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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Steinfeld, Emanuel (1828–1893)

by Weston Bate

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Emanuel Steinfeld, by Talma, 1893

Emanuel Steinfeld, by Talma, 1893

State Library of Victoria, 49350670

Emanuel Steinfeld (1828-1893), furniture manufacturer and retailer, was born on 1 November 1828 at Ober Glogau, Silesia, Prussia, eldest son of Hyman Steinfeld, a wealthy Jewish merchant, and his wife Ernestine, née Deutsch. Educated locally and at the College of Brieg (Silesia), he went to London in 1847 to learn the business of Krohn Bros, exporters, who sent him to represent them in Victoria in 1853. He arrived in Melbourne on 28 September in the Ballarat, settled at Ballarat and in 1856 opened his own furniture warehouse. Naturalized in 1857, he took a leading role in business and civic life, being significant in getting a local water-supply and in the foundation of the orphanage and public library. He was also a prominent Freemason. On 23 January 1861 at Ballarat he married Theresa Levinson (d.1876); there were no children of the marriage.

In 1860 he was defeated for the Ballarat East Council, partly, he claimed, because of xenophobia. Next year he won, and improved the administration so firmly that ten years later a ratepayer called him 'Bismarck Steinfeld'. As mayor in 1866-69, when Ballarat East was in eclipse, he used his influence to negotiate a favourable loan, and arranged for good roads through Buninyong and Bungaree shires to tap the timber resources of the Bullarook Forest. But a public inquiry into council affairs revealed that contracts were being let on special terms to councillors, most of whom, including Steinfeld, were defeated at an extraordinary election in 1871. He was discredited, yet many remembered the distinction with which he had greeted the Duke of Edinburgh in 1867, for he was a cultivated man, and his friends included Redmond Barry who shared his enthusiasm for libraries.

From 1871 Steinfeld was listed in Melbourne directories as agent for 'La Silencieuse' sewing machines; by 1875 he had established a furniture warehouse as well, and by 1876 had premises in Elizabeth and Lonsdale streets. That year he took his brother-in-law Hyman Levinson into partnership, trading as 'furniture merchants and importers'. Steinfeld left the Ballarat shop in the hands of two nephews and lived in Melbourne, from 1881 at St Kilda. He retired from business in 1888.

In 1871 and 1873 Steinfeld had failed at elections for the Ballarat East seat in the Legislative Assembly. His platform suggested an Australian Zollverein, a national bank of issue and technical education. He was finally elected to parliament in 1892 when he won the Legislative Council seat of Wellington Province. During four visits to Europe, which included a trip to the United States of America, Steinfeld gathered ideas and brought back books on mining and technical education, many of which he donated to the Ballarat Public Library and the School of Mines. But the Zollverein was his passion. In 1885 he became a member of the Chamber of Manufactures; as Victorian president in 1887 he initiated an intercolonial conference which was held in successive years at Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. The chief motion on each occasion was his: that they resolve to work for intercolonial free trade and a uniform tariff. Through the chamber he took up the subject of technical education with the government, and in September 1888 was appointed a member of the technical education board, with a special appointment to inquire into technical schools during his visit to Europe. Visiting Adelaide to speak about intercolonial free trade, he died of apoplexy on 16 April 1893. His estate was valued for probate at £22,781.

Select Bibliography

  • Intercolonial Free Trade Conference, Report of the Proceedings at the Intercolonial Free Trade Conference of Delegates from the Chambers of Manufactures in the Various Australian Colonies Held at Adelaide, South Australia, 5th to 7th October, 1887 (Melb, 1887)
  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Australasian Commercial Congress, Report of Proceedings of the Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Australasian Colonies, Held in Melbourne on the 31st October, 1st and 2nd November, 1888 (Melb, 1889)
  • G. Serle, The Rush to be Rich (Melb, 1971)
  • Ballarat Star, 1 Feb 1871
  • Table Talk, 13 June 1890
  • Ballarat Courier, 17 Apr 1893.

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Citation details

Weston Bate, 'Steinfeld, Emanuel (1828–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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