From the South Island and the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum comes this web-friendly version of the exhibition Portrait of a People. Whether poets, writers, artists, lawyers, scholars, jewellers, politicians or philanthropists the Jewish contribution to public life and culture in Otago is significant. Meet the individuals and families that have shaped Otago's history and culture since the earliest days of European settlement including those of the clothing manufacturers Hallensteins, the De Beer family and the Theomins of Olveston.
A Portrait of a People
"Despite remaining a tiny ethnic minority, Jews in Dunedin and throughout New Zealand have continued to have a disproportionate impact on this society."
Maureen Kate Cooper, from The Jewish Kehilah in Nineteenth Century, Dunedin
Jewish people have been in New Zealand since the earliest days of European settlement, beginning with Joel Samuel Polack who settled at Kororareka in the Bay of Islands in the 1830s. Jewish congregations were founded in Auckland and Wellington in 1840 and 1843 respectively. The gold rushes of the 1860s gave an immense boost to the number of Jewish immigrants to New Zealand, causing the Jewish population to grow by an average of 150 people a year between 1861 and 1867, and prompting the establishment of congregations in Dunedin, Christchurch and Hokitika. Congregations also emerged in Timaru and Nelson. The only other centre to have had a significant Jewish congregation is Hastings. The Hastings congregation was established in 1953 - more than a century after the first New Zealand congregations.
A History of Otago’s Jewish Community
Before 1861 there were only a handful of Jewish individuals in Dunedin but in the first few years after the discovery of payable goldfields in Otago, the number of Jewish people rose sharply. By 1864 the Jewish population of Otago had climbed to 428. Most of these post-1861 arrivals came via the goldfields of Victoria, where they had been in business rather than involved directly in mining. Here in Dunedin the majority of the Jewish population became involved in the retail and mercantile trades. Most were originally from England or the German-Polish border area, especially the district of Posen. After the gold rushes some Otago Jewish people returned to England or moved away to other parts of New Zealand but other families remained and took root here. A second group of Jewish people from Germany arrived in the 1870s and 1880s and a small third wave of Russian/East European Jewish people came here in the late 1890s.
"The rush for gold, and the influx of miners, traders, and speculators, some of them Jews, led to the important step of establishing a congregation and acquiring a synagogue."
Otago Witness, April 3, 1901
The Dunedin Jewish Congregation in the 19th Century | In the Beginning
Only five Jewish men were living in Dunedin prior to the discovery of gold in 1861 – Hyam Edward Nathan, Woolf Harris, Adolph Bing, George Casper and Jacob Fogel. As the number of Jewish people in Dunedin increased, a minyan was achieved (10 Jewish males aged 13 years of age or older, which was the minimum number of Jewish people required to hold communal worship services). Hyam E Nathan had brought a Sefer Torah and an Ark with him from London with which to conduct proper worship and utilised a room in his own home in High Street as a synagogue. By the beginning of 1862, numbers had grown sufficiently to warrant the establishment of a formal congregation and Hyam E Nathan was elected as its president.
Cemetery and Synagogue
One of the first tasks that the new congregation had to tackle was the requisition of a cemetery. Dunedin’s first Jewish settlers had been allocated a small section of land as a burial ground but with the community now growing rapidly it needed to be bigger and a larger section of the Southern Cemetery was duly secured. The earliest known Jewish burial at the cemetery was that of 28-year-old Louis Woolf in March 1863. A total of 179 Jewish burials are thought to have eventually been conducted at the Southern Cemetery, most between 1863 and 1893, representing the bulk of the Jewish early settler burials in New Zealand. Another pressing task was the acquisition of a permanent place of worship. A small wooden building in George Street was leased but it proved too small, especially on High Holydays. Alternative places of worship were used temporarily while the congregation strived to build a bigger synagogue. The synagogue in Moray Place opened late in 1864.
Engaging a Leader
The congregation’s next task was to engage a leader who would act as a reader in the synagogue, a Shohet (a ritual slaughterer of animals for meat) and a teacher of Jewish children. Up to now members of the congregation had acted as readers and they ate trefah (unclean, non-kosher) meat. However, the Dunedin Jewish Congregation did not seem to be in any hurry to obtain a rabbi and only hired one after being urged to by a visiting rabbi from Jerusalem. The person they hired in 1863 was David Isaacs from Ballarat. Isaacs stayed only nine months in the job before moving to Nelson, where he became a photographer. The Dunedin congregation was again in no hurry to replace him. Finally, Jacob Levy was appointed to replace Isaacs in 1867. Levy’s tenure was fraught with difficulties and the congregation’s committee eventually dismissed him in 1874.
