My latest assignment was only difficult because all three options appealed to me,and within the options there were several things I could have written about. I decided in the end to write about somewhere I really d want to visit, so that the exercise wasn’t just wishful thinking, it was an actual plan.
I am fascinated by Tasmania and really hope we can visit… but we’ll have to save all our pennies first. Here is what I wrote for my assignment:
The site I’ve chosen is the Jewish synagogue in Hobart, Tasmania, the oldest synagogue in Australia.
The foundation stone was laid on August 9th, 1843, and a major contributor to its building was my great-great grandfather Samuel Moses; the memorial I’d like to visit, inside the building, is a board listing the contributors to the synagogue. I’d like to stand before it and see Samuel’s name, and those of his brothers, David and Henry and the President of the Synagogue, Samuel’s brother-in-law and business partner, Louis Nathan.
Australia was part of the British Empire since it was colonised in the 1780’s-90’s; Tasmania, (named after a Dutch explore and navigator, Abel Tasman) is an island off the south-east coast of Australia. Abel Tasman originally named the island Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) after the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies. VDL was used principally as a destination for convicts, sent from England’s prison to populate the newly acquired territory, and to work as virtual slave-labour for the term of their sentence. Since the American War of Independence, Britain had lost not only a colony which produced crops such as tobacco, sugar, and cotton, but also a useful dumping ground for the prisoners which filled and over-filled British jails.
The Aboriginal population of the island before white colonization was brutally supressed, driven off their tribal lands, murdered, and eventually exiled to Flinders Island, in the Bass Strait, the last Tasmanian Aboriginal woman dying in 1876… but that’s another story. The first white population of VDL were convicts, guards and soldiers were deposited there from 1803, in a scheme called Transportation (convicts had also been sent to America and the Caribbean) which continued until 1856. The lives of these men and women trying to survive in terrible conditions, is a story of brutality, life and death in the most dreadful and primitive situation… another story for another time.
The first Jew in VDL was Barnard Walford, originally from Vienna, transported from London for seven years for stealing a petticoat, who married, became respectable; his family became integrated into Hobart society. Other Jews arrived over the early years of the nineteenth century and although many married Gentile women, most seemed to have tried to keep to their faith. For some unknown reason, Samuel’s sons, including my great-grandfather, Louis, changed their name from Moses to Walford.
Samuel Moses and his partner Louis Nathan arrived towards the end of the 1830’s, Samuel bringing his wife Rosetta and children. Samuel and Louis saw a wonderful opportunity in the new colony and established a well-respected business ‘Nathan, Moses & Co’; their ships scurried backward and forwards across the Pacific and the South China Seas, (including a brig, The Lady Denison, which was wrecked… or maybe overrun by convicts on board who then sailed it to San Francisco) They ran a successful export and import business, fine wines, porcelain, silk, and the best from Europe and Asia into their warehouses, sheep and whale products, minerals and timber out to Asia, the USA, South America and Europe.
Samuel was an important member of the Jewish community (and was mohel for a number of years) He was generous to the poor, he was devoted to his faith and to his family (of twelve children) and was so highly respected that on his death back in England in 1873, he was the first man to be buried in the newly established Willesden Green Jewish Cemetery
As religious Jews soon wished to have a proper place for worship, and they had the financial ability to support it with other businessmen in Hobart. They employed an ex-convict and architect to design the synagogue, and as his only knowledge of Jews was from the Bible, he designed something which looked more like an Ancient Egyptian tomb than a conventional place of worship. The synagogue is small, but quite lovely and no doubt the Jewish founders, trustees and worshippers were proud and delighted in what they had achieved, and they would be even more proud to know that a small Jewish population still uses their place of worship today.
I’ve visited Samuel’s grave in London, but would like to see the Founder’s Board in the synagogue to properly recognize what he did not just for the Jews of Tasmania, but the colony itself. He helped establish a cultured and educated society, and as the first Jewish Justice of the Peace in Australia, justice for all.