franz heinrich kleinschmidt : presented by walter moritz


Minister of the Nama – Missionary Kleinschmidt from Blasheim

It was February 1983. I was on the road in northwestern Germany and stopped in front of the place-name sign at Blasheim near Liibbecke to take a photo. Next I visited the vicarage to take a look at the church book. The baptismal register contained the following entry :

On 25 Oct. 1812 a son was born to the resident and shoemaker

Carl Ludwig Kleinschmidt by his wife Cathrine Maria Warmanns.

At the baptism the godparents named him Franz Henrich.”

kleinschmidt1Much later another entry was added:

“Died on 2 Sept. 1864 in Otjimbingue, South Africa, as a missionary”.


Blasheim lies in the fertile Ravensberg area between Teutoburg Forest and the Wiehen Mountains. But it is not only the soil that is fertile. In the 19th century the region saw a spiritual awakening that brought forth more than 100 missionaries during the first 100 years of the Rhenish Mission Society. They were sent to Africa and Asia. Among the first was Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt.

After his apprenticeship with a carpenter he completed his national service in a military hospital, where he acquired essential medical knowledge, and then joined the Rhenish Mission society in Wuppertal to be trained as a missionary. At his secondment on 18 July 1839 he was selected to work among the Nama people in South West Africa. Kleinschmidt arrived in Cape Town on 29 October that year. In nearby Stellenbosch he witnessed the early fruits of missionary work. The first four Rhenish missionaries had been sent to South Africa back in 1829. It warmed his heart. He thanked his God that He had deemed him worthy of becoming a messenger to the “heathens”.

The lovely song, the effort of older people to learn how to read and the peace of God reflected on quite a few faces. All of this made a deep impression on the aspiring missionary. While he was there Kleinschmidt also attended a conference of 11 Rhenish missionaries working in the Cape.

Kleinschmidt then went to Komaggas to work with missionary Heinrich Schmelen. He learnt the Nama language and also blacksmithing in order to be able to repair an oxwagon as he would be travelling the vast country alone. He was introduced to practical missionary work and helped Schmelen with the outlying settlements. Before setting out for the north across the Orange River, Kleinschmidt was ordained by the missionaries Johann Hinrich Schmelen, Hugo Hahn and Hans Christian Knudsen from Norway on 22 May 1842. The following day he married Schmelen’s daughter Johanna. Their departure was planned for 27 May. The Kleinschmidt couple, Hahn and Knudsen arrived in Bethanien on 30 August. The Rhenish Mission Society recognises this date as the start of mission work among the Nama people.

Knudsen stayed on in Bethanien. Hahn and Kleinschmidt moved on to Windhoek, the settlement of Jonker Afrikaner, where they were received with friendliness. The Herero and Nama were enemies but that year they agreed on a Christmas truce. Later the Rhenish missionaries decided to move on, however, because for political reasons Jonker also permitted Wesleyan missionaries to work in Windhoek. In 1844 Hugo Hahn settled in Otjikango (Gross Barmen) among the Herero people. Kleinschmidt turned south to Rehoboth. At that time the place was called /Anis due to the vapour hovering over the hot spring.

The Swartbooi Nama lived in Rehoboth and Kleinschmidt began his missionary work among them. At times he also looked after the mission station in Otjimbingwe. In Rehoboth (that means “the Lord has given us a place”) he baptised the first Nama. The small church was consecrated at Whitsun on 23 May 1847. Kleinschmidt wrote into his diary: “Consecration of the church which was finally completed after one-and-a-half years of strenuous work and now stood there beautifully whitewashed. A very festive day, further enhanced by the presence of brothers Rath, Scheppmann and Bam. It was also my wedding anniversary. I have been a husband for five years and we arrived here at Whitsun two years ago”.

But Jonker’s raids continued to cause unrest. The truce had not lasted very long.

Joy was followed by sorrow. Scheppmann as well as both of Kleinschmidt’s daughters fell ill with fever and Kleinschmidt himself also suffered a severe bout of rheumatic fever. It was a tough time in other respects as well.

Namaland was white, covered by a blanket of snow, as the Nama had never seen it before. Scheppmann did not survive his illness. He was buried next to where the museum stands today. Rooibank near Walvis Bay was named Scheppmannsdorf in his honour. Years later, in 1855, Kleinschmidt printed the Nama version of the Small Catechism in Scheppmannsdorf that boasted the first printing works in South West Africa. Only 300 copies of the Catechism were printed. When I was searching for scriptures in the Nama language in 1968 I discovered a copy in the National Library in Cape Town.

As a result of the hostilities between the various Nama groups Kleinschmidt and his congregation were forced to leave Rehoboth in 1864. The Swartbooi refrained from raids against the Herero. The retreating enemy set the grass on the savannah alight. With their pursuers hot on their heels the missionary and his family fled on foot through hill and dale to Otjimbingwe.

The missionary from Blasheim died there on 2 September 1864. The grave of the Kleinschmidt family is located on the other side of the omusema.


Sources :

Tagebuch FH Kleinschmidt als Computerausdruck, Sam Cohen Bibliothek, Swakopmund.

Moritz, Walter: Jonker Afrikaner und Missionar Kleinschmidt, Zwischen Rehoboth und Otjimbingwe, Tagebuch, Briefe, Berichte 1839 – 1864; in: Aus alten Tagen in Sudwest, Heft 18 Windhoek 2006.

Moritz, Walter: Scheppmannsdorf, Rooibank und die alteste Druckerei in Sudwestafrika/Namibia; in : Aus alten Tagen in Sudwest, Heft 5, 1. Auflage Schwabisch Gmund 1978.

Moritz, Walter : Die Swartboois in Rehoboth, Salem, Ameib und Franzfontein; in : Aus alten Tagen in Sudwest, Heft 7, 2. Auflage, Windhoek 1987.

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