The History of the Jews in New Zealand
Chapter X — The Communities Develop
The Communities Develop
In the place of FitzRoy, Her Majesty appointed Captain George Grey, a brilliant, young professional soldier who, at the age of thirty-three, had already won his spurs as an explorer in Western Australia and as the Governor of South Australia. With military precision and with the enlisted aid of friendly Maori chiefs, he quickly captured the hostile native strongholds in the north, and through moderation and an acquired understanding of the native language and customs, achieved a peace, from Auckland northwards, which was undisturbed in the subsequent skirmishes and wars with the Maoris in the south. Cleverly capturing Te Rauparaha, Grey opened a campaign against his nephew Te Rangihaeata. Driving him steadily northwards, away from Wellington, Grey succeeded, with the help of the powerful Maori chief, Wiremu Kingi, in confining Te Rangihaeata to a limited area, a step which led finally to an amicable settlement between Grey and the natives. He also began to win their respect and affection. They appreciated his speedier and more equitable methods in settling land disputes and his introduction of Maori myths and legends to European readers. With the British Government supporting him freely with money and men, he straightened out the financial muddle which he had found on his arrival, established law courts and an effective civil service, and encouraged educational activities. Her Majesty also showed appreciation of Grey's services by awarding him a well-earned knighthood.
Although Grey attained peace and financial stability, the increase of the European population through migration proceeded only at a very slow rate. This was reflected in the Jewish population. In 1848, out of a total population of just over 16,000, Jews living in New Zealand numbered 61, of which 33 resided in Auckland and 28 in Wellington. Throughout the history of the European settlement of the country, the Jews have maintained the same steady average figure of 0.25 per cent of the total white population. By 1858, the Jewish numbers had only increased to 188, over 100 of whom were living in Auckland, the rest being about equally divided between Wellington, Canterbury and Otago. With the assistance of the New Zealand Company, the Free Church of Scotland, which, through a variance in belief, had broken with the Established Church, founded the Otago Province and its capital Dunedin in 1848. Two years later, in 1850, the Church of England founded Christchurch in the Province of Canterbury.page 68
At first, the Maori wars hindered speedy migration, but later, Grey's policy of protecting the native interests brought him into collision with the New Zealand Company and with many settlers eager for land. This further retarded migration. The discovery of gold in America, in 1849, and in Australia, in 1851, attracted migrants from all over the world, some leaving New Zealand for the goldfields in California, in New South Wales and in Victoria.
Israel Joseph of Auckland, David Nathan's former partner, transferred to Australia. After Joel Samuel Polack recovered from wounds sustained in Kororareka, he tried to settle down as a ships' broker and buyer of flax in premises opposite the Custom House in Auckland, but the call of adventure was too great for him and, on hearing of the gold discoveries in California, he left immediately for the Barbary Coast. He later settled in San Francisco where he married the widow of William Hart, a sea-captain and an old acquaintance of his from Kororareka. Polack died in San Francisco in 1882. From Wellington, Solomon Mocatta and his wife left the country permanently, and small, rotund David M. Isaacs, whom Hort had brought from England as his religious assistant, sailed for Geelong, Victoria, where he helped to establish the local congregation. In 1855, Ballarat's Victorian community appointed him as its first minister. There, too, he was the mainstay in building the synagogue. Only in the latter years of the first decade after the gold discoveries, when diggers in Australia were confronted with hardships when leads ran out and payable employment was difficult to procure, did migration once again trickle through to the widely separated settlements of New Zealand.
