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The Kaiser’s Spy on Queen Victoria Street

Sebastian Boch

Boch, Sebastian 2014, 'The Kaiser's spy on Queen Victoria Street', Fremantle Studies, 8: 37-46.

In 2012 Australia and Germany celebrated the 60th anniversary of the re-establishment of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries. sixty years earlier, on 28 January 1952, Australia’s Minister for External Affairs, the Hon RG Casey, had released a statement that ‘Australia had agreed to an exchange of Embassies with the Federal Republic of Germany. 1 It followed an official declaration from 10 July 1951, in which Australia officially ended its state of war with Germany. 2 After several decades of relations strained by World Wars, the two countries began to act as partners in trade and global politics once again and have done so ever since. German companies, be it banks or automobiles are a common sight in modern-day Australia and for most young Australians it would be hard to imagine a situation in which German goods and German people were publicly boycotted and chastised on a national scale.

When World War I broke out in 1914, the lives of people with German ancestry in Australia were affected quite significantly. Within weeks, the public opinion towards native Germans changed completely. In the decades before the war, German immigrants had been seen as welcome additions to Australia’s young economy, due to their skill and high work ethic. The outbreak of the war however meant, that Germans were no longer welcome in Australia and were publicly branded as “enemy aliens” from that moment on. 3 No matter how long they had already lived in Australia and what they had contributed to the nation’s growth, most people of German ancestry found themselves from late 1914, confronted with suspicion and xenophobia.


Carl Ratazzi (Battye 1912-13)

This paper will focus on how the war changed the life of German immigrants through an examination of Fremantle’s Consul Carl Ratazzi. Ratazzi had lived in Australia since the late 1880s and when war broke out in 1914 he was the German Consul in Fremantle. Before the war he had lived comfortably within the Fremantle community but once the war started he was confronted with accusations of being a German spy and was eventually interned in New South Wales for the duration of the war. After the war he, like many other internees, was deported back to Germany.

In my paper I will give an overview of Consul Ratazzi’s life with particular emphasis on his time in Australia. In addition, I will also look at the accusations that he was a German spy and whether these accusations can be justified or not. Finally I will examine Ratazzi’s ethnic background and how it was affected by an event as far-reaching as World War I and how the outbreak of a global war had an enormous impact on people’s self- perception.

Carl Peter Ludwig Ratazzi was born in Frankfurt in 1865. 4 Frankfurt, at the time of his birth, was still a free city and only lost that status after the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. Frankfurt was one of Austria’s allies in the war, but due to Prussia’s victory, it found itself on the losing side. Prussia annexed Frankfurt and incorporated it into the newly found province of Hesse-Nassau. Describing Ratazzi as German would simplify matters, however, his name strongly suggests that the paternal side of his family had Italian ancestry. In his article “Was the Consul a Spy?” Steve Bunk suggests that Ratazzi’s relatives even included an Italian Prime Minister. 5  Regardless of whether this was the case or not, Ratazzi’s Italian ancestry should be kept in mind, as it will further complicate the question of his allegiance once World War I broke out.

Ratazzi received his education in Germany and became a shipping merchant. He spent some time in the United States before moving to Sydney in 1889 where he ran an import-export business with a partner. 6 He became a naturalized British subject soon after his arrival. 7 Ratazzi married Kathie Sulzmann while he was on a business trip to New York in 1892 and the couple returned to Sydney the following year. For the next seven years the Ratazzis lived in Sydney where three of their four children were born (Maria, b. 1893; Carlo b. 1896; and Leo b. 1900). In late 1900, the family moved to Western Australia and settled in Fremantle where Ratazzi had been offered the position of agent for Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL) which translates to North German Lloyd. NDL was one of several German steam ship companies that connected Germany to Asia and Australia at the time. NDL held a special position amongst these companies having had been chosen as the German Imperial government’s official mail and passenger carrier between Germany and Australia. NDL received funding from the Imperial government and owned a large fleet of modern steamships which provided the company with a sterling reputation amongst passengers. 8  Needless to say, the position as NDL’s agent was highly prestigious; the agents, who were expected to embody the German virtues of reliability and neatness, were often considered for the position of consul for the German Empire. Carl Ratazzi was named Honorary Consul for the German Empire in Western Australia in December 1902. 9 In addition to these two positions of esteem Ratazzi was also one of the founding members of the Fremantle German Club, which was located at 195 High Street until it was closed after the outbreak of World War I. 10 Altogether it seems that Ratazzi kept himself busy outside of his day job as a shipping merchant. His office was established at 5 Mouat Street where he carried out his function as agent for NDL and Consul for the German Empire.


