Albert von Ehlefeldt | intrepid businessman

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FROM bridges and parks to mountains and lakes their names live on, but have you ever wanted to know more about the people behind these place names….

Down by the beautiful aqua waters of Wallis Lake at Forster is the Ehlefeldt Reserve.  People enjoy the shady seats on the grass right across from the Little Street baths, but who was Albert von Ehlefeldt ?

He is said to be Forster’s first non-British/Irish white settler.

This is how he is described in The History of Forster and surrounds, compiled by June Wright for the Great Lakes Historical Society.

It assumes that the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English who came into the Cape Hawke area in the early years were the first white settlers and then the Chinese fishermen or European sailors for example were itinerant traders.

Like many people of the time, he tried his hand at a number of trades and when he set up shop in Forster he offered something for everyone with an early flyer claiming:

  • A V Von Ehlefeldt and Son. Forster
  • Have for sale, everything from needle to an anchor at lowest rates.

When he first came to Australia at an early age Albert worked in Melbourne in a chocolate factory where he had an accident which crippled one of his feet, causing him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.

It was Forster’s first hotelkeeper Richard Phegan who brought Albert to the area as a baker and from all accounts he was highly skilled in this regard and had no trouble attracting customers.

But what proved more difficult at the time with the economy suffering, was to ensure that his customers paid up.  With his options running out he made a bold move.

He is believed to have borrowed an old rowing boat and rowed out to sea where he hailed a passing ship, abandoned the smaller boat, and hitch hiked to Sydney.  He soon found work and was eventually able to return to Forster with a supply of flour ready to resume business.

It seems like he learnt from that early lesson and went on to open his general store (that sold everything from a needle to an anchor...if the flyer was to be believed).  

There’s no doubt he ran a bustling business with his lakeside general story featuring a double-decker wharf facing Breckenridge channel.  From the lower deck he loaded boats for customers around the lake and to the upper deck he hoisted goods from both the lake and seagoing boats.

Albert married Minnie Underwood, the daughter of Forster’s first schoolteacher and by the turn of the century they had four children: Armadaz, Daisy, George and Albert junior.

During WWI Albert and his family suffered some persecution because of his nationality and there are some stories told of arguments between Albert and his customers but it is hard to tell whether these were motivated by prejudice or misunderstanding due to a some kind of language barrier.

But it’s the stories of his thoughtfulness and generosity to employees that endure.  He boasted that while many owed him, he was never for long in any man’s debt.  

Albert von Ehlefeldt died in 1927.

This story What’s in a name | Albert von Ehlefeldt first appeared on Great Lakes Advocate.