Environment History

Georg Jurij Jonke – the Gottscheer beekeeper

“The authority on beekeeping in the Carniola region in the 19th century”, “the author of one of the fundamental works on Slovenian beekeeping”, “teacher of beekeeping”, “preserver and benefactor”, “one of the most learned Gottscheers of his time” etc. These are just a few epithets that describe Georg Jurij Jonke – a Gottscheer who could, because of his achievements, be set up alongside the giants of Slovenian beekeeping, such as Anton Janša and Peter Pavel Glavar.

Life and work

Georg Jurij Jonke was born on 17 April 1777 in Gorenje (Obern) near Stara Cerkev (Mitterdorf). Having finished the studies of philosophy and classical languages in Graz and the study of theology in Ljubljana, the Archbishop of Ljubljana, baron Brigido, in September 1803, ordained him as a priest in Kočevje (Gottschee). For a while he served as chaplain in Stara Loka, and was then promoted to vicar and catechist in Novo mesto. Since 25 July 1808 until his retirement in 1834, he practised the profession of a priest in Črmošnjice (Tschermoschnitz).

The church in Črmošnjice (Tschermoschnitz)
The church in Črmošnjice (Tschermoschnitz) where Georg Jonke served as a priest. Celebration of 500 years of the Črmošnjice parish, 2009. Photo: Anja Moric.

Jonke practised beekeeping already in his youth. In his orchard in Črmošnjice (Tschermoschnitz), he set up three apiaries with approximately 150 beehives. In the summer, he had even more beehives, i.e. the number topped three hundred, and he was lending bees to other beekeepers. Jonke, who was an expert on beekeeping at the Kranjska kmetijska družba (Carniolan Agricultural Society), was in his time held in high esteem as an authority on beekeeping in Carniola. He promoted beekeeping and wrote about it in important German and Slovenian newspapers, e.g. in, at that time, central beekeeping magazine Bienen-Zeitung, in Kmetijske in rokodelske novice (Agricultural and Artisan News), etc. 

Particularly important is his guide entitled Anleitung zur praktischen Behandlung der Bienenzucht (Instructions for a Practical Approach to Beekeeping). He wrote it in 1836 and ordered it to be translated as Kranjski čbelarčik (in Bohorič alphabet: Krajnſki Zhbelarzhik). With this, Jonke did not only go down in history as an important Gottscheer and Slovenian beekeeper, but also as an intellectual who understood that if he wanted to spread his words of advice, he should write in a language that people of the then multilingual state would be able to understand. Due to its publication in Slovene and German language and because it was written comprehensibly – the author had an untrained reader in mind – the Kranjski čbelarčik found its way in many farm homes in Carniola and Gottschee.

Instructions for a Practical Approach to Beekeeping (Krajnski čbelarčik)
First edition of Jonke’s book Instructions for a Practical Approach to Beekeeping (Krajnski čbelarčik), 1836. Source: Narodna in univerzitetna knjižnica Ljubljana.

“Jonke’s beehive”

At the exhibition “Not everyone is cut-out for bee-keeping” that we set up in 2018 at the Putscherle Institute, we also presented to the public the as of yet unknown “Jonke’s beehive”. It is a movable honeycomb beehive that Jonke as the first Carniolan and indeed even as one of the first beekeepers designed according to the model of the master beekeeper Dzierzon from Poland and marks great progress in beekeeping technique. The beehive is in the ownership of the family Kapš from Občice.

“Jonke's beehive"
“Jonke’s beehive” owned by Kapš family. Photo: Anja Moric.

Georg Jurij Jonke – benefactor and peacemaker

During the times of the Illyrian provinces, Jonke probably acted as a mayor (mer) and local magistrate. According to the oral tradition, he was bestowed this function because he saved the captured French soldiers whom the Gottscheers intended to secretly kill.  He convinced the infuriated men to spend the night with him in the parish, and he placed the French soldiers in the houses in the surroundings and made sure that they did not lack anything and were not thirsty. The next morning he addressed the Gottscheers with the following words: “Alas, we do not know he is to win, our or the French Emperor, and were it the latter what then? Whoever may emerge victorious, you should not forget that you are Christians and it is forbidden for you to lay hands on captives,” and persuaded them to let the soldiers go. In doing so, he gained the respect of the French who later granted him other wishes. For example, at one time he learnt that the French intend to shoot a few Gottscheers in the city of Kočevje. He wrote a letter and sent a boy to run with it from Črmošnjice to Kočevje and hand it over to the French commander. The boy arrived just in time and the condemned persons were saved.

