History - Shadow of the past

By: Jenny Schollum

The settlers of Puhoi came from Bohemia, which was the home of the Boii, a Celtic tribe who settled in central Europe in 300 BC. In 500 AD, Czech and Slavs settled there. They were ruled by dukes of the Přemyslid dynasty – “good king” Wenceslaus was one of these.

In 1198, Bohemia was raised to the status of a hereditary kingdom within the Holy Roman Empire which was a collection of German states ruled by kings. The Pope was the leader in the spiritual world and the Holy Roman Emperor in the worldly realm. German and Latin were the official languages.

Ottokar became the first Bohemian king. He and successive kings invited German settlers into Bohemia. Czech rulers and noblemen were anxious to bring the more advanced German arts of agriculture, mining, handcrafts, town building and legal systems to their kingdom. The settlers enjoyed royal economic and legal protection at the court of Prague.

This was not popular with the lesser Czech nobility and set up a division that has existed through the centuries.

Bohemia went from strength to strength in the fourteenth century when King Charles of Bohemia was also the Holy Roman Emperor. He married four times, thereby adding large portions to his territories and wealth to his kingdom. He encouraged the official use of the Czech language.

Jan Hus brought Protestantism to Bohemia. After he was burnt at the stake, the Hussite wars broke out and raged for 20 years, the outcome being a period of 200 years of peace where Bohemians could choose their religion.

In 1526, Bohemia came under Hapsburg leadership. The Europe-wide Thirty Years War resulted in each ruler being able to determine the religion of his own state. The Austrian Hapsburgs were able to force Catholicism on the Bohemians. Twenty thousand Czech and 10,000 German families chose to leave. People from German states came to inhabit partially deserted Bohemia, and German became the dominant language.

The Napoleonic wars affected Bohemia. Battles destroyed houses and farms and created streams of refugees. Occupied villages were subject to requisitions. The Austrian Empire in the 1800s was massive. The two largest ethnic groups were Germans and Hungarians, followed by Czechs, Poles, Croats, Bosnians, Serbians, Italians, Ruthenes, Slovenes, Slovaks and Romanians. Most were clamouring for self-government.

The year 1848 was a year of riots and revolutions; a general anger with conservative policies, an urge for more freedoms and greater participation in government, rising nationalism, social problems brought on by the Industrial Revolution, and increasing hunger caused by harvest failures. These all contributed to growing unrest. During the decade from 1845 to 1855 over 100,000 people from the German states emigrated each year, mainly to North America. In Bohemia there was no co-operation between Czechs and Germans. All these factors, and the promise of free land in New Zealand, brought about the decision for the 83 settlers from Bohemia to emigrate. It turned out to be a good decision.

Jenny Schollum, Puhoi Historical Society


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