The German Consulate, 5 Mouat St

Without a doubt, the Ratazzis were well respected and connected in the local (high) society. In fact in the same year that Ratazzi became Consul his youngest child, Diana, was born in Fremantle, further connecting the Ratazzi family to the city. In 1905, Hon. Consul Ratazzi was named Justice of the Peace for the Fremantle area, further stressing his active role within the community. 11 Throughout his time in Western Australia, he also added the position of Acting Consul for Italy to his portfolio. 12 Articles about him and his family were a common sight in Fremantle and Perth newspapers at the time. One particular article from 1913 summarizes an interview with Carl Ratazzi, who had just returned from a six month trip to Europe, regarding the current state of affairs between Germany and England. The Consul’s optimistic reply was that there was ‘no doubt that strong friendly feelings now exist between the two countries’. 13 The journalist concludes his article by mentioning that the Consul had been on a Zeppelin while he was in Europe. 14 In a way this news article indicates that the Ratazzis had become a permanent feature in Fremantle’s society, while at the same time still being regarded as ‘exotic’ enough to provide noteworthy travel stories. In 1915, after the outbreak of the war and Consul Ratazzi’s fall into disrepute, the story about the Zeppelin was picked up again in ‘The Ladies’ Section’ of Perth’s Sunday Times, where it was reported , ‘Maria Ratazzi ... is the only person in WA who ever travelled in a Zeppelin’. 15 This is rather interesting, as Consul Ratazzi, at that point, had not yet been interned or shipped to New South Wales. 16

The outbreak of World War I can be seen as a turning point for Consul Ratazzi’s career in Australia. On 12 August 1914, about a week after Great Britain declared war on the German Empire, Consul Ratazzi received a telegram from Mr Atlee Hunt, the Secretary for External Affairs of the Commonwealth. The telegram politely asked Ratazzi to ‘take notice that by the fact of War having broken out between Great Britain and Germany [his] authority as Consular Officer for Germany [had] been annulled’ and that Mr Atlee Hunt would be ‘glad to receive the immediate assurance that [Ratazzi] had ceased to act in that capacity’. 17 According to the article, Consul Ratazzi complied with the instructions and replied that he had ‘ceased to act as Consul for Germany according to [Mr Atlee Hunt’s] telegram’. 18 At the time, Ratazzi resumed his day job as a shipping agent, but it was not for long before the war completely interrupted his existence. In October 1914, the West Australian reported that the building in 5 Mouat Street, where Ratazzi had his offices, had been vandalized. Upon arrival, the police found that ‘the front windows of the office had been broken and came to the conclusion that ‘the damage had been caused by bottles having been thrown through the windows’. 19 Fortunately for Ratazzi, he was not in the office at the time. In December 1914, the former Consul also ‘resigned’ from his position as a Justice of the Peace for the Fremantle district. 20 It is difficult to say whether Ratazzi resigned because he realized that he could no longer act in that role, or whether he was made to resign by external pressures.

The growing anti-German sentiment within the Australian population meant that it became more and more difficult for German immigrants to go on with their lives without interruption. Furthermore, the atmosphere became more and more heated; boycotting German products and shops no longer satisfied some and verbal and physical attacks on anybody they perceived to be German became increasingly common.

