Trebra, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich von

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(b. Allstedt, Weimar, Germany 5 April 1740; d. Freiberg . Germany, 16 July 1819)


Trebra was the eldest son of Christoph Heinrich von Trebra, a courtier at Weimar, and his wife, born Albertina Amalia Karolina von Werder. After attending the monastery school in Rossleben, he studied law, philosophy, mathematics, and natural science for seven semesters at the University of Jena. Pursuing his inclination for science, he enrolled in 1766 in the newly founded mining academy at Freiberg, Saxony.

Only one year later Trebra was serving as assessor for the Bureau of Mines (Oberbergamt) at Freiberg. He rapidly acquired considerable technical knowledge and carried out his assignments to the complete satisfaction of his superiors. As a result he was appointed inspector of mines at Marienberg, Saxony, on 1 December 1767. He was resolute in enforcing the regulations and strict and merciless in punishing infractions. Since he also introduced many technical improvements into silver mining, he brought the industry in this region to a new level of prosperity.

In recognition of his services Trebra was named Commissioner of Mines (kommissionsrat) in 1770 and, in 1773, assistant supervisor of mines for the Bureau of Mines at Freiberg. In 1776 the duke of Weimar commissioned him to conduct a study of the underlying copper-bearing schist near Ilmenau. There he met Goethe, who had charge of the Ilmenau mines. The two remained good friends for nearly forty years.

In 1779 Trebra became an inspector of mines for the government of Hannover, working for more than a decade at Zellerfeld, in the Harz Mountains, and furthering the development of the metal-mining industry in the Upper Harz. His tireless efforts to increase the productivity of the mines under his jurisdiction finally led to his appointment, in 1791, as royal supervisor of mines for Great Britain and Electoral Brunswick-Lüneburg in the mining city of Clausthal.

For reasons that have not been established, Trebra resigned his post as inspector of mines in 1795 and retired to his estate, Bretleben, on the Unstrut River. There he devoted himself to breeding sheep, growing hemp, operating a distillery, and producing saltpeter and starch. This retirement was regretted by many, not least by Goethe.

A few years later Trebra accepted an offer from the government of Saxony of a post as chief mining inspector and director of the Oberbergamt of Freiberg. Upon assuming this office in 1801 he became head of the Saxon mining industry, retaining the post until his death in 1819. He was highly effective in this capacity; and in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments, he was appointed a commander of the Royal Order of the Saxon Civil Service.


I . Original Works. Trebra’s books include Erklärung der Bergwerks-Charte von dem wichtigsten Theile der Geürge im Bergamtsrefier Marienberg (Annaberg, 1770), also translated into Dutch; Erfahrungen vom Innern der Gebirge nach Beobachtungen gesammelt (Dessau–Leipzig, 1785), also translated into French: Bergbaukunde, edited with I. von Born, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1789–1790); Mineralien-Kabinet. . . (Clausthal, 1795); Das silberausbringen des Königlich Sächsischen Erzgebirges auf die nächst verflossenen 40 Jahre von 1762 bis 1801 (Freiberg, 1802); Merkwürdigkeiten der tiefen fen Hauptstöllen des Bergamtsreviers Freyberg (Freiberg, 1804): and Bergmeisterleben und Wirken in Marienberg (Freiberg, 1818).

His articles include “Kalkhaltiges phosphorescirendes Steinmark.” in Chemische Annalen für die Freunde der Naturlehre, pt. 1 (1784), 387–389; “Über die vom Himmel gefallenen Steine,” in Monatliche Correspondenz zur Beförderung der Erd- und Himmelskunde, 9 (1804), 137; and “Über die innere Temperatur der Erde.” ibid., 349–350.

II. Secondary Literature. See von Gümbel’s notice on Trebra, in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie. XXXVIII (1894), 550–551: “Friedrich . . . von Trebra,” in C. Schiffner. Aus dem Leben alter Freiberger Bergstudenten. I (Freiberg, 1935). 115–191: “Freidrich . . . von Trebra,” in Walter Serlo, Männer des Bergbaus (Berlin, 1937), 145–146: Walter Herrmann, “Goethe und Trebra. Freundschaft und Austausch zwischen Weimar und Freiberg.” in Freiberger Forschungshefte, ser. D. no. 9 (1955); and A.F. Wappler. Oberberghauptmann von Trebra und die drei ersten sächischen Kunstmeister Mende. Baldauf und Brendel (Freiberg, 1906).

M. Koch