19th Century Jewish Community of Central Auckland
by Sarah Oliver*
In the nineteenth century, many significant members of Auckland’s Jewish community lived in Princes Street and Waterloo Quadrant, close to the Synagogue. The foundation stone of the Princes Street Synagogue was laid in 1884 by David Nathan, a great figure in colonial Auckland. Nathan lived a few doors down from the Synagogue at the fine residence of 16 Waterloo Quadrant with his wife Rosetta and family. The Synagogue building was completed the following year and consecrated by Rabbi Samuel Goldstein, who lived at 6 Waterloo Quadrant. Arthur Hyam Nathan, the nephew of David Nathan, was the president of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation at the time of the build and lived at 31 Princes Street.
We can see this community’s closeness and strong identity by viewing the group of Jewish immigrants living in Princes Street and Waterloo Quadrant. The close community provided much of the strength which allowed this group to successfully establish themselves in their faith, civic duty, and the city’s economy. In this essay, I will provide a case study of how a minority community’s identity was created and evolved in the early days of the Auckland community.
21 Princes Street (1875-1887) – James Sharland, Chemist
The lot directly next to the Princes Street Synagogue at 21 Princes Street was purchased in 1875 and then built on in 1878 by the Jewish chemist James Cragg Sharland (1819-1887). Sharland is recorded as having brought the first recorded drug supply to New Zealand in 1847, for his New Plymouth general store. He moved to Auckland in 1870 after purchasing the chemist store ‘Apothecaries Hall’ on Shortland Street (pictured). Sharland advertised his products at Apothecaries Hall extensively in newspapers throughout the 1870s. For instance, he advertised “Manning’s Worm Powders” which were “Prepared only by J. C. SHARLAND,” and that taking “SHARLAND’S Concentrated Sarsaparilla” and “SHARLAND’s Podophyllin (Pearl) Pills” supposedly led to “pure and healthy blood, clear skin, and good complexion.”
Sharland experienced great success in his store, evolving the business into wholesale manufacture, and being the chemist to successive Governors of New Zealand. He further wrote a booklet for colonial families outside the reach of medical care in 1878, titled The Settler’s Guide and Household Companion, which he sold for 1s 6p. In it he discussed all matters pertained to health from sleep, clothing, ventilation, and digestion, to the “importance of adulation and bathing in the health of the body and skin.” Sharland lived at his Princes Street house until he died in 1887, his funeral procession being advertised in his obituary as leaving his “late residence in Princes-street.” Although Sharland was buried in a Anglican cemetery he was noted by Bell and Morrow (2014) as a Jewish merchant, so I have included him in this list.
21 Princes Street (1887-1890) – Philip Aaron Philips, Mayor
When Sharland passed in 1887, his widow Louisa Jane Sharland (1842-1923) continued to live in the house with her brother, Philip Aaron Philips (1831-1913), until 1890, when they sold the house. Philips after arriving in Auckland in 1847 opened a hardware shop and ironmongery business on Shortland Crescent. He and his wife Annie (1836-1888) had a son, named Philip, who died at four months. Both mother and son were buried in the Jewish section of the Symonds Street cemetery (see headstones pictured below).
In 1871, Philips was Auckland’s first mayor, and served until 1874, then serving as town clerk. During his term as mayor, he kept the land from Albert Barracks as a park rather than allowing it to be developed, and he was commemorated with a park plaque: “A man of vision who helped secure the land now known as Albert Park for the city.” This benefitted the homeowners of Princes Street, including his sister and himself, whose homes backed onto the park and the Jewish community who had direct access to the park from the Synagogue. During his time in office Philips influenced the transfer of land for the new Princes Street Synagogue from the governmentally designated Alten Road lot to the Princes Street and Bowen Avenue corner lot. Philips was heavily involved in the Jewish congregation, holding several public roles including president and treasurer.
29 Princes Street (1885-1910) – Moss Davis, Brewer and Hotelier
Three doors down from Sharland and later Philips at 21 Princes Street was the Jewish family the Davises, Moss Davis (1847-1933), his wife, Leah Davis (1845-1941), and their children, at 29 Princes Street. According to their son, Eliot Davis (1871-1954) in his autobiography A Link with the Past, his family moved from Nelson to Auckland on the Penguin on Saturday 28th March 1885, the same year the new Princes Street Synagogue was opened. Moss Davis had continued his father Hyam’s business in Nelson, buying hops and barley to sell to brewers where he gained a fortune. In 1884, when he was approached by a customer, Samuel Jagger, to become a partner in his Auckland brewery, Hancock and Company, he agreed and moved the family to Auckland.
