Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph George Raphael (1818–1879)

by Mark Lyons

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Joseph George Raphael (1818-1879), politician and philanthropist, was born on 16 February 1818 in London, son of Phillip Raphael, merchant, and his wife Grace, née Raphael. Arriving in Sydney in 1839 he sold ribbons, but was soon a partner in a drapery and by 1842 owner of a general dealer's business and seamen's registry agency. Business prospered and by the late 1850s he was an active shareholder in several banks and insurance companies. He had also devoted himself to philanthropy and by 1860 was a director of the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children and the Benevolent Asylum of which he later became treasurer. In 1866 he joined the board of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary and in evidence to the 1873 royal commission on public charities criticized Lucy Osburn. In 1857 he had sought in vain one of the two auditorships for the reconstituted Sydney Municipal Council. He won the position in 1859, resigned next year and was elected an alderman but by resigning he had broken a provision of the Sydney Corporation Act and was fined. He represented Bourke Ward until 1866 and in 1870-72.

In 1860-65 Raphael was proprietor of the Sydney and Melbourne Hotel. In 1869 he became a partner in a cabinet-making and furniture importing business, and retired from active commercial life in 1872 when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for West Sydney. He generally supported John Robertson but lost his seat in the 1874 elections. Raphael's public life was characterized by independence. In politics he was disputatious, even violent. Quick to attribute base motives to others, he was often accused himself; once he was called by a slandered opponent 'the foulest-mouthed man in Sydney'. He won repute for philanthropy, but his was a harsh charity based on a belief that its recipients' plight was their own fault. Frequently critical of what he claimed were 'cliques' running the charities, in the early 1870s he aligned himself with a group of Orangemen, but became bitter when they ousted him from one of his directorships. Canon Stephen discerned Raphael's benevolence despite 'all his peculiarities'.

Active in Jewish affairs he was, in the late 1850s, treasurer of the Sydney Synagogue. In 1859 he helped form the break-away Macquarie Street Synagogue and was a member of its committee until 1876. On 30 December 1840 he had married Maria H. Moses of Yass. He died on 2 February 1879 of gastroenteritis and hepatitis and was buried in the Jewish cemetery, Rookwood, which he had helped purchase. Survived by his wife and four daughters, he left £7000 in goods and a number of city properties.

Select Bibliography

  • Jubilee History of the Great Synagogue, Sydney (Syd, 1928)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1861-62, 2, 1025, 1873-74, 6, 187, 1875-76, 6, 126
  • E. S. Marks, ‘Joseph G. Raphael’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 1 (1939-43) part 10
  • Empire (Sydney), 28 Apr 1857, 28 Nov 1862, 3 Dec 1870
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 15 Mar 1870, Apr 1871, 17 Feb 1872
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Mar 1871, 30 June 1872
  • Sydney Mail, 8 Feb 1879
  • Town and Country Journal, 8 Feb 1879.

Citation details

Mark Lyons, 'Raphael, Joseph George (1818–1879)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 February, 1818
London, Middlesex, England


2 February, 1879 (aged 60)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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