The Lichtenstein Years and Beyond
The arrival of Levy’s replacement, Bernhard Lichtenstein, in 1875 ushered in a more settled era for the Dunedin Jewish Congregation. By the time of Lichtenstein’s appointment the congregation was finalising plans for a grand new synagogue (an optimistic undertaking considering the Jewish population had already begun to decline in the wake of the gold rushes). The Louis Boldini-designed building in Moray Place was to be one of the largest synagogues in the Southern Hemisphere. Maurice Joel, president of the congregation, laid the cornerstone of the new building on November 11, 1880. The new southernmost synagogue was inaugurated nine months later on August 21, 1881. This impressive, 600-seat house of worship served Dunedin’s Jewish community admirably for nearly 90 years.
Orthodox Originator - Hyam Edward Nathan
Merchant and auctioneer, Hyam Edward Nathan, one of the first five Jewish settlers in Dunedin, was described as a youngish, learned, married man, who was well-versed in Jewish law. His premises in High Street were used for conducting services for nine months prior to the formal establishment of the congregation. When the Dunedin Jewish Congregation was formally established in 1862 he was elected as its first president.
Hyam E Nathan did not stay in Dunedin, however, but returned to England a few years after the congregation was established. His relationship with the congregation he had helped found had been a strained one. Its executive committee had at one point passed a resolution against him, accusing him of negligence in the conduct of the congregation’s affairs. But Nathan had refused to yield control, seizing the congregation’s books. Disagreements had even led to a scuffle on the synagogue floor, in which Nathan tore the coat of congregation member Abraham Solomon.
Sixties Settler - Maurice Joel
Maurice Joel was born in the English town of North Shields, educated in Newcastle and trained as an engraver. For some time he was in partnership with his brother in the Birmingham and Sheffield goods trade, before moving to Melbourne in 1853. He married Catherine Woolf in 1859 and the family moved to Dunedin in 1861. Maurice Joel became heavily involved in Jewish affairs, serving as president of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation for five years and as its treasurer for a decade. In 1873 he proposed the establishment of the Dunedin branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association – an organisation begun in England to strengthen ties between Jewish people and the British Empire, with an aim to foster the same enlightened treatment for Jewish people outside the British Empire as that enjoyed by those within it. Maurice Joel continued to live in Dunedin until his death in 1907, in his 79th year.
Chevra Kadisha founder - Julius Hyman
Julius Hyman was another who came to Dunedin by way of Melbourne, arriving here in 1862. He began as a jeweller in Princes Street and later became a hotelkeeper. In 1866 he co-founded the Jewish Philanthropic Society of Otago for the relief of Jewish poor and in 1867 began the first of many terms as president of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation. In 1891 Hyman founded a Chevra Kadisha, Holy Brotherhood, to care for the sick, the dying, the deceased and the cemetery in Dunedin. This is claimed as the first Chevra Kadisha in Australasia. Jewish people often took a particularly keen interest in freemasonry and Julius Hyman was a noted freemason. When Julius Hyman and his wife Hedwig celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1900, a special service was held in the synagogue to mark the occasion. Hedwig died in 1903, aged 73, and Julius in 1911, aged 84.
Russian Rabbi - Bernhard Lichtenstein
Rabbi Bernhard Lichtenstein was a quiet and retiring Russian, who had previously worked in England. Like his predecessors, Lichtenstein at first insisted strongly on adherence to orthodox religious standards. But as time passed he too was forced to bend with the liberalism of the local congregation. His first concession was to allow women in the choir. Lichtenstein led the Dunedin congregation for 17 years from his appointment in 1875 until his sudden death in 1892, aged 48. His 22-year-old son, Albert, also died suddenly in 1892, just 22 hours after his father. Bernhard Lichtenstein was a prominent freemason and an active member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He left a wife and nine children. His successor as rabbi was Julius Louis Harrison from England. However, in 1897, during what was supposed to be a temporary visit to England, Harrison resigned his Dunedin post.
Synagogue, singing, shipwrecks and more - David Theomin
David Benjamin was another prominent Dunedin merchant who came to play a substantial role in the leadership of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation. His father, Joseph Benjamin, was a rabbi who had migrated to England from Prussia, where the family name had been Theomin. David Ezekiel Benjamin was born in Bristol in 1852. He moved to Dunedin in 1879, after a few years living in Melbourne. In 1885 he had his name officially changed to David Edward Theomin. David Theomin held the posts of president and treasurer of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation for many years from the mid-1880s and was active in a variety of other social institutions including the Royal Dunedin Male Choir, the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, the Shipwreck Relief Society, the Patients and Prisoners’ Aid Society and the Otago Patriotic Council. Like some of his predecessors and fellow Jewish leaders, Theomin tried in vain to encourage the local Jewish congregation to pay greater attention to Sabbath observance.
Industry and Commerce
Businessman and Baby Benefactor - Woolf Harris
Polish-Jew Woolf Harris spent six years in Australia before coming to New Zealand in 1857. He briefly operated a business in Wellington before setting up in Dunedin. Here he went into partnership with fellow Jew, Adolph Bing, as a wholesale draper and importer (about 12 months later Bing retired). Bing, Harris and Co.’s warehouse in High Street was the first brick structure in Dunedin. The business flourished during the gold rushes. Additional branches were established in Christchurch, Wellington and Invercargill and the Dunedin warehouse was extended a number of times. In 1872 Woolf Harris married Elizabeth Nathan of Auckland. They relocated to London where Woolf Harris was better placed to purchase stock for the New Zealand stores. The couple had two sons and a daughter. One son, Leslie, who was born in London, eventually went into partnership in the business.
Babies at the Karitane Home for Babies shortly before the relocation of the home to Woolf Harris’s house in Anderson’s Bay, and the Karitane Home’s new premises, below.
Harris was a significant benefactor. He funded a Chair of Physiology at the Otago Medical School. In 1889 he donated a fountain to the city, which was originally located in Queens Gardens before being exhibited at the 1925-6 New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition at Logan Park and then relocated to the Botanic Gardens, where it remains today. Harris was also a great supporter of the Plunket Society. His house at Shiel Hill, a six-room villa with more than three acres of grounds, was leased and later gifted to the Plunket Society for use as a maternity home that became known as the Karitane-Harris Hospital. Woolf Harris died in London in 1926, aged 92.
Clothing King - Bendix Hallenstein
Bendix Hallenstein, the youngest of three sons of a Jewish family, was born in Brunswick in Germany in 1835. In his teens he went to Manchester in England, where an uncle of his was in business. After five years learning the merchant trade he followed his two brothers to Australia, where together they opened a general store on the Victorian goldfields. All three brothers wanted to marry their housekeeper Mary Mountain. She chose Bendix and the couple returned to England to marry. When the business in Australia began to subside with the gold rushes, Bendix and his eldest brother and their families decided to try their luck across the Tasman. Bendix stayed in the area, establishing stores in Invercargill, Queenstown, Cromwell, Arrowtown and Lawrence.
Finding difficulty in supplying clothing, especially men’s clothes, Hallenstein decided to start a clothing factory in Dunedin. Manufacturing at the company’s factory in Rattray Street began in 1873. Retailers were reluctant to stock his clothing, preferring to stick with imported items that commanded a higher profit margin. So Hallenstein opened a retail store of his own in the Octagon in 1876, selling the clothing at wholesale rates. Other stores throughout New Zealand quickly followed. With retail growth outstripping manufacturing capability, the factory relocated to new premises in Dowling Street in 1883. The following year Hallenstein founded the Drapery Importing Company of New Zealand (DIC), one of the many companies he had a hand in founding or serving as a director throughout his lifetime. He died on January 6, 1905, after suffering a stroke.
Music Merchant - David Theomin
Shortly after arriving in Dunedin in the late 1870s David Theomin (or David Benjamin as he was then known) opened D Benjamin and Co., general merchants, importers and wholesale jewellers. In 1884 he added to his growing business empire by also establishing the Dresden Pianoforte Manufacturing Agency and Company (later the Bristol Piano Company). This company became the largest importer of musical instruments in Australasia, with agencies in 50 towns throughout New Zealand. David Theomin served as president and treasurer of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation for many years.
Master Brewer - Maurice Joel
After arriving in Dunedin in December 1861, Maurice Joel established a general hardware and ship-chandlery business in Princes Street. When his brother-in-law, Joseph Woolf, took his own life in 1864, Joel was left with Woolf’s Red Lion Brewery and the task of caring for Woolf’s two infant children. The brewery failed to sell and Joel was left running it. In 1867 Joel’s hardware store was sold and he turned his sole attention to brewing. By the mid-1870s the Red Lion Brewery was one of the city’s best. Two of his sons eventually joined him in running the business, one taking charge of the brewing department and the other supervising the commercial side. As age and ill health caught up with Joel, the brewery’s fortunes began to decline and it was offered for sale. James Speight and Co. purchased it in 1906. Maurice Joel died the following year.
