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The History of the Jews in New Zealand

Chapter XX — Jews in Industry and Commerce

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Chapter XX
Jews in Industry and Commerce

Apart from the regrettable incident in 1893 concerning the Russian migrants, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles continued in a most cordial and harmonious fashion. Besides reciprocal donations towards each others' charities and houses of worship, they prayed at the same hour for mutual national causes. From time to time, Jewish ministers conducted special services for Christian benevolent homes. When Te Kooti escaped from the Chatham Islands and committed outrages against the colonists at Poverty Bay, the Jews, with other denominations, dedicated a Day for Humiliation and Prayer. Jews made provision for public institutions in their wills. When Hyman Marks of Christchurch died, his executors built a ward in his name in the Canterbury Hospital, a ward which is still maintained by the trust. Jews took a particularly keen interest in Freemasonry, not only because of its Jewish background and its Hebraic ritual connections, but also because it presented the Jews with the opportunity of expressing in a concrete form the brotherhood and goodwill which the Jew always wishes to extend towards his Christian neighbour. In Freemasonry, the Jew and Gentile could meet on a common spiritual ground, in harmony and in the interest of promoting the welfare of the community. Wherever Jews resided they enrolled in Masonic Lodges, and their names appear prominently on published lists of members and office bearers.

The goodwill and sincerity of the Jews of New Zealand reflected itself in those spheres where such qualities count, and nowhere more than in the sphere of commerce. Businessmen value and are quick to recognize honesty, promptitude and fair dealing. A number of Jewish merchants and traders well-known in business circles throughout New Zealand won their way to popularity and renown because of the trust and confidence which they gained from the inhabitants, not so much through sheer enterprise as through maintaining their word as their bond, giving value for money, and holding to their undeviatingly high principles of rectitude and justice.

Their fellow merchants, recognizing then probity, resourcefulness and qualities of leadership, elected them to important positions on various Chambers of Commerce throughout the country. John Israel Montefiore, David Nathan, Laurence D. Nathan and Arthur H. Nathan actively participated in the work of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. Abraham page 146 Hort, Nathaniel Levin, Joseph E. Nathan, Jacob Joseph and Lipman Levy all chaired the Wellington Chamber of Commerce at various times, as did D. E. Theomin in Dunedin. At the time of the shortage of copper currency in New Zealand, Lipman Levy, a boot and shoe manufacturer, coined his own pennies and half-pennies. Morris Marks issued similar coinage in Auckland.

In Auckland, David Nathan, as he grew older, added to his incomparable reputation. He extended his premises to Shortland Street and to warehouses in Custom and Commerce streets. In 1867 he retired in favour of his sons, Laurence D. and N. Alfred, changing the name of the firm to L. D. Nathan and Company. The firm developed into one of the biggest wholesale and shipping businesses in New Zealand. It also handled one half of the country's production of kauri gum. Max Lichtenstein and Louis Arnoldson, cousins who came from Russia and traded as Lichtenstein and Arnoldson, produced most of the rest in the largest kauri gum concession in the country. The firm later traded as E. Lichtenstein & Company. To the regret of the whole city of Auckland and many others in the country, David Nathan passed away on 23 August, 1886. Before he died, he started to sell pianos, which sold at such a pace that he made another fortune from this alone. On that account, this branch of the business moved to Queen Street under the title of the London and Berlin Piano Company.

Laurence D. Nathan followed in the traditions of his father, and enterprisingly added an ostrich farm to the varied business of the firm. He also added another link to the chain of Jews who helped in the development of the islands of Fiji. The King of the islands appointed him Consul for Fiji in the Auckland Province. A keen sportsman, he bought Sylvia Park, which became noted for its thoroughbreds and as the birthplace of the famous horse Carbine, which, among other notable successes, won the Melbourne Cup. He renounced racing suddenly. A horse of his won one day and lost the next. On entering His Majesty's Theatre at night, the audience booed him. Shocked at the inference, he sold all his racing interests. Under his guidance, L. D. Nathan and Company expanded into marine insurance and general produce brokerage, and besides the trade in wine and spirits, helped to develop the brewing industry in New Zealand.

