John Berghofer's service to Blue Mountains cut short by World War I

Born in 1840 in Germany, John Berghofer emigrated to Australia to escape religious and political persecution. He finally settled in Hartley in the 1870s.

He and his wife purchased Rosenthal, the former Queen Victoria Inn on Mitchell’s Western Road, and, later, a property in Mount Victoria. They owned the local general store and let cottages to holiday makers. They became established citizens in the town.

Berghofer, recognising the value of tourism, pushed for improvements to the road between Mount Victoria and the Fish River (Jenolan) Caves. He was elected to Blaxland Shire Council in 1906 and, as Shire President, he was responsible for the construction and opening of a second pass up the mountain between Hartley and Mount Victoria as Mitchell’s pass was too steep to cope with the then-modern motor car. Berghofer’s Pass served the community well between 1912 and 1933/4.

Berghofer supported the construction of the Obelisk on Mount York in 1900 and inspired the magnificent 1913 centenary celebrations of the first crossing of the Blue Mountains held at Mount York and attended by thousands. 

By 1914, when World War I with Germany began, Berghofer had been a British subject since 1878, but he was born German and anti-German feeling was high.

Berghofer’s name was erased from the inscription on the pass bearing his name. Bending to public pressure, he renamed his home at the foot of Victoria Pass, Rosedale, instead of Rosenthal.

However, in 1915, Berghofer refused demands to resign as a councillor on the Blaxland Shire Council, a position he had held with distinction. This refusal to stand down from council provoked a constitutional crisis in New South Wales.

Alone of the states, NSW determined that a British subject of enemy origin should be incapable of sitting or voting in the Legislative Assembly, the municipal council of Sydney or the council of any municipality or shire. As well, that person lost the right to vote or officiate as a JP. 

Vigorous debate occurred in Parliament. The Premier, William Holman, favoured an exemption for John Berghofer whose loyalty was unquestioned.  

No exemption was allowed. The Hon. Stuart Robertson said: “The whole of the German nation has to be mistrusted.”

The bill became law and John Berghofer’s public service ended ignominiously. He retired.

Ironically, when the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, visited Mount York in 1927, John Berghofer was presented to them. This was vindication for Berghofer, who died some two months later, aged 87. He is buried in Mount Victoria cemetery.​ 

Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society

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