By Maureen Young, Warkworth & District Museum
No Warkworth citizen, puttering up Matakana Road in an old car in the 1950s, would have been surprised to see a bent, grey-bearded figure in a denim suit, trudging up the dusty road, for this would have been Warkworth’s resident German and intellectual, Carl Geissler. Wilhelm Paul Carl Geissler was born in Munich, Germany in 1874 and was said to have had a brilliant university career. In 1900, he married Johanne Margarette Rehbein, an educated woman who was a teacher, nurse and accomplished linguist. In 1912, they sailed for New Zealand and within three months had settled on a small farm at Tauhoa. Mr Geissler was interned during the First World War when anti-German sentiment was strong, probably on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour. His father, Julius Geissler, lived in New Zealand for some time, but apart from the fact that there are six of his paintings in the Auckland Art Gallery (1918 – 1920), little is known of him or his fate.Mrs Geissler died childless in May 1935 and in November of the same year Mr Geissler returned to Germany for a short visit. While there he no doubt observed with horror the rise of the Nazis, and soon after his return to New Zealand he became a naturalised British citizen. During the 1930s, Mr Geissler, a keen entomologist, developed a close relationship with Gilbert Archey, the director of the Auckland Museum, including translating letters written to Mr Archey in German. He sold the museum a large collection of bees that he had brought from Germany, and spent several weeks organising the insect collections there. Sometimes he was paid a small sum, but the museum could not afford to pay him his worth. He then collected dragon flies, weta and centipedes, and set out on a new study of spiders. The museum holds a considerable amount of correspondence between Mr Geissler and the director.
About 1940, he moved to a small cottage on Matakana Road, one kilometre from Warkworth. When local women organised a dance to raise money for a soldiers’ entertainment fund, Mr Geissler donated an ornate cabinet for a raffle prize, no doubt to let it be known where his sympathies lay. His interest now changed from entomology to studying pollen grains, for which he would have needed a high-powered microscope. The museum holds three large, hand-made volumes of his drawings of the intricate patterns on the different pollens.
He played an organ with three layers of keyboards, grew exotic orchids in a glasshouse and painted rather primitive water-colour pictures (38 in the Auckland Art Gallery). In March 1957, Bob Penniket found him collapsed in his cottage and he died soon after in hospital, aged 83 years. When the treasures he had collected over his lifetime were auctioned they were described as “the finest and most comprehensive collection ever offered in New Zealand”.