Background to our parents prior to 1934


Heinrich Walter Haenggi (1896-1984)

The following information is additional to what one can already find on other web pages, in particular:

http://www.haenggi-basel.ch/Haenggi.htm#HWH  -  http://www.haenggi-basel.ch/PDFs/HWH_Vorfahren4.pdf

Additional data prior to and after the marriage has been gathered from files discovered in 2013 in the Schubiger - Hänggi family archives in Solothurn, covering the period 1865-1930. The original documents have since been donated to the Dorfmuseum, Nunningen.

Fernande Marie-Louise Haenggi-Gruber (1904-2000)

Growing up mainly with her grand-parents in Auxonne, Côte d'Or, France, mother's youth had been rather unsettled. With the help of some of her family members and records from our own family archives, I have been able to trace part of her and her family's story until her marriage in 1925 and beyond (PDF in French updated May 2010) (PDF in English updated Dec. 2009). The earliest documents we found, written by our mother, date from early 1924 when she was living in Trèves!

For interest's sake, I have also put up a genealogical tree of her family (in French, updated to November, 2013).

Additional information or images can be found on other web pages, such as:

http://www.haenggi-basel.ch/Haenggi.htm#FMLH  -  http://www.haenggi-basel.ch/Actienbrauerei_02.htm  -  http://www.pelmama.org/Johannesburg_artscene_Gallery101_history.htm



Combined history after their marriage on 2nd June, 1925


Mother changed her hairstyle - the hair was now bushy and free-flowing.

FMLH in Janville, 1925

According to the Local Historical Archive in Randers, they lived in an apartment at Randers, Denmark (at Vester Altanvej 26, Randers) as from 25th July, 1925.  Father worked for Fabrieken Scania, supervising the construction of coaches for the Cie. Française des Wagons Lits.


Mother had to get a new pass; she had her photo taken by P. Delb in Paris 6ème. They had friends in Limoges whom they visited during the year, the Spenopus (?) family:

FMLH shown with the son of their friends Spenopus (?) in Limoges, with 2 cats - 1926

In May, 1926, they lived at 14 Vester Altanvej, Randers.

On 15th October, 1926, our parents left Randers in Denmark and returned to Paris (5 Place des Rennes, Paris 6è), Mother spending some time with her mother-in-law in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

1927 - 1930

As from 1st January, 1927, Father started employment with the Nathan Institute, Zurich. As Chief Engineer he was supervising the assembly of breweries designed and built to the Nathan System specifications. From February, 1927 to June, 1927, he worked for the Nathan Institute in Bruxelles, involved with the new brewery project in Anderlecht with a capacity of 200'000 hl/year.

Father's salary was very low, Nathan refused to pay for accommodation, so they lived in one of the poorest areas with no kitchen to cook. On Sundays they ate out, having "escargots" as mother remembered!

During July, 1927, they probably went back to Zurich, Father visiting his mother in St. Gallen on 18th July (per image). They were then sent by Nathan to Melbourne, Australia, during late July, 1927. Father travelled with the P&O Lines' (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation) "Moldavia", embarking in Colombo, calling on Freemantle on route and disembarking in Melbourne on 15th August, 1927.

Shortly before departing for Melbourne, Mother visited her family in Janville as a photo shows. She then travelled with the Orient Lines' "Orama", embarking in Toulon, France, disembarking in Melbourne on 13th December, 1927.

The new brewery installation for the Richmond Brewery (the "Independent Brewery") in Mill Park, Richmond, owned by Mr. Grant Hay, had a capacity of 150'000 hl/year. The Hay's were also big farmers and horse-breeders and owned, as identified, a 1927 Packard 7 Passenger Sedan.

1928 Mr and Mrs Grant Hay with FML Haenggi on a very special car, near Melbourne

Our parents stayed at "Kooralbyn", a boarding-house in Erin Road, Melbourne, owned by a Mrs A. Sealy. It was a meeting place for artists and people from the theatre world. The rental was 4 guineas per week; Father's pay was £18 per week, increasing over the years to £26 per week.

During this period Mother took painting lessons with Archibald D. Colqhuhoun who had a very influential teaching studio in Melbourne's centre (from those days, she kept her wooden palette covered in thick oil paint and her own large and heavy wooden easel right through the years, till she left SA; these came down our way - the palette we gave to an art centre in Soweto, the easel found its way to our son Alex in Basel!).

Archibald D. Colqhuhoun and his wife Amalie at their Melbourne studio (img©citymuseummelbourne.org)

On 18th June, 1928, Father took out a life policy for £1000 payable on death, with the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Soc. Ltd., Melbourne, premiums being paid half-yearly. The policy gave as work address: c/o Messrs. Coulson and Hay, Church Street, Richmond Vic. Father's job description in the policy was “Consulting Engineer, Superintending but not working”.

A photo from 1928 shows Mother overlooking the sea near Melbourne and another was taken in the main park in Melbourne; the third shows her in 1929 with her large German Shepherd dog who was totally attached to her and did not let any strangers approach her:

1928 FMLH near Melbourne1928 FMLH in Melbourne's main park1929 FMLH with her German Shepherd

At Christmas 1929, the owner of the boarding house “Kooralbyn”, Mrs A Sealy, gave Mother a black booklet, the “Rubáiyát” by Omar Khayyám (this was to accompany her until Beatenberg shortly before her death; she gave it then to her grand-son Fernand Edmund Hänggi).

At the end of October, 1930, after handing over the brewery installation and making the first beer at Mr Hay’s brewery in Mill Park, Nathan allowed the brewery at their request to employ Father directly for a further period, as brewery manager/brew master, presumably in their pay. During this latter period, Father went during his free time to Sydney, at the request of the Nathan Institute, to call on the owner of a Sydney brewery who had heard about the new Melbourne brewery and had approached the Nathan Institute in Zurich accordingly. Mr Hay found out and gave Father notice to leave who appealed in Court and won his case. On Mr Hay's counter-appeal, Father's lawyers lost the second case as he was a foreigner and hence had fewer rights than Australian citizen.

In December, 1930, the Nathan Institute recalled Father by cable, requesting him to proceed immediately to Likasi in the Belgian Congo to complete the installation of the new brewery plant in Likasi / Jadotville with a capacity of 50'000 hl/year. Father travelled inter alia by seaplane, stopped in Johannesburg to get the necessary visa for the Belgian Congo, and travelled on to Likasi via the Victoria Falls.


The first 3 months of 1931, Mother was left behind penniless in Melbourne, with only £1 in her pocket. Mr. Hay paid her boarding fees directly. During his absence, Father never sent money in support of his wife, and it seems Nathan refused to pay for her return trip to Europe!

(In an article in the Melbourne paper „The Age“, dated 23rd October, 1999, dealing with the 1930s in Australia, is stated inter alia “ the 1930s began with the depression. Most Australians felt helpless as they watched the soaring rate of unemployment and the bad debts and the insolvencies that followed. By the middle of 1932, about 30% of Australians had no job….”).

Having befriended the Hays, Mother attended the Grand Melbourne Cup Races where Mrs Hay accepted to place a bet on her behalf on Mrs Hay’s one horse “Harry Gavin” (the other was “Whose mistake”); she telephonically put a bet of £1 at 100:1 on “Harry Gavin”. The horse won, but the pay-out was only £50 as the bet had been placed telephonically. This, however, was sufficient to pay for her boat trip to London in April, 1931.

She arrived in London from Melbourne on the 7th May, 1931, with P&O Line's "Balranald" (magnify 25% only), her residential address being shown as 112, Avenue Ladru Rollin, Paris 9ème (where her aunt Jeanne Gruber and Georges Genevois lived).

Jeanne Gruber with husband Georges Genevois + Francis + Daniel in 1947-1948

On the boat, Mother played poker and won one week in a hotel in London. She then carried on to Étampes to stay with her own mother, then joined Father who was briefly at Nathan's offices in Zurich until early October, 1931, having just returned from the Belgian Congo. They probably stayed with Father's own mother (who had moved from St. Gallen to Dübendorf on 30th August, 1930).

