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Samuel Benjamin (1804–1854)

by Martha Rutledge

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Samuel Benjamin (1804-1854), merchant, was the eldest son of Lyon (Judah) Benjamin, merchant, of Hyde Park, London. He reached Sydney in the Ann on 13 November 1833, and went into partnership with a shipmate, Elias Moses, in wholesale and retail trade. The firm of Benjamin & Moses set up stores at 44 Lower George Street, known as Sydney House (where Benjamin lived when in Sydney), 321 George Street, and George Street, Windsor, named London Stores. On 4 February 1835 he married Rachel, daughter of Moses and Elizabeth Moses.

In 1836 Benjamin & Moses opened the Argyle Store in Goulburn, where, according to an old advertisement, one could buy anything from fowling pieces to woolpacks. For some years it was the only store of its kind between Sydney and Melbourne. Later the partners opened another Argyle Store in Queanbeyan. They also bought sites in Bungonia, Marulan and Hartley, but these were never built on as the towns did not fulfil expectations. Benjamin himself was an active buyer in the early Melbourne land sales on behalf of his three brothers, who went into the drapery business at the Cheapside Stores.

During drought and depression in the 1840s Benjamin & Moses set up an extensive boiling-down factory at Towrang, near Goulburn. The works employed from 50 to 100 men, and the powerful steam boiler enabled them to treat 1000 sheep or 60 head of cattle a day, at the rate of 6d. a sheep and 5s. 6d. a head of cattle. The tallow was kegged and packed on the site, where cask-makers were employed. For a time the factory did well; a triumph came when a cask of beef tallow and one of mutton were awarded prizes at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851. However, the rising price of stock made the factory no longer an economic proposition and it was disposed of piecemeal. Undaunted, Benjamin turned his attention to gold, which he bought in large quantities both to export direct and to sell for others on commission.

Benjamin was a devout Jew. He served on the board of the Bridge Street Synagogue, on the building committee of the Sydney (York Street) Synagogue in 1839, and later on its first board of management. He gave generously both time and money: he helped to prepare the 1846 report on all Jewish births and deaths in the colony, and in Goulburn gave land for a synagogue. That he was a man with some literary interests is shown by his support of the Sydney Jewish Library and the Voice of Jacob, the first Jewish newspaper to circulate in the colony. In addition he began a collection of Australian Judaica. He died in Sydney on 4 December 1854, after having dissolved his partnership with Moses. His wife died on 16 June 1862. They were survived by one son and three daughters, but several children died in childhood.

Select Bibliography

  • S. B. Glass, ‘Jews of Goulburn’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, vol 1, part 8, Dec 1942, pp 280-86, vol 1, part 9, June 1943, pp 322-29, and vol 2, part 6, Dec 1946, pp 39-45
  • ‘Leaders of the Past — Samuel Benjamin’, Great Synagogue Congregational Journal, July 1950
  • records (Great Synagogue office, Sydney).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Benjamin, Samuel (1804–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




4 December, 1854 (aged ~ 50)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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