The status as ‘enemy aliens’ brought with it a number of limitations on personal freedom. Most people who fell into that category were required by law to, in some form or another, keep the authorities informed of their whereabouts. 21 Furthermore, due to fears of espionage, all letters sent and received by enemy aliens were opened and their contents translated for censorship purposes. Fortunately for us, this means that there is a record of correspondence between Ratazzi and his family in Germany. In a 1915 letter to relatives he writes, ‘We are all well, suffer much on account of the business losses.' 22 In a second letter, addressed to his son Carlo who at the time was serving in the German army, Ratazzi expresses his pride at the news of Carlo’s recent promotion and also mentions the difficult situation he and the family find themselves in, albeit with optimism that things will soon improve: ‘Prices are bad here but the harvest promises to be a good one.’ 23

One of the details from this letter would later come back and haunt Carl Ratazzi - his son’s involvement in the war. In early 1916, the All British Association, a group of men who seemed to have particularly strong negative feelings towards people of German background, got wind of Carlo’s involvement in the German army. Several letters were sent to politicians and intelligence officers asking why ‘Ratazzi had not yet been interned 24 and whether he was ‘less dangerous than an Austrian woodcutter’. 25

It is difficult to say what role the All British Association played in the decision to intern Ratazzi; all we know is that he was eventually interned in March 1916. 26 Surely one could argue that Ratazzi’s internment was a means of protecting him from the growing anti-German sentiment within the Australian population. The former Consul himself was, due to his social status, well connected to local politicians and businessmen. To have a person of German background as well known as Ratazzi still walking around free could potentially create a lot of friction within the community, so it is possible that his internment had two positive outcomes: firstly, it sent a signal to the people that, no matter what your social status was, if you were of German descent you could be interned, however, at the same time, Ratazzi’s internment also removed him from the firing line. In an internment camp he was no longer at risk of being attacked. While being taken away from his family and shipped to the other side of Australia was without a doubt not a pleasant experience, it is important to mention that people as well-connected as Carl Ratazzi did not end up in the same camps as the aforementioned ‘Austrian woodcutters’. Like many other more privileged German internees, he was sent to Trial Bay in NSW. 27 Pictures of the camp suggest that the internees lived a fairly comfortable life there. They would not have to be worried about food shortages and, unlike the ‘normal’ internment camps their camp’s population was fairly homogeneous. This had the major advantage that the likelihood of ethnic clashes (German vs Austrian) was almost non-existent.

Not much is known about Ratazzi’s time in Trial Bay. One of the few surviving documents from that period is a letter sent on 11 November 1916 by his daughter Maria to Major Corbet, an intelligence officer. In the letter, she congratulates him on a recent promotion - possibly evidence that Corbet and the Ratazzis had been acquainted prior to the war. She then asks for permission to travel to New South Wales to visit her father in the internment camp. As a reason she mentions that ‘Papa has been in a very bad state of health of late’. 28 The following correspondence suggests that Maria did not encounter any problems and permission was granted two days later. 29 Unfortunately there are no further records about Ratazzi’s stay at Trial Bay. It is highly likely, however, that he remained there until the camp was closed in July 1918. All the inmates were then sent to other camps where they awaited their deportation back to Germany.

A newspaper article from August 1919 suggests that by then Consul Ratazzi had still not been deported. In the Sunday Times, an anonymous writer expresses his anger about Maria Ratazzi’s attempt to collect signatures that should prevent her father from being deported. The writer’s hope that ‘not only the Consul, but every member of his family, together with all aliens of his race ... will be deported clearly shows the end of the war did not automatically put an end to strong anti-German sentiments. 30 While this single opinion should not be regarded as representative of the whole Australian population, it clearly indicates that there was still some unresolved anger towards people of German descent. The writer points in particular to the fact that ‘the Consul’s family has enjoyed [Australia’s] freedom too long’. Furthermore he does not approve of the special treatment that the Ratazzis received during the war, ie ‘Imagine the feelings of true Australian girls, who whilst their fiancées and friends were away fighting on their behalf, have seen the Consul’s daughter escorted to public entertainment by officers of our own AIF, and also by civilians who could not or would not join up.’ 31

In the end, the Ratazzis had no other choice but to leave Australia. Consul Ratazzi never returned and died in Germany in 1925. His wife and daughters, however, returned to Australia on several occasions. Whenever they did, the newspapers were more than happy to report that the Ratazzis still had numerous friends in WA, however, the main reason for the family’s departure was conveniently left out. 32

