h.c. knudsen – exhibition at schmelen house, bethanie

– inside the historical “Schmelen house” at Bethanie, Karas Region, Namibia, the small house/building in stone that H.C. Knudsen renovated from 1843, there is a tiny exhibition to honour the Rhenish missionaries to Bethanie, back from 1815; among them the Norwegian Hans Christian Knudsen;

– this is what the presentation says :

Hans Christian Knudsen.

Born 18.3.1816 Bergen/Norway – Died 4.5.1863 Hatfjelddalen/Norway (died 26/5/1863/ed.)

After the Rhenish Mission Society had commenced its mission work among the Nama in 1839, Hans Christian Knudsen was sent to Bethanie as the first Rhenish missionary in 1842.

Knudsen’s first task was to repair the dilapidated buildings, which dated from his predecessor Johann Heinrich Schmelen, and to reestablish the garden.

Subsequently, he had some additional buildings constructed, e.g. a huge outside building of which one room was earmarked to become a ‘museum’. This plan, which was, for the time of surprising nature, however never materialized. At the end of 1846 he started with the construction of a church after the “Kinder-Missionsverein zu Barmen” had donated a bell. Unfortunately he could not finish the church before his departure in 1850.

During 1847 he undertook an extended journey to Europe from where he returned together with his young Norwegian wife in 1849.

During Knudsen’s absence, his work was attended to by the mission catechist J.S.(Samuel/ed.) Hahn, but, as Knudsen noted after his return, the congregation had fallen into disorder during his absence. Deeplying differences had developed between Hahn and the congregation, which were transferred to Knudsen after his return.

Knudsen initially believed that the deteriorated relationships could be improved by installing punishment measures for the congregation, which however proved to be in vain. When, in addition, a dispute concerning the usage of the fountain and a piece of garden land erupted he was expelled by the young chief David Christian of Bethanie at the end of 1850.

Knudsen, being a trained lithographer and an artistic person, left various colour drawings as part of his reports. In addition, he dedicated much of his time to linguistic research and published several articles in the Nama language, e.g. the first “Schulbuchlein”, which was printed in 1845.

He also translated the Lukas-Evangelium, compiled a dictionary with a language guide and published a book on the work of the mission in Great-Namaqualand.

In 1847, he also developed the famous “Ryksboek”, in which the history of the Bethaniers was recorded and the Christian laws to be followed by the congregation were explained.

Unfortunately, subsequent missionaries supplemented the “Ryksboek” with sporadic notes about special events only.

After Knudsen was expelled, Bethany remained without a missionary until May 1853. During 1852 the congregation was served by the missionary Mathäus Gorth for a very short time only as he was poisoned just after commencing his work.

After serving various congregations in the Cape, especially Tulbagh, Knudsen returned to Norway in 1854 where he acted as travelling preacher until his death.

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