For most of his working life Dr Bohrsmann was a medical practitioner at 36 Glebe Road adjacent to Derby Place. In 1898 when he took over the practice from Irish-born William Augustus West – who moved down the road to number 20 – his neighbours were sailmaker John Penberthy at number 34, and, to the rear, the newly built boys’ department of Glebe Superior Public School. Across Derby Place was the Glebe Wesleyan Church fronting Glebe Road, and the school’s girls’ and infants’ departments fronting Derwent Street. Dr Bohrsmann took a keen interest in the school and charged nothing for treating its pupils’ cuts and grazes.
Rudolph was born on 6 August 1871. He was educated at Sydney Grammar where he was a class captain, did well in French and excelled in Greek studies, playing one of the chorus of satyrs in Euripides’ Cyclops. He was also an accomplished musician. After graduating in Medicine from the University of Sydney in 1894, he lived at 82 Glebe Road and shared rooms at 139 Elizabeth Street in the city with his older brother Otto, an 1893 medical graduate of the University of Aberdeen.
In 1897 he married Patience Love Cary. They lived with their growing family at the surgery until about 1907 when they moved into Arden, 2 Forsyth Street, a mansion purchased from wool merchant Eugene Carattee. Their children Rudolph, Patience, Olga, Christian and Cedric – all with a second name ‘Cary’ – were born in 1899, 1902, 1906, 1907 and 1911 respectively. Cedric became a pharmacist. Patience married Roy Braden Vass, born in Glebe, in 1924 and Olga married Archibald Boyle in 1932. As the eldest, Rudolph was enrolled in Medicine at the University of Sydney, a course he disliked. On the death of his father he discontinued to take up a post arranged by his uncle Gus who was personal physician to theatrical entrepreneur Sir Benjamin Fuller.
Rudolph became Australian representative for the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company and managing director for touring companies on the Tivoli Circuit. Because of anti-German feeling he changed his professional name to Rudy Mann. His brother Christian was also involved in theatre management.
Even before his children were of school age Dr Bohrsmann took an interest in Glebe Public, awarding an annual gold medal to the boy dux. Their names from 1900 until 1923 are recorded on the Dr Bohrsmann Honour Board still hanging in a school corridor. As a treat to mark the opening of the new infants’ building he organised a ‘picture show’ excursion to Epping Park (today’s Harold Park). He often accompanied the boys on their weekly swimming afternoons to Elkington Baths. On Empire Day he lectured both Glebe and Forest Lodge pupils on the history of the Australian flag. The original Commonwealth Star had six points symbolising the States. In 1911 Bohrsmann wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald deploring the addition of an extra point to mark the Territories: ‘Is Australia to have in its flag a star or a circular saw?’
For several years he was Secretary of Glebe Public’s Parents and Teachers Association. In that capacity he was part of a delegation which approached Public Instruction Minister James Hogue in 1908 opposing a proposal to erect a new infants building next to the Ragged School near Wentworth Park. Although Hogue was MLA for Glebe, Bohrsmann observed that he had neglected his local school. ‘It reminds one of the fact that the bootmaker has the worst shoes and the tailor has to wear an old suit and the watchmaker is busy engaged in looking after, regulating and repairing other people’s watches and clocks and neglects his own timepiece.’
Rudolph and his brother Gus were both Liberal candidates in 1913 State elections. Despite a healthy vote, Rudolph lost to Labor opponent Tom Keegan, originally a labourer and MLA for Glebe or Balmain 1910 –35. In Enmore the contest was a cliffhanger, David Robert Hall, a barrister educated at Forest Lodge School, winning on absentee votes. Although born in Australia, both brothers no doubt suffered vilification during World War 1 through the activities of media such as the Mirror of Australia which exposed individual ‘Huns’ in Sydney suburbs: ‘a detestable species [to be] purged altogether’.
By 1920 Dr Bohrsmann had vacated his Glebe house and surgery. Arden was turned into a Church of England Children’s Home (its first matron
Miss Mary Jane McGarvey) opposite Avona Girls’ Home. He shifted his practice to 283 Elizabeth Street, where Aubrey Bohrsmann had rooms as a dental surgeon, and his place of residence to Albion Street Waverley, then 44 O’Sullivan Road Bellevue Hill. He died on 10 September 1925 after suffering a heart attack while playing tennis at Manly. Apart from extended family, mourners at his funeral (at the Wood Coffill Funeral Parlour, Broadway) included Glebe identities alderman Arthur Field and town clerk Tom Glasscock. Also present were German-born baker Christian Raith; rugby union player Harry Holden; allround-sportsman Hyam Marks, a fellow student at Grammar and a commentator on the first live Test cricket radio broadcast; and Colonel Robert Beardsmore, later instrumental in the dismissal of the Lang government when as an accountant with the Department of Lands he refused to comply with a State order. Rudolph’s widow died on 22 May 1951.
