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5 Minute History: Henry Dimer

5 Minute History: Henry Dimer

From sailor to farm life.

Written by: Karli Florisson | September 06, 2019

In June 1884, a whaling barque called the Platina headed past Albany towards Esperance. Two of the crewmen, sick of being sailors, decided to jump ship. Heinrich Diemer and Peter Hendrickson jumped into the cold water about 10 miles east of Albany, and swam the 3 long miles to shore. The two runaways were found by Campbell Taylor, who hid them on Bald Island while the police were searching for them. Warrants were issued for the two men’s arrest, but they managed to evade capture. 

Heinrich was born in Germany in 1861, the son of Josef and Susanna Diemer. He became a butcher in his father’s business. His father died when he was fourteen, and a few years later in 1879, Heinrich migrated to America. He found work as a butcher and slaughterman in New York before signing on as a sailor on the Platina in 1882. He sailed for two years on the whaling ship before his dramatic entry into his new life. Heinrich, who became known as Henry Dimer, went to work for Taylor at Lynburn station, east of Esperance. After a year, he became a shepherd for John Paul Brooks, another early settler to the east of Esperance. Brooks paid Henry forty pounds a year, in addition to supplies of flour, sugar and tea. 

During this time, Henry was writing his life story. He had written about 400 pages when the tent that he was living in burned down with all of his possessions, including his precious pages, inside. After 3 years working for Brooks, Henry went on to work with stonemason Peter Newman and a builder called Peter Hendrickson, who was probably his former shipmate. The men built shearing sheds at Lynburn station, Balladonia, and Mundrabilla.

In 1890, Henry built a home for himself at Israelite Bay. He had a relationship with a Ngadju woman named Belang with whom he had at least one child, a son called Jacob. Henry later settled with Topsy Whitehand, the daughter of pioneer settler Stephen Ponton and Noongar woman Anna Whitehand. Topsy and Henry’s first child Harry was born in 1894. Two years later, Henry won a contract to cart telegraph poles for the telegraph line that was being built at the time. He used camel teams to transport the poles, and was paid per pole to deliver them. In 1896, Henry and Topsy took up a lease on a property north of Brooks’ land where they later built their home, which they called Nanambinia.

Topsy and Henry’s second child Bertha was born in 1897, and in the same year Henry became a naturalised citizen of Australia. In 1899, Topsy and Henry were officially married by Reverend Alfred Burton, who had travelled from Esperance for the occasion. The couple went on to have seven more children, one girl and six boys, in addition to 3 babies who were stillborn or died in infancy. 

Henry and Topsy’s leasehold was growing, and as they took up more leases in 1900 and 1901, the boys were given plenty of work on the station. Henry also employed many Aboriginal workers as shepherds for his growing flocks. He kept detailed records of their life at Nanambinia, and his son from his first relationship, Jacob, was mentioned often, usually just as ‘one of the Aboriginal workers’ on the station. Rabbits had become a big problem by this time, and Henry was granted a government contract to cart stray cats out to the area and release them in the hope that they would control the rabbits, which of course, they did not. In 1918, Topsy became ill and died at just 43. The two daughters, Bertha and Annie, took charge of looking after their brothers, as Topsy’s youngest child was only 3 years old when she died. Henry ran sheep and cattle on his land and continued to expand his leaseholdings until he had over 500,000 acres.

Henry maintained a friendship with John Paul Brooks, and he and his sons often helped Brooks with his shearing. In 1928, Henry and his daughter Annie went to check in on Brooks’ sister Sarah and found her paralysed after having a stroke. They took her to Nanambinia in their 2-seater Model T Ford, and from there she was taken to Norseman, where she died 8 weeks later. In 1930, Henry went to check on Brooks, and found him in the paddock, unable to move. Henry took him to the house and cared for him, but he died that night. Henry bid for and won the tender for Brooks’ estate. In 1936, Henry Dimer caught pneumonia and was taken to the Kalgoorlie hospital, where he died on the 7th of December. Several of his children formed ‘Dimer and Sons’ partnership, and took over the running of Nanambinia. The station was finally sold in 1980, but many of Henry’s descendants still live in the Esperance area. From such humble beginnings, Henry managed to leave an incredible legacy of hard work and tenacity in difficult circumstances. 

Updated 24/10/19:

There is also evidence that Henry Dimer also had a relationship with an Indigenous woman called Julianna. It is likely that Belang and Juliana are the same person, with Juliana being Belang’s ‘English’ name. Juliana had a daughter called Catherine, who was sent to New Norcia mission by Henry when she was 11 or 12 years old, and never returned to the Esperance area. Catherine, who became known as Nanna Katie by her family, lived around the Moore River area, where she raised her family. 

Thank you to Murray Jackamarra for providing this information.

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