Auckland traders, in order to arrest the movement of the population to the goldfields overseas, formed themselves into an organization with a committee of fourteen, and offered a minimum award of £500 to anyone making known to them a payable goldfield in New Zealand between 35° 40' and 38° south latitude. David Nathan sat on the committee and headed the list guaranteeing the reward. Strangely enough, within a month of the advertisement gold was found at Coromandel. To the deep disappointment of the discoverers and the sponsors, however, the gold was found to be of inferior quality and unpayable. John Israel Montefiore, who had become a specie expert, reporting on the Coromandel find to the Sydney Morning Herald whilst on a visit to Australia, stated that the specimens shown to him bore specks of gold bewixt a lot of ore and sand. The natives, understanding a keen bargain, put a prohibitively high price on their auriferous fields. They became more reasonable on realizing that gold does not always pay. Four years later the discovery of another goldfield at Coromandel also proved to be a disappointment, and dashed the gleeful hopes of the Auckland merchants.page 69
In one respect, the opening up of the goldfields in California and Australia did benefit New Zealand. It created an immediate demand for all the agricultural products which the country could supply. The natives became more contented on account of the high prices they received for the products they grew. Money in the hands of the Maoris also brought prosperity to the merchants. Nathaniel Levin, who had established the firm of Levin and Company on Lambton Quay, Wellington, lost no time in launching an "adventure" by packing a ship with goods for the Californian coast (in those days an "adventure" meant to sail at one's own risk). Levin had risen to become one of Wellington's most enterprising and successful businessmen. He had entered the whaling business, firstly exporting whale oil and bone, and later purchasing three whaleboats and a shore whaling station employing twenty-seven men at Cloudy Bay across the strait from Wellington. He was one of the first to send wool from New Zealand, becoming one of the largest shippers of that commodity in the country. The wharf opposite his business was known as Levin's Wharf. As he prospered he entered more varied businesses, trading mainly in cattle and properties and supplying farmers with equipment and finance. He did not neglect Wellington's civic and social interests. The authorities appointed him one of the town's first Justices of the Peace and he was a member of the first committee of its Chamber of Commerce. With his father-in-law, Abraham Hort, sen., he was one of the founders of the Wellington Club. The Wellington Savings Bank also elected him to its Committee of Management. Increased prosperity extended his charitable benevolence, and his name was hardly ever missing from lists aiding the needy and any settlers in misfortune.
Levin had his setbacks. An "adventure" with his brother-in-law, Abraham Hort, jun., to establish a passenger service to Tahiti by the 40-ton sailing brigantine Rovers Bride, ended unsuccessfully. A passenger died on board, and Hort induced the master to put into Auckland, where it was found that the brigantine leaked badly. The repairs took several weeks, which resulted in heavy financial loss. Bad luck seemed to follow Abraham Hort, jun. A partnership which he held with his brother-in-law, Solomon Mocatta, had to be dissolved. A successful trading business in the Pacific Islands required him and his brother Alfred to reside near their headquarters at Apia, Samoa, but in 1854, Hort Brothers suffered severely through the competition of the subsidized German firm of Godeffroy of Hamburg. In 1860, their premises were burnt down, and they had to liquidate the business. Two years later, Abraham Hort, jun., died at Ovalau, Fiji, and was taken to Sydney for burial. The experiences of the family were not altogether wasted, for Mrs Alfred Hort wrote a number of works concerning the Pacific Isles and, in 1866, published a novel which received a fair notice at the time and which was entitled, Hena, or Life in Tahiti.page 70
Sir George Grey's peace policy and the gold-rushes in Australia and California also brought moderate prosperity to the inhabitants of Auckland. Most of the hundred-odd Jews who lived there in the eighteen-fifties did reasonably well in the trades and businesses with which they or their parents had been connected in England. Storekeeping, auctioneering and hotel-keeping predominated. Solomon Hyam Levey and Philip Levey (who also spelt their name as Levy), Morris Marks, Henry Keesing, jun., and William Possenniskie were amongst the better known publicans in the town. Possenniskie tried to attract custom by installing a bath in his hotel. Among the smaller dealers and shopkeepers of good repute were to be found Barnett Keesing, J. H. Asher, Benjamin Moses, Samuel Brown, Benjamin Asher, Nathan Goldwater, John Keesing, L. Kronenberg, Bernhardt Levy, Gabriel Lewis, Samuel Marks and Isaac Doitsh. Philip Aaron Philips, Hyam Joseph, Henry Keesing, Abraham and Ralph Keesing in partnership, Nathan Henry and Asher Asher operated as merchants in a bigger way. L. and J. Levy conducted a library, and Miss Goldstone received young ladies for an English education which she stated she was qualified to give through having had fifteen years of study in Paris.