Rudolph’s father was Matthias Christian Bohrsmann of Altona in Holstein, an 18-year-old tailor who arrived in Sydney from Hamburg aboard the Cesar Godeffroy (its cargo including large quantities of wine, beer, brandy, cherry brandy and cherry cordial) on 25 January 1854. On the same ship were three others from the same town: carpenters Carl Bormann and J P Boyens, and bookbinder J H Borhrsmann, probably Henry whose address in 1863 was Botany Road Redfern but whose subsequent movements are unknown. All travelled steerage.
By 1858 Matthias Christian– a later variant was Matthew Christopher – had set up as an outfitter at 131 Old South Head Road. By 1861 he had established the Berlin Emporium at number 129, between Crown and Bourke Streets and next to William Harpfner’s Fancy Warehouse. From 1871 to 1883 his ‘Berlin wool and fancy warehouse’ was at 39 South Head Road (renamed Oxford Street by 1875) between Brisbane and Edward (today Pelican) Streets. After moving to 114 Botany Street he settled at Altona, Gordon Crescent Stanmore where he died on 10 August 1902. That day’s news was dominated by the coronation of Edward V11. Matthias’ widow Elizabeth Johnston née Smith, whom he had married in 1857, died aged 76 on 28 March 1913 at Hiawatha St Marks Road Randwick.
Rudolph’s siblings were (Mathias) Christian (1858-88), Elizabeth Jane Matilda (1860-1935), Anna (186276), Altona Johanna (1867- 1952), Otto Martin (1869-1944), Gustav Hall (1873-1929), Alexander (1875-6), Florence Mary (1876-9) and Sextus who died soon after birth in 1877.
Elizabeth married William Edmund Ellard, a clerk, in 1884. In 1892 Altona married Augustus George Frederic James. MLA for Goulburn 1907-20, he held the ministries of Public Instruction and Labour and Industry before taking up an appointment as a Supreme Court judge. Their daughter Enid Bohrsmann James married Dr Victor Coppleson, later knighted for his services to medicine, and the author of Shark Attack, a book which brought him world recognition. Justice James built Altona at Point Piper, a house which held the Australian real estate record — $28 million – from 2002 to 2007.
All Rudolph’s brothers who survived childhood entered the medical profession. Christian, after graduating BA from the University of Sydney in 1879 and completing his medical degree in London, died aged 30 at his parents’ home Altona. Otto, trained in Scotland and a Member of the British Medical Association, operated a city practice and lived at Woollahra/ Darling Point for all of his working life. Gustav, educated at Paddington Public, Sydney Boys’ High and the
University of Sydney (ChM MB 1898), went to China where he studied tropical medicine and the treatment of beri-beri and leprosy. On returning to Australia he worked in Hobart and Grafton and as a naval surgeon before settling at Coo-ee 52-54 Enmore Road Enmore as a specialist in skin disease. ‘Gus’ died on 25 November 1929 at the age of 56. His son Gustav Temple Hall Bohrsmann graduated MB BS from the University of Sydney in 1927, was RMO at Sydney Hospital 1927-9 and its Registrar 1928-9. A Member of the British Medical Association, he died at Enmore on 30 April 1940 aged 36.
Matthias Christian senior was naturalised in 1869. Naturalised in the same year was a relative from Altona, perhaps a younger brother, Johannes Martin Bohrsmann who had disembarked in Sydney from Hamburg on 23 August 1862. Aged 14 he had sailed steerage and unaccompanied on board the Alster through strong gales and heavy weather in the first weeks of the voyage.
Johannes – soon known as John — became a draper. In 1871 he married Louisa Higman from Yass. They lived in Glebe in Mitchell Street and Mount Vernon Street before settling down at Altona, 82 Australia Street Newtown. Of their surviving children, Blanche became a stenographer, Marion a schoolteacher, and (John Horace) Aubrey a dentist. Aubrey, who set up house at 12 Australia Street and a city practice from 1908, became president of Sydney Boys’ High Old Boys Union and was a regular pianist at their smoke concerts.
Australian Medical Gazette
Births, Deaths and Marriages and cemetery records
Cyclopedia of New South Wales 1907
Daily Telegraph 11.9.1925
Hamburg Passenger Lists
Loxton’s Medical Directory of Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand 1911 & 1914
Medical Journal of Australia
Mirror of Australia January—June 1916
Personal information from Dr Rudolph Bohrsmann’s grandchildren Ric, Trudy and Wendy
State Records New South Wales:
Glebe Public School files
Sydney Boys’ High School The Record
Sydney Grammar School The Sydneian
Sydney Morning Herald various issues including 25.5.1911, 27.5.1911, 8.12.1913,15.9.1925, 27.11.1929