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The History of the Jews in New Zealand

Chapter VIII — The Beginning of the Auckland Community

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Chapter VIII
The Beginning of the Auckland Community

Only hours after Hort landed at Pito-one, Captain Hobson landed at Kororareka. Within a few days he had arranged to meet the native chiefs in a marquee on a lawn outside Busby's residence, and there, after some opposition which was soon overcome, the Maori rulers signed by their thumb-prints the document which came to be known as the Treaty of Waitangi. By it they ceded sovereign rights to Her Majesty the Queen, who, in return, guaranteed them protection of their possessions and land. Her Majesty had the exclusive right of pre-emption over such lands as the owners desired to sell at prices mutually agreed upon. By May, 1840, enough signatures had been collected from chiefs not present at Waitangi for Hobson to proclaim the sovereignty of the Queen over the North Island by virtue of the treaty, and over the South Island and Stewart Island on the ground of discovery by Captain Cook. Only few Maoris lived in the South Island. Barely in time to forestall French claims, Hobson sent a party to hoist the British flag at Akaroa. De Thierry from Hokianga, in a letter to Hobson, signed himself "Sovereign Chief", but the Lieutenant-Governor informed de Thierry that the only "Sovereign Chief" he recognized was Queen Victoria. He asked de Thierry to desist from his presumption. He did. When Hobson published his proclamation, more than a thousand passengers had already been landed by the New Zealand Company at Port Nicholson. Among them came C. Cohen who arrived on the Jewess, and the brothers Moses and Jacob Joseph who landed from the Exporter. Jacob Joseph, although completely blind, opened a hardware store on Lambton Quay. He conducted an extensive and successful trade in and about Wellington with the Maoris, and because of their trust in him they sold him land for which he gave them a fair price. His store was the first to be built of brick in Wellington.

For their own protection, the inhabitants around Port Nicholson formed themselves into a government, elected a council, appointed Colonel Wakefield as President, and proceeded to enact laws and appoint magistrates. As soon as Hobson heard of it, he sent soldiers and police under the command of Lieutenant Willoughby Shortland with instructions to declare the Company's Provisional Government illegal. The settlers assured Shortland page 52 that they had no disloyal intent, and welcomed his arrival amongst them. They had but made provision for their own good order until proper authority was established.

The happy relationship did not last long. According to the Treaty of Waitangi, Hobson had to protect the interests of the natives, many of whom began to dispute the transactions they had made. Other Maoris denied the right of chiefs to sell land which belonged to the whole tribe. The fantastic prices paid for some valuable properties was used as an argument to nullify barter which had taken place. The appointment of a Land Commission did not remove the disquiet of the settlers and the New Zealand Company. Both in Wellington and in England, angry feeling was evoked which resulted in misrepresentation of Hobson and attacks upon his administration. In some cases land had been sold time and time again. When Captain W. B. Rhodes, master of the Eleanor, came in November, 1840, as an agent of Cooper and Levy of Sydney, to buy land around Wellington, he informed the Company that he had purchased the land of Kapiti Island from the natives. Knowing that the island had been sold several times, including once to the Company itself, the Company did not even bother to include the island in its list of claims. Cooper and Levy made a more profitable transaction when their agent proceeded to Akaroa to leave cattle and a stockman at the French settlement.

Losses incurred by men like Joseph Barrow Montefiore and John Israel Montefiore, who acted in the utmost good faith in their dealings with the natives and whose word could not be doubted, illustrated the reason for the settlers' fears. All their hopes could be dashed by a decision of the Land Commission. Improvements costing thousands of pounds could be lost in a moment. Joseph Barrow Montefiore made a claim for the land pressed upon him by the Maori chief at Kawhia. The Claims Commission made no recommendation for a grant. Of the 346 acres bought by John Israel Montefiore in 1836, the Commission, eight years later, allowed him to retain only 47 acres. In order to keep an equity in his own property he had to purchase 416 acres of land from others who had also acquired it from the Maoris and after him, but whose transactions had been confirmed. Confusion as to the legal ownership of property impelled Joel Samuel Polack, who had returned to the Bay of Islands in 1840, to insert an advertisement in the Bay of Islands Observer that a claim in the Government Gazette by George Russell for his land at Kororareka was without any foundation. He, too, however, had to make an official claim before the Land Commissioners and, besides a demand for 100 acres at the Bay of Islands, land he had acquired early in 1832, he petitioned for the confirmation of a claim of 152 acres on the Waitangi River. Fifteen years later, the matter was still in abeyance.