Amongst the town's leading merchants stood David Nathan and Charles Davis. Everything which Nathan touched turned to gold. As a man of absolute integrity, he was the townspeople's confidant, and they passed on to him any intimate or personal business they desired to transact. He pursued an active auctioneer's career. The authorities placed into his hands the selling or letting of the Governor's residence when Grey was about to leave the colony. From them he received a contract to supply the British Navy. Through the natives, who trusted him implicitly, he built up the largest kauri-gum business in New Zealand. From dealing in wines and spirits and groceries he extended to general merchandise, later entering into large transactions in maize, wheat, tea and coffee. He also started out as a shipping agent, thereby opening up trade between Mauritius, the South Sea Islands and Japan. In a publication issued by the Shaw, Savill and Albion Shipping Line commemorating its centenary, tribute was paid to David Nathan and to the company's wisdom in choosing him as its agent. It attributed its early successes to his sound judgment and advice. Auckland was the port to which their first ships were dispatched. David Nathan grew into a benevolent financial force in the city. His voice amongst others directed whether or not foreign money should be accepted in the Auckland area.
The career of Charles Davis started out quite differently from that of his close friend David Nathan. As a young man, Davis worked in the solicitor's office of a son of Benjamin Yates, the first Jewish minister and founder of the Liverpool Hebrew community in England (the name had been anglicized from Goetz). Whilst working assiduously in the solicitor's office, Davis also page 71 fell in love with his master's daughter, Julia, and not having permission to marry her, eloped. The couple came out to New Zealand. In Auckland Charles Davis set himself up as a solicitor, earning a reasonable livelihood and being highly respected. Alert and clever, and a man who seldom allowed an opportunity to pass, Davis investigated his position and came to the conclusion that he could succeed far better in business. In due course an advertisement appeared that he had been induced to take out an auctioneer's licence. He reciprocated the inducement by providing a free luncheon to all who attended his sales. He traded in wool, oil and kauri-gum, and specialized in New Zealand products. Acting as a shipping agent, he booked passengers and freight to all parts of the world, and formed a close connection with a Jewish sea-captain, F. A. Levien, who commanded the clipper brig Hargraves, carrying passengers and goods between New Zealand and Australia. Unfortunately, the connection only lasted about a year owing to the sudden death of Captain Levien. Charles Davis's business went ahead by leaps and bounds, and within a comparatively short period he was counted amongst Auckland's leading merchants.
John Israel Montefiore did not prosper to the extent of his co-religionists David Nathan and Charles Davis. He sold timber and conducted a wine and spirit store in Queen Street. Nevertheless, he seemed to possess private resources, and was considered an authority on finance. When shortage of money in Auckland lifted the value of foreign currency to an unwarranted level, Montefiore headed the list of twenty-three leading Auckland firms which refused to accept foreign money except at the price prevailing in the sister colonies. David Nathan and Henry Keesing also signed the manifesto. On 3 December, 1846, twelve gentlemen, including Montefiore, met in order to form a Savings Bank. Montefiore agreed to allow the safe of the Savings Bank to be lodged in his brick store and the meetings of the trustees to take place on his premises for the receipt of deposits and other business of the bank. As a trustee and one of the two honorary auditors, Montefiore and his colleague, in suspended excitement, opened the doors of the brick store on Saturday night, 5 June, 1847, at 7 p.m. for banking business. Alas! Nothing happened. The two managers having sat in rotation one hour, and no business having been transacted, the doors were closed. They had to wait a fortnight until the first deposit was made. A century later total funds exceeded £30,000,000. Depositors' accounts in nineteen branches numbered 263,346, a remarkable total for a city of 340,000 inhabitants. Besides Montefiore, other Jews connected with the Savings Bank over the century as trustees, presidents and vice-presidents included David Nathan (1864-1885), Charles Davis (1867), Laurence David Nathan (1886-1904), Sidney Jacob Nathan (1906-1917), Nathan Alfred Nathan (1917-1931), Robert Edward Isaacs (1920-1938) and Sir Ernest Hyam Davis (from 1942). It has also page 72 been stated, a century after the bank opened its doors, that its success "was due to the fact that the pioneers included a number of public-spirited men who volunteered to act as trustees without thought of reward; who offered the free use of their premises for meetings, for deposits, and for safe custody of the funds entrusted to them; who took the responsibility of seeking satisfactory investments; and last, but by no means least, who agreed to attend at the appointed time and place to conduct the bank's business until a stage had been reached where sufficient progress had been made to justify the employment of paid officers". Montefiore was among the foremost of these public-spirited men.
When, in 1859, Montefiore reached fifty years of age, he decided to retire as a trustee of the Auckland Savings Bank. It appeared he also retired from all his public activities except the chairmanship of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. Ten years later he left New Zealand for ever, settling at South-sea in England, where he lived until his death at the ripe old age of eighty-nine years.
