Joseph George Raphael

From Australia’s Jewish Past:

Joseph George Raphael

business, politician, mensch

First published in J-Wire April 11, 2023

Joseph George Raphael was born on February 16, 1818, in London. He was the son of Phillip Raphael a merchant, and his wife Grace.

Raphael left London as a young man arriving in Sydney in 1839, possibly as a crew member on an English vessel. He set himself up selling ribbons and soon found a partnership in a drapery store. By 1842 he was the owner of a general dealer’s business as well as running a Seamen’s Shipping and Registry Agency in Lower George Street. He was declared insolvent in 1843 but managed to build himself up again and by the late 1850s had well recovered and became an active shareholder in several banks and insurance companies.

In 1857 he had sought, without luck, one of the two auditor positions for the reconstituted Sydney Municipal Council. He won the position in 1859, resigned the next year and, by resigning, had broken a provision of the Sydney Corporation Act and was fined. He was the proprietor of the Sydney and Melbourne Hotel from 1860 until 1865 as well as owned the Great Pacific Hotel on Lower George Street.

Joseph again tried his luck at becoming an alderman with the Sydney Municipal Council and was elected to represent the Bourke Ward from 1860 to 1886 and again from 1870 to 1872. He was not successful in standing for Mayor in 1865, 1870 and 1871.

Joseph built two terrace houses in the 1860s in what became known as Raphael Place, off Young Street, and he and his family resided in one of them. In 1869 he became a partner in a cabinet-making and furniture-importing business.

Joseph was also known as a devoted philanthropist 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 (later Sydney Hospital) and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and was required to give evidence to the 1873 Royal Commission on Public Charities, where he was highly critical of Lucy Osburn, who was the Lady Superintendent of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary at the time. She is acknowledged as the founder of Nightingale Nursing in Australia and head of one of the two nursing teams sent overseas by the Nightingale Fund Council to establish Nightingale Nursing.

He was frequently critical of what he claimed were ‘cliques’ running the charities, and in the early 1870s, he aligned himself with a group of Orangemen – an Irish political society – but became bitter when they ousted him from one of his directorships. Rev Canon Stephen, the incumbent minister of St. Paul’s Church, Redfern, and a most gentle person with a deep interest in his work of a philanthropic character discerned Joseph’s benevolence despite ‘all his peculiarities’.

He retired from active business when elected to the Legislative Assembly for West Sydney in 1872. Unfortunately, he lost his seat in the 1874 election. Joseph’s public life was characterised by his independence. In politics, he was fond of having arguments and at times, quite violent. He was quick to assign motives to others, and he was often accused himself. Once, he was called by a slandered opponent ’the foulest-mouthed man in Sydney’.

From the 1850s, he was active in Jewish affairs. He became the Treasurer of the Sydney York Street Synagogue and helped form the breakaway from York Street to Sydney’s New Synagogue in Macquarie Street in 1859. The reason behind this breakaway was that a debate took place over the circumcision of the son of a non-Jewish mother, and this caused a split within Sydney’s Jewish Community, causing many of the founders of the York Street Synagogue to move to Sydney’s New Synagogue which was established in a former Baptist chapel on Macquarie Street. Joseph remained a committee member until 1876.

On December 30, 1840, Joseph married Maria Moses, the eldest daughter of Moses Moses of Yass, and they had four daughters.

Joseph Raphael passed away on February 2, 1879, at his home and was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, where he had contributed towards the purchase of a freehold plot for a Jewish Cemetery. He was buried in ‘Raphael’s Ground’. His estate included the sum of £7000 in goods and several city properties.

Note: One of the last acts required of Joseph was to sign an order for his admission to the infirmary of a sufferer of gastroenteritis and hepatitis. Sub-Inspector Anderson, who had taken the case in hand, and found Joseph in a low condition, offered to fill in the paper, but was not permitted to do so. “No, Anderson,” said the good old man, already fast passing away, ‘’you know it’s been the glory of my life to aid suffering humanity; and I’ll do it now if I fall back dead in the act.” Assistance was given to Joseph, and he filled in and signed the order and charged the sub-inspector to see that the case was immediately dealt with.


  • Australian Dictionary of Biography – Mark Lyons;
  • AJHS Volume 1, Part 10, 1943;
  • Archives of the City of Sydney;
  • Mitchell and State Library of NSW;
  • Jubilee History of the Great Synagogue.
From Australia's Jewish Past is written by Ruth Lilian OAM for AJHS and published weekly in J-Wire. ​