They initially boarded at 29 Princes Street before Moss Davis bought the property two years later, and named it Hamurana. Moss became the sole owner of the brewery when his partner, Jagger, died in 1900. The Davis Family further expanded their business into hotels, owning the Grand Hotel on Princes Street and hotels in Rotorua. Goldman in his 1958 History of Jews in New Zealand, labelled Moss Davis as “a pioneer in the expansion of the hotel and brewery industry.”
Leah Davis is one of the only wives of Auckland’s Jewish merchants to be in the historic record. Her son Eliot described her as “an extremely pretty woman with a soprano voice.” In the New Zealand Graphic for September 1891 it was recorded that; “Mrs. Moss Davis (of “Hamurana”) gave a very large musical afternoon. The rooms were just crowded: everybody you knew seemed to be there. The rooms (three in number) were darkened (the blinds being down and the curtains drawn) and lighted up with gas candles and fairy lamps.” Mrs. Davis’ obituary remembered her, “With a keen sense of humour, a big share of good looks, living her life with simplicity and dignity, and filled with loving kindness, Mrs. Moss Davis typified English womanhood of the Victorian period at its best.” Her obituary further stated she had “a prominent part in the social life of Auckland,” and “was a pioneer worker in philanthropic and charitable organisations,” including the Auckland Ladies’ Benevolent Society. Possibly most interesting is Easdale’s (1980) statement that “Leah’s business acumen” allowed for the success of her husband Moss’s brewery business. Leah Davis was a remarkable woman, musically talented, an exemplary Victorian English woman, heavily involved in charity work, and an astute businesswoman. The Davises sold 29 Princes Street in 1910 when Moss and Leah left for England.
31 Princes Street (1894-1905) – Arthur Hyam Nathan, Merchant
Right next door to the Davis family at 29 Princes Street was Arthur Hyam Nathan (1847-1905), a nephew of David Nathan’s who lived at 31 Princes Street with his family from 1894 until his death in 1905. Arthur came to Auckland in 1864, originally to take up a sales department position at his uncle, David Nathan’s firm L.D. Nathan & Co. Ltd. In 1880 after resigning, he founded his own firm, A.H. Nathan, and traded in general merchandise and exporting kauri gum. Labelled by the New Zealand Herald as “a self-made man”, he traded in tea, selling a product advertised as ‘Arthur Nathan’s “Reliable” Teas,’ which were “unexcelled for quality, purity, and flavour.” (pictured) Nathan excelled as a merchant and held Chamber of Commerce office several times, including the positions of vice-president and president positions.
Arthur Nathan was a devout Jew and an honorary reader, leading the Congregation in-between Rabbis and being involved in festival services. He was remembered as being “garbed in white on Yom Kippur, reading the services in a manner which showed how deeply based was his Hebrew knowledge and acquaintance with our ritual.” J. Keesing in his writing Some Random Reminiscences of Early Jewish Days in Auckland, described Arthur as “amiable and honourable,” stating that he helped teach the Hebrew School alongside John’s brother Henry Keesing Jr. Arthur Nathan was buried in the Jewish Section of Symonds Street cemetery (see headstone pictured below).
4 Waterloo Quadrant (1853-1879) – Henry Keesing, tailor and merchant
Henry Keesing (1791-1879), his wife Rosetta (1797-1862), and their children were Dutch Jews who migrated to England and then to Auckland in 1843. Henry bought the elevated lot at 4 Waterloo Quadrant for £657 in 1853, a short walk from the old Synagogue at Emily Place, and a shorter walk to the Princes Street Synagogue, built-in 1885. The house was demolished in the 1960s and replaced with a hotel. Both Henry and Rosetta were buried in the Jewish Section of the Symonds Street Cemetery. Henry set up a profitable store called London House in Shortland Street Crescent, one of the finest in the settlement where he sold imported hardware and clothing. Henry had been a tailor in England and continued the skill in Auckland, with some Māori waiting at his store to have him make caps from old coat-tails . As time went on, he set his sons up in small shops in Auckland, and moved into real estate, owning several buildings and sites across Auckland. Rosetta Keesing, was described by Rosenthal (1991) as the Auckland’s Congregation’s “communal grandmother,” her contribution to the Congregation being so great that her death marked “the end of Auckland’s tightly knit and observant Jewish community.”
Goldman (1958) records that the large family were almost all “musical and artistic,” including conducting the Synagogue’s choir. The Keesing family were highly involved in the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, with Henry as the first president of the Congregation in 1851 and their son Ralph conducting the first services. Another son, Barnet, had preceded the family to Auckland in 1838 to sell lemonade and ginger beer in challenge to the growing sale of alcohol in Auckland. Barnet became one of the first to build a makeshift house in the town; “Among some of the first 1841 erections or makeshift houses there was one put up for Mr Bannard Keesing in the Crescent… in the shape of an Irish Mud Cabin, where Ginger beer was made and sold at 6d per half pint.” Their daughter Hannah Keesing (1823-1909) married Asher Asher (1826-1899), another early Jewish settler of Auckland and the first Superintendent of the First Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1848, while her sister Harriet married his brother Joel. Hannah and Asher were buried in Symonds Street Cemetery (see their headstone pictured below).