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Another serious cause of the unhappy relationship between the settlers of the New Zealand Company at Wellington and the government authorities, concerned the choice of a site for a capital city. Hobson considered Kororareka an impossible place because of its reputation and its slim chances of development on account of the surrounding high hills. He planned and established as the capital a township across the bay, a few miles from Kororareka, which he called Russell, a name later assumed by Kororareka itself. He soon abandoned the scheme and, choosing a more central position in the North Island, selected a totally undeveloped spot on the Waitemata and named it Auckland. This angered the settlers at Wellington. Their town, especially planned to provide for government offices and comprising over a thousand inhabitants of reputable status, believed it was admirably suited as the capital. It was more central in relation to the country as a whole. The settlers had been led to believe that Wellington would automatically be selected as New Zealand's chief city.

A few wise men in the North with perspective and foresight, acquainted with Hobson's unswerving resoluteness, estimated that he would not waver in his intention to establish the seat of government in Auckland in spite of all opposition. They therefore considered it prudent to hasten as quickly as they could to the spot which Hobson had selected in order to survey the prospects for future business and to take whatever steps they thought necessary to consolidate their position. Amongst them came David Nathan. He had originally migrated from London to South Australia but, learning that Britain was about to establish a colony in New Zealand, he hastened to Kororareka. The prospect pleased him and, after returning to Sydney to settle his Australian affairs, to contact agencies and to purchase goods, he came back to Kororareka and, at the young age of twenty-four, established a prosperous store in the centre of Grand Parade on the foreshore. Two other Jewish stores stood on the seafront—Polack's at the extreme north and Monteifiore's close by. In the vicinity, a Jew, George Russell, conducted one of the eight seafront hotels, the Russell. Another Jew known to be living at Kororareka at the time was Israel Joseph, an auctioneer, a brother to Jacob and Moses Joseph of Wellington.

Apparently, David Nathan came from a strictly orthodox, well-known, London Jewish family with influential connections. His grandfather, Hiam Nathan, had emigrated from Holland in the latter part of the eighteenth century and had acquired a road concession at Hull, where he received payment from travellers at a toll-gate. Later he removed to London with his numerous children, amongst them Nathan Lyon Nathan, the father of David. It is believed that so prolific did the Nathans become, that a rich cousin of Nathan Lyon Nathan who had been fortunate in his affairs, would give each of his cousins a good training in business plus one hundred pounds page 54 and would send them out to the colonies to make their way in the world. David Nathan must have possessed more than one hundred pounds.

In order to establish the township of Russell, Hobson had bought land at Okiato from Captain Clendon, the American Consul. He had no money to pay him, so compensated him with a grant of 10,000 acres at Manurewa. Nathan bought the Papakura quarter of this, a property of 2500 acres, from Captain Clendon. It was situated not far distant from the spot marked for the capital, Auckland. With little delay Nathan set out to take possession of it. He sailed on the Mary for the nearest station, Thames, on the Hauraki Gulf. The master would take him no farther than Coromandel, from which he proceeded by canoe in search of the capital. Fortunately, he fell in with a party of pioneers led by the native, Taraia, also out on a similar search. Not long after, Nathan landed on the Auckland beach.

