Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cohen, Montague (1855–1931)

by Barbara Falk

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Montague Cohen (1855-1931), lawyer and businessman, was born on 4 August 1855 at Collingwood, Melbourne, eldest child of Simeon Cohen, salesman and later merchant, from Devonshire, England, and his wife Esther, née Levi (Levy), from London. Educated by tutors and at Scotch College, Cohen studied law at the University of Melbourne. While serving articles he was a founder and secretary of a literary and debating society whose members included Alfred Deakin and Theodore Fink. After admission in 1878, Cohen joined P. D. Phillips as a partner. Seven years later he became partner in Pavey, Wilson, and Cohen (Pavey's). He practised as a solicitor but made rare, shrewd appearances as an advocate. The Law Institute of Victoria elected him president in 1903.

Cohen's financial and political acumen led him to much business activity in the boom years, especially in the brewing and non-ferrous metals industries. He survived the 1890s depression although many associates became insolvent. The stabilization of the liquor industry owed much to him: a director in the 1890s of the Foster Brewing Co. Ltd, in 1903-07 with C. L. Pinschof he negotiated the merger of the main Victorian breweries under the name of Carlton and United Breweries Ltd—and in 1925 a further combination took place. Cohen put the Brewers' Association of Victoria on a sound footing; he was president of the Liquor Trades' Defence Union of Victoria for many years and a member of its federal organization. In 1887 he was a founder of the Swan Brewery Co. Ltd in Perth and remained its chairman of directors for forty years.

Through A. J. F. de Bavay, who had been with Foster's, Cohen became involved in the non-ferrous metals industry and, with William Baillieu and other members of the Collins House group, used personal funds to subsidize long-term research to develop the de Bavay flotation process. Cohen's directorships included twelve major companies, among them Amalgamated Zinc (de Bavay's) Ltd, and Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd.

On 23 February 1881 he had married Annie, daughter of Edward Cohen. She had attended the Presbyterian Ladies' College in 1879. 'Mrs Monty' was supported by her husband in her life work of organizing and dispensing charity. Between 1897 and 1939 she served as committee-member, treasurer and, for nineteen years, president of the Victorian Infant Asylum (Berry Street Foundling Hospital, East Melbourne), and was an energetic and forceful committee-member of the Melbourne District Nursing Society. Charitable to her fingertips, she never spoke of what she did; she went into the homes of people in trouble—an 'angel on earth', albeit a tiny, imperious and strong-willed angel. The couple maintained links with the Melbourne Jewish community. 'Mrs Monty' was at one time vice-president of the Melbourne Jewish Women's Guild and occasionally worshipped with the Melbourne Hebrew congregation.

Cohen was a formidable man. A proficient pianist, he sometimes performed for charity. When young he played football and cricket and was a cross-country runner. Later he was a founder and trustee of the Amateur Sports Club of Victoria, and, as president of the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association, presented a shield to stimulate interest in the 10-mile (16 km) cross-country run. Cohen was generally respected for his attention to the realities of business and professional life and for his integrity. He died in Melbourne on 18 October 1931 and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery, survived by his wife and their only child, Harold. Cohen's estate was sworn for probate at £131,074 in Victoria and £79,076 in South Australia. His portrait by Longstaff is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • W. S. Robinson, If I Remember Rightly, G. Blainey ed (Melb, 1967)
  • N. Rosenthal, People, Not Cases (Melb, 1974)
  • Australian Brewer's Journal, 20 Nov 1906
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 26 May 1888, 25 May 1893
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 Oct 1931
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Oct 1931
  • History of the Carlton and United Breweries (National Library of Australia and University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Victorian Amateur Athletic Assn papers (Melbourne)
  • information from Berry Street Babies' Home & Hospital (East Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Barbara Falk, 'Cohen, Montague (1855–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cohen-montague-5717/text9669, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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