One of my favourite local history stories, this is the story of Henry Dimer. This article originally appeared in the Esperance Tide.
In June of 1884, a whaling barque called the Platina headed past Albany towards Esperance. Two of the crewmen, sick of being sailors, decided to jump ship. Heinrich Diemer and Peter Hendrickson jumped into the cold water about 10 miles east of Albany and swam the 3 miles to shore. The two runaways were found by Campbell Taylor, who hid them on Bald Island while the police were searching for them, as there were serious penalties for those who jumped ship. Warrants were issued for the two men’s arrest, but they managed to evade capture.
Heinrich was born in Germany in 1861, the son of Josef and Susanna Diemer. He became a butcher in his father’s business. His father died when he was fourteen, and a few years later, in 1879, Heinrich migrated to America. Heinrich got work as a butcher and slaughterman in New York before signing on as a sailor on the Platina in 1882. He sailed for two years on the whaling ship before his dramatic entry into his new life. Heinrich, who became known as Henry Dimer, went to work for Taylor at Lynburn station, east of Esperance. After a year, Henry went to work as a shepherd for John Paul Brooks, another one of the early settlers to the east of Esperance. Brooks paid Henry forty pounds a year, plus gave him supplies of flour, sugar and tea. During this time, Henry was writing up his life story. He had written about 400 pages when the tent that he was living in burned down, with all of his possessions, including his precious pages, inside. After 3 years working for Brooks, Henry went on to work with a stonemason, Peter Newman, and a builder called Peter Hendrickson, who was probably his former shipmate that had jumped ship at the same time he did. The men were building shearing sheds at Lynburn station, Balladonia, and Mundrabilla.
In 1890, Henry built a home for himself at Israelite Bay. He had a relationship with a Ngadju woman named Belang, with whom he had at least one child, a son called Jacob. After his relationship with Belang, Henry began a relationship with Topsy Whitehand, who was the daughter of pioneer settler Stephen Ponton and Noongar woman Anna Whitehand. Topsy and Henry’s first child, Harry, was born in 1894. In 1896, Henry won a contract to cart telegraph poles for the telegraph line that was being built at the time. Henry used camel teams to transport the poles and was paid per pole to deliver them. In 1896, Henry and Topsy took up a lease on a property north of Brooks’ land, which they called Nanambinia.
Topsy and Henry’s second child, Bertha, was born in 1897. Also in 1897, Henry became a naturalised citizen of Australia. In 1899, Topsy and Henry were officially married by Reverend Alfred Burton, who had travelled from Esperance for the occasion. Before they built their new home at Nanambinia, they lived in a tent for a while. The couple went on to have seven more children, one more girl and six more boys, plus 3 babies who were stillborn or died in infancy. The two girls were sent to Albany for schooling for a short period of time. Henry and Topsy’s leasehold was growing, as they took up more leases in 1900 and 1901, and the boys were given plenty of work on the station. Henry also employed many Aboriginal workers as shepherds for his growing flocks. Henry kept detailed records of their life at Nanambinia, and his son from his first relationship, Jacob, was mentioned often, usually just as ‘one of the Aboriginal workers’ on the station. Rabbits had become a big problem by this time, and Henry was granted a government contract to cart stray cats out to the area and release them, in the hope that they would control the rabbits, which of course, they did not. In 1918, Topsy became ill and died. She was only 43 years old. The two girls, Bertha and Annie, looked after their brothers, as Topsy’s youngest child was only 3 years old when she died. Henry ran sheep and cattle on his land and continued to expand his lease holdings until he had over 500,000 acres leased.
Henry maintained a friendship with John Paul Brooks, and he and his sons often helped Brooks with his shearing. In 1928, Henry and his daughter Annie went to check in on Brooks’ sister Sarah and found her paralysed after having a stroke. They took her to Nanambinia in their 2-seater Model T Ford, and from there she was taken to Norseman, where she died 8 weeks later. In 1930, Henry went to check on John Paul Brooks, and found him in the paddock, unable to move. Henry took him to the house and cared for him, but he died that night. Henry bid for and won the tender for Brooks’ estate. In 1936, Henry Dimer caught pneumonia and was taken to the Kalgoorlie hospital, where he died on the 7th of December. Several of his children formed ‘Dimer and Sons’ partnership, and took over running Nanambinia. The station was finally sold in 1980. Many of Henry’s descendants still live in the Esperance area. From such humble beginnings, Henry managed to leave an incredible legacy of hard work and tenacity in difficult circumstances.