Looking down on Coromandel from the Tokotea Range in 1935 by which time the bush was mostly cleared.
(Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A9409')
many brave hearts.”
Zurn, 1882, Tokatea Range, Coromandel.
Gathering up an old billy and a gun 34 year old George Zurn headed out for the bush about 1 pm on a May Friday in 1882. George, a geologist and botanist employed by the German Government, was staying at Mr Luks’s residence on the Tokatea range, above Coromandel.
He left with the intention of exploring Paul’s Creek to collect ferns and mosses and shoot a couple of kakas. On the way he met Mr Hornibrook who tried to dissuade him, telling him the distance was too far. George replied he would just go some of the way and return at 5 pm.
When he did not return by 5 pm Mr Luks concluded he must have gone to Coromandel. On hearing the news, Mr A McEwen, who George had recently been prospecting for gold with, went out to look for him. When he came to the whare of Mr Clarke and Morgan, two miners living along the road towards Paul’s Creek, they told him a shot had been fired about 5 pm not far from their whare. It was thought perhaps George was about somewhere in the thick bush and cooeeing was resorted to but there was no response.
Mr McEwen returned to Mr Luks about 9 pm with the news. As it was a fine, bright, moonlit night no fears were entertained for George. Having for months been in the daily habit of going through the bush in search of new varieties of mosses, George was well acquainted with the locality. He was man of strong frame and in robust health. His friends thought very little of a “man of his stamp camping out on a fine night in a New Zealand forest’, reported the NZ Herald later. Mr Luks and family waited up till 1 am but then went to bed, expecting every minute to hear George’s welcome knock.
After spending a restless night Mr Luks got up at 5.30 am and, now somewhat alarmed, sent his son out on horseback to gather a search party. Mr Luks telephoned Boyd’s Hotel in Coromandel to see if George had perhaps found his way there but he had not. At daylight a party of 25 started from the top of Tokatea and continued the search towards Kennedys Bay. A similar party from Coromandel started to search the bush on the Paul’s Creek side of the range. Mr Luks also sent his eldest son to Mr McEwen’s whare to ask him to take his gun and go towards Paul’s Creek firing shots at intervals to attract George’s attention in case he might have lost his way in the ranges. Mr McEwen did this, returning about 10 am saying he had been quite unable to find the missing man. The day by now had set in wet and stormy.
By 1 pm, with the district “having now been alarmed”, there were 30 men out beating the bush. Dr Hovell had been sent for in case his services should be required but hopes were starting to falter.
Before night fell Mr Luks sent messages to Kennedy’s Bay, Cabbage Bay and other outlying settlements warning residents to be on the alert and search for the missing man. By now George had been out two days and two nights exposed to a bitterly cold southwester wind with almost incessant rain. He was to have left for Auckland on the Coromandel steamer that day having made arrangements to sail for Fiji. He intended to continue his botanical researches on behalf of the government among the South Sea Islands.
The search parties returned without a clue. The tireless Mr Luks then telephoned the police station at Coromandel asking all possible assistance to establish a thorough search the next day.
At 8 am on Sunday about 50 men gathered at Tokatea and as many more started from Coromandel. The whole day every man who was able to go through the bush used his utmost exertion to save a human being from such a fate as being “lost in the New Zealand bush but to no avail,” despaired the NZ Herald.
At 3 pm a fire was observed in the Paul’s Creek direction. This was the arranged signal for the discovery of the lost man. All who saw it went to the spot and found the fire – but no one was there. It had evidently been lit as a joke but it caused great disappointment and disgust. By Sunday evening all search parties returned drenched with rain but with no news.
“Storm and rain did not dishearten the stout miner,” said the NZ Herald in admiration. “Zurn must be found...the whole of the Coromandel population has most notably exerted all possible energy.” The constables were untiring in their performance of duty and the officer in charge of the Coromandel telegraph department stayed all Sunday from 7 am to late at night placing ‘telephonic communication’ at Mr Luks’s disposal.
Arrangements were made for a thoroughly organised search party to start at 9 am on Monday. Maori were requested to assist, swelling the numbers to upwards of 200 men out on the range. Business and mining operations in Coromandel were almost entirely suspended as every person able to do so joined the search parties looking for the lost German tourist. Coromandel was practically deserted but the search was fruitless.
Blood hounds were then requested from Auckland; owners of these dogs were asked to send them to Coromandel at once.
By Tuesday the NZ Herald recorded “there is grave reason to fear that Lieutenant Zurn, late of the German Army, and well known to the majority of citizens of Auckland, has perished in the bush near Coromandel.” Search parties returned this day half drowned with the excessive downpour of rain. Mr Luks offered a 20 pound reward for his recovery – alive or dead.
Further particulars on George Zurn began to filter through from the Imperial German Consul in New Zealand, Mr Von der Heyde, and George’s close friend, Dr Hensen.
George was a native of Saxony, Germany. He was brought up to the profession of a soldier and entered the army at a very young age after passing examinations with “great éclat.”
George had come to New Zealand three years previously from Adelaide. He had been a lieutenant in the German Army and served in the 107th Regiment (the 8th Royal Saxon) in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 and in the Franco German war of 1870, earning the much prized Iron Cross for Valour and other decorations.
After temporarily retiring from the army he gave in to his itchy feet and visited Africa and Australia before coming to Auckland with the intention of going to the South Seas and further to China and Japan.
George had started a gymnasium in Auckland’s Parnell Hall shortly after he arrived there where he taught fencing and gymnastics. He also taught these exercises at the Auckland Grammar school and other institutions. Lieutenant Zurn was an accomplished swordsman, athlete, swimmer and “excelled in all manly exercises.”