Jewish Jewellers - Edward Goldstein, Julius Hyman, Ezekiel Nathan, Abraham Solomon
Another business in which some of Dunedin’s Jewish settlers, including several presidents of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation, were involved was the watchmaking and jewellery trade. Edward Goldstein, together with Carl Ludwig Waldemar Moller, established a well-known jewellery business soon after arriving here from Victoria in 1861. Long-serving Dunedin Jewish Congregation president, Julius Hyman, began in the jewellery trade when he first came to Dunedin in 1862. Ezekiel Nathan, another gold-rush arrival, was a watchmaker and jeweller for a number of years before going into business as a tobacconist. Nathan was president of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation from 1870 to 1874. Abraham Solomon, another president of the congregation and 1860s immigrant, also established himself as a watchmaker, jeweller and pawnbroker in Dunedin.
Tobacco Trader – Samuel Jacobs
Samuel Jacobs arrived from London about 1865, spending four years on the Dunstan diggings before opening a fancy goods store in Princes Street. Later he opened a tobacconist’s shop in the Colonial Mutual Buildings – a business that was subsequently continued by his son. Samuel Jacobs was treasurer of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation in 1878-9, 1881-2 and 1891-2 and president in 1882-3. He is also remembered for having established a Hand-in-Hand Society in Dunedin – a philanthropic organisation of Jewish women ‘for the relief and assistance of distressed women’. Jacobs was conductor of the Dunedin Jewish Choral Society, formed in 1896.
In Print - Julius Vogel
In 1861 London-born Jew Julius Vogel arrived in Otago via Australia and joined the staff of a weekly newspaper called the Colonist. He had dreams of running his own newspaper and soon teamed up with the editor of the Colonist’s rival newspaper, the Otago Witness, to found New Zealand’s first daily newspaper. It was known as the Otago Daily Times and the first issue appeared on November 15, 1861. Vogel was its editor. Staff included chief reporter, Edward Gillon, reporter William Harrison (who later became a member of the House of Representatives), Ebenezer Fox (who was later Vogel’s private secretary and secretary to Cabinet), and business manager, Benjamin Farjeon.
In December 1861 the company suffered a setback when fire destroyed its premises but recovered to quickly become one of the leading newspapers in New Zealand. Co-founder, William Cutten, opted out of the partnership in 1864 and was replaced by Benjamin Farjeon (who was also Jewish). The company was subsequently hit by financial troubles and in 1866, Vogel and Farjeon agreed to sell on the condition they were retained as editor and manager, respectively. Nevertheless in April 1868 Vogel, by now also a politician, was sacked by the Otago Daily Times’ new owners. He founded a new newspaper, the New Zealand Sun, but the Sun struggled to compete with the Otago Daily Times. Vogel decided to leave Dunedin, accepting an offer to become editor and general manager of the Daily Southern Cross in Auckland. The same year, 1869, he became colonial treasurer in William Fox’s Ministry.
Ben’s Story - Benjamin Leopold Farjeon
Benjamin Farjeon was born in London in 1838. He became a skilled compositor (typesetter) before falling out with his father and joining the exodus to Melbourne in 1854. There he soon began travelling the goldfields of Victoria, moving from camp to camp and starting newspapers at each one. In 1861 he became the New Zealand correspondent for the Melbourne Argus and set out for Dunedin. In Dunedin he joined the staff of the Colonist newspaper before becoming business manager (and often also sub-editor, contributor and compositor) of the newly-established Otago Daily Times. In 1864 Farjeon became Vogel’s partner in the newspaper with the withdrawal of co-founder, William Cutten. The pair sold the business in March 1866 but Farjeon remained as manager. Farjeon was well known in many circles - from business enterprises such as the speculative mining ventures he and Vogel invested in to charitable causes such as the Otago Benevolent Institution.
Benjamin Farjeon was a supporter of local theatre, a budding dramatist and producer of plays, and an aspiring author. His unfinished novel was serialised in the Otago Witness during 1862 and 1863 and his first finished works were Shadows on the Snow in 1865 and Grif: A Story of Colonial Life in 1866. Shadows on the Snow was dedicated to Charles Dickens and Farjeon sent Dickens a copy in the hope that he would publish it in his weekly periodical. Dickens declined but sent Farjeon an encouraging reply that prompted him to return to London to pursue what turned out to be a successful literary career. He married in 1877 and his wife Margaret bore four sons (one of whom died in infancy) and a daughter, Eleanor, who became a children's author. Benjamin Leopold Farjeon died in 1903.