The populace in Auckland did not aspire only to succeed in business. It also sought entertainment. Jews who provided this need included R. Hertz, who advertised his first Grand Fancy Dress Ball to which he called the attention of all those who considered dancing No Sin. Isaac Davis, a "Professor of Violin" who led the orchestra at the Theatre Royal, also sought to teach pupils. In April, 1858, Wizard Jacobs arrived in Auckland and entertained for six nights at the Theatre Royal. He advertised himself as the "Great Wizard, Ventriloquist, Professor of Experimental, Scientific and Mechanical Philosophy, Good Modern Magician and Improvisor. Patronized by Her Majesty, Prince Albert, Royal Family, Louis Napoleon and Eugenie and King and Queen of the Belgians. Success in Australia and California". In spite of their seeming flamboyance, the advertisements were modest. Jacobs had enjoyed over twenty-five years of wide experience on the stage in England, America and the Colonies, and had won popularity amongst all classes for his acting, dancing and generally amusing entertainment, but most of all for remarkable performances in feats and tests of the memory. John Lewis Jacobs had been born in Liverpool of pious Jewish parents. Although on the stage, he attended synagogue regularly and did not ride on a vehicle on the Sabbath day.
The gradual growth of the Auckland Jewish community demanded a larger and more permanent building for the conduct of the Sabbath and Holyday services than the room in the store of David Nathan. In 1855 the current leaders of the congregation, Philip Samuel Solomon, Charles Davis and Abraham Keesing, leased a wooden edifice in Emily Place for seven years. P. S. Solomon officiated as the acting minister, frequently assisted by Charles Davis and Ralph Keesing. Before the lease terminated, and during page 73 the absence of David Nathan abroad, a serious breach occurred in the community between a faction led mainly by the Keesing family and the honorary officers of the congregation. The dispute probably concerned the appointment of a minister and a Shohet, for the break-away group established a congregation of their own at the shop of Isaac Doitsh in High Street, called it "Sha'are Tikvah" (The Gates of Hope) and appointed J. E. Myers as its spiritual guide. He came out to Auckland under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi, Nathan Marcus Adler, and was only nineteen years of age.
The new faction's protestation for "Love and Harmony" did not conform with the advertisement which it published in the local press notifying all and sundry of its intention to secede. Thus it advertised:
We the undersigned privileged Members professing the Jewish Faith, hereby acquaint our co-religionists and Christian friends from this date we do not recognize Mr Charles Davis as President, Mr P. A. Philips as Treasurer and Mr P. S. Solomon as Officiating Minister, on account of their recent behaviour in our Congregational matters . . .
For the sake of insuring that Love and Harmony of feeling so necessary in parties meeting for religious worship, we have determined to found a separate Congregation, under the jurisdiction of the Reverend Chief Rabbi, Dr N. M. Adler and have accepted the Rev. J. E. Myers of Jews' College, London, to be our Officiating Minister.
Abraham Keesing, Ralph Keesing, Asher Asher, Nathan Henry, Bernhardt Levy, Henry Keesing Jnr., Isaac Doitsh, Nathan Goldwater, John Keesing and Four others.
Dated, Auckland, Friday 25th day in Nisan 5619, April 29, 1859.
Besides advertising, the new faction must also have made certain unpleasant references to the honorary officials of the old congregation, for P. S. Solomon, who dabbled in law, sued Isaac Doitsh in the Supreme Court for libel, slander and perjury. A very wise judge heard the case and came to the conclusion that the details should not be given publicity and that the dispute should be settled privately. The litigants took his advice. The defendant handed in a written apology to the Court, withdrawing all he had published and said about Solomon, and promised to substantiate his apology by donating a goodly sum of money to charity. Nevertheless, Isaac Doitsh maintained the new congregation in his store, and after the Rev. J. E. Myers resigned, after serving only a few months in Auckland, and left for the Belfast Hebrew Congregation in Ireland, Doitsh once again acted as officiating minister assisted by Nathan Henry. At Emily Place, P. S. Solomon continued to function as the Honorary Minister of the "Beth El" Congregation. Later, Solomon settled in Fiji, where he assumed the editorship of the Fiji Times. Admitted to the Supreme Court, he eventually became a Queen's page 74 Counsel, and on several occasions performed the function of Acting Attorney-General. As a member of the Fiji Legislative Council, he wrote a pamphlet dedicated to the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the feasibility of annexing the Fijian group of islands, a valuable service to the country duly acknowledged by the Commission.
In striving for their religious beliefs, the pioneer Jews of New Zealand could not be accused of parochialism. They were deeply conscious of their obligations towards persecuted Jews in other parts of the world, particularly in the Holy Land. Non-Jews and the Press also displayed an interest in the Jews of Palestine although not all were motivated by humanitarian reasons. One newspaper alleged that Lord Rothschild had purchased the Holy Land. It believed the Jews would be restored to their own land. "But whether that report be true or false, we have no doubt that the time is at hand when, by some means or other, the Jews will be restored to their forfeited possessions, and we regard that event as the sign that will assure Christ's waiting people of the speedy advent of Christ to establish that fifth kingdom which, unlike those that preceded it, shall never be destroyed." When the news came through about the starvation of Jews in Palestine caused by the Crimean War, the newspapers published letters asking the public to help. Gentiles gave most of the £-320 which David Nathan and Charles Davis collected and sent to London. In Wellington, Abraham Hort arranged a concert at Barrett's Hotel from which he made a profit of £36 which he transmitted together with the £69 collected from the Jewish community. The Chief Rabbi and Sir Moses Montefiore reported that more than half of the £ 18,000 received for the Jews in Palestine Fund came from Australasia.
Proud, free and independent, without suffering any of the voting disabilities of the Jews in England, their co-religionists in New Zealand rejoiced when, in 1858, the British Parliament passed an Act providing for the relief of Her Majesty's subjects professing the Jewish faith by enabling the House to modify the form of oath which permitted them to take their seats in Parliament and to vote there. In Auckland, the Jews held a public dinner at the Masonic Hall to celebrate the event, an occasion at which members of all branches of the Christian Church attended, and at which innumerable toasts were proposed and responses given. "Thoroughly catholic sentiments pervaded the remarks of all speakers—the members of the Jewish persuasion bearing testimony of the kindly manner in which they had always been treated by their Christian fellow-citizens in Auckland, who had never sought to inflict any social pains and penalties, or to subject them to any disabilities on account of matters of faith . . . Baron Rothschild in reply to the message sent to him mentioned the assistance given by liberal-minded citizens overseas which encouraged him to persevere in the eleven years' struggle for equal rights from which British Jews had been excluded. He page 75 wrote: 'The exemptions from these distinctions enjoyed in your Colony naturally heightened the interest with which you watched the struggle.'"
Within the New Zealand Constitution conferred by the Imperial Act of 1852, and which Sir George Grey helped to frame, religious minorities did not suffer the disabilities included in some of the British Acts. The Constitution provided for the election of six Provincial Councils and for an elected Superintendent over each Province. The Superintendent enjoyed powers over his Province similar to those which the President enjoyed in the United States of America. In addition to the Provincial Councils, the Constitution provided for a General Assembly composed of an elected House of Representatives and a Legislative Council nominated entirely by the Governor. The scanty population of the country as a whole, the separateness of the various settlements and the lack of easy communication between them, made the dual form of government absolutely necessary. In 1850, a judge and another prominent person took six weeks to travel from Nelson to Wellington, now only a few hours' journey by sea. This isolation later led to a movement to transfer the capital from Auckland to Wellington so as to make the seat of government more central. With dual control in the country, conflicts arose as to the powers of the Assembly in relationship to the Councils. Representatives and councillors usually favoured the side of the Provinces as against the Central Government. Their friends and constituents lived in the settlements and it was there that their interests lay.
