One Leather Satchel

... The legacy of Peter Kent aka Christian ‘Matthias’ Matiasen Altschwager (1841-1919)

When Peter Kent died in 1919 at Longreach, his effects were left in the possession of his friend and employer Frederick Mills.  One leather satchel - which held his savings passbook, letters, postcards and photographs - was retained by the Mills family until it was donated to the State Library in 2015.

Leather satchel etched with 'P. Kent' fastened at the front with a leather strap and metal buckle.(John Oxley Library collection)

The oldest of 5 children born to Johannes Altschwager and Christine Eeg, Peter is known to have worked on several properties - Culloden Station near Winton, as well as Muttaburra and Blackall, but left little other traces of his life in his adopted country.

At the age of 70 Peter was appointed to the position of caretaker for the Longreach Council’s Standpipe, but he was well familiar to people in the district who had known him in his younger years.

The letters and photographs in this collection reveal another life, that of Christian ‘Matthias’ Matiasen Altschwager who came to Australia in the 1860s. Originally from Norway he arrived via America, where he was rumoured to have been involved in the American Civil War.

Postcard to Peter Kent, from his niece Hannah Altschwager, in Venezuela, 1912. (John Oxley Library collection)

The postcard above from Hannah Altschwager was the major clue which led to uncovering his alias - addressed to Peter Kent, Longreach - but written to Uncle Matthias, from his niece Hanna.

Peter Kent aka Matthias Altschwager. (John Oxley Library collection)

The small collection of correspondence, in both English and Norwegian, reveals much of Peter’s story and some of the strong friendships he formed with local families. 

Cathinka Irgens was his oldest sister, who wrote Peter detailed letters, keeping him up-to-date with weddings, births and family movements, particularly during the war years.

At left: Unidentified colonial family portrait, likely to have been taken in Queensland, note the dirt floor and dog [ghost], n.d.
At right: Studio portrait of Julius Altschwager (brother to Peter) taken by Clifford Studios of Philadelphia, in 1880. (John Oxley Library collection)

Amy Andrew and her sister Lily Ryan corresponded with Peter, both their husbands served during the First World War, sadly Lily was widowed in 1917, leaving her to raise three young children.

Launch of ‘The Kristianfjord’ [ship], postcard sent by Kjeld Irgens to his uncle Peter Kent in 1912. (John Oxley Library collection)

Peter’s nephew Kjeld Stub Irgens, at one time a captain with the Royal Norwegian Navy, was employed by the Norwegian America Line (NAL) shipping company, assuming command of the NAL's passenger ship SS Stavangerfjord in 1918, while Norway remained ‘a neutral ally’ to Britain during the First World War.  Appointed Minister of Shipping for Norway between 1940 and 1944, Kjeld was imprisoned in 1945 for his association with members of a far-right party ‘Nasjonal Samling.

Peter ‘Matthias’ Kent’s passing in 1919 was noted in the The Northern Miner
“The death occurred yesterday of Mr Peter Kent, caretaker at the Council’s standpipe. He had reached the ripe old age of 79 and looked hale and hearty enough. He took part in the American Civil War and could tell some interesting stories in connection with it. He was buried in the local cemetery this morning

Many thanks to Lone Keast for her assistance with the translations from Norwegian.

Marg Powell, State Library of Queensland


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