A pioneer in the expansion of the hotel and brewery industry, Moss Davis, originally of Nelson, displayed fearless foresight in gaining control of Hancock and Company on the death of his partner Samuel Jagger. He paid the Government £100 to install the first telephone-line from Auckland to his hotel at St Helier's Bay. He wired his home for electricity long before power was available. His brother Mark built up a brewing business at Timaru which he later sold to his co-religionists Barney and Louis Ballin, who extended their premises and opened in Christchurch under the name page 147 of Ballin Brothers. Jacob Levien of Timaru also brewed beer and built the first cordial factory in South Canterbury. Another prominent brewer in Christchurch, Charles Louisson, together with his brother, built up the Crown Brewery Company Limited. They also built up a drapery and outfitting business with branches in various New Zealand towns. One member of the family did business in a novel way. His banker asked him to clear his overdraft. He displayed the letter in the window of his shop with an appeal in red ink to his friends to buy from him so that he could obey the bank's order. His friends responded. In Dunedin, Maurice Joel bought the Red Lion Brewery. A staunch worker for the Jewish community, he sat on the Otago Harbour Board and on the committee of the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition.

One of the most picturesque figures amongst the Jewish brewers, and one who conducted the largest business of the kind, was Louis Ehrenfried. With his brother Bernard, he came to New Zealand during the Otago gold-rush, earning his living by packing stores for the miners. He acquired a valuable property at Mataura, but lost it when he guaranteed a friend who failed to pay. His ventures on the West Coast did not succeed, and he left the area owing thousands of pounds. He later paid back every penny. Establishing a brewery at Thames, he succeeded in business and in local politics, his townspeople electing him as councillor and then as mayor of the borough. He extended his business to Auckland, where he eventually amalgamated with Messrs Brown, Campbell and Company which arrangement changed the firm's name to Campbell and Ehrenfried. Moss Davis bought into the part of the concern known as the Captain Cook's Brewery, and later on became its sole proprietor. Ehrenfried won esteem as a happy philanthropist and as a liberal supporter of Jewish institutions. When he died, thousands attended his funeral.

In the maritime sphere, the Isaacs family, as well as L. D. Nathan and Company, helped to establish New Zealand's shipping industry. A Londoner by birth, Edward Isaacs migrated, in about 1840, to Tasmania, where he worked with a whaling and sandalwood firm trading in the South Sea Islands. Later, he opened his own business in Melbourne and Auckland, to which city he sent his brothers Henry and George, he eventually joining them. Edward Isaacs participated in the formation of the Auckland Shipping Company, which later merged with the New Zealand Shipping Company. He sat on the Auckland City Council from 1875 to 1879. His brother Henry also served on the Council from 1871 to 1874, and in 1875 had the honour of being elected as Auckland's second mayor.

Another firm of Jewish origin, Levin and Company, also contributed to New Zealand's advance in the maritime and commercial world. Apart from accepting the agency of the Shaw Savill Line, Nathaniel Levin, the head page 148 of the firm, ordered a ship, the Wellington, to be built at Glasgow for the Company. In 1868, Nathaniel Levin retired in favour of his son William Hort Levin who became the most popular man in Wellington. When he married Miss Fitzgerald at St Peter's Church, the ships by Lambton Quay flew pennants in honour of the wedding. His father did not attend. He had left Wellington permanently five years previously for London, where he became a partner in Redfern, Alexander and Company. Besides serving as a city councillor, William Hort Levin also acted as President of the Chamber of Commerce, and gave £1000, to which his father added £100, in order to start a free library for Wellington. William Hort Levin declined to stand for mayor. A director of many companies and president of many sporting clubs, he was also considered by the city to be one of its most philanthropic sons. Popularly known to all as Willie Levin, he had a town in New Zealand named after him. The Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company Limited had received a franchise to build a railway line, along which it had to place stations every three miles. The Company surveyed sites and settlements for its own business. As a director of the Company, Levin received the honour of having his name given to one of the settlements. He died in 1893 at the age of forty-eight. At the news, the City Council and Parliament adjourned, a dinner at Government House was postponed, and an operatic performance abandoned. Schools closed, picnics and an exhibition of fine arts were put off for another day, bells tolled and flags flew at half-mast. His relatives cremated him as a Christian, and his friends, besides erecting a plaque for him at St Paul's Church, also founded a memorial for him by establishing a cottage home for orphans called the Levin Home for Friendless Children. People named him "Wellington's greatest benefactor". His father, Nathaniel Levin, outlived him by ten years. His relatives buried him in the Jewish Cemetery at Willesden, London.

