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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hoffnung, Sigmond (1830–1904)

by G. F. J. Bergman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Sigmond Hoffnung (1830-1904), merchant, was born in Kalisz, Poland, the elder son of Rev. Samuel Hoffnung and his wife Caroline. In 1836 his father migrated to England with his family, became minister and cantor of the small Jewish community in Newcastle upon Tyne and in 1840 moved to the Exeter Synagogue. Sigmond was educated in Liverpool but lack of money forced him to leave home and become a junior salesman with a West Country firm. He became friendly with a customer, Henry Nathan, who lent him £500 to buy assorted goods and take them to Sydney. Hoffnung arrived early in 1852 and opened a wholesale business in Wynyard Square. He soon sold his stock, repaid the loan, then made arrangements with Nathan to act as his buyer. Hoffnung prospered and in 1855 moved to larger premises in George Street. Knowledgeable about the needs of settlers, he visited England in 1857 to replenish his stock and to swell his capital and made a formal partnership with Nathan. In Sydney on 26 May 1858 he married Elizabeth Marks of Raymond Terrace.

Hoffnung was prominent in Jewish activities. He was auditor of the York Street Synagogue in 1858 and remained one of its leaders. He served on committees to raise money for distressed Jews in Palestine, the Sydney Jewish Sabbath School, the Sydney Hebrew Certified Denominational School and the Jewish Philanthropic and Orphan Society. In 1866 he was treasurer and a benefactor of the Great Synagogue's building committee, president of the York Street Synagogue and in 1870-76 a member of its board of management. In 1875 he organized the Hebrew Ladies' Bazaar at which his wife alone raised £1285 towards the Great Synagogue building fund.

In 1870 S. Hoffnung & Co. moved into new premises designed by Thomas Rowe in Pitt Street and in 1871 opened a Brisbane branch. The firm also established other branches in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji and had its head office in London. They also had a large factory in Sydney making saddlery and harness. Their range of wholesale goods included American canned fruits and jams, watches, glass and china, ironmongery, rocking-horses, firearms, iron safes and patent medicines. Hoffnung set up the first opal-cutting business in Australia and exported uncut diamonds and sapphires for industrial use. In 1875 he was on the committee of the Trade Protection Society of New South Wales.

In 1877 Hoffnung returned to England and took charge of the London office. His brother Abraham, who had been a successful merchant in America, Canada and Liverpool, joined S. Hoffnung & Co. in 1886. Abraham spent some years in Australia and in London was chargé d'affaires for Hawaii before its annexation. In 1889 Sigmond retired from the firm, which in 1899 became a private company and in 1902 a public company which later had its headquarters at 153 Clarence Street, Sydney. With his brother he restored the Exeter Synagogue. Aged 74 he died on 27 August 1904 in Queen's Gate, Kensington, London, and was buried in the Golders Green cemetery. He was survived by his wife; their only child Sidney, who married Violet, daughter of Sir Julian Goldsmid, took the name Hoffnung-Goldsmid by royal licence, became a director of the company and died in 1930.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland, vol 2 (Brisb, 1888)
  • S. Hoffnung & Co. Ltd, The House of Hoffnung 1852-1952 (Syd, 1952)
  • ‘Some treasures of the Great Synagogue’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 3 (1949-53)
  • Bulletin, 4 Dec 1880
  • records (Synagogue, York St, Sydney).

Citation details

G. F. J. Bergman, 'Hoffnung, Sigmond (1830–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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