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Here from the Beginning: Jewish Contribution to Life in Early Fremantle

Ari and Wendy Antonovsky
Fremantle Heritage Festival, 1000 Sunday 4 Jun 2017
Starting at the the Moores Building in Henry Street, this is a walk conducted by the Antonovskys for several years. Walkers were shown Elias Solomon's offices (1) at 52 Henry St, the Sailors Rest building (2) in Marine Terrace, the Solomon building (3) in Cliff St, the Round House (4) at one end of High St, Barney Silbert's corner (5) at Market St, the location of Izzy Orloff's studio in the Mall, and the Synagogue (6) in South Terrace: see the red numbers in the map below. (Ignore the black lines with arrows.)

walk map


Today we are going to step back in time into the world of the early arrivals to the Swan River Colony and Fremantle, and look at the lives and contributions of the Jewish settlers among them. Whether they came from small villages in Eastern Europe, or the over-crowded boroughs in the city of London, they all shared a collective history of moving from one part of Europe to another. Ultimately that meant that wherever they happened to land up, they brought their sense of community with them and worked to develop it.

So today, we will present four of these pioneering spirits to you, who in very different ways, made important contributions to the early community life here in Fremantle, no doubt drawing heavily on their own distinct heritage. We will now have a chance to walk around the buildings in Fremantle that are a lasting marker of their presence here.

Over time, their presence and work here created the environment that is 'Western Australia' for the generations who came after.

Fremantle Walk Site 1: 52 Henry St—Elias Solomon's Offices

Elias SolomonOur first stop on the tour is the site of the offices of probably the most important of Fremantle's early Jewish citizens. We'll start the tour by looking at the life of Elias Solomon, the first MP for Fremantle, in the new Australian parliament.

Elias Solomon was a Londoner, born there in 1839. His family originally went to South Australia, but then moved shortly afterwards to New South Wales (a busy place even then). His father died when he was 10 years old. His family then returned to Adelaide. I happened to spend time in Port Adelaide and one of the streets there (Timpson St) was known as 'Jew Street' at the time Solomon was there. Solomon worked for his uncle, an auctioneer, and eventually became chief clerk of the firm.

At the age of 29 he moved to Western Australia (obviously a man of vision) and established a business here as an auctioneer and grocery, wine & spirit merchant in association with two of his nephews. After the business dissolved, he became a business partner with Lionel Samson.

Solomon CertificateFortunately, Solomon was a much more successful politician than businessman. Dating from 1877, he served a six year term on the Fremantle Town Council and was subsequently Mayor of Fremantle on three occasions between 1889 and 1901. In his time as mayor he initiated many of the well‐known features around Fremantle—the Town Hall, the Markets and the Fremantle Hospital.

See below for the text of the plaque presented to Elias Solomon on his retirement.

In 1892, by a margin of only seven votes, he was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly at a by‐election for South Fremantle. However, he was subsequently returned unopposed in 1894 and 1897 running effectively as an Independent during those years.

In March 1901, Solomon contested the first federal election for the seat of Fremantle as one of three Free Trade candidates in a four cornered contest. He became a member of the first Commonwealth Parliament with a majority of the votes cast (1000 more than his Labor opponent). Interestingly, there were four Jewish members in the first Australian Parliament, including Isaac Isaacs, who later became the first Australian‐born G‐G. Solomon lost the next election in 1903 to the Labor Party. As it turns out, his opponent was named Carpenter and I would be interested to know if he is any relation to the later premier.

All along, Solomon was involved with the affairs of the Jewish community here. In many of his letters to his mother in Adelaide, he mentioned that he wished there was a Synagogue to attend. He was even the first person to bring Passover matzo into W.A. In 1902 he finally had his wish. As president of the WA Hebrew Congregations and a trustee for the lot granted to the Congregation by the State Government, he laid the foundation stone for the Fremantle Synagogue.

His home, constructed for him in 1887, was a magnificent house on Solomon St (where else) named Ocean View. Twice married and widowed with a total of eleven children he died in Beaconsfield in 1909 and is one of the notables buried in the Fremantle Cemetery.

Fremantle Walk Site 2: Sailor's Rest (Port Lodge, 28 Marine Tce)—Rosa Henriques Smith

Port Lodge

In front of us is one of Notre Dame's dormitories in the old Port Lodge. This was once the Sailor's Rest started by Rosa Smith and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. So, what is the Jewish connection to this? Well, therein lies a story ... a very Jewish story.