Another large Wellington firm, pioneered by the blind Jacob Joseph, and with wide mercantile and maritime connections, prospered romantically until its name became known throughout the world. The business which Jacob Joseph had built on Lambton Quay succeeded to such an extent that he held freehold property in nearly every street of the city, besides large estates in the country. He owned the ships Stormbride and Huia. Promoter of the Colonial Assurance Company, he later merged it with the Commercial Union Assurance Company. His brother-in-law, Joseph E. Nathan, bought a partner's interest in the firm, and later changed the name of the business to Joseph Nathan and Company, which often became confused with the firm of L. D. Nathan of Auckland, with which it had no connection whatsoever. A man of extraordinary vision, Joseph Nathan proposed the formation of the Wellington Harbour Board, and promoted the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company Limited, the chief privately owned and managed railway page 149 in the country, and which the Government ultimately purchased. A director of many companies, he helped to pioneer the co-operative movement in New Zealand, and purchased many large parcels of land around Palmerston North where one company pastured herds, and eventually built part of its laboratories. Its products include the world-renowned "Glaxo" food, and chemical anti-biotics.

Bendix Hallenstein, who started out in business in a small way in Invercargill and Queenstown, also flourished, after he had removed to Dunedin, to become known throughout the length and breadth of New Zealand. He founded the New Zealand Clothing Factory, and the branches of his firm, Hallenstein Brothers, are situated in every town of note throughout the country. Another firm which he founded and on which he acted as Chairman of Directors, the Drapery and General Importing Company, became widely-known as the D.I.C. His name also became associated with the leather trade through Michaelis, Hallenstein and Farquhar and Company. Serving as Consul for Germany, he returned to his birthplace in order to resign his post, but the German Government begged him to retain his position. A man of discernment and keen acumen, he foresaw the rise of the Japanese and their threat to trade and to the western world.

In Dunedin, two early pioneers, Adolph Bing and Wolf Harris, entered into a partnership to found the well-known New Zealand firm of Bing, Harris and Company, leading softgoods importers. Other businesses of good and wide repute which contributed to the country's commercial advance included P. Hayman and Company, merchants, with branches in the four main cities, and J. Myers and Company, importers, founded by Judah Myers of West-port, Hokitika, Motueka and, finally, Wellington, whose brilliant children climbed the ladder of fame. His son Michael became Chief Justice of New Zealand. David Edward Theomin, a son of the Jewish minister of Bristol, traded as a jewellery and general importer under the name of D. Benjamin and Company, a name his father had adopted. He was President of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, and his co-religionists regarded him as the pillar of the community. Gabriel and Louis Lewis established one of the leading softgoods firms in Auckland, Lewis Brothers. They also promoted mining companies in London, whilst their friend Lewis Moses established the New Zealand Mortgage, Loan and Discount Bank.

The good name for which the Jews strove in business did not apply only to the merchants in the city. Wherever they settled in country towns they contributed to the prosperity of the district and the welfare of the townspeople. No better examples can be cited than that of the Caselberg family at Masterton and the Friedlander family at Ashburton. A good measure of the development of the areas of these towns can be attributed to them. Myer Caselberg, a Polish Jew, commenced business in New Zealand at page 150 Bluff, where he remained for two years. He then moved to the Wairarapa, and opened branches of his firm at Featherston, Greytown and Masterton, which he made his headquarters. With J. Nathan and Company he founded the Wairarapa Farmers' Co-operative Association, which opened its branches in many parts and proved of valuable assistance to the man on the land. Caselberg served on the Masterton Council for many years, being elected mayor from 1885 to 1887, during which term he introduced many facilities for the improvement of the town.