No Jews sat in the first Provincial Councils which began to perform their function in 1853. However, in the Auckland Province, where Philip Aaron Philips was later elected as a councillor, the more influential Jews seemed to favour the appointment of Lieutenant-Colonel R. H. Wynward as its first Superintendent. He was elected. Sir George Grey himself favoured the provincial system and, though the British Government had passed the Constitution, he would not implement it as far as the House of Representatives and Legislative Council were concerned. Because of this, many believed he opposed self-government when he actually objected to clauses in the Constitution which he considered unjust to the Maoris. He became as unpopular a governor as Hobson had before him. It resulted in the termination of his appointment. He left New Zealand on the last day of 1853. A few days before his departure, the citizens of Auckland invited him to a farewell dinner, and it may have been his unpopularity which prompted only Henry Keesing of the Jewish community to act as one of the twenty-five stewards. His unpopularity was certainly the cause of an unhappy incident at a meeting which Abraham Hort, sen., had called a few months previously at the Britannia Saloon, Wellington, for the purpose of adopting an address expressing regret at the Governor's impending departure. Only about fifty persons came to hear Hort's address in which he criticized the Press for page 76 not patronizing and publicizing the meeting. A Mr Gibson differed from Hort's praise of Grey, and caused amusement by his remarks relative to Grey and the withholding of the Constitution. Other remarks by Gibson so aroused the indignation of Hort, that he declared he would dissolve the meeting, and eventually he did so, "unwisely and abruptly", as one report stated. In Hort's speech at the farewell dinner held later, he revealed that during the Maori attacks in the Wellington area, a major in charge of the defending militia asked his family to persuade him not to go to the Hutt Valley as a defender of the settlement. His family could not dissuade him.
Not until the middle of 1854 did the first National Parliament meet in Auckland. At the very first session a problem arose as to the recitation of prayers at the sittings. Some members objected to their ministers reciting prayers for other denominations. There was no State religion, claimed another member. Still another said: "The Constitution has raised no hindrance to colonists of the Hebrew faith or Unitarians sitting as members of the House; and surely if Jews and Unitarians were the majority of its members, and the nearest Church of England clergyman was brought in to perform divine service, the service would be but a monstrous mockery; and, again, if conducted according to their views, he himself, and no doubt other members, would feel obliged to leave the room." It was pointed out by a member in favour of prayers that no Jews had been elected to the House, and if they had been, they would not object.
Edward Gibbon Wakefield related that in America the legislators were about to close the mails on Sundays but that it had been pointed out that religious equality demanded that the mails should then be closed on the Jewish Sabbath, so the motion was abandoned altogether, although it was acceptable to all and was about to be passed. America would not introduce religious inequality into its legislation. Dr Lee said he did not know of any religious ceremony where Christians and Jews could unite. This thought induced Mr Weld to move an amendment against reading prayers in Parliament, for he said: "Hebrew gentlemen might be elected and therefore it would be impossible to frame a form of prayer suitable to them and to Christians also without involving the House in debate." The amendment was lost by ten votes to twenty and the motion in favour of prayers carried, but the House also passed the following cautionary rider: "That, in proceeding to carry out the resolution of the House to open proceedings with prayer, the House distinctly asserts the privilege of a perfect political equality in all religious denominations, and that, whoever may be called upon to perform this duty for the House, it is not thereby intended to confer or admit any pre-eminence to that Church or religious body to which he may belong."
A move at this juncture to adjourn the debate proved unsuccessful. A page 77 Church of England clergyman was then called in. He read the prayers, for which he was duly thanked by the Speaker.
A similar sort of discussion to that in the House of Representatives took place at the opening of the Legislative Council, but the result differed from that accepted in the Lower House. On the motion of the Hon. Francis Dillon Bell, Hort's son-in-law, the Council accepted the suggestion that the Speaker read the prayers instead of a clergyman.
The Lower Chamber, realizing that its method was not entirely satisfactory, appointed a committee to inquire into the question. It came to the conclusion that instead of a clergyman reciting readings he had chosen himself, a form of prayer duly decided upon would be read each day at the meeting of the House.
From the very beginning of responsible government it appeared patently clear that the House of Assembly was determined to pass its legislation only upon democratic principles. No better example can be quoted than the case of a Jewish man by the name of Lazarus Berlowitz. A Pole by birth, he had migrated to England, from which country he had sailed to Australia when he heard about the discovery of gold. Believing he could make more money by selling jewellery than by digging for the precious metal, he took a parcel of various pieces of jewellery to Nelson where he intended to sell it. The police and the customs officer at Nelson had received notification of jewel robberies in Melbourne and had been warned to keep their eyes open for smugglers. On arrival at Nelson, Berlowitz was asked to produce an invoice for the goods he had in his possession. He could not do so. Without any investigation as to his character, the police and customs officer hauled him before the Nelson magistrate, who summarily ordered Berlowitz's goods to be sold by public auction as goods suspected of being stolen. The auction resulted in the receipt of £277, far less than the amount which Berlowitz had paid for the contents of his parcel.