Editor and Educationalist - Mark Cohen
Mark Cohen was yet another London-born Jew - the eldest child of Hyman Cohen and Caroline Benjamin. The Cohen family immigrated to Australia in 1853 when Mark Cohen was three years of age and by 1863 the family had moved to Otago. Hyman Cohen got into financial difficulty and ended up in gaol. By the mid-1870s Hyman appears to have left Otago. Mark joined the newspaper trade about 1865, working for the Otago Daily Times until being sacked for refusing to apologise for having gone out on strike. He found fresh employment with the Evening Star and when the owner of this newspaper fell ill Mark, aged 17, kept the paper going for three weeks on his own. In 1869 he joined Vogel’s New Zealand Sun but returned to the Evening Star when the Sun folded. Mark Cohen retired in 1920, after about 55 years in the newspaper industry.
Mark Cohen married Sara Isaacs in 1879. Following the births of their children Mark became involved in educational issues, successfully standing for the Union Street School Committee in 1884, the George Street School committee in 1886 and later serving on the Otago Education Board. He prompted the establishment of the Dunedin Kindergarten Association in 1889, thus beginning the free kindergarten movement in New Zealand. Mark Cohen also championed libraries, forming the Dunedin Free Public Library Association in 1890 and suggesting a library conference (held in Dunedin in 1910) from which the Libraries’ Association of New Zealand was formed. Sara Cohen died in 1923 and Mark established the Sara Cohen Memorial School for handicapped children in her memory. Mark Cohen died in Auckland in 1928.
Several Otago Jewish people entered local and national politics. The most well-known Jewish politician was Julius Vogel who began his political career in 1863, gaining seats both on the Otago Provincial Council and in the House of Representatives, and rose to become premier of New Zealand in 1873. Former mayor of Adelaide, John Lazar, was town clerk in Dunedin from 1863 until 1866, before joining the throng heading for the goldfields of the West Coast. Businessman, Bendix Hallenstein, was Queenstown mayor from 1869 until 1872, a member of the Otago Provincial Council from 1872 until 1875 and a member of the House of Representatives in 1872-3. Oamaru Jew, Samuel Shrimski, became mayor of Oamaru in 1874, spent around eight years as a member of the House of Representatives and was a member of the Legislative Council for Otago for 17 years. Newspaperman Mark Cohen served as a Dunedin city councillor from 1886 until 1896 and was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1920.
Julius Vogel (later Sir Julius Vogel) began his six years as an Otago provincial councillor in 1863. His time as a parliamentarian also began in 1863 and, when William Fox succeeded to the premiership in 1869, Vogel became colonial treasurer. As colonial treasurer Vogel promoted a bold expansionist policy that envisaged bringing thousands of assisted immigrants to New Zealand to conduct public works such as the construction of roads and railways. Vogel’s policy was implemented during the 1870s, by which time he represented constituents in Auckland rather than Otago. Except for a brief interlude, Vogel remained in government from 1869 until August 1876, holding various portfolios. From April 1873 to July 1875 and from February to August 1876 he was premier. Then he became agent general in London until being forced to resign in 1880. Vogel returned to New Zealand and to Parliament in 1884 but four years later returned again to England, where he spent the last 11 years of his life.
Southern Statesman - Samuel Shrimski
About 1840, at the age of 12, Posen-born Samuel Shrimski left his homeland to seek his fortune in London. In the 1850s he followed the great migration to Melbourne and continued on to Dunedin in 1861. At a boarding house in Dunedin he met another young Jewish man named Joseph Moss, who had been born in London, run away to sea at the age of 12 and migrated to Dunedin after a time in Victoria. The pair decided to join forces and in 1862 established a clothing and drapery store in Oamaru. The following year they bought a section in the town’s main street and erected a two-storeyed stone building on it (the first stone business premises in Oamaru). The pair continued in partnership until 1870. Samuel Shrimski became involved in public life from the outset. He was the first freemason initiated at Oamaru. He became a member of the local school committee in 1863 and later served on the Oamaru Hospital Board, the Oamaru Harbour Board and the Waitaki Boys’ High School Board of Governors. He was also a founding member of the Otago branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association. Samuel Shrimski first served on the Oamaru Town Board in 1864 and in 1874 became the town’s mayor. In 1876 he was elected to Parliament and in 1885 was appointed to the Upper House, serving as a legislative councillor until his death in 1902.