At Ashburton, Hugo Friedlander, the brains behind the firm Friedlander Brothers, displayed amazing courage and fortitude, besides initiative and enterprise, in conducting the stock and station business. Almost a helpless cripple, he carried on the firm's affairs from a wheel-chair or from his sickbed. He was widely known in the district for his liberality to struggling farmers, and many a station-owner around Ashburton owed his success to his benevolent thoughtfulness and to that of the other members of the Friedlander family. When Mayor of Ashburton, he gave £1000 towards the establishment of the Ashburton High School, and, when he moved to Christchurch, acted as the Chairman of the Lyttelton Harbour Board and started a Coal and Blanket Fund for the poor. On his death he left a huge sum for charity.

An amazing number of Jewish men who came out and lived in New Zealand in the latter half of the nineteenth century possessed the pioneer spirit which made New Zealand the country it is today. Strong in character and men of personality, they used their faculties and outstanding ability for the benefit of New Zealand. In 1884, David Ziman offered to pay half the cost of building a battleship to be presented by New Zealand to Britain. He proposed the Government pay the other half. Coming from South Australia, Ziman had made a fortune by amalgamating all the small gold-mining concerns into the Consolidated Goldfields Company. The new company also succeeded.

Another amazing man, Michael Fliirscheim, tried to alter New Zealand's monetary system. As a young man he had entered his uncle's banking business in his birthplace, Frankfurt-on-Main. He moved to Paris and then to America, and on his return to his home town published the American News, a paper in English for foreigners in Germany. With his profits he bought the Gaggenau Iron Works, a firm employing forty hands, which he developed into a company employing 1000 men, one of the biggest in the country. After selling out, he travelled in Switzerland, England and, finally, New Zealand, where he advocated schemes for money, currency and exchange reforms. He wrote many books in English and German including Rent, Interest and Wages, Money Island and Clue to the Economic Labyrinth.

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The contribution made by the soldier-sailor settler of the Maori Wars, Coleman Phillips, towards the progress and development of New Zealand is perhaps not recognized. In 1872, he made a trip to Fiji and arranged a loan by Auckland merchants, principally by L. D. Nathan and Company, to King Thakambau, a measure which consolidated Britain's prestige in the islands, and finally led to their annexation to the Crown. He proposed the foundation of the Auckland and Fiji Banking Company and secured a steamship service with the islands, he himself sailing as captain on the first steamer on the run, the Star of the South. His outstanding ability enabled him, amidst all his negotiations, to pass the examinations for admission as a barrister. His scheme to annex Samoa for Britain attracted attention in New Zealand, but no enthusiasm, and his disappointment at the cumbersome and almost hostile attitude of the Colonial Office led to his refusal of the offer made to him, when in England, to act as Consul for Britain at Samoa. In the Transactions of the Royal Colonial Institute, his paper on "Colonization of the Pacific" aroused interest amongst those concerned with the expansion of the Empire.

On his return to New Zealand, Coleman Phillips retired from practice as a barrister, and bought a share in the Dry River Estate in the Wairarapa. Besides establishing small farmers on the land, he formed at Greytown the first co-operative dairy-farm in Australasia. A man of ideas, he took a prominent part in the movement to annihilate the rabbit pest; imported Ayrshire and Dutch Friesian cattle; proposed the establishment of the New Zealand Flock Book and the Wellington Agricultural Show; and advocated the abolition of toll-gates. Some of the useful dairy and agricultural appliances first introduced by him included evaporators, swing churners and drainage ploughs. The first consignment of frozen mutton from the North Island, sent on the Lady locelyn to England in 1883, came from the Dry River Estate. A brilliant man in many ways, and one whose talents were perhaps somewhat wasted, he also turned his hand to literature, publishing many articles in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute and other journals, in addition to an amended prayer-book for use in schools. In 1894, owing to trouble with the Lands Department, he gave up his run, resuming his profession as a barrister and serving as a councillor on the Carterton Council.

The brilliance, energy and ability of Coleman Phillips, which he so often placed at the disposal of the country, was not exceptional amongst Jews. The Jews of New Zealand took it as axiomatic that they should share their mental and spiritual gifts with their fellow countrymen.