Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wynn, Samuel (1891–1982)

by David Dunstan

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

Samuel Wynn (1891-1982), wine merchant and Zionist, was born on 4 April 1891 at Ushimow, near Łódź, Russia (Poland), and named Shlomo ben David, son of Michael David Weintraub and his wife Rivkah, née Feigenbaum. Michael died when Shlomo was a child and he was brought up by his mother and two sisters. He received a religious education in the village and at a yeshiva at Nova Minsk to which he had run away, aged 11. His elder brother, a militant socialist, was imprisoned during the abortive 1905 revolution. At 14 Shlomo committed his own act of revolt against his orthodox religion by smoking a cigarette on the Sabbath. He began to read liberal and radical writers, especially Tolstoy. Soon afterwards he joined the family raisin wine business at Łódź where, in 1912, he married Chava (later Eva) Silman. To escape military service, he migrated with his wife from the German port of Bremen.

Arriving in Melbourne on 12 November 1913, Shlomo anglicized his name and obtained work on a farm near Stawell and at All Saints vineyard, Wahgunyah. He returned to Melbourne where he worked in a cork factory and as a cellarman. Recently naturalized, in 1918 Wynn purchased on time-payment a shop in Bourke Street licensed to sell 'colonial wine'. Nearby institutions provided a steady source of customers, ranging from the derelicts of Gordon House to public servants, politicians and the patrons of the Café Denat in Exhibition Street. Wynn bought the Café Denat in 1920 and formed a partnership with the restaurant's head waiter George Hildebrandt who became manager in 1924 of one of Wynn's three new retail wine stores. Wynn transferred the Café Denat to the rooms above the Bourke Street shop which had previously been his family home; in 1928 Rinaldo Massoni took over the restaurant and changed its name to the Florentino.

A wholesaler since 1922, with cellars in Little Bourke Street, Wynn had made regular buying trips to South Australia. In 1925 he began to sell his own vermouth under the 'Boronia' trademark. That year he invested in a winery at Magill, Adelaide, which collapsed in 1927. From the ruins, Wynn (the majority shareholder) and other creditors established Australian Wines Ltd. In 1933 he visited London and in 1939 exported 2000 hogsheads to Britain. By 1944 the company was producing 10,000 bottles of sparkling wine. After the war Samuel remained titular head, but managerial control of his expanding company passed to his eldest son David who in 1950 purchased Chateau Comaum (Coonawarra). In 1970 Wynn Estate Pty Ltd became a public company, Wynn Winegrowers Ltd, which was sold to Allied Breweries Ltd and Tooheys Ltd in 1972.

In 1922 Wynn had been active in establishing the Jewish Welcome Society of Victoria; he was to be president (twelve times) of the Kadimah (Jewish National Library) in Melbourne. A dedicated worker for the Zionist cause, he was president of the State Zionist Council of Victoria during World War II and twice president of the Zionist Federation of Australia. He made ten visits to Palestine, carrying small arms into the country until 1948 at considerable personal risk, and opposed British restrictions on Jewish immigration and settlement in Palestine. All sixty-seven members of his extended family had been annihilated in Europe.

Only 5 ft 1 in. (155 cm) tall with a large head, Sammy Wynn dressed well. He had a keen sense of humour and enjoyed talented company, but was himself reserved, and at times an anxious and driven man. Despite the strict orthodoxy of his upbringing, he was not religious, but in defence of his Jewish culture and the Zionist cause he was tenacious, even courageous, as he was in his approach to business.

Samuel was thrice married. His first wife Eva died in 1939. On 25 May 1940 at Auckland, New Zealand, he married a Canadian-born widow Ida Bension, née Siegler. IDA WYNN (1896?-1948) was a leader of international Zionism and a source of inspiration to many people. She had visited Australia in 1937 and 1939 on behalf of the Women's International Zionist Organisation to raise funds for Jewish children in Europe. A writer and philosopher, she was a friend of Martin Buber and of the poet Richard Beer-Hofmann whose work she translated. President of the W.I.Z.O. Federation of Australia, she was described by the State Zionist Council of Victoria as 'the most outstanding woman in the history of Australian Zionism.' A children's centre at Mount Carmel, Israel, was named after her. She died of heart disease on 1 August 1948 in East Melbourne. On 21 September 1950 at Caulfield, Melbourne, Wynn married Marguerite Herzfeld with Jewish rites. Survived by three sons of his first marriage, he died on 17 June 1982 and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at $325,867.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Wynn, The Fortunes of Samuel Wynn (Melb, 1968)
  • W. D. Rubinstein (ed), Jews in the Sixth Continent (Syd, 1987)
  • S. D. Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora (Syd, 1988)
  • People (Sydney), 30 Dec 1953
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 Aug 1948, 23 June, 17 Aug 1982
  • Australian Jewish Herald, 6 Aug 1948
  • Australian Jewish News, 25 June 1982.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Wynn, Samuel (1891–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wynn-samuel-9207/text16265, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 28 June 2017.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Weintraub, Shlomo ben David
Birth

4 April 1891
Ushimow, Poland

Death

17 June 1982

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation