10 February 2013

Why the Beringers switched from Catholic to Protestant

Yesterday I had a lovely morning meeting five of my Beringer cousins. I worked out our relationship - I am second cousin once removed to them (and them to me), they are all siblings. They are descended from Charles Joseph Wilfred Beringer (their grandfather) and I am descended from Charles' brother Adolf, known as Jim (my great grandfather). We had a great time, sharing photos and stories.

I realised quite some time ago that, way back, my Beringer ancestors were Catholic - back in Germany. I was surprised at this because in my family we are all Protestant and I had assumed that they always had been. However, when I delved into it I found that Adam and Caroline Beringer, my great great grandparents, the ones who emigrated to Australia, were definitely Catholic. But I also knew that pretty much all the next generation had switched to Protestantism. Why?

I knew that their mother Caroline had committed suicide, and that therefore she had not been able to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, and instead was buried in the Presbyterian section at Rookwood Cemetery. Knowing that your beloved mother was not allowed to be buried in her own denomination's cemetery might well have been a reason to reject the denomination you were brought up in, except that I was pretty sure that the children never knew that their mother had committed suicide. So what brought about the change was a mystery to me. I also knew that their father, Adam, had not converted to Protestantism, as he was buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Rookwood, with his second wife, Elizabeth. I believe they also married in a Catholic church. So it was definitely something that caused the children, but not their father, to switch.

And so, yesterday while talking with my cousins, I found out the reason. It all had to do with Adam Beringer's second wife Elizabeth.

My Beringer cousins were talking with great affection about their Auntie Mary, who was the youngest of the Beringer children - she was only one year old when her mother committed suicide. My cousins were brought up Catholic, as their mother Dorothea had married a Catholic. Auntie Mary went along with them to some family event at their church and one of them offered to sit with her and help her through the service. Auntie Mary cheerfully said that she had been brought up a Catholic, so she was very familiar with everything happening. Auntie Mary later explained to them that her family's governess, Miss Elizabeth Gates, who was their father's second wife, was Catholic. She has always been portrayed to me as the archetypal wicked stepmother, which according to Auntie Mary's stories, was completely true. The way she treated all the children was so bad that they all decided that if she was a Catholic and treated them like that, they wanted nothing to do with Catholicism. Apparently her throwing them all out when they turned 14 (after they had finished school) was a mutual thing - the children (independently of her) decided to get out as soon as they had finished school, to get away from her.

It would appear to me that the children's relationship with their stepmother affected their relationship with their father very negatively. I believe that they rarely saw him, but at least some of them had some contact with him. When WW1 broke out Charles Beringer made a statement, now held in the National Archives of Australia under the ASIO files "Depositions of Enemy Subjects in the Public Service", as he was employed by the public service, but had a German surname - apparently it was to prove he wasn't a German sympathiser. In this statement he said "I do not know whether my father is living or dead. I saw him once in Parramatta Park about 8 years ago. He did not know who I was. He was an engineer. The last I heard he was at Merrylands ... just out of Parramatta" (NAA, A387, 43). This statement certainly suggests he was estranged from his father. When George Beringer returned for a 10 day holiday to Australia in 1927 he only visited his father the night before he left, though he spent quite a bit of time with his siblings throughout the visit. Plus there are some photos which exist of an elderly Adam with some of his children and grandchildren, definitely taken after the marriage to the wicked stepmother, though she is conspicuously absent. All this suggests to me that Adam's children had occasional contact with their father after they each left home, but probably as little contact with their stepmother as possible. I wonder if Adam ever realised how much damage his second wife did to his family, or whether he was blinded by love?


  1. what an interesting story Prue and good to hve resolved the conundrum. I wonder if she was nice to the kids until after ahe married Adam. It seems likely that Adam knew how his relationship was ruined because of her.

  2. It's a very sad story, but I am glad I know the reason why. I doubt highly that she was ever nice to the kids.