Performer and Administrator - John Lazar
In 1836 23-year-old John Lazar sailed with his wife and children from England to Australia. It was a tragic voyage. All of the passengers became seriously ill and three of the Lazars’ children died (the couple had already lost three children in England). In Australia Lazar became involved in managing and performing in theatres, ultimately settling in Adelaide. In Adelaide, he entered local politics and from 1855 to 1857 he was the city’s mayor.
In 1863 he moved to Dunedin where he became town clerk. Lazar could preach and assisted with worship on High Holydays in Dunedin. Ructions in the city council in 1866 led to the termination of all appointments and a reorganisation of staff. Lazar was not re-hired, perhaps bearing the brunt for one of his subordinates having misappropriated a sum of money. Lazar moved to Hokitika and became town clerk there instead. On the West Coast he continued his long association with freemasonry, in which he was a highly-regarded participant. The Lazar Lodge in Kumara was named in his honour. John Lazar died in Hokitika in 1879.
Despite an influx of refugees in the mid-1900s, the Jewish population of Dunedin steadily declined in the 20th century. Census figures indicate that in 1926 190 Dunedin citizens were affiliated to Judaism. By 1951 this number had fallen to 126. Deaths outnumbered births. Some Jews moved away. A lack of Jewish marriage partners necessitated a tolerance to marriage outside the faith. Following the departure of Rabbi Alexander Astor to Auckland about 1930, the community found it hard to replace him and maintain leadership. Synagogue attendance fell and again Jewish laws were not strictly adhered to. By the 1960s the congregation was but a shadow of its former self and the decision was made to downsize the synagogue, and to build at a new site on a much more modest scale.
Today the congregation remains a small core, boosted by worshippers that are either temporary residents of Dunedin or visitors from outside the city.
The Dunedin Jewish Congregation in the 20th Century: Quieter Times
The attendance at Synagogue has been becoming steadily worse, until Sabbath after Sabbath it has not been possible to take the Scrolls of the Law from the Ark.
David Theomin, from the Report of Dunedin Jewish Congregation Annual Meeting,Otago Daily Times, September 18, 1906
Changing Clergy - Adolph Treitel Chadowski, Morris Diamond and Alexander Astor
The rabbi who saw the community through the early years of the 20th century was Adolph Treitel Chadowski. Chadowski was a native of Posen, Prussia. He was the youngest of four brothers who were all rabbis, as their father had also been. After training in Posen and Berlin, Adolph Chadowski went to England, where he became the first foreigner to be admitted to the Jews’ College, London. After two and a half years of study at the Jews’ College he accepted postings as a rabbi in Leicester, then in Christchurch, New Zealand and Brisbane, Australia, before coming to Dunedin in 1898. He spent about 12 years working in Dunedin before returning to Australia. Three years later, Morris Diamond, who had served as a rabbi in Newcastle in England, was appointed in Chadowski’s place. Diamond resigned in 1923, on account of his ill health. Rabbi Alexander Astor was next to fill the vacancy in Dunedin. Astor stayed five years before departing to lead the Auckland community about 1930.
In 1936, after several years without a rabbi, Abraham Hyman Karwan was appointed to replace Alexander Astor. Karwan was a very orthodox Jew and could not adjust to the liberal practices of the Dunedin congregation. He only worked in Dunedin for two years. After Rabbi Karwan resigned in 1938 it was discovered that Ernst Hirsh, a refugee from Germany, could conduct services and teach the children. Hirsh had settled in Milton, where he was employed at the Bruce Woollen Mill, and travelled to Dunedin each week to conduct the service. A couple of years later, Caesar Steinhof, a qualified teacher who was also a refugee from Germany, was appointed as rabbi (although only paid as a reader and teacher). When Steinhof left in 1944, to become headmaster of a Jewish School in Sydney, Hirsh again filled the vacancy and in 1948 moved to Dunedin.
Bendix and Mary Hallenstein had four daughters – Sara Elizabeth, who married her cousin Willi Fels; Emily, who married Isidore de Beer; Henrietta, who married James Francis Hyams; and Agnes Fawcett, who married Siegfried Barden. The daughters were instructed in the Jewish faith, although their mother was Anglican. On 6 January 1905, after suffering a stroke, Bendix died at his London Street home. He was buried in the Jewish portion of Dunedin's Southern Cemetery. His wife and three of his daughters survived him. His descendants and relatives carried on the tradition of philanthropy he had begun.
