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Here from the beginning: Jewish community life in early Fremantle

Ari & Wendy Antonovsky

Antonovsky, Ari & Wendy 2010, 'Here from the beginning: Jewish community life in early Fremantle, Fremantle Studies, 6: 1-11.


The early Jewish settlers who migrated to the Swan River Colony had a sense of community and connectedness. Whether they came from small villages in Eastern Europe or the over-crowded boroughs in the city of London, they all shared a collective history of moving from one part of Europe to another. Some of these early settlers came with little else than a need to belong to a community and participate in its growth. Ultimately that need to belong meant that wherever they happened to land they brought with them a motivation to contribute to the development of their new environment.

Some aspired to be no more than another thread in the social fabric where they lived. But others, because of either their financial means or the education that they acquired, did whatever they could to build the institutions and social networks that were required to ensure that community life developed. Over time, this contributed to a better life for the generations who came after.

The following are stories of four of these pioneering spirits who, in very different ways, made important contributions to the early community life in Fremantle, no doubt drawing heavily on their own distinct Jewish heritage.

Lionel Samson

The office of Lionel Samson and Sons on Cliff Street, Fremantle is the oldest family—held business in all of Australia. There are many ‘firsts associated with Lionel Samson, the man that started that business almost 181 years ago. His was the first family owned business in WA, and the first liquor license in the colony in 1835; as well he was the Swan Colony’s first government auctioneer and first postmaster.


Office of Samson and Sons in Cliff St, Fremantle, 2008. (A Antonovsky)

Lionel Samson was a Londoner from a well-to-do Jewish English family. There are records of the Samson family history going back to the early 1700s in England. His father and he both had a seat on the London Stock Exchange. Unlike many of the settlers in Fremantle, he had received a good education at Oxford University.

Lionel developed his pioneering interest for this new land called Australia through his friendship with Captain James Stirling, who eventually became Governor of the Swan River Colony and gave his name to the Stirling Highway. Lionel was sent off from London in style with many dignitaries, including the Prince of Wales, turning up for the occasion. In August 1829 Lionel and his brother William stepped off the sailing ship Calista on South Beach, south of Fremantle. Lionel came out very well-prepared for his new life in Western Australia. He brought out the wine and liquor that he planned to sell, a pre-fabricated house, sheep and horses, and four servants to help get all this organised.

According to the system in those days, Lionel was granted land proportional to the value of what he brought with him. That year he also purchased Fremantle town lots 27 and 28 in what was the first Western Australian land sale. He started a merchant liquor and general import- export business. Even then they could see that grog would be a good business in Australia. Both the business and the license are still in Cliff Street, 175 years later.

This office was situated in a key location in the new colony. Goods offloaded from ships at the south end of Cliff St (South Bay) were carted down and loaded onto barges at the north end of Cliff Street to go up the river to Perth.

Lionel seemed to be a friend to everyone, from the Governor down to the humblest colonists and anyone that came through the colony met Samson and left with fond memories of him. As honorary postmaster he distributed the mail when a ship arrived; invariably people coming for their mail would borrow the money to pay for the postage and while there they also drank his brandy.

However, friendship wasn’t enough, and in 1842 he went back to England to bring back a wife. The story goes that a previous object of his affections had refused to marry him, but promised he could marry her daughter when she was old enough. So he married and brought back with him Frances (Fanny) Levi, making the two of them and their six children the first Jewish family in WA.


Lionel Samson and his family c. 1859. (City of Fremantle Local History Collection)

He held many honorary posts in the new colony. Among his many official positions, he served in the Legislative Council under three Governors. The Samson tradition was passed on with two of Lionel’s sons eventually becoming mayors of Fremantle, as well as his grandson who served as mayor for 37 years.

The final word goes to his obituary, which said ‘To write a sketch of Mr. Samson’s colonial career would be to write a history of the colony itself’.

Elias Solomon

This next distinguished person of interest was one of the most important of Fremantle’s early Jewish citizens - Elias Solomon, the first Member for Fremantle in the new Australian parliament in 1901.

Elias Solomon was also a Londoner, born there in 1839. His family originally went to South Australia, but then moved shortly afterwards to New South Wales. His father died when he was 10 years old and his family returned to Adelaide. At the time that the Solomons were there, Timpson St in Port Adelaide was colloquially known as ‘Jew Street’. Solomon started his working life in Adelaide, employed by his uncle as an auctioneer, and eventually becoming chief clerk of the firm

However, in 1868 at the age of 29 he moved to Western Australia and established a business in Fremantle as an auctioneer and grocery, wine and spirit merchant in association with two of his nephews. Apparently his nephews were more interested in theatrical pursuits than business ventures, and the business faltered.

After the business dissolved, Solomon became a business partner with Lionel Samson. Fortunately for Fremantle, Solomon was much more successful as a politician than as a businessman. Dating from 1877, he served a six year term on the Fremantle Town Council and was subsequently Mayor of Fremantle on three occasions between 1889 and 1901 In his time as mayor he initiated many of the well-known features around Fremantle - the Town Hall, the Fremantle Markets, and the Fremantle Hospital.


Elias Solomon. (National Library of Australia: nla.pic-an 23353175)

In 1892, by a margin of only seven votes, he was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly at a by-election for South Fremantle. He was returned unopposed in 1894 and 1897, running effectively as an independent during those years.

Then, in March 1901 Solomon contested the first federal election for the seat of Fremantle as one of three Free Trade candidates in a four-sided contest. He became a member of the first Australian Parliament with 57% of the votes cast (1039 more than his Labor opponent). Interestingly, there were four Jewish members in the first Australian Parliament, including Isaac Isaacs, who later became the first Australian-born Governor General. Solomon lost the next election in 1903 to William Carpenter of the Labor Party.

