Abraham Benjamin – a family business in its 142nd year – David Benjamin – a family business in Dunedin, New Zealand » J-Wire
June 28, 2022 by Ruth Lillian
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Abraham and his wife Theresa Falk arrived in Melbourne in 1865 by ship from Bristol, UK.
His father, a rabbi, had emigrated from Prussia and was associated with the Bristol Synagogue. Theresa’s father was a jeweller, where Abraham learned his trade and worked in Manchester.
In 1867 Abraham began a partnership through his father-in-law’s business, trading as P Falk and Company, jewelers, wholesalers and importers with businesses in Birmingham, Melbourne and Adelaide. Abraham became the director of the company’s Melbourne branch. In 1878 the partnership dissolved and it was in 1880 that Abraham began trading as Benjamin & Company, with premises in Little Collins Street in the heart of Melbourne’s jewelery district.
Abraham was very involved in the establishment of St Kilda’s Synagogue, having been its president three times in twenty-one years. The family has in their possession a letter that Abraham wrote in 1908 to the directors of A Benjamin & Company at the time, telling them that they were to transact business on the Sabbath in no uncertain terms. This included all directors or shareholders or staff of employees performing any of their functions.
After Abraham’s death in 1913, the business was run by his three sons – Lionel, Julius and Maurice. A daughter, Clara, also married a Benjamin from another family. Abraham is buried in St Kilda Cemetery.
From 1946 the company was run by Lionel’s sons – Frank and Ernest – then in 1994 Frank and David (the sons of Frank Maurice Benjamin) became the owners and ran the family business for the next 20 years. .
In 2014 Frank retired and the business is now run solely by David Benjamin at 360 Little Collins St – a business that has operated for 142 years from the same location.
“This Benjamin family jewelery business has seen Australia become a nation, fight two world wars and survive the depression of the 1930s, floods, droughts and fires. The fact that their business has been in business for over one hundred and forty-two years in a competitive economy demonstrates the strong principles and work ethic of the Benjamin family through four generations of crafting gold, platinum, silver, diamond and gemstone jewelry for its multi-generational clientele. ‘.
Interestingly, Abraham had a younger half-brother, David, who arrived in Melbourne in 1874, married Marie Michaelis and moved to Dunedin, New Zealand in 1878, where David, together with Marie’s brother, Frederick Michaelis, partnered to create and manage the Glendermid Tannery in the name of Marie’s father. This industrial activity quickly gave way to the more artistic and profitable activities of a music agency. In late 1883 the Dresden Pianoforte Manufacturing Agency & Company (renamed the Bristol Piano Company during World War I) was formed to meet the growing demand for musical instruments.
In 1885, David changed his name, by notarial deed, to that used by his father’s family in Prussia – Theomin – while the city of Dresden, known for its manufacturers of musical instruments, lent its name to the new company . In 1913 the Bristol Piano Company was one of the largest such operations in New Zealand.
In 1904 David had a thirty-five room house built in Royal Terrace, Dunedin, named ‘Olveston’ after a village near Bristol where he had holidayed as a child. The house was filled with David’s collection of European and Oriental treasures for years to come.
David has been active in many aspects of Dunedin life. He was a prominent member of the Jewish community, contributed to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the Royal Dunedin Male Choir, the Dunedin City Sinking Fund (established to free Dunedin from debt) and the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, of which he was President in 1901 – 1902 and was its representative at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia and the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902.
David died in 1933. He and Mary are buried in the Jewish section of Dunedin South Cemetery. Dorothy, their daughter, left the family home – Olveston’ – in her will and contents to the citizens of Dunedin.
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