Museum Friend - Willi Fels
The Hallensteins visited Germany in 1881 and Sara Elizabeth married her cousin Willi Fels there in November of that year. The couple lived in Neuhaus, Germany until 1888 when they moved to Dunedin. Fels joined the head office of Hallenstein Brothers. He would eventually become managing director of the firm and of the Drapery and General Importing Company of New Zealand (DIC).
Fels was an avid collector of coins, medals, arms, ceramics, decorative art, books and ethnographic objects. The eldest of his three daughters died in 1914 and his only son, Harold, was killed in action in 1917. His wife Sara died in 1918. Fels, deciding that his collections should be given to the city, commenced his association with the Otago Museum. He had a hand in the appointment of anthropology lecturer and assistant museum curator HD Skinner in 1918, paying half his salary until 1923. He eventually donated some 80,000 pieces and more than £25,000 to the museum and 400 of his most valuable books to the Otago University Library. Willi Fels died in Dunedin on June 29, 1946.
The Benevolent de Beers – Mary, Dora and Esmond de Beer
Bendix and Mary’s second daughter, Emily, married Isidore de Beer, who had come from Melbourne to work for Hallenstein Brothers. From 1910 to 1912, Isidore ran Hallensteins’ office in London. Isidore and Emily had four children – Mary Louise, Dora Hallenstein, Bendix and Esmond Samuel. Bendix, like his cousin Harold Fels, was killed in action in 1917. From the 1930s, the three remaining children, who never married, made their home together in London.
All three were collectors – Esmond of books, Dora of textiles and all three were lovers of the visual arts. They began making gifts to Dunedin city in the 1950s. The most significant was the gift of thousands of volumes to the University of Otago library from Esmond’s collection of rare books. The de Beers were instrumental in establishing the Frances Hodgkins, Robert Burns and Mozart fellowships at the University of Otago and the Otago Museum and Dunedin Public Art Gallery also benefited from their philanthropy. Mary, Dora and Esmond died in 1981, 1982 and 1990, respectively. Although they were of Jewish descent none observed the Jewish faith.
Patrons of Art - Emil and Percy Halsteds
Emil Halsted, nephew of Bendix Hallenstein, was brought over from Melbourne by his uncle to join the family firm in Dunedin in the mid-1880s, eventually becoming a director of Hallenstein Brothers and chairman of directors of the DIC. He was treasurer of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation for a lengthy period. Percy Halsted, another nephew, came to New Zealand in 1896 but later returned to England to run the London office of the DIC. Both Halsteds took a keen interest in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Emil was president of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society in 1933. Emil died later that year and Percy died on New Year’s Day 1943.
Poet Charles Brasch was born in Dunedin on July 27, 1909. His father, Hyam Brasch, was a lawyer of Jewish origin and his mother was Helene Mary Fels, daughter of Willi Fels. Helene, when pregnant with the couple’s third child, died suddenly, leaving Charles, aged four, to be raised by his father, aunts and housekeepers. Charles spent a lot of his time at Manono, the home of his grandfather, Willi Fels. In 1923 Brasch became a boarder at Waitaki Boys’ High School, Oamaru, and in 1927 entered St John’s College, Oxford.
Throughout the 1930s he travelled widely, taught and wrote. He spent the war years in and around London, exempted from active service because of slight emphysema, but involved in intelligence work for the Foreign Office. He returned to Dunedin after the war and in 1947 founded the journal of arts and letters, Landfall, which he was to edit for 20 years. Charles Brasch gained a reputation as a patron of New Zealand culture, serving on a number of organisations such as the Dunedin Public Library Association and the committees of the Otago Museum and the Hocken Library. He died on 20 May 1973, leaving a rich legacy of books, paintings, and personal papers to the Hocken and University of Otago libraries.
Accomplished Artist - Grace Joel
Grace Jane Joel was the sixth of nine children of brewer and one of the founders of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation, Maurice Joel. She was born in Dunedin in 1865, attended Otago Girls' High School from 1875 to 1882 and joined the Otago Art Society in 1886. After training in Melbourne in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Joel returned to Dunedin and tried to establish herself as a professional artist - exhibiting, teaching and playing a part on the Otago Art Society Council. Her next stop was Europe and she announced her intention in October 1898 to hold an art union of her paintings to help raise her fare. From about 1899 she settled in London and worked and studied in France and the Netherlands. On March 6, 1924 Grace Joel died in London. She had never married. With her death she disappeared into artistic obscurity, but has been ‘rediscovered’ in more recent times.