While Carl Ratazzi’s experience is shared with many other German immigrants at the time, few others had to deal with accusations of being a German spy. Unfortunately documents from the period do not indicate where the accusations originated nor is there conclusive evidence that either confirms or disproves his alleged espionage activities. Shortly after the war broke out, Ratazzi’s premises were searched. A first report stated, ‘in Ratazzi’s case a certain document already reported was found’ and that the document was ‘regarded as compromising’. 33 However, a follow up report written a few weeks later clearly stated that the document was ‘locally regarded as compromising, but has been held insufficient to justify internment’. 34 Nevertheless, the rumours of the Consul’s extracurricular activities persisted, even after he had been interned in 1916. In 1917, his former offices were searched once again but the police officers could only report that the suspicious item (a box of maps) had not been found. 35 The story about Fremantle’s very own spy became part of local folklore but it should be seen as an example of how challenging life became for German immigrants after World War I broke out. With anti-German sentiment being so widespread, it was almost impossible to go about one’s daily business without interruptions. Many employers no longer wanted to employ Germans and the community boycotted those who owned shops. Accusations that Ratazzi was a spy illustrate that it was very difficult to regain the respect of one’s fellow citizens once these accusations had been made. Even though the police never found any conclusive evidence about the espionage, the claims that Ratazzi was a German spy will forever stick. It is possible that frustrated citizens, or maybe even members of the infamous All British Association, made these claims because they felt it was unfair that a German lived in a nicer house or had more money than they did. The anonymous newspaper article about Maria Ratazzi’s affairs clearly indicates that there was a fair degree of envy towards the Ratazzi family.

In terms of the accusations of espionage, it seems interesting that people decided that Ratazzi would work as a spy for the German Empire. After all, he also had Italian ancestry and had lived in Australia for over 20 years. Was it due to his appearance that people assumed he would spy on behalf of the German Empire? In the book, Through the spy-glass .' short sketches of well-known Westralians as others see them 1905, written by a ‘Truthful Thomas’ about Fremantle personalities, Consul Ratazzi is described as ‘Italian in appearance’. 36 The only thing that the author interprets as a sign of his loyalty to the Kaiser is his moustache, which the Consul ‘brushes as much upwards as it will go’. 37

Perhaps the reason for the accusations was something that Consul Ratazzi had said at some point in his career. At the celebrations of the 10"‘ anniversary of Fremantle’s German Club in 1911 Ratazzi proposed a toast to the Kaiser, a man he described as every German’s ‘personification of equity, righteousness and chivalry’. 38 It takes a fair amount of imagination, however, to turn this statement into proof that Ratazzi was a potential spy just waiting for a chance to send secret information to Germany. The most likely reason why he was regarded as a spy is the fact that his son was fighting in the German army; nevertheless, even that becomes irrelevant if we consider that Carl Ratazzi only spent a small part of his life in Germany. Moreover, the Germany he grew up in had changed enormously since he had left.

In retrospect, it is impossible to determine which country Ratazzi felt most loyalty towards, as there are at least three options: the Italy of his ancestors, the German Empire of his early youth, or Australia, the country where he had worked, raised a family and spent most of his adult life. Carl Ratazzi could be described in a single word - cosmopolitan. He spoke several languages, was of mixed ethnic background and had lived in at least three countries throughout his life. Unfortunately for him, the outbreak of World War I put an end to the idea that one could be a global citizen. No longer was it possible to be a German-born, British subject with Italian ancestry. In a time of worldwide conflict people had no other choice but to pledge allegiance to one leader, one country, or one ideology. In many cases, as illustrated by the example of Consul Ratazzi, somebody else made this choice. People like Ratazzi had no other option than to accept their fate because if you were born German you would ‘always remain German’. 39

Carl Ratazzi’s story is only one of thousands of stories of Germans who lived in Australia when World War I began; nevertheless, his personal story is fascinating. It would be very interesting to have been present to see Ratazzi’s reaction when Italy and Germany became opponents in the war. As one newspaper suggested in 1915, Ratazzi’s deliberations ‘would be about the most complicated on this old mud-ball’. 40 Although his name seems to be forever linked to accusations of him being a spy, it should be more important to see his personal story in the context of the war. At the time, it was very easy to ruin somebody’s reputation by merely accusing the person of a crime. Ratazzi, who already carried the baggage of being of German descent, was in no position to clear his name - at the end of the day he might not have been a spy, but he was still perceived to be an enemy alien. World War I changed peoples’ self-perception and sensibilities. With the emergence of global conflict, people were forced to align themselves with the country of their birth or the government they supported the most. In a situation like this, it was not easy to remain neutral. Many people attempted to, but their fate was then decided for them.

