Archaeological bucket list

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.

Rosetta and Samuel, about 1853, the children may be Charlotte and Louis
Rosetta and Samuel, about 1853, the children may be Charlotte and Louis

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.


  1. Many Cha Cha Michelle

    This is great, so interesting. I’ve been meaning to tell you that I stumbled upon an old Jewish cemetery not far from here (in Hobart) which intrigued me, there is really only a very tiny Jewish community here now. I’ll explore it properly some day soon… and we must visit the synagogue, thanks for the reminder!


    1. Lois

      I think some of Rosetta and Samuel’s children are buried there… I think one died in a drowning accident. Make sure you take lots of photos if you go, and look out for the names Moses and Walford!


  2. Ann Edwards

    I believe there are some inaccuracies in your description of Barnard Walford’s life.

    I have been researching the Walford family. Barnard Walford was my great, great, great, great, great grandfather. He was not the first Jew in Tasmania. Six Jewish convicts arrived on the ‘Ocean’ in 1804. He was the 7th when he arrived in Hobart in 1807 on the ‘Lady Nelson’ from Norfolk Island. He was transported for 7 years for stealing a whole basket of washing, not just a petticoat. Details of what he supposedly stole are in the transcript of his trial, available online from the Old Bailey.

    I have been to the original Jewish burial ground in Harrington Street Hobart, which is now a public Housing Estate called ‘Walford Terraces’, where there are plaques telling Barnard’s story. He was the first person buried in the burial ground in 1828 but his son, also called Barnard, was refused permission to be buried there in 1846 by the congregation because his mother was not Jewish.
    Barnard Snr and the other Jews buried at the Harrington Street site were re-interred in the Jewish section of the Cornelian Bay Cemetery.

    If you are interested, I provide you with photographs and references for the above information.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      Thank you so much, Ann for your reply…
      Although my Walfords are not related to yours (my g-grandfather and brothers adopted the name some time in the 1860’s/70’s) I am fascinated by Barnard and his amazing story… and I do wonder whether my family adopted his family’s name… I can find no other Walford connection except to Barnard. I did once find a reference to a Walford Peak… but have never been able to find where it is. I’m hoping to visit Tasmania either later this year or early next, and will be hoping to visit the cemetery. I’d be most grateful for any information!


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