6 Waterloo Quadrant (1880-1934) – Samuel Goldstein, Rabbi
Next door to the Keesing family at 6 Waterloo Quadrant, lived Rabbi Samuel Goldstein (1852-1935), who lived at the house, now demolished, for his entire ministry from 1880 to 1934. The 1908 Auckland Council Valuation Roll records for 6 Waterloo Quadrant, “GOLDSTEIN, Samuel A, Jewish Rabbi.” Goldstein seems to have been greatly loved by his congregation and by members of the wider community including the Anglican Bishop who “numbers among his best friends”. He excelled men such as Sharland, Philips, Davis, and the Nathans, by devoting himself wholly to his calling. The 1931 New Zealand Jewish Review states that “He has never spared himself in the service of the congregation. That is always first and foremost in his mind. … For fifty years he has ministered to his flock with a spirit of joyous enthusiasm … with a genial optimism and a quiet spiritual strength that are characteristic of the man.” Eliot Davis in A Link with the Past, described Goldstein as “a truly remarkable personage.” Alongside his work as a Rabbi, Goldstein was involved in the RSPCA, the Auckland Public Library committee, and was a founder of the Auckland branch of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children.
16 Waterloo Quadrant (1863 – 1886) – David Nathan, Merchant
David Nathan (1816-1886), a London-born Jew from an orthodox upbringing, was a prominent figure in Auckland nineteenth-century Jewish community and recognised in the wider Auckland community. Nathan was an early settler to Auckland, moving quickly to the newly named capital to sell his goods from a tent in Commercial Bay. His marriage to Rosetta in October 1841 in Kororāreka was the first Jewish wedding in New Zealand. Their daughter, Sarah, was the first Jewish birth in New Zealand. Nathan built the house at 16 Waterloo Quadrant in 1863, naming it Bella Vista for its views out to the harbour.
Goldman (1958) recorded that Nathan’s orthodox beliefs led to his integrity and trustworthiness in trade, traits popular with both Māori looking to trade produce and the British military looking for supplies for their regiments. He expressed his religion in his business, the Jewish Star of David with an N inside was his business logo. In 1857, Nathan gained a contract with Shaw Savill Shipping, becoming heavily involved in the kauri gum trade, it is reported that more than half of the trade went through the firm of Nathans. Furthermore, Nathan set up the Auckland Savings Bank in 1847, was a founding member of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, and was on the City Council from 1854-5. Nathan’s contribution to the Jewish community in Auckland was immense, establishing the Auckland Hebrew Congregation in 1843 and holding religious services in his store, as well as helping to secure land for a Jewish cemetery on Symonds Road. His final public appearance was to lay the foundation stone of the new Princes Street Synagogue. Both David and Rosetta were buried in the Jewish section of Symonds Street cemetery (see their headstones pictured below).
It is often hard to find the voice of women in archival information from the nineteenth century. Often, they are referred to by their husband’s name, e.g., Mrs. David Nathan, in written material, obscuring their first names from the reader. For the most part I was unable to find information about the wives of the Jewish men who lived in Princes Street and Waterloo Quadrant. In the city’s census only the head of the household’s name, often their husband’s, was recorded.
Upper-class women would have been involved in charity work, such as the Ladies’ Benevolent Society. Louisa Sharland, who lived at 21 Princes Street and the wife of James Sharland, was described as “quietly but tastefully attired in a ‘dark green tweed costume and a green felt hat’” at a Promenade Concert for the Society. Mrs. A.H. Nathan, who lived with her husband at 29 Princes Street, was described at a function to be wearing a “rich crusted strawberry silk handsomely trimmed with white embroidery, white kid gloves, gold ornaments”. These women’s domain would have been the home, the photograph of washing hung in the backyard of the Princes Street villas represents this domain visually. In an intersection of domestic and the public, wives sometimes advertised for workers; as seen below, Mrs. David Nathan of 16 Waterloo Quadrant advertised for a parlourmaid in the Auckland Star, January 1884.
Many significant members of Auckland’s Jewish Community lived close to the Princes Street Synagogue, living on either Princes Street or Waterloo Quadrant, forming a strong community identity among Auckland’s Jewish population. Many of the people I have commented on showed excellence in their fields and were big contributors to the wider Auckland community. They succeeded as chemists, mayors, brewers, hoteliers, tea or kauri merchants, and community members. In my next essay, I will discuss how the religious sanctuary of New Zealand allowed these men to succeed in their fields.
*Sarah would like to acknowledge the assistance of Jewish Lives in her research (www.jewishlives.nz)