Rosa Smith was born Rosa Henriques in Port Maria, Jamaica in 1853, but the whole story starts 250 years earlier. It begins in the late 1500s with the spread of the Inquisition from Spain to Portugal. Jews were given the choice of converting to Christianity or leaving the country. Some left for the New World of South America, some converted and practiced their religion in secret (but that was to risk torture or being burned at the stake). By the early 1600s, many of these Sephardi Jews, including Rosa's ancestor Antonio Henriques, who had been a merchant in Lisbon, had made their way to Holland, which was much more tolerant towards Jews.

Antonio changed his name to Antonio Cohen Henriques and named his sons Abraham and Moses (as was the custom of Jews who left the Inquisition behind). Abraham stayed on in Amsterdam as a merchant trading with Latin America. Moses Cohen Henriques however, turned to piracy, or privateering, as it was properly called, as it involved Dutch ships, attacking the enemy ships of Spain. Needless to say, Jews were more than happy to help out in this venture, and Jewish pirates of the Caribbean, like Moses Henriques, were prominent in the Dutch raids on Spanish galleons. Jamaica was a haven for pirates and Jews in the 1600s, a situation which continued even after the English took control. Moses Henriques eventually retired from piracy, and was forgiven his past misdeeds and was naturalised as a Jamaican by the English governor, Henry Morgan (also a pirate).

Rosa HenriquesFast forward 200 years to 1853. By the time Rosa was born, there was a thriving Jewish community in Port Maria, as well as Kingston, the capital. In fact the Jewish population of Jamaica varied between 20 and 50%.

At the age of 22, life changed dramatically for the young Rosa. She married a Scottish naval officer named Thomas Smith, and two years later set sail for Scotland, and eventually Melbourne, where we know she had an uncle. She spent ten years in South Melbourne, very involved in helping the sick and poor around the docks, and especially working in the Sailor's Rest in Port Melbourne.

Capt. Smith was then appointed Inspector of Pearl Fisheries in WA, travelling around the North‐West Coast—Shark Bay, Dampier, Broome, etc, with Rosa on board with him. She was on his ship the Mida for a while, and stayed at the town called Cossack near Roebourne, quite a busy place in its day. It's now a marvellous old ghost town and well worth a visit if you are ever up in the Pilbara.

Rosa came back to Fremantle in 1890, the start of 31 years of working tirelessly for the Fremantle community. She was Supt of Sailors' Work, looking after the young fellows coming through here, and trying to keep them out of mischief. She was instrumental in raising £2000 for the Sailor's Rest on the Port Lodge site. This was the forerunner of the Flying Angels Club still operating on Queen Victoria St.

She visited every ship that came to Fremantle. It was not unusual for her to visit sick and injured seaman in Fremantle Hospital when they ended up there, and even have them at her house. For this work, she was presented with an acknowledgement by the Duchess of York on behalf of the British Seamen's Society of London.

She was also the first woman on the Fremantle School Board, and convinced the government to build an infant school in South Fremantle.

In 1921, after a bout of ill health, she and Capt. Smith decided to return to Jamaica, where she died within the year.

Fremantle Walk Site 3: 31 Cliff St—Lionel Samson & Son Pty Ltd

Samson Offices

Here we are at Lionel Samson's offices. Many of you would have walked past this place. But how many of you have realised that this is the oldest family-held business in all of Australia? This August is its 180th anniversary.

And has anyone wondered about the man behind the name, who started this business almost 180 years ago? There are many 'firsts' associated with Lionel Samson: first family-owned business in WA, first government auctioneer, first postmaster and the first liquor license in the Colony in 1835.

Samson Family

Lionel Samson came from a well‐to‐do Jewish English family. Like Solomon, he was a Londoner. There are records of the Samson family history going back to the early 1700s in England. His father and he had a seat on the London Stock Exchange. Unlike many of the settlers in Fremantle he had received a good education, at Oxford University.

Lionel developed his pioneering interest for this new land called Australia through his friendship with Capt. James Stirling (who eventually became Governor of the Swan River Colony and gave his name to the Stirling Hwy). Lionel was sent off from London in style with many dignitaries, including the Prince of Wales, turning up for the occasion. In August 1829 Lionel and his brother William stepped off the sailing ship Calista on South Beach, south of Fremantle. (Note the top plaque in the doorway). Lionel came out very well-prepared for his new life in WA. He brought out the wine and liquor that he planned to sell, a pre-fabricated house, sheep and horses, and four servants to help get all this organised.

According to the system in those days, Lionel was granted land proportional to the value of what he brought out here. That year, he also purchased Fremantle town lots 27 and 28 in what was the first WA land sale. He started a merchant liquor and general import-export business. Even then they could see that grog would be a good business in Australia. Both the business and the license are still here on Cliff St almost 180 years later.