When Nathan stepped ashore he found a few tents and huts scattered along the beach, occupied by the seven government officials and the workmen and their wives whom Hobson had sent to start the settlement. With them dwelt a few passengers from the Platina, which had arrived a few days after Hobson's party, from Port Nicholson. They were dissatisfied with conditions under the New Zealand Company. Probably, Barnett Keesing came to Auckland on this ship or very soon after. Like Nathan, Keesing emanated from a well-known and respected London Jewish family whose ancestors had migrated from Holland, but while Nathan belonged to an Ashkenazi family, Keesing's ancestors were Sephardim. Nor did Keesing possess Nathan's resources. Keesing dealt in lemonade. Nathan set up his store in a tent along the seashore and, as a strictly orthodox Jew whose word was his bond, he quickly won the confidence of the Maoris through his absolute integrity and trustworthiness.

Polack, John I. Montefiore and Israel Joseph were not men who allowed the grass to grow under their feet. They also realized that Auckland, as the capital, would progress. Polack ceded a section of land on the Kororareka beach as a site for Her Majesty's Customs, and received in exchange a fair parcel of land at Auckland to which he proceeded in order to take possession. Prosperous Montefiore, who besides his store on the seafront at Kororareka sold large quantities of merchandise in bulk direct from ships as they arrived at the Bay of Islands, also sailed for Auckland to inspect its possibilities. Whilst there, he, as a recognized gentleman, regarded it as his duty to append his signature to a message to Hobson at Russell from citizens absent from the Bay of Islands, congratulating Hobson on his promotion to Governor when the country was about to change its status to a Crown Colony.

Although Polack, Nathan, Montefiore and Israel Joseph were in Auckland a month before the first land sale took place, they did not purchase any sections. As experienced businessmen they regarded the prices as far too page 55 high. So did the Colonial Under-Secretary who pricked the bubble and stated that it was "quite preposterous that Land should fetch as high a price at Auckland as in the immediate vicinity of London and Liverpool". The upset price was £ 100 an acre, but amidst great excitement 44 acres, divided into 116 lots, were sold and brought in a total of £21,499. Only one Jew bought land at this sale. He was Moses Joseph who travelled from Wellington especially for the sale. He returned to Sydney soon after.

Nathan, Joseph and Montefiore, though not disposing of their Bay of Islands assets, decided to make their permanent residence in Auckland. Nathan returned to Kororareka to settle some of his affairs, and there took part in the first Jewish service held in New Zealand. It was a wedding service. He was the bridegroom. In traditional manner, beneath a canopy, on Sunday, 31 October, 1841, David Nathan took as his bride Rosetta Aarons, a young widow, the former wife of a sea-captain from Chelsea, London, who had died on his way out to New Zealand. Israel Joseph celebrated the marriage as Acting Officiating Minister and read the Ketubah previously obtained from Hobart Town. Obviously not a Hebrew scholar, Joseph filled in the blanks of the Ketubah to the best of his ability and signed it, with George Russell as the other requisite Jewish witness. On the reverse side of the Ketubah, three notable Gentile townsmen, together with George Russell, signed a statement in English that the marriage had taken place in accordance with Jewish custom. A grand reception followed the ceremony, and the British fleet being in the bay, it received an invitation to attend, and the more than two hundred officers who attended amongst the other guests, made the reception an unforgettable event in the history of the town.

A few days later Nathan and Joseph returned to Auckland, each opening a tent store along the beach, Nathan's "Commercial House" being erected at the corner of Shortland Crescent and High Street, then situated at the Waitemata foreshore. He had bought the quarter of an acre of land at one of the early land sales. Joseph built a dry goods store in Commercial Bay, holding sales every Monday at 11 a.m. It is believed that Nathan ate no meat whilst in New Zealand until a Shohet arrived in Auckland, but that did not prevent him from providing ham and bacon to the Gentiles. He and Israel Joseph joined forces in June, 1842, going into partnership as auctioneers and commission agents in the tent at the corner of Shortland Crescent and High Street. This was not a simple matter. Only men of standing and impeccable reputation could act as auctioneers. According to a Government Ordinance, auctioneers had to pay a licence fee of £30 and a levy of 10 per cent on all sales. The partnership continued for about two years, then each went on his own way, Nathan remaining on the site where he commenced a mercantile business which has won renown and is now the oldest in New Zealand.

