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Mark Rubin (1867–1919)

by John Playford

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Bernard Rubin

Mark Rubin (1867?-1919), pearl dealer and pastoralist, and Bernard Rubin (1896-1936), sportsman, were father and son. Mark was born probably in 1867 at Salantai in the province of Kovno, Russia (Lithuania), son of Louis Rubinstein, medical practitioner, and his wife Hannah, née Smitkin. He left Russia as a young man and lived for a time at Cardiff, Wales, before reaching Sydney in December 1886. He moved to Melbourne in February 1887. With little English, he worked at odd jobs, including a spell as a wharf labourer, before investing his savings in haberdashery which he hawked round the city in a wheelbarrow. After acquiring a horse and buggy he extended his business into country areas. For several years he was an opal miner and dealer at White Cliffs, New South Wales. On returning to Melbourne, he was naturalized in January 1893. He became a jeweller and married Rebecca, daughter of Woolf Davis, a well-known figure in the Melbourne Jewish community, on 23 October 1895 at Carlton.

Soon after 1900 Mark moved to Broome, Western Australia, centre of the pearling industry, where he quickly became a leading pearl dealer, travelling yearly to London. He also owned a large pearling fleet. About 1901 the family moved to London, although Mark continued to spend most of his time in Australia. Believing that war in Europe was inevitable and that wool would be more in demand than pearls, he bought several large sheep stations in 1912-13, including de Grey and Warrawagine near Port Hedland, Western Australia, and Northampton Downs in Queensland. He also transferred his pearl-dealing business to London and Paris. Mark died at Fontainebleau, France, on 6 November 1919, leaving a fortune. His will requested that he be buried in the Jewish cemetery, Melbourne, and a special request was entered that his family return to live in Australia and his sons marry without delay and take an active interest in Jewish communal affairs. The running of the family business was left to his younger son Harold de Vahl (1899-1964), who achieved fame as an art collector and philanthropist.

The elder son Bernard was born at Carlton on 6 December 1896. His early education at Broome was completed at University College School, Hampstead, London, in 1911-14. From February 1916 he served in the Royal Garrison Artillery, Special Reserve, and in June 1917 was commissioned. He was so severely wounded in France that it was three years before he could walk again. Upon his father's death Bernard became the owner of Northampton Downs station and properties in the Northern Territory which he visited in 1921 and 1932. After shooting big game in Africa and India, he developed a keen interest in motor racing.

A close friendship with Woolf Barnato, the managing director of Bentley Motors, led to Rubin becoming one of the 'Bentley Boys', sporting young men of independent means whose colourful style of living became legendary. The two lived in adjoining town-houses in Grosvenor Square, London. Bernard proved to be a cool and first-rate driver. In his first contest, the six-hour race at Brooklands in May 1928, he finished sixth, co-driving a Bentley. In his next event, the 24-hour race at Le Mans in June, co-driving with Barnato, he became the first Australian to win the celebrated race, which no other Australian won again before Vern Schuppan in 1983. After a desperate tussle with an American Stutz, the Bentley crossed the line after completing the last lap with a broken chassis frame and an empty radiator. Rubin also drove at Le Mans in June 1929, but retired. In the Irish Grand Prix of July, he finished eighth. On the first lap of the Ulster Tourist Trophy next month, he overturned his Bentley. He stayed on the verges of motor racing for several more seasons, and helped to fund the racing of fellow 'Bentley Boy' Sir Henry Birkin; in 1933 they shared the wheel of an MG K3 in the Mille Miglia race in Italy. Rubin's Monza Alfa Romeo was raced in 1933 by Birkin and other famous drivers including George Eyston and Whitney Straight. Birkin also drove Rubin's Maserati in the Tripoli Grand Prix in May 1933 during which he burned his arm, contracted septicaemia and died five weeks later.

In April 1934 Rubin flew to Australia in a Leopard Moth with K. F. H. Waller to make ground preparations for the Centenary Air Race from London to Melbourne in October. Their return flight from Darwin of 8 days, 12 hours was not officially timed but was ten hours faster than Jim Mollison's record. Rubin entered his new de Havilland Comet for the race, but was unable to compete because of sickness. Waller and O. Cathcart-Jones finished fourth in the Comet and, returning to England, set a round-trip record.

On 29 March 1935 in Paris Bernard married Audrey Mary Simpson. He bought the Old Cloth Hall, Cranbrook, Kent, where he died of pulmonary tuberculosis following surgery on 27 June 1936, remembered in motor racing and flying circles as a tall, gentle and friendly sportsman. In 1945 his widow married Sir Philip Dunne, sportsman and former Unionist member of parliament.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), The History of the North West of Australia (Perth, 1915)
  • H. Birkin, Full Throttle (Lond, 1932)
  • O. Cathcart-Jones, Aviation Memoirs (Lond, 1934)
  • I. L. Idriess, Forty Fathoms Deep (Syd, 1937)
  • J. D. Benjafield, The Bentleys of Le Mans (Abingdon, Eng, 1948)
  • A. F. C. Hillstead, Those Bentley Days (Lond, 1953)
  • N. Bartlett, The Pearl Seekers (Lond, 1954)
  • D. Berthon, A Racing History of the Bentley (1921-31) (Lond, 1956)
  • W. O. Bentley, An Illustrated History of the Bentley Car 1919-1931 (Lond, 1964)
  • E. Nagle, The Other Bentley Boys (Lond, 1964)
  • W. O. Bentley, My Life and My Cars (Lond, 1967)
  • A. Swinson, The Great Air Race (Lond, 1968)
  • M. A. Bain, Full Fathom Five (Perth, 1982)
  • H. Edwards, Port of Pearls (Adel, 1983)
  • E. P. Wixted, The North-West Aerial Frontier 1919-1934 (Brisb, 1985)
  • Autocar, 26 Oct 1928, 3 July 1936, 10 June 1978
  • Australian Jewish Herald, 14 Oct 1921
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Apr, 3 May 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Apr 1934, 7 Mar 1964, 4 Oct 1972, 16 Apr 1983
  • Times (London), 2 May 1934, 1, 4 July 1936
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 20 Oct 1957
  • West Australian, 30 July 1963
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 7 Mar 1964
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 4 Feb 1966
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 21 Apr 1977.

Citation details

John Playford, 'Rubin, Mark (1867–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Salantai, Lithuania


6 November, 1919 (aged ~ 52)
Fontainebleau, France

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