Berlowitz did not keep silent. Inquiries substantiated his protests of possessing an unblemished character. The Nelson authorities then handed the £277 to Berlowitz. He claimed damages from the Government and after the matter had been brought up in the House, a Select Committee decided he should be granted compensation to the extent that he should be no worse off than if the case had not occurred. Berlowitz valued his goods at £880. He could only prove invoices to an amount of £622, and when the Government authorities paid him only that sum, he protested clamorously and claimed additional compensation for legal expenses and loss of profits. Another Select Committee of the House re-affirmed the decision of the original committee. Berlowitz then advertised in the Press that he had been naturalized in Melbourne, "from which I trusted to receive justice Though it has been Denied me here". He also advertised a petition to the Governor, page 78 Sir Thomas Gore-Browne, for permission to appear at the Bar of the House to plead his case. A member of Parliament moved a formal motion to that effect in the Chamber, and in the subsequent debate which aroused deep interest, it was revealed that Berlowitz had also presented a petition with 1700 signatures, which had been negatived, to the Commitee of Grievances. After a very thorough and fair discussion, the members resolved that justice had been done to Berlowitz and they would not allow him to appear at the Bar of the House. One member said his claim should be rejected "even if it should involve a war with Russia". Two years later the matter was raised once again in the House, but the members would not accept a motion to hear Berlowitz further. Only in a democratic parliamentary institution whose members were imbued with democratic principles could a man have received so much patient attention as that which Berlowitz gained over the matter of a few pounds.
Although no Jews were elected to the first New Zealand Parliament, Jews did take an active interest in politics and civic affairs. Their names often appeared as supporters of parliamentary candidates. Asher Asher, Charles Davis, Henry Keesing and David Nathan fulfilled some of their civic duties by serving as commissioners on the original Auckland Harbour Board. The leaders of the Jewish communities, David Nathan in Auckland and Abraham Hort, sen., in Wellington, did not confine their activities to their coreligionists alone. Nathan did not seek public office, but supported any worth-while movement with his name and influence. A petition with the name of David Nathan included on it, gave the request an air of respectability. He signed petitions protesting against the New Zealand Company's claims for land in the Auckland area, and one which pleaded for changes in the system of voting. As a loyal citizen and out of respect for Her Majesty, he made it his duty to attend the Governor's levees. He led the way in donations to charities and to public institutions.
Abraham Hort, sen., too, did not seek public office, but he did not fear publicity. He never felt happier than when addressing a public meeting, particularly if the meeting had been called for a benevolent purpose. In April, 1856, a fire broke out in Wellington after which he, Nathaniel Levin and Jacob Joseph, amongst others, donated £220 for the relief of the victims. Hort's speech helped in the formation of a fire brigade. The year previous to the fire, an earthquake did considerable damage in the city. It was Hort who presided at the meeting to consider various public questions arising out of the disaster, such as asking the Superintendent to name a day for public prayer to give thanks to the Almighty for their deliverance; seeing whether any citizens needed assistance; conveying thanks to the military for the assistance it gave; and passing a vote of thanks to the masters of vessels in Port Nicholson who gave asylum to those whose homes had been damaged.page 79
The 1855 earthquake was not the first which Hort had experienced, and after which he had taken a prominent part in a public meeting. On 16 October, 1848, a heavy earthquake brought down many buildings including Nathaniel Levin's premises on Lambton Quay. Auckland sent an address of sympathy to Wellington with an amount of £500 to aid any sufferers. At a meeting at the Britannia Saloon, Hort, one of the principal speakers, declaimed in his typical style on the thoughtfulness of Auckland in sending a message of sympathy to her sister city, but typically, too, with pride, he asked the meeting to decline to accept the £500. He claimed Wellington could look after its own. The meeting did not accept the money.
