Johann Menge

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Johannes Menge (4 January 1788 – 1852), has been regarded as South Australia's first amateur geologist. An early explorer of the new colony, he was influential in the settlement of the Barossa Valley. He has sometimes been given the title, father of South Australian mineralogy.

Born in the town of Steinau, Hesse, Germany, Menge had little formal education, but was a keen learner and quickly gained a broad knowledge of languages, philosophy, medicine, religion, and geology. His particular interest in geology developed after his early employment by Privy Councillor Karl Cäsar von Leonhard, who collected and sold mineral specimens. Menge later travelled widely through Europe and beyond, and was awarded an honorary degree of Professor of Mineralogy from the University of Lubeck in 1821.

After the death of his wife in 1830 he moved to England and taught languages. Here he became friends with George Fife Angas, who encouraged him to travel to the new colony of South Australia for employment with the South Australia Company. Menge sailed to South Australia aboard the Coromandel,[1] arriving on Kangaroo Island on 12 January 1837, where he was hired as the colony's Mine and Quarry Agent and Geologist. However, his eccentric ways soon led to his dismissal from the company on 30 June 1838.

Menge then moved to the South Australian mainland, travelling widely, exploring and searching for minerals in his own right, while engaging in many other interests. He travelled as far north as Mount Remarkable. He was the first to discover copper in the Adelaide Hills. He kept in regular contact with George Fife Angas and sent him letters and reports; his activities thus encouraging the spread of settlement, and mineral exploration by others. This ultimately led to a mining boom that saved the fledgling colony. He wrote papers on several topics, particularly mineralogy, and in 1840 wrote a book entitled Mineral Kingdom of South Australia.

Menge was particularly fond of the Barossa Valley (which he called "New Silesia"), and he lived there for some time in a cave on the banks of Jacob's Creek at its junction with the North Para River. He diverted the flow of Jacob's Creek and created an "island" where he grew vegetables. He was particularly struck with the possibilities for viticulture. Menge wrote to Angas detailing the Barossa as "the cream, the whole cream and nothing but the cream". When the first German Lutheran immigrants arrived in the state, it was Menge who assisted in their resettlement from their initial residence in the Adelaide Hills to the Barossa Valley. It is claimed that in 1849 Menge made the very first discovery of opal in Australia.

Despite Menge being attributed with many early geological discoveries in South Australia, it was Thomas Burr who most keenly and scientifically observed the colony's geology, his Remarks on the Geology and Mineralogy of South Australia being published at Adelaide in 1846, this being the colony's first official government geological report and the first geological book to be published in Australia.

In 1852 Menge walked overland to the Victorian gold diggings, where in the winter of that year he died and was buried at Forest Creek (now Chewton, part of Castlemaine) near Bendigo.

A biography of Menge was written by W. A. Cawthorne (1825–1897), an early Adelaide schoolmaster.[2]


  1. ^ His name was recorded as "Johannes Joseph Menge" on the Coromandel 's passenger list. "Joh Menge", "John Menge" and "Joseph Menge of Hahndorf" in newspapers all seem to refer to the same person.
  2. ^ Wilde, W. H. (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature 2nd ed. 1994 ISBN 0-19-553381-X