The Wupperthal baptism and marriage records saved from the fire of 2018 have kindly been provided by Dr. Mark Bilbe. In December 2018 a fire broke out in this remote and historic town of the Moravian Mission Station since 1965, prior to this it was Rhenish Mission Station. An estimated 53 homes and 8 buildings were lost and 200 people displaced. The town sustained more than R20 million in damages after historical buildings were burnt down.
Established in 1828 and located at Barmen (in the Ruhr), consequently also known as the Barmer Mission, this society enjoyed its strongest support among Protestants in the western region of Germany. In 1829 its council was persuaded by Dr. John Philip, of the London Missionary Society, to send its first missionaries – Paul Daniel Liickhoff, Gustav Adolf Zahn, Johann Gottlieb Leipoldt and Theobald von Wurmb – to South Africa, where they were to familiarise themselves with local conditions at the London Missionary Society’s stations. They made little use of this arrangement because their views on missionary work differed from those of their English colleagues. Zahn started working as assistant to the South African missionary Arie Vos at Tulbagh. Wurmb travelled northwards and with his colleagues began work on the farm Rietfontein, in Clanwilliam, which was later purchased and renamed Wupperthal (now Wuppertal). Hottentots and Coloured people were settled there, grain-lands and gardens laid out, fruit-trees planted, and plans made not only to make the station self-supporting, but also to stimulate an interest in manual labour among the converts. This pattern was followed later at the other stations and settlements of the Society. The ranks of the first pioneers were gradually reinforced from Germany. Among these were men whose names subsequently became widely known in the country, such as Hahn, Kleinschmidt, Esselen, Wagner, Alheit, Kolbe, Donges, Gerdener, Kronlein, Weber and Brincker.
By the end of the 19th century forty Rhenish missionaries had worked zealously in the Cape Colony. From Stellenbosch and Wupperthal they gradually trekked northwards, reached the Karee Mountains and penetrated farther to the old stations Komaggas, Steinkopf and Pella of the London Missionary Society. Gradually, too, new stations were established. Some of these, however, had to be vacated because the aborigines were unable to make a living there. Eventually only Stellenbosch, Wupperthal, Worcester, Sarepta, Saron, Tulbagh and Carnarvon were maintained as chief stations. Here churches and schools became the focal point of settlements of Coloureds and Hottentots. Under the guidance of the Rhenish missionaries they received instruction in various kinds of manual work. At Wupperthal a training-school was established for teachers, who in due course became responsible for the education and teaching of the young. Because the Society was short of funds, its management insisted on the communities becoming self-supporting. From 1878 onwards they were required to provide for the maintenance of their missionaries and teachers. A hundred years after the commencement of the Rhenish missionary work in the Cape the Society realised that the task originally undertaken by it had been completed. It therefore handed over these Coloured parishes to the Dutch Reformed (Ned. Geref.) Church.
Sources: Standard Encycolpeadia of South Africa, E. Strassberger: The Rhenish Missionary Society in South Africa 1830-1950 (1969).