On the very same day that the 1848 earthquake occurred in Wellington, Abraham Hort, sen., experienced another kind of upset. His third daughter, Margaret, became engaged to the Hon. Francis Dillon Bell, a prominent member of the Legislative Council. Dillon Bell did not belong to the Jewish faith. Neither Hort nor the community objected to Christians as such. They respected the Christian faith and supported its needs in the city. They believed Christians should observe their Christianity. If Jews could help them to do so, it was their privilege to assist if they so desired. Hort saw no incongruity in his laying of the foundation-stone of the Church of England Chapel at Karori. His son, Abraham Hort, jun., donated the land for the site of St Peter's Church in Willis Street to the elders. Some Wellington Jews did not object to praying together with their Christian neighbours. Four days after the earthquake of 1848, the authorities called for a Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer. At Kumutoto where the Wellington Gentlemen's Club now stands, Kaufman Samuel, who had become a man of consequence in the city, arranged in his home for Christians and Jews to pray together on that day. A contemporary said it was "the first time on record in the history of the Jewish faith in New Zealand that those of the Hebrew faith united with other churches". Nevertheless, as a pious and observant Jew, Abraham Hort, sen., would have demanded that his children should follow the faith in which they had been born and should marry within the fold. That his sons did not do so may have been an added urge for them to make their home at Apia, Samoa. The Bishop of New Zealand, Bishop Selwyn, also opposed mixed marriages, for when Dillon Bell requested him to officiate at the marriage between himself and Margaret Hort, he grew angry with Bell and refused to do so. Bell wrote to Sir George Grey for advice. He counselled him to many in a registry office. The ceremony duly took place on 2 April, 1849.
According to Jewish law, a child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew with all privileges. Apparently, Margaret Dillon Bell decided to rear her son, Francis Henry Dillon Bell, born at Nelson in 1851, as a Christian. This must have caused Abraham Hort, sen., deep anguish and may have been the reason for his sailing to Tasmania to reside in Hobart. His departure seemed page 80 permanent, for Nathaniel Levin, the only remaining trustee of the Jewish cemetery, applied for the appointment of new trustees. Solomon Mocatta had returned to England and Kaufman Samuel had died at the early age of forty-four years. The cemetery, bounded by Cemetery Road, Glenbervie Terrace and Difficult Road needed watching. Part of it had been appropriated, an occurrence not uncommon in New Zealand townships where Jewish numbers have dwindled. Wellington's Jewish cemetery had been reduced from an acre to less than three roods.
Hobart's small, dwindling Jewish community and New Zealand ties brought Hort back to Wellington once again. He could not have been very happy, for the community did not grow, and his own children broke their ties with the Jewish faith. If he could have foreseen the future before he sailed for New Zealand in 1842, he would surely not have made the journey. His daughter Margaret, before she died in 1892, converted to Christianity. Her husband, Sir Francis Dillon Bell, achieved cabinet rank, was knighted and appointed Agent-General for New Zealand in London. Her son, the Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell, became Mayor of Wellington and Prime Minister of New Zealand. Another son served as an Anglican minister in London. A son of Nathaniel and Jessie Levin, William Hort Levin, married in St Peter's Church, and was eventually buried by the Archbishop of New Zealand. A plaque commemorating William Hort Levin's work for St Peter's Church can be seen within the building.
Hort may have been satisfied with the material success of his children and grandchildren. He could not have been satisfied from the spiritual point of view. Yet, when he decided to leave New Zealand for ever in May, 1859, in order to return to England, he did not depart with any bitterness nor with any lack of understanding of the friendly relationship which should exist between members of different denominations. In reply to a farewell speech he said that he did not leave Wellington without a pang. He was pleased to recall his spiritual leadership which "rendered our infant community respected throughout the colony". He was also glad to have the good wishes of other denominations. Hort expounded on the immortality of Moses, and quoted the prophet Malachi to that effect. He ended his speech with good wishes and blessings "on the sincere professors of every other creed, as the most ardent prayer of Abraham Hort".
"The Ghost Synagogue". Tait Bros, Hokitika photographers during the gold boom, took this photograph of the Synagogue in 1867.
In its heyday the town of Hokitika had many Jewish citizens, and headstones in the Jewish cemetery mark the names of some who were prominent in the town's early history.
Nathaniel Levin, one of the first Jews to settle in Wellington and founder of the great New Zealand commercial house of Levin and Co.
The ship Wellington, built in Glasgow for Nathaniel Levin of Levin & Co. William Hort Levin, a son of Nathaniel, took a leading part in the commercial affairs of early Wellington, and the town of Levin was named for him.
Ten years after his departure from New Zealand, Abraham Hort, sen., died in London, but his spiritual influence remained in Wellington for many years. As soon as he left the New Zealand shores, the congregation, small as it was, continued its religious services, first at the house of Joseph E. Nathan, but later, more permanently, at the home of Jacob Joseph on Lambton Quay.