villa maria

Ratazzi's house, Villa Maria, formerly at Queen Victoria St (Fremantle Library image #3168)

Fremantle Studies Day, 2012


1 RG Casey, “Relations with Federal Republic of Germany”, 28 Jan 1952.

2 ‘State of War With Germany Ended.’ Advocate (Burnie, Tas: 1890--1954) 10 Jul 1951: p4.

3 At the beginning of WWI, the term ‘enemy alien’ was exclusively applied to German subjects within Australia, however over the course of the war it changed and eventually also included naturalized subjects and people who were born in Australia but whose father or grandfather had been born in either Germany or Austria.

4 ‘Carl Ratazzi Interned’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902 - 1954) 19 Mar 1916: p2.

5 Steve Bunk, ‘Was the Consul a Spy?’, Westerly, n4, Summer 1995, p51.

6 Bunk, p52.

7 Bunk, p51.

8 “Norddeutscher Lloyd”, Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) 1 Mar 1907: p5.

9 ‘PERSONAL’, The West Australian (Perth, WA: 1879-1954) 15 Dec 1902: p5.

10 Bunk, p53. 11 ‘PERSONAL’, The West Australian (Perth, WA: 1879 - 1954) 2 Dec 1905: p13.

12 ‘The Warship Calabria’, The Daily News (Perth, WA: 1882-1950) 16 Dec

13 1905: p6. ‘Better Feeling’, The Daily News (Perth, WA: 1882-1950) 17 Jun 1913: p2.

14 Ibid.

15 ‘The Ladies’ Section’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902-1954) 15 Aug 1915: p8.

16 ‘Carl Ratazzi Interned’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902-1954) 19 Mar

17 ‘German Consul in Perth’, Albany Advertiser (WA: 1897 - 1950) 12 Aug 1914: p3.

18 Ibid.

19 The Late German Consul’, The West Australian (Perth, WA: 1879-1954) 6 Oct 1914: p7.

20 ‘PERSONAL’, The West Australian (Perth, WA: 1879-1954) 5 Dec 1914: p6.

21 Mary Mennicken, The Germans in Western Australia 1833-1918, WA College of Advanced Education, Doubleview, 1988, p.58.

22 NAA (Perth), PP14/ 1, 747862.

23 Ibid.

24 NAA (Perth), PP14/ 1, 751835.

25 Due to the large number of enemy aliens internment was selective and the aforementioned phrase could be seen as a reference that it was often normal labourers who were interned, while people who held higher positions within the community were able to retain their freedom.

26 ‘Carl Ratazzi Interned', Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902-1954) 19 Mar 1916: p2.

27 NAA (Perth), PP14/2, 752898.

28 NAA (Perth), PP14/ 1, 746305.

29 Ibid.

30 ‘Fremantle Affairs’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902-1954) 17 Aug 1919: P10.

31 Ibid.

32 ‘Mainly About People’, The Daily News (Perth, WA: 1882-1950) 5 Dec 1931: p5.

33 NAA (Perth), PP14/2, 30233301.

34 Ibid.

35 NAA (Perth), PP14/ 1, 747180.

36 Truthful Thomas, Through the Spy Glass: Shari Sketches of Well-Known Westralians as Others See Them, Praagh and Lloyd, Perth, 1905.

37 Ibid.

38 ‘Deutscher Verein, Fremantle’, The West Australian (Perth, WA: 1879 - 1954) 18Jan 1911: p 8.

39 ‘Fremantle Affairs’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902 - 1954) 17 Aug 1919: 10. P

40 ‘Notes and Comments’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902 - 1954) 4 April 1915: p8.

Garry Gillard | New: 28 May, 2018 | Now: 16 December, 2018