This office was situated in a key location in the new colony. Goods off loaded from ships at the south end of Cliff St (South Bay) were carted down Cliff St and loaded onto barges at the north end of the street (to go up the river to Perth).

Lionel seemed to be a friend to everyone, from the Governor down to the humblest colonists; and anyone that came through the colony met Samson and left with fond memories of him. The story goes that as honorary Postmaster, he distributed the mail when a ship arrived. Invariably people coming for their mail would borrow the money to pay for the postage and while there they also drank his brandy.

However, friendship wasn't enough, and in 1842 he went back to England to bring back a wife. The story goes that a previous object of his affections had refused to marry him, but promised he could marry her daughter, when she was old enough. And so, Fanny Levy came back with Lionel, making them and their six children, the first Jewish family in WA.

He held many honorary posts in the new colony. Among his many official positions, he served in the Legislative Council under three Governors. The Samson tradition certainly was passed on to two of Lionel's sons who became mayors of Fremantle, as well as his grandson who was mayor for 37 years.

The final word goes to his obituary, which said, "To write a sketch of Mr. Samson's colonial career would be to write a history of the colony itself".

Fremantle Walk Site 4: Round House—The Krakouer Family

Krakouer Track

We now come to the Round House, the oldest public building in WA, and the story of Theodore Krakouer and his family. This is a very different but equally archetypical Jewish story.

The name Krakouer of course comes from Krakow, a town in Poland with a large Jewish community. With attacks on Jews in Eastern Europe increasing throughout the 1800s, many headed west to England and America. Unfortunately, jobs and economic opportunities were limited, especially for those that did not speak English, and found themselves in a city the size of London. For many of these Jews, like Fagin in Oliver Twist, petty crime was the only means of survival, and inevitably, this landed them on boats heading for Australia. Besides, the Crown seemed quite happy to relocate as many Jews and Irish as far away from England as possible.

So back to Theodore Krakouer. After a trial in Portsmouth and a stretch in Portland Gaol, Theodore arrived in 1851 in the Swan River Colony, as WA Convict no. 232 on the Mermaid. He arrived with a mate of his, Elias Lapidus. [see footnote] They were a great pair: Theodore was sentenced to 15 years in WA for stealing clothes and money; Lapidus was sentenced to 15 years for receiving stolen clothes and money. He was the 'fence.'

The language of the day was interesting: his convict papers declared that his state of mind was "hopeful", and he was counted in the 1854 WA census in the category 'Jews, Mohammedans and Non-believers', such was the high regard officials had for these groups.

Theodore married Brina Israel, who arrived two years after him by her own choice. She arrived here with her sister Esther, who married Lapidus. The two women had made the remarkable decision to leave London to start a new life in this colony. They were two single women on supported passage to a colony that was desperate for domestic servants and wives for its male population (some would say there was not much of a difference).

Theodore was a Ticket of Leave man, meaning he could go off to work each day. When the bell rang at the Round House, he had to be back home. Many of the T.o.L. families lived in cottages here around the Round House. He worked as a teamster, in livery stables around Fremantle, similar to the one that existed in the current Atwell Arcade. He also worked in the bush, out along the Williams Rd, and seems to have passed on this ability with horses to his sons.

And now we come to the story of two of Theodore's sons, Rudolph and David, both born in Fremantle. I would like to take this opportunity to correct an historical injustice; namely, that the Holland Track should, by rights, have been called the Krakouer Track.

At the start of the WA Gold Rush, there was no direct route to the Goldfields—a problem for prospectors and the merchants trying to supply goods and services to the area. Several groups had attempted to cut a direct route across from the end of the railway line at Broomehill to the Goldfields, but all had failed.

Rudolph himself had been prospecting at Coolgardie and realised that a solution was needed. He was a good bushman, and had been very enterprising in the development of Broomehill. So, it is not surprising that he decided to organise an expedition to Coolgardie. Contrary to the official version of the history, it is clear from newspapers at the time that Rudolph both organised and financed the expedition. The Australian Advertiser said on 26 April 1893:

Mr RT Krakouer and party have left here, striking a direct route through the bush for the Goldfields. The evening previous to their projected departure, a farewell social, initiated by members of the Broomehill Cricket Club, of which Mr Krakouer was for years a most prominent member, was held in the Alpha Hall.