Jonke even saved the whole town of Kočevje from burning down to the ground when the French wanted to destroy it as a retaliatory action against the uprising that started in the Kočevska and White Carniola regions on the night from 8thand 9thOctober 1809. After Jonke’s intervention, they spared the city. However, it was looted during 16thand 18thOctober, and the five main rebels from Kočevje were shot.

The fact that Jurij Jonke on several occasions financially helped his fellow kinsmen in dire straits, is evidenced by his name that was found on various lists of donors in the newspapers from that time. He also donated proceeds from the sale of Kranjski čbelarčik (Instructions on Practical Approach to Beekeeping) for charity purposes.

Georg Jurij Jonke's tombstone at the Novi Tabor cemetery.
Georg Jurij Jonke’s tombstone at the Novi Tabor cemetery. Photo: Anja Moric.

However, Jonke, unfortunately, spent the last years of his life in poverty and misery. He died on 12 May 1864 at the age of 87. He is buried at the cemetery of Novi Tabor (Neutabor) near Črmošnjice, where his tombstone still stands. In addition, the holy-water font bearing his inscription from 1830 and the clock mechanism that he built in the belfry of the church in Črmošnjice in 1823 is what the great beekeeper from Kočevje left behind. In 2014, the regional Beekeeping Association of Peter Pavel Glavar, the Dolenjske Toplice Beekeepers’ Association and the Gottscheer Altsiedlerverein uncovered a memorial plaque honouring Jurij Jonke at the headquarters of the Gottscheer Altsiedlerverein in Občice.

The holy-water font bearing inscription: G. Jon.. at the entrance of the church in Črmošnjice.
The holy-water font bearing inscription: G. Jon.. at the entrance of the church in Črmošnjice. Photo: Anja Moric.

– Bukovec, Avguštin, 1944: Čebelarski zbornik. Ljubljana: Slovensko čebelarsko društvo.
– Gerlanc, Bogomil, Mole, Izidor, 1956: Kočevsko: zemljepisni, zgodovinski in umetnostno-kulturni oris kočevskega okraja: vodnik z adresarjem. Kočevje: Turistično olepševalno društvo.
– Erker, Josef. 1914. Georg Jonke als Prister, Bienenzüchter und Patriot. Gottscheer Bote.
– Jonke, Juri, 1836 in 1844: Krajnski Čbelarčik: to je: kratko podučenje čbele rediti, in z’ njimi prav ravnati. Dlib: https://www.dlib.si/stream/URN:NBN:SI:DOC-K56EPUI4/852f399a-afc2-4300-9f7d-4c005199cfb6/PDF
– Porenta, Tita, 2018: Veliki ljudje slovenskega čebelarstva. Brdo pri Lukovici: Čebelarska zveza Slovenije; Radovljica: Muzeji radovljiške občine – Čebelarski muzej.
– Slovenska čebela. Čebelarsko društvo, 1876.
– Šalehar, Andrej idr., 2012: Georg Jurij Jonke – črmošnjiški župnik in kranjski čebelar.Novo mesto: Regijska čebelarska zveza Petra Pavla Glavarja; Brdo pri Lukovici: Čebelarska zveza Slovenije; Občice: Društvo Kočevarjev staroselcev.
– Šalehar, Andrej idr., 2014: Poučevanje čebelarstva na Kranjskem: od Petra Pavla Glavarja (1768) in Antona Janše (1770) do Emila Rothschütza (1874). Novo mesto: Regijska čebelarska zveza Petra Pavla Glavarja.

Do you want to learn more about the wider Kočevska (Gottschee) area? See our previous post: World War I memorials in the Kočevska (Gottschee) region.

This post is also available in: Slovenian German

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