellichau in Prussia (now part of Poland). The patriarch christened three of his sons Carl so each became known by their middle name, Heinrich, Theodore and Robert. Theodore was Adolph’s father. His mother, Jane Bendall was born in Somerset, England. Her family arrived in Australia in 1855 by which time the Schwaebsch and a handful of other German families, had already settled in Northcote. Theodore and Jane Bendall married in 1864 and started their family a year later with Adolph.
The Schwaebsch children attended the Northcote State School where, in 1885 C. Schwaebsch is listed as a recipient of the General Improvement Prize in the Lower Fifth Class. Adolph was a keen cyclist and as an adult wrote a regular cycling column for the local Hurstbridge Advertiser. He became a member of the Victorian Amateur Cyclists’ Union and was considered a “great cycling authority” who gave popular lectures on the subject to hobbyists and sporting enthusiasts. In April 1897 Adolph Schwaebsch cycled with a group from Myrtleford to Melbourne. The cyclists reported the ride as laborious and hard going but commented that the magnificent alpine scenery repaid them for their efforts. Among the group was one woman, Ellen Schwaebsch, wife of Adolph. This lady became the first woman to cycle across the Alps.
Adolph married twice, first to Ellen Cadby from Birmingham with whom he settled in the St Kilda/Brighton area of Melbourne. The couple had three daughters; Alice, Millie and Carla but the marriage ended too soon with Ellen’s death in 1901. A year later the widower married a second time and Amy Susannah Walker became step-mother to his girls. The family moved around a bit in the first decade of the 20th Century but settled before the Great War broke out in 1914, back in Northcote where Adolph had been born and raised.
In 1911 he stood for and was elected to the Central Ward of the Northcote Council and was noted as a vocal politician. He advocated for a proposed bus route between Essendon, Brunswick, Fitzroy and Northcote. Today this service operates as the number 510 route Essendon/Ivanhoe but in 1914 was not passed as a co-operative plan between the local council groups. Councillor Schwaebsch was in strong support of the scheme.
In 1915 he unhappily appeared in the Northcote Court and was ordered to pay £3/10- expenses on a motor-car used in the election campaign of Mayor Glanfield. Councillor Schwaebsch ordered the original invoice to be sent to Walter Glanfield but the mayor denied ordering a car and refused to pay. It was Schwaebsch who was taken to court over the trifle. The matter would not have been one of any significance under normal circumstances but Australia was in the midst of WWI and anti-German sentiment was high. Despite having been born in Northcote along with ten brothers and sisters, Schwaebsch had a German name and suffered a degree of prejudice. During a council debate in 1916 related to conscription, Councillor Schwaebsch alone voted against the motion and his allegiance came under suspicion.
He was obliged soon after to defend his family by publicly protesting that although he “happened to bear a German name, his mother was an Englishwoman and his father one of the oldest ratepayers in town”. Afterwards he took a less visible role in public life and after the war moved to Corio in Geelong.
A further unfortunate note in Adolph’s life was a motor accident in 1918 that left either him or his father seriously injured. The Fitzroy Council sent a letter of sympathy to Mrs Schwaebsch of High Street, Northcote but which of the many Carls was injured, is not clearly stated. Adolph was occupied as a motor agent when he returned to 8 Prospect Grove, Northcote in the 1920s.
Amy Schwaebsch was also a strong public figure. In the late 1930s she was on the committee and held the office of Chief President of the Australian Women’s Association. The family were also regular attendees at Northcote Mayoral Balls and social occasions and their daughter Freda’s illustrious musical career was launched while the family lived in Northcote. She even took Miss Freda Northcote as her professional name. Adolph died in Northcote in 1936. His wife moved to nearby Preston and died there twenty years later. The family remained local in Northcote for one hundred years through three generations. There are still descendants living in Darebin today.
Lemon, Andrew. The Northcote Side of the River. Northcote: City of Northcote and Hargreen Publishing Co., 1983.
Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic.: 1878-1903), Saturday 3, January 1885, p. 3.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Wednesday 21 April 1897, p. 7.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Wednesday 11 March 1914, p. 13.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Tuesday 7 December 1937, p. 7.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Thursday 29 July 1926, p. 21
Advertiser (Hurstbridge, Vic.: 1922-1939)
Fitzroy City Press (Vic.: 1881-1920), Saturday 10 August 1918, p.2
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Saturday 3 October 1936, p.7