On April 14 1893, Rudolph and David left with John Holland and John Carmody to cut a route across to the Goldfields. The group started from Broomehill, 302km southeast of Perth. The Krakouer Bros and Holland reached Coolgardie two months later. They had surveyed and cleared over 500 km of unexplored country, providing the catalyst for developing the Goldfields.

However, a combination of John Holland big-noting himself in speeches and newspapers stories, and official antipathy to the Krakouers, meant that all official recognition went to Holland. Even two geographic features, Krakouer Rocks and Lake Krakouer were later renamed by officials, on what became known as Holland's Track. Attempts by Abraham Krakouer, the oldest brother, to recover the £393 spent by his younger brother on the expedition were rudely rebuffed by the WA government.

In the end, the role of Rudolph Krakouer in the development of the mining industry in W.A. was relegated to a footnote in W.A. history. The Krakouer Brothers went on to start a string of hotels from Collie to Norseman. More significantly, they married local indigenous women, starting a dynasty of football players of Jewish-Aboriginal descent. And perhaps this is the most fitting legacy from that one enterprising convict who arrived in Fremantle 155 years ago.

Fremantle Walk Site 5: 133 High St:—Izzy (Abraham) Orloff

Orloff studio site133 High St, now a tailor's shop, formerly Izzy Orloff's studio

The last person on our tour was a bit of a personality. We have covered business, politics, community service and now finally the arts. Our final person is Izzy Orloff, a famous Fremantle photographer. Many of the classic photos that you might have seen of Perth and Fremantle in the early 20th century were taken by him.

Izzy was born Abraham, in the Ukraine in 1891. With the sort of anti-Jewish riots that drove Krakouer out of Eastern Europe and the prospect of conscription into the Russian army, drove the Orloffs to leave in 1903 (a good year to leave Russia) when Izzy was 12 years old. They originally went to Palestine, but in April 1910, Izzy followed his brother out to Fremantle. His first job was as a carriage maker in Claremont (his family trade), and he then worked as a peddler.

His first role in the community was as a translator for Army Intelligence during the First World War, translating Russian and German letters leaving and entering WA. After the war, on the first ship out of Fremantle, he headed off to Paris, where his sister was becoming a famous sculptor. There he trained as a photographer and received his certificate of achievement from the French Photographic Society. After photographing the Australian War graves in France, and the Arab riots against Jews in Palestine, he came back to North Fremantle to start a lifetime of documenting the lives and events of West Australians. They said about him: "He was never without a camera."

Photography was getting to be quite a business in the 1920s, and Izzy was one of a group of Fremantle freelance photographers, regularly selling his photos to the Sunday Times in competition with the Western Mail. He moved from North Freo to here on High St (first #133, then 155) to be closer to the action. Talking of action, he loved the dances in the hills, yachting on the river, and was a professional skater down at South Beach, which was quite the place in the 20s and 30s.

Izzy OrloffSelf-portrait by Izzy Orloff

But, like the others we talked about today, he also made a big contribution through his community work. Early on, he became a Freemason at the No. 2 Lodge in Fremantle and was a founder of the Caledonian Lodge, and involved with charity work. He was especially busy with migrant welfare, meeting every migrant ship and helping where he could with monetary assistance and advice. He was official translator for the Customs Dept (he spoke seven languages) and of course photographer when needed. After the war, he was mainly involved with helping Jewish refugees, but also helped Germans, Italians and Poles, because he knew their language. He retired from photography in the 1960s, but his photos live on in many collections all over W.A.

Fremantle Walk Site 5: Barney Silbert's Corner—The Silbert Family

Barney Silbert's Corner

See the entry for Barney Silbert.

Fremantle Walk Site 6: The Old Synagogue

Fremantle Synagogue

Our last, and possibly most significant site is the former Fremantle Synagogue, which was the first purpose built synagogue constructed in Western Australia. The first Jewish congregation had been established in Fremantle in August 1887. It had the name W.A. Hebrew Congregation, which meant that the later (and much bigger) Perth community could not use this title and had to settle for Perth Hebrew Congregation.

By 1891, services were conducted in the guardroom of Fremantle Barracks, on South Terrace, often by Rabbi Abraham Boas visiting from Adelaide. The community here began to look for a permanent site on which to build a synagogue. They acquired Lot 1366 on Norfolk Street, land which Fremantle Council was keen to acquire to incorporate into Barrack Field. In 1895 a land swap was arranged with the State Government.

On the 16th April, 1896, Lot 1375 South Terrace was vested in Elias Solomon and W.F. Samson, as Trustees for the Fremantle Congregation. The new site was a logical one, given it was adjacent to the Barracks where services were already being held. Surprisingly a synagogue was not built here until 1902, 6 years later, by which time the Fremantle Jewish population stood at about 60. The architectural partners who had recently designed the nearby Fremantle Markets were given the commission.