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John Israel Montefiore also achieved prominence in the town as a trader and land agent, selling his animals, wines, spirits, goods and land from his allotment at 3 Lower Queen Street. Squatters were a great problem to him, for Montefiore often had to publish warnings in the Press cautioning trespassers not to build on his clients' land. He also attempted, with four others, including the Deputy Surveyor-General, Captain William Cornwallis Symonds, to establish a newspaper and printing company, but within twelve months insufficient subscribers for the £2 shares impelled the trustees to liquidate the Auckland Newspaper and General Printing Company, as it was called.

Other Jews who arrived in Auckland before the end of 1843 included Ralph Keesing and his father Henry—the head of the large Keesing family— Asher Asher and his wife Hannah, and Samuel Brown. An increase in the Auckland Jewish community also occurred when Sarah Nathan was born on 10 January, 1843, to David and Rosetta Nathan, the first Jewish birth recorded in New Zealand.

As a devout practising Jew, David Nathan sought the first opportunity to establish Jewish public worship in Auckland, and as soon as his premises at the corner of Shortland Crescent and High Street were completed, the small Jewish community met, whenever occasion demanded, in his private quarters. When the community expanded, he fitted up a special room in his store to serve as a synagogue. Ralph Keesing acted as the Reader. Provision was also made to acquire a cemetery, and on 12 July, 1842, the Governor granted a section of land in Symonds Street to David Nathan and John Israel Montefiore as a burial-ground for the Jews. Unfortunately for David Nathan, the first person whom he had to bury on the land was his own six-month-old daughter, Julia, who died on 24 August, 1844. A deep and genuine respect for their own religion inspired the Jews to revere the faiths of their fellow citizens. They contributed a share in the foundation-stones of all the original chapels built in Auckland. Nathan, Montefiore and Joseph donated handsomely to each of the denominations which erected houses of worship in the town. Joseph even collected contributions in his home on behalf of the Roman Catholic church.

Both Nathan and Montefiore took a prominent part in the civic affairs of the town, Nathan adding dignity and weight to any worthwhile movement which he considered of merit and which contributed to the progress of the community, whilst Montefiore, by active leadership and public expression of the beliefs he held dear, stood out as a man of principles. When Hobson, a few months prior to his death, ordered the building of a new customs house and jetty which did not please the commercial section of the community, Montefiore helped to organize a protest meeting at Wood's Royal Hotel. He spoke convincingly against the plan and moved a motion of page 57 protest against the project. He and Nathan were amongst the delegates appointed to meet the Governor about the matter. Though seriously ill, the Governor held to his resolution, with the result that Montefiore with seven others wrote to the Colonial Secretary, Lord Stanley, expressing their disgust with Hobson and their opposition to the scheme. Montefiore did not forget an old friend. When Captain Symonds died, he was amongst the foremost to organize the erection of a monument to his memory.

The new Governor, Captain Robert FitzRoy, after his appointment in December, 1843, proved to be as resolute as Hobson, and more unpopular. Montefiore discovered this to his own embarrassment. During a period of depression in the colony, FitzRoy imposed additional taxes upon bread and clothing, which aroused the anger of the populace. At a public meeting of protest, Montefiore, one of the principal speakers, stressed the hardship and injustice of the imposition, and he was elected as one of the delegates to meet the Governor at his house. A crowd of labourers and curious spectators followed the deputation. Displeased because he had not received prior notification of the deputation, the Governor proceeded to lecture the delegates on their abrupt manners and breach of etiquette. Before allowing them to unleash their contradictions, he inquired if all the delegates had signed the petition of protest, and those who had not done so took the hint and hastily left. FitzRoy then commenced upon another stinging lecture to the remaining delegates on his rights and duties. The representatives, unaccustomed to be spoken to in such a manner by a colonial governor, stood up abruptly after listening awhile in astonishment, and unceremoniously beat a hasty retreat, muttering and threatening to send strong adverse reports to the Government in the homeland.