Father had travelled as a 2nd class passenger, no. 144, embarking end of July in Cape Town on the Union Castle Mail SA "Balmoral Castle" (the ship's departure port being shown as Durban), disembarking in Southampton on 3rd August, 1931; the passenger list records him as "Engineer" "in transit to Switzerland".

From October, 1931, Father was in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he supervised the installation of a new Nathan plant. He asked his wife to join him in Montevideo, but as he had not sent her any money during his absence, she could not afford to travel, so she asked Nathan who refused to pay her trip. Thus she spent time with her family in Étampes (1931), Auxonne (1932) - as many photos show - also in Paris and with her mother-in-law in Dübendorf, Switzerland.


Mother who had been staying with her family in Auxonne met her husband in Paris on his return from Montevideo in March 1932, as he had completed his work in February. He came back with a few silk shirts, a paper crocodile and fake jewellery which she promptly threw out of the window, as no money had been sent to her during his absence, but there had been money to spend on these presents! According to records, he called her by a certain name, a word he had never said before, from which she presumed he had frequented certain women in Montevideo!  

They returned to Switzerland, Father working now at the Engineering Section of the Nathan Head Office in Zurich from March, 1932, till January, 1933 (his next-of-kin then were documented to be his mother, Marie (Amalie) Hänggi - Gmür living in Dübendorf).


He was then sent by Nathan to their sister company, the Nathan Institute Inc., having offices on the 13th floor of the Chrysler Building, 405 Lexington Avenue in New York NY, in his capacity as Engineer and Member of its Board, during the period February, 1933 to February, 1937. He was to supervise the installation of a new brewery in Newark NJ having a capacity of 300'000 hl/year.

He left Cherbourg by the S.S. Europa on 25th January, 1933 (Norddeutscher Lloyd), arriving in New York on 30th January, 1933. He had obtained his US Immigration permit no. 187 in Zurich on 19th January, 1933, as listed on the passenger list.

He first stayed at the Hotel Pierre, 61st St and 5th Ave, in New York, where Mr Nathan, of small stature, had a suite. Mr Nathan's wife stayed in Zurich; Mr Einstein, his son-in-law, ran the office in Zurich.

Father was joined by our Mother who had travelled on the Holland-America Line's S.S. Veendam from Boulogne-sur-Mer to New York, departing on 13th May, 1933, arriving in New York on 23rd May, 1933 (her trip by boat - see 4th image - had been paid for by Nathan). She had obtained her US immigration permit no. 282 in Zurich on the 4th May, 1933, as listed on the passenger list. (Note for HRH: she could not have seen any matches at Roland-Garros during 1933, as the Internationaux de France i.e. Tournoi de Roland-Garros, are always held during the last week of May and first week of June, since 1928).

She joined Father at the Hotel Pierre until a flat had been found with the help of "Mrs Nathan", Mr Nathan's companion in New York, a tall German lady (Mother often played bridge with her at an all-ladies Bridge Circle).

This apartment was at 100 Pelham Road, New Rochelle, N.Y., where my parents moved to on 29th August, 1933, as recorded in the files of the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC (however, Mother as I remember, told me that they only stayed in the hotel for just over a month). Also, it is only then that Father reported his move from Montevideo to the USA to the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC (without mentioning his intermediate stay in Switzerland between March, 1932 and January, 1933)!

Mother was expecting her first child and decided to go to her own mother in France, which meant that she had to find money to go by boat. One way was to reduce the life policy cover on Father, taken out on 18th June, 1928, with the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Co. Ltd. in Melbourne (where they were living at that time). This was duly recorded on the policy document on 21st December, 1933, the accident and invalidity benefits being cancelled, which brought the annual premiums down from £26.8.4 p.a. to £6.6.8 p.a., payable in quarterly instalments! (I am still trying to establish how much a trip by Steamer from New York to Le Havre cost in 1933).