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Sternberg, Joseph (1852–1928)

by Charles Fahey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Joseph Sternberg (1852-1928), auctioneer and politician, was born on 3 April 1852 at Whitechapel, London, son of Alexander Sternberg, clothier, and his wife Frederica, née Platt. Migrating to Victoria in the 1850s, Alexander became a storekeeper and timber merchant before moving with his family to Rochester in 1861. There Joseph selected land in 1865. He proved the soil suitable for cereals, planted vines, speculated in livestock and, with his brother, established an auctioneering and stock and station agency. On 3 November 1880 at Sandhurst he married with Jewish rites Selina, daughter of Barnet Lazarus and sister of D. B. Lazarus. A foundation commissioner of the Campaspe Irrigation Trust, Sternberg was a foundation member of the local agricultural society, president of the racing club and chairman of the Rochester school board of advice.

In 1888 Sternberg Bros amalgamated with a Bendigo firm as L. McPherson, Sternberg & Co. Ltd (capital £150,000) to cater for the rich farming hinterland. A keen speculator in mining scrip, in 1892 Sternberg organized the flotation of the New Prince of Wales mine; he was a director of the Clarence, New Moon Consolidated and Suffolk United mines; he was also a founder of the Sandhurst Trustees and Executors' Co.

In 1889 Sternberg stood for the Victorian Legislative Council seat of Northern Province: narrowly defeated, he was successful in June 1891 and held the seat until May 1904. Following a redistribution, he represented Bendigo province—practically without opposition—from June 1904 until his death and was known as the 'father' of the chamber. He sat on numerous committees, including royal commissions on old age pensions (1897), the operation of the factories and shops law of Victoria (1900-03), the railway and tramway systems of Melbourne and suburbs (1910-11), and housing conditions in Melbourne and the major centres of the State (1914-18). In 1906 he had opposed adult suffrage, being prepared to extend the franchise only to women who were breadwinners.

As a member of the Bendigo Development League, Sternberg supported rural capital works and development, took a keen interest in mining legislation and saw in the closer settlement Acts a means to decentralize population. As a member of the first council of education in Victoria, he sought the introduction of agricultural high schools. A prominent Freemason, he was associated with friendly societies and many public bodies, among them the Bendigo hospital, benevolent asylum, art gallery and agricultural society. He was president of the Bendigo Athletic and the Sandhurst Rowing clubs.

One of the 'great personalities' of Bendigo, Sternberg died on 13 January 1928 in Mount St Evin's Hospital, Fitzroy; after a service in the Bourke Street Synagogue, he was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. A son and a daughter survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at £23,106.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly, Bendigo and its Vicinity (Ballarat, 1895)
  • Annals of Bendigo, 1928
  • L. M. Goldman, The Jews in Victoria in the Nineteenth Century (Melb, 1954)
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Jan 1928
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Jan 1928.

Citation details

Charles Fahey, 'Sternberg, Joseph (1852–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 7 June 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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