Britisher Samuel Moses (1807–73) and his family sailed to Hobart in Feb 1841. Samuel became a partner with Louis Nathan in the merchant firm Nathan and Moses, importing and exporting via Hobart’s wharf. The Moses brothers changed their surname to Moss and opened for business in Launceston as Moss and Nathan Shipping Agents. These retail and wholesale traders exported Australian wool to Britain, and shipped whalebone, whale and fish oils to the Australian colonies and New Zealand.
Louis Nathan and Samuel Moses were among the founders of Hobart Synagogue. Nathan became the first President of the Congregation, elected soon after he arrived in the colony, and served in that office for 10 years. The deed for the synagogue land was granted to Samuel and David Moses, and Isaac Solomon; leading subscribers to the building fund included Louis Nathan, Samuel Moses and Rosetta's father Henry Moses of London.
The Courier Newspaper of Aug 1843 described Hobart’s synagogue, just as it was opening: This simple but elegant building is under the active super-intendence of Kirk and Fisher, well-known builders of our city. The plans are from the classical designs of JA Thomson, who has with great propriety adopted Egyptian revival architecture for the architecture of the temple, which Thomson has accurately followed. The front is now finished, and the carving of the pillars on each side of the door way and the windows is in a style of chaste beauty, unusual in this colony. This part of the carving work has been done by Fisher himself; and it illustrates the origin of ornamental architecture deriving from the splendid architecture of nature.... The Synagogue is a miniature Egyptian temple of the great, palmy days of the Pharaohs, such as enhanced the gorgeous architecture of those palace cities of Tyre, Sidon, Babylon, Memphis and Thebes now all laid in the dust; The interior will present a specimen of colonial architecture still unrivalled.
Exaggerated perhaps, but note Hobart’s front featured a clear, trapezoidal facade and main window with the Star of David, with a single balcony inside. I also like the connection to convicts; J.A Thomson was a Scottish convict who’d been transported back in 1825 and the land had been part of Londoner Judah Solomon’s garden. But note that the hard benches at the back of the building were for the Jewish convicts who were marched in under armed guard.
Samuel Moses was a cultural leader in Hobart and the first Jewish Justice of the Peace in Australia and New Zealand. He presided over hearings at the Police Office in Hobart and at Supreme Court hearings, where he presided with a Judge; many of those charged with offences were convicts or ex-convicts. But in court hearings about financial contracts, other defendants, plaintiffs and witnesses came from across colonial society. As a result of these religious, judicial and commercial responsibilities, Moses became one of Hobart's best-known leaders.
The Hobart Hebrew Congregation always continued communal life. Whenever there was no ordained minister in Hobart, Sabbath services in Hobart were/are led by skilled locals.
Now to the north of the island (see map below). In 1844, Louis Nathan’s merchant firm bought fine vessels to be based in the Port of Launceston, including four whaling brigs, several schooners and barques. And Samuel's brother Moses Moss became a founder of the Launceston Hebrew Congregation in St John St, which was built in 1845.
Samuel Moses, his sons Alfred and Hyam Moses were also committed members of The Royal Society of Van Diemen's Land. This was the first Royal Society outside London, established in 1843 to advance science and to progress the colony under the Queen patronage. The Society’s gardens, plants, library, art and artefact collections became the core of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Samuel and Hyam were also appointed Life Members of the Hobart Library.
In 1847 it was arranged that all Jews in Hobart and Launceston prisons could attend synagogue and to refrain from work on Sabbath (Saturday). Pass holders were permitted to be counted in a minyan-ten men needed to participate in public prayer.
The 1848 census recorded 435 Jews in Tasmania, but the numbers went down as some settlers left for the mainland or New Zealand. As a result, the Launceston Synagogue closed in 1871. The name of the colony, Van Diemen's Land, was changed to Tasmania in Jan 1856 and the last convicts arrived in the 1860s.
In 1923, Sim Crawcour and Harry Joseph of Joseph’s Menswear helped Launceston Synagogue’s revitalisation. European refugees arriving in the 1930s boosted the numbers so that the Launceston Synagogue could re-open from 1939.
In 1989 the Launceston building became listed with National Trust of Australia who have been caring for renovations and maintenance. This heritage-listed property is actually jointly held by the Jewish community of Launceston and the National Trust. There are only a few dozen Jews in Launceston today, but the synagogue opens up each holy-day, bar mitzvah, wedding and for tourist groups.