A wood engraving of Sandhurst (Bendigo) in 1878 by A.C. Cooke, engraver.

1852 Ballarat and the arrival of Abraham Abrahamsohn

From Australia’s Jewish Past:

1852 Bendigo


First published in J-Wire March 9, 2021

This is the story of a very talented German who ventured to Australia via the US, having practiced as a traveling mohel for the San Francisco Jewish community and occasional baked matzoh.

He used the proceeds to open a saloon but, alas, the building was lost to a fire, and with only his clothes and very little money, he turned to gambling. He claimed witchcraft drew him to accursed houses by night. However, on hearing about the discovery of gold in Victoria, he packed his bags and booked his passage to Sydney, trekking to the Victorian goldfields near Bendigo, then called Sandhurst.

A wood engraving of Sandhurst (Bendigo) in 1878 by A.C. Cooke, engraver.
A wood engraving of Sandhurst (Bendigo) in 1878 by A.C. Cooke, engraver.

There, he teamed up with some English and American folk and bought mining equipment and, within two days of panning, they had gathered 18 ounces of gold.

But their luck would wax and wane — and so did their trust in each other. At one point, he and his American teammate discovered their three British colleagues were cheating them when, after the Brits brought back five ounces of gold to split among the pot, a passer-by congratulated them on finding a full eight pounds of gold earlier that day.

Naturally, a beating ensued, and the team broke up, leaving Abrahamsohn to fend for himself once more. He continued panning for gold for about a month with mixed success and then quit while he was ahead, having made about $1,500.

He had noticed that the traders who supplied the miners with food and goods ‘earned as much or more than a miner,’ and so he decided to return to the trade of his youth — baking. He found clay with which to form bricks to build his oven. He would travel to Melbourne to purchase the necessary utensils and raw materials, hired an assistant, and created a most successful bakery in Bendigo. He would sell out of loaves almost as soon as he could bake them. Even after building a second oven and hiring three more assistants, he still could not satisfy the great demand for bread in the goldfields.

So lucrative was his bakery that within eleven months, Abrahamsohn had amassed enough savings to quit working altogether.

A very checkered career path with a good outcome for our German friend, sailing back to Germany a very wealthy man. It is told that he had blessings on his lips for Australia, the ‘land of milk and honey’ which had made his fortune.

Other notable Jews who made their mark were David Hecksher, a successful miner who found 16 pounds worth, a discovery that allowed him to open a store and a hotel. He later became an officer of the Bendigo Synagogue that had been built in 1872. Jacob Cohn, a brewery owner, served as a mayor and a councilor. Together with his brother Moritz, a successful businessman, he founded the Bendigo Mutual Permanent Land and Building Society, better known today as the Bendigo Bank.

From Australia's Jewish Past is written by Ruth Lilian OAM for AJHS and published weekly in J-Wire. ​