The Theomin Legacy
The most tangible legacy of the Theomin family is the 100-year old house, built by David Theomin and gifted to the city by his daughter, Dorothy. In the early 20th century David Theomin had London architect Ernest George design the elegant 35-room mansion and between 1904 and 1906 it was built on the site in Royal Terrace where the family had been living. It was named Olveston after a village near Bristol where David Theomin had holidayed as a child. The home was gradually filled with a large collection of treasures from Europe and Asia. When David Theomin died in 1933 his wife and son were already deceased and the house was left to Dorothy. Dorothy died in 1966, leaving Olveston and its contents to the city of Dunedin in her will.
Champions of Charity and the Arts
The Theomin legacy is wider than just the gift of Olveston. David’s wife, Marie, was a prime mover in the Plunket Society from its inception. After the deaths of her parents Dorothy, who never married, continued the Theomin family tradition of philanthropy. From 1941 to 1955 she was on the executive of the Plunket Society. During World War Two she was an active member of the Red Cross. She maintained the Theomin Trust, established for education and charitable purposes. Her interest in the arts saw her serve as a Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society member for 33 years, as vice president from 1954 to 1957 and as president from 1957 to 1959.
The Legal Profession
Leading lawyer - Saul Solomon
Son of jeweller Abraham Solomon, Saul Solomon was born in Melbourne and came to Dunedin with his parents in the 1860s. As a student at Otago Boys High School in Dunedin he showed considerable promise, becoming joint dux of the school in 1871. One of the first graduates of the University of Otago, Solomon was capped in 1874. He entered the law as a clerk for Robert Stout (later Premier and Sir Robert Stout) and was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1879. His own practice was established in 1884 and he became known for taking on public bodies. A case he took against insanitary conditions at the Dunedin Hospital led to improvements there. Another case in which he played a part resulted in the dismissal of all of the officials of the Dunedin Gaol.(The Cyclopedia of New Zealand)
New Zealand's first woman lawyer - Ethel Benjamin
Ethel Rebecca Benjamin, New Zealand's first woman lawyer, was born in Dunedin in 1875, daughter of Orthodox Jews, Lizzie Mark and her husband Henry Benjamin. Henry was a prominent Dunedin finance-broker. Ethel was the eldest of at least seven Benjamin children. She attended Otago Girls' High School, where she excelled, and in 1897 graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree. That same year she became the first woman admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand. Although she was not accepted by the Otago District Law Society, Ethel Benjamin established a successful legal practice, with her clients including members of the local Jewish community. In 1899 she became honorary solicitor for the Dunedin branch of the New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women and Children. In December 1906 Benjamin temporarily moved to Christchurch to run a large restaurant, The Cherry Tea Rooms, at the New Zealand International Exhibition. Ethel Benjamin moved to Wellington, after marrying Alfred Mark Ralph De Costa in the synagogue there on July 23, 1907. Again the stay was short, and she and her husband moved to England. She died of a fractured skull in 1943, after being accidentally knocked down by a motor vehicle.
Acknowledgements from Toitū Otago Settlers Museum
The Otago Settlers Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the following individuals and organisations in the production of this exhibition:
Dunedin Jewish Congregation
The Theomin Gallery (Olveston)
Special Collections, University of Otago Library
Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Cooper, Maureen Kate, The Jewish kehilah in nineteenth century Dunedin: A cultural and economic contribution 1860-1914, a thesis submitted in partial requirement for the degree of B.A. Honours at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 1986.
The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Volume 4, The Cyclopedia Company Limited, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1905
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Goldman, Lazarus Morris, The History of the Jews in New Zealand, AH & AW Reed, Wellington, New Zealand, 1958
Otago Daily Times
Rosenthal, Odeda, Not Strictly Kosher: Pioneer Jews in New Zealand, Starchand Press, Wainscott, New York, USA, 1988
Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Thomson, Jane (ed.), Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography, Dunedin City Council, Dunedin, New Zealand, 1998
Toitū Otago Settlers Museum collections
Image header (above): Image above header: Detail of a painting of John Lazar in his Lodge regalia. Pastel portrait. Hokitika Museum ©. Reproduced here with permission. P 91.216
This exhibition was first curated and exhibited by Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, December 2, 2006 – July 15, 2007