The foundation stone was laid by Elias Solomon on 8th January 1902, as Trustee of the Fremantle Hebrew congregation, and at the time, federal member for Fremantle. Mr J. McCracken won the contract to build the synagogue, for the grand sum of £750. An appeal raised £370 with a significant amount coming from non-Jews in Fremantle. The rest was paid out from an overdraft.

But the Jewish community's use of the Fremantle synagogue was short lived. An increase in the Jewish population in metropolitan Perth resulted in a second congregation being established in Perth in 1892. Over the next decade there was a gradual shift of Jews to Perth, with various attempts at a merger considered. Even Kosher meat had to be delivered from Perth, with Perth Hebrew Congregation demanding a fee for the service, which Fremantle wouldn't wear.

In 1908 the Perth congregation assumed control of the declining Fremantle congregation's affairs. With the Governor's consent, the trustees of the Fremantle group exercised their power of sale and sold the synagogue site to the Perth congregation. Services continued in the Fremantle Synagogue until 1910, by which time the community was too small and services were discontinued. Eventually in 1916 the building was sold to the Dept of Defence for £850.

In 1976 an application was made to Fremantle City Council by the Perth Hebrew Congregation to remove the Star of David from the front gable of the synagogue. Their intention was to incorporate the star in the new synagogue at Menora, as a means to commemorate the original Jewish community in Fremantle. Fremantle Council refused and instead offered to supply them with a replica of the star, leaving the original on the building, where you see it today.

The building has been a number of things in its time—café, carpet shop, clothing outlet. None of which have been terribly successful. Maybe Elias Solomon's spirit had a hand in this. It seems to be waiting for the day when the Old Synagogue is returned to its former glory as a prominent cultural centre for the whole Fremantle community.


These are just a handful of individuals, and a community is of course based on the work and contributions of many more than that. But I hope that we have given you a sense of what one segment of the Fremantle population has contributed to the development of this community in its early days, when the word 'development' had a more positive meaning.

Their heritage was one of moving from place-to-place and needing to re-establish a working society wherever they went. Clearly, this instilled in them an ability to quickly establish themselves in this new colony, and create the social institutions that we often take for granted today.

Plaque presented to Elias Solomon by the Councillors of the City of Fremantle

[Text of the plaque included in the Elias Solomon section, above]

To Elias Solomon Esq. J.P.

On the eve of your retirement from office, We the Councillors of the Municipality of Fremantle desire to express our feelings of respect and esteem entertained for you personally, and our recognition of the valuable services you have rendered during the three years you have so ably and honorably filled the position of Mayor of this town.
It was during your Mayoralty that the Colony welcomed the advent of Responsible Government which we all trust will materially assist in developing the resources of this great country and make Fremantle one of the principal ports of Australia.
Your intercourse with the members of the Corporation has always been most pleasant and agreeable, and we trust you will still continue to take an interest in the proceedings of the Municipal Council over which you have so long presided and as occasion may require tender your mature advice on questions affecting the interest of this important town.
We trust you may be long spared in the enjoyment of health and strength so that in some other department of public usefulness you may serve the Colony in which we all take so deep an interest.

Lionel Samson Geo Edwards John J. Higham
Councillors West Ward
James Pearse Sam Pearse R. S. Newbold
Councillors North Ward
M. Y. Jolius R. Jones J. Harry Marshall
Councillors South Ward


Elias Lapidus arrived on the Hashemy in 1850, not on the same ship as Theodore Krakouer, who arrived the next year, on the Mermaid. They met in prison. When they were released, Theodore and Elias engaged Brina and Ester Israel to work for them, resulting in Brina having Theodore's children and Ester Elias's. Neither couple was married. - Information from a Lapidus descendant, to whom thanks. Note by Garry Gillard.

References and Links

Antonovsky, Ari & Wendy 2010, 'Here from the beginning: Jewish community life in early Fremantle, Fremantle Studies, 6: 1-11.

Berry, Elaine 1994, 'The Samsons in Fremantle', Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle SocietyOctober 1994.

Silbert, Eric 1999, 'Jewish personalities of Fremantle'Fremantle Studies, 1: 77-91.

Solomon, Coralie 2004, 'Elias Solomon: first Federal Member of Parliament for Fremantle: life and letters 1839-1909', Fremantle Studies, 3: 1-13.

Garry Gillard | New: 18 September, 2016 | Now:26 August, 2023