When George’s health gave way the previous November Mr Luks of Coromandel invited him there for a change of air until his health was restored. George could also complete his mission of collecting ferns and mosses which he was preparing for presentation to the Leipsic Museum. George accepted the invitation and moved to the Coromandel ranges where the temperature was cooler than Auckland.
After just a few days at Mr Luks’s the mountain air perfectly restored his health and, hating idleness, George became interested in practical mining and took to pick and shovel. He worked with Mr A McEwen for about three months doing a large amount of prospecting. Luck did not favour him and his old passion for research revived and he began a collection of mosses – obtaining up to 58 varieties. George was “an educated man, master of five languages and a gentleman in every sense of the word.”
He had been in Auckland three weeks previously and called upon Mr Von der Heyde and Dr Hensen. He told them he intended to travel in the South Sea islands for a society recently formed in Germany, partly for commercial and partly for scientific purposes in order to open up trading connections for Germany in the islands.
George was also special correspondent to the Geographical Society of Berlin and had contributed valuable papers to it. He was highly esteemed by his countrymen in New Zealand and one of the most energetic members of the Auckland German Association.
On Wednesday 50 miners and a whole tribe of Maori went out in search of George. “They have not yet returned,” reported the Thames Advertiser. “A hurricane is now raging,” it added for good measure.
On the tenth day a man just arrived from Whangapoua ominously informed the Coromandel police that a strong smell, as from a decomposed body, was sharply impregnating the air on the Tokatea side of the Whangapoua track. Sergeant Mc Mahon proceeded to search the locality. There was another general assembly of residents to make a final effort to discover Lieutenant Zurn.
The next night a few of George’s German friends met at the German society’s club rooms in Auckland to discuss taking further steps to find him. Mr Van der Heyde, president, proposed that Mr Luks be authorised to use all possible exertion which may lead to the discovery of the lost man. Mr Luks was to be further authorised to communicate the sad intelligence to Mr Zurn’s relations and express the deep sympathy to his friends. A most sincere vote of thanks was to be passed to the residents of the Coromandel peninsula for the “energetic and disinterested manner in which they have carried out the search for the missing man.” (disinterested in this era meaning giving no thought to themselves).
“Mr Zuru (sic) is not found. No further search will take place.”
Thames Advertiser, 19 May 1882, two weeks after George went missing.
“ The parents of Prem. Lieutenant George Zurn the gentleman whose death can no longer be doubted, have instructed me to express their most sincere and heartfelt thanks to all those who so unselfishly sacrificed their time, labour and energy in attempting to rescue their son from an untimely end in a New Zealand bush: or to recover his remains. They wish me to state that in their deep grief it has been a mournful satisfaction to them to know that so many brave hearts have been moved to such exortions on behalf of their beloved son. R F Luks, Victoria Hotel, Auckland 11 September 1882.”
*Zurn was misspelt Zuru and Furu in telegrams and news dispatches.
Renke Friedreich Luks was born in Prussia in 1829. In 1860 he sailed from London to Australia where he experienced the varied fortunes of a miner. He arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1864 and went on to own stores and hotels in Otago and Hokitika. Arriving on the Thames goldfield he built the Court House Hotel before going prospecting with a character called ‘Bismarck Charley.’ Mr Luks subsequently found a large amount of gold and opened a store on the top of Coromandel's Tokatea range to which he added a hotel about 1869 known as the Bismarck Inn – the first licensed house in the district. He helped the County Council construct a good graded track to the top of the Tokatea range. He later settled in Auckland and in 1883 became proprietor of the Victoria Hotel until his death ten years later aged 56. Mr Luks was active in getting the NZ Railway Department to plant railway reserves with trees and shrubs on the German plan. Mr Luks had a reputation as a man to be esteemed, possessing the same qualities of energy and determination in all aspects of his life as he did in the desperate race to find the lost George Zurn.
The Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin (Berlin Geographical Society) was founded in 1828 and is the world’s second oldest geographical society.
Mr R F Luks - persistent in his efforts to save a guest from the dreaded fate of being “lost in a New Zealand bush.”
(NZ Electronic text collection)
I began my family tree last year, and came across the story of George Zurn (“So Many Brave Hearts”).
My mother had told me how her mother, Lizzie McEwen, had come out from Belfast as a child with her widowed father, Harry McEwen, and that Harry was a gold prospector in the Coromandel.
Harry eventually met and wished to marry a girl , but she was not prepared to bring up his daughter. Friedreich and Elizabeth Luks stated that no child of Harry McEwen would go to an orphanage, and they would bring her up. Lizzie had stated waitress on her marriage certificate, so I presume she lived at the Victoria Hotel after the Luks’ moved to Auckland.
I know from many of my Aunt’s stories that my Grandparent’s house had many European visitors. (Unfortunately I never knew Lizzie, who died the year before I was born).
I suspect that Mr A McEwen was actually H(enry/Harry) McEwen, my great-grandfather.
The photo of R F Luks at the end of the article is the same as the one I have transposed on a cup, made in Berlin. I also have a cup with the picture of his wife Elizabeth(Mackenzie).
You might be interested in an article in Mein Westerstede showing a memorial stone which Elizabeth had erected in Germany. http://mein.nwzonline.de/westerstede/ortsgeschichte/luks/neuseeland-auswanderer ,a9076 There is an English translation as well.
Cheers for your helpful and interesting story,
Mary Dryden email@example.com
(Harry and the girl he married went on to have five children)
(Source: National Library, Papers Past; Cyclopedia of NZ 1902, Wikipedia)