The Montefiore Family in Australia

From Australia’s Jewish Past:

The Montefiore Family in Australia

First published in J-Wire October 4, 2021

Sir Moses Montefiore by Henry Weigall, oil on canvas, 1881 (Wikimedia Commons)

Joseph Barrow Montefiore and his wife Rebecca and their first two children Georgiana Judith Barrow and Esther Hannan Barrow arrived in Sydney on 22 February 1829.

There was confusion about the spelling of the family name. Various spellings had been seen in shipping notices and in the local press of either Montefiore, Montefore and even Montefiero.

It was noted in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on 26 February 1829 that Mr Montefoire, who arrived on the ‘Jupiter’ is connected with the highly respectable house of that name in London, and that he has brought out a capital of more than £20,000. He has joined us at an unfortunate crisis, but we hope he will not ultimately be disappointed.

Again on 28 February 1829, they made another attempt to correct the misnomer ‘The name of a respectable Gentleman who has just arrived upon our shores, has been singularly mis-spelt. We will try again – we believe it is M-O-N-T-E-F-I-E-R-O.’

Finally, they had success on 3 March 1829 and it was noted as: BLUNDER UPON BLUNDER. – There seems a fatality about our printers, with regard to the orthography of Mr. What-d’ye-call-him’s name. However, we’ll master the difficulty, if we try for a month: – here goes again – Mr. EM-O-EN-TEE-EFF-EYE O-ARR-EE – that is, Mr. Montefiore.

A rival newspaper, The Australian, didn’t miss the opportunity to point out these errors on 3-March 1829: We are requested to give a correct orthography of the name of the firm lately arrived, to which allusion was made in our last — MONTEFIORE & CO., not “M-O-N-T-E-F-I-E-R-O,” as was misspelt by a contemporary.

The following is a lead-in to stories of four Montefiore families who were Australian pioneers. Introducing Joseph Elias Montefiore who married Rachel Mocatta, the daughter of Abraham Mocatta, a powerful bullion broker in London. Their son, Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, became a financier, activist, and philanthropist. Their company, known as ‘Montefiore’’ acted as stockbrokers for Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who, in 1824, together with Moses Montefiore established the Alliance Assurance Company in Moses’ home in ‘London. The sons of Eliezer Levi Montefiore, the pioneers – Jacob ‘Barrow’ Montefiore and Joseph ‘Barrow’ Montefiore acted as agents for the Rothschilds in Australia.

There was significant correspondence between Australia and England with regard to the Rothschilds from the Montefiore families – namely Jacob and Joseph between 1840 and 1850s. The brothers compiled detailed reports of the discovery of gold in Ballarat and charted the development of the community following this event. In 1852, Jacob sent a Report on Trade in New South Wales, (the ‘Victoria Report’) to N M Rothschild & Sons reporting on opportunities in Victoria. Unfortunately, the relationship of the Montefiores and the Rothschilds ended in 1855, as Jacob was bankrupt and employees of the Rothschild company in London had to be sent to Melbourne to sort it all out. It is documented that through the efforts of the Australian Montefiore family, it can be credited with assisting the Rothschilds to buy Australian gold, which continues to this day.

The relationship between the Montefiore and Rothschild families stems from Sir Moses Haim Montefiore who was born in Italy in 1784, moving to England, where the first generation, his grandfather, Moses Vital Montefiore had emigrated to London in the 1740s, then following a large contingent of “Montefiores”. Moses’ parents, Joseph Elias and Rachel was the daughter of Abraham Mocatta, a powerful bullion broker. Through poor business details, Moses was not able to finish school and went to help in a wholesale tea merchant and grocer. Through this he learnt a great deal, entering the London Stock Exchange in 1806. However, life was not good as he lost all his clients’ money having been an accomplice to fraud business actions.

In 1812 Moses married Judith Cohen whose sister Hannah had married Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who headed the family’s banking business in Britain. The two brothers-in-law became business partners and Moses never looked back and went on to be a most well-respected and successful businessman, devoting much of his time and resources to community and civic affairs and specifically to the Jewish community. In Australia, we know of him through the Montefiore families you will read about, as well as the Montefiore Jewish Homes, which were named after him.

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