For Emden’s survivors1, the story did not end after the battle with HMAS Sydney.
Whilst Emden’s Captain Karl Von Müller and her crew became decorated heros in their homeland, sailors who survived the horrors of Emden’s twisted, burning wreck languished as prisoners. They shared internment with other German enemy aliens in Australian concentration camps for the war’s duration.
Of all the camps Holsworthy was the harshest and resembled a prison in the true sense of the word. A strict regime of control was enforced by the camp authorities. Raids often turned up stills and grog making faculties.2
Internees were seldom allowed out of the camp confines and here boredom and melancholy took hold….The internees were not allowed to free range like those at Berrima or Trial Bay and were kept behind barb wire fences and watched over by guards with a mounted machine gun in a substantial watchtower on the southern perimeter.3
Colonel Sands and the Black Hand
In early 1915 there were riots over rations and work duties that were subdued by negotiations between the camp commandant Colonel Sands and the Camp Committee. In order to keep the camp under control Sands ran the camp firmly. Troublesome internees were singled out and thrown into solitary confinement in the camp gaol. There were regular searches for contraband and weapons.4
On April 18, 1916 matters came to a head. Inmates rebelled against the gang’s stand-over tactics. Colonel Sands found himself in the midst of an ugly riot.
Ringleaders were beaten up and thrown over the compound’s main gate.
A crowd gathered at the gate yelling in English ‘these two men of the Black Hand Society have got what they deserved and there are more to come’. Colonel Sands and a group of police went into the crowd who were armed with home made batons and clubs, but no attempt was made to injure the police.5
Colonel Sands could ordered his men to fire on the crowd, but allowed the vigilante action to continue.
Shortly after there was a ‘rush of Germans all over the compound’ who were looking for the other four main members of the Back Hand gang.6
The incensed crowd found the 4 other men and gave them the same treatment. Camp guards took the lynched thugs to the camp hospital. Later 14 other Black Hand members were arrested and thrown into the camp gaol. 2 died in the melee.
and after that the Camp quietened down to the usual routine.7
Photographs of leisure and industry
Camp internees alleviated the atmosphere of ‘confinement, deprivation of liberty and constant surveillance’ with literary, cultural and sporting activities. Physical outlets such as boxing, weightlifting and gymnastics alleviated ‘boredom and melancholy.’ Cultural activities such as crafts (making wooden furniture, toys and models) and the performing arts (music and theatre) also constructively passed the time.
Life at the internment camps was captured by photographer Paul Dubotzki.
His photographic collection (discovered after his death) is a wonderful visual documentation of this otherwise forgettable part of Australian History. The digitised images are viewable at the NSW Migration Centre ‘The enemy at home’ site. A sample of his collection is provided below:
The the War Memorial and State Library of NSW also have interesting digitised photographic collections, This includes includes images of Emden’s crew (in and out of uniform) standing behind their scatch-built scale model Emden ships.
1 50 of the landing party stranded on Direction Island made a daring and arduous escape.
2 NSW Migration Centre The enemy at home : German internees in World War 1 Australia; Holsworthy Internment Camp: retrieved online http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/enemyathome/holsworthy-internment-camp/index.html