Monday, 12 February 2018

The Princes Lubecki of Poland

There is a Polish Prince buried in Dunedin's Southern Cemetery.  In fact, there are two.  (There's a Russian Princess at Anderson's Bay, too - but that's another story.)

Prince Alois Konstantin Lubecki was a descendant of Prince Rurik, a Norseman or Viking whose family ruled what became the Kingdom of Russia from the 9th to the 17th century.  Prince Alois descended from a branch of the family which had settled in Lithuania and, after the union with Poland, effectively became a Pole.

The Lubeckis held large estates in the east of Poland and Alois put everything at risk when he supported the attempt by many Poles to establish some kind of independent state in the 1830 November Uprising.  Poland had been divided up between its three large neighbours - Austria, Prussia and Russia - by the end of the 18th century, and had briefly known a kind of independence under Napoleon.  Russian Poland had a constitution - but that was little more than a document and Russia's rule was becoming more and more dictatorial.

Alois was a General in the Polish National Army and, with the collapse of the uprising, left his homeland for Dresden in Saxony.  After a period of serious illness, he moved to France and then to England.  There he met and married Laura Duffus in 1836 and, possibly inspired by his brother in law Reverend John Duffus, sailed with him to Sydney, Australia, arriving in October 1838 and settling in Parramatta.  Their first child, Jean Konstantin, was born soon after arrival but their fortunes did not prosper and Alois was unable to find work.

The Lubeckis opened a school for young ladies in 1840 at Gough House in Parramatta.  The young ladies were taught the basics and, for an extra fee, could be taught pianoforte, singing, drawing, French or dancing.

The school flourished and so did the Lubecki family - Alois Duffus Lubecki was born in 1841.  But at the end of that year there was a depression and the school was broke by March, 1842.  Alois suffered a nervous breakdown and the family moved to Sydney.

Two daughters were born in Sydney and the family shortly moved to Melbourne where Alois worked as a confectioner while Laura taught.  Alois Junior joined the Victorian Civil Service as a trainee telegraph operator in 1862.  In June, 1863 the family sailed for New Zealand and settled in a house on the corner of George and Union Streets in Dunedin.  Alois senior died the next year after several years of bad health and his son Jean inherited the title of Prince.  Jean died the next year and was buried next to his father and so the title went to Alois junior.

Alois and Jean in the Southern Cemetery, Dunedin.  Photo: Allan Steel.  The headstone has recently (2021) been restored.

Madame Lubecki, as she continued to be known, opened another school for young ladies in Dunedin and followed that profession until 1895 when she moved to Nelson.  She died, aged 86, in 1901.  "Princess Lubecki (wrote the papers) of late had not, by reason of her age, been able to lead an active life, but in earlier years it was her pleasure and wont to be engaged in good works, and her goodness of heart and charity were such that to hear ill spoken of anyone was to her painful."

Eden Bank House, demolished 1966.  Hocken Library photo.

Alois Junior became Officer-in-charge of the Dunedin telegraph office in 1865 and worked at his post for thirty years.  He was instrumental in the arranging of the first telephone call in New Zealand - between Dunedin and Milton on February 2nd, 1878.  Alois' superior, who gave the order for the call was named Charles Lemon and Dunedin's telephone poles were inevitably called "Lemon trees" by its citizens.

Dunedin Telegraph Office - photo from "Transpress NZ"

Alois' later life was described by a friend, Judge Sir Frederick Chapman, after Alois' death in 1926:

"One of my first acquaintances when I arrived in Dunedin in August 1872, was Mr. Lubecki. He was then chief official in the Telegraph Office, where he commenced and ended his official career. I had taken a keen interest in Polish affairs ever since the rebellion of 1863, when I was at school, an interest which I have never lost. Since then I have written many articles on Polish affairs, but I am bound to say that few read them. I never met anybody in New Zealand, save Mr. Lubecki, with whom I could discuss such matters. Between us the fate of Poland in the past was a matter which we frequently discussed, without however, a glimpse of daylight to the future.

"Having retired from the Government service, Mr. A.D. Lubecki paid a visit to Poland. He told me that he enquired whether it was possible to recover any of his father's property. The answer was 'No'. The property of a Polish insurgent which was forfeited by the Imperial Government has never been restored. In less material matters he received much attention. At the Consulate in London, whither he went to have his passport signed, he was treated as a Russian noble.

"At Warsaw, Mr. Lubecki on one occasion received a visit from a Russian noble who had called by order of the Czar, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, to tell him that a command had come from his Imperial Majesty to General Gourko, Governor of Poland, to make an official call on the New Zealander and to intimate the Emperor's cousin who resided in Warsaw, would also call on 'Your Highness'. The modest civil servant from the nether world tried to disclaim this form of address. 'Your Highness cannot disclaim your title when in His Imperial Majesty's Dominions.' was the reply. After that 'His Highness' had to accustom himself to the honour. The Russian Governor, by the Emperor's orders, placed a carriage at his disposal and every sort of attention was used to reconcile him to the situation. He visited many of the great Polish families penetrating even into Austrian Poland, and was everywhere warmly received and duly accorded his rank as a Polish noble. The Herald's College at Warsaw presented him with an official pedigree, showing his descent from the great Ruric. Many years afterwards he revisited Poland, travelling far out to the east where one of his cousins held a great estate. He lived to see his father's native country restored to freedom and independence."  -New Zealand Herald.

Alois Duffus Lubecki died at Helensville on July 25th, 1926.  With him died the line of the Princes Lubecki of New Zealand.

The Lubecki grave at Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson.


  1. Wonderful reading, thank you for this piece of wonderful history. God Bless them and fellow countrymen.

  2. It is just awesome to read stories like this. Thank you so much. LOVE HISTORY

  3. Wonderful story. I have sent it to my half Polish niece & nephew in London.