Throughout his political career, Solomon was involved with the affairs of the Jewish community. In many of his letters to his mother in Adelaide he mentioned that he wished there was a synagogue to attend. He was even the first person to bring the traditional Passover matzo (unleavened biscuits) into Western Australia. In 1902 he finally had his wish when, as president of the WA Hebrew Congregations and a trustee for the lot granted to the Congregation by the State Government, he laid the foundation stone for the Fremantle Synagogue.

antonovsky1The building which served as Solomon’s office can still be seen down on Henry Street, to the right of the Moore’s Building. Ocean View, his magnificent house constructed in 1887, is located on Solomon Street. He was married twice and widowed leaving eleven children. He died in Beaconsfield in 1909, and his grave can be viewed in the Fremantle Cemetery.

Old Fremantle Synagogue Building (WA Hebrew Congregation) on South Terrace, 2008. (A Antonovsky)

Rosa Henriques Smith

On the corner of Marine Terrace and Henry Street is one of Notre Dame’s dormitories in the old Port Lodge Building. This was once the Sailor’s Rest started by Rosa Smith and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. As strange as it may seem, Rosa Smith’s story is a very Jewish one. Rosa Smith was born Rosa Henriques in Port Maria, Jamaica in 1853, but the story starts 250 years earlier. It begins in the late 1500s with the spread of the Inquisition from Spain to Portugal. Jews were given the choice of converting to Christianity or leaving the country. Some left for the New World of South America, some converted and practiced their religion in secret (but that was to risk torture or being burned at the stake). By the early 1600s, many of these Sephardi Jews had made their way to Holland, which was much more tolerant towards Jews, including Rosa’s ancestor Antonio Henriques, who had been a merchant in Lisbon.


Rosa Smith at a Woman’s Christian Temperance Union state convention in the 1890s. (WCTU of Western Australia)

Antonio changed his name to Antonio Cohen Henriques and named his sons Abraham and Moses (as was the custom of Jews who left the Inquisition behind). Abraham stayed on in Amsterdam as a merchant trading with Latin America. Moses Cohen Henriques however, turned to piracy, or privateering, as it was properly called, as it involved Dutch ships, attacking the enemy ships of Spain. Needless to say, Jews were more than happy to help in this venture, and Jewish pirates of the Caribbean, like Moses Henriques, were prominent in the Dutch raids on Spanish galleons. Jamaica was a haven for pirates and Jews in the 1600s, a situation which continued even after the English took possession of Jamaica from Spain. Moses Henriques eventually retired from piracy, and was forgiven his past misdeeds and was naturalised as a Jamaican by the English governor, Henry Morgan (also a pirate).

By the time Rosa was born 200 years later in 1853, her family was part of the thriving Jewish communities in Port Maria and the capital Kingston. In fact, the Jewish population of Jamaica varied over the years between 20 and 50% of the total. However, at the age of 22, life changed dramatically for the young Rosa. She married a Scottish naval officer named Thomas Smith, and 2 years later set sail for Scotland, and eventually Melbourne, where we know that she had an uncle. She spent 10 years in South Melbourne, very involved in helping the sick and poor around the docks, and especially working in the Sailor’s Rest in Pt Melbourne.

Capt. Smith was then appointed Inspector of Pearl Fisheries in WA, travelling around the North-West Coast, including Shark Bay, Dampier, and Broome, often with Rosa on board. She was on his ship the Mida for some time, and stayed at the town called Cossack near Roebourne in the Pilbara. It was quite a busy place in its day, and is now a marvellously preserved ghost town. Rosa left the Northwest for Fremantle in 1890, marking the start of 31 years of working tirelessly for the Fremantle community. She was Supt of Sailor’s Work, visiting every ship that came to Fremantle. She took upon herself the task of looking after the young sailors coming through the port, in order to keep them out of mischief. It was not unusual for her to visit sick and injured seamen in Fremantle Hospital when they ended up there, and even have them at her house.


Sailor’s Rest building (now Port Lodge) on Marine Terrace, Fremantle. (WCTU of Western Australia)

She was instrumental in raising £2000 for the Sailor’s Rest on the Port Lodge site. This was the forerunner of the Flying Angels Club, still operating to this day on (Queen Victoria St. For this work, she was presented with an acknowledgement by the Duchess of York on behalf of the British Seaman’s Society of London. She was also the first woman on the Fremantle School Board, and succeeded in convincing the government to build an infant school in South Fremantle. She continued until 1921, when after a bout of ill health, she and Capt. Smith decided to return to Jamaica where she died within the year.

Krakouer Family

The story of Theodore Krakouer, and importantly his descendants, was a very different but equally archetypical, Jewish story. The name Krakouer comes from Krakow, a town in Poland which had a large Jewish community. With attacks on Jews in Eastern Europe increasing throughout the 1800s, many headed west to England and America. Unfortunately, jobs and economic opportunities were limited, especially for those that did not speak English and possessed no particular trade. For many of these Jews, petty crime was the only means of survival, and inevitably this landed many of them on ships heading for Australia. The Crown it seemed, was quite happy to relocate as many Jews and Irish as far away from England as possible.

Theodore Krakouer was one such convict after a trial in Portsmouth for stealing eight diamond rings worth 47 shillings, and a stretch in Portland Gaol. He arrived in the Swan River Colony on the Mermaid in 1851, as WA Convict No 232. He arrived with a mate of his, Elias Lapidus. The two were a good match — Theodore had been sentenced to 15 years in Western Australia for stealing clothes and money; and Lapidus was given 15 years for receiving stolen clothes and money.

The language of the day was interesting. Theodore’s convict papers declared that his state of mind was ‘hopeful’. He was counted in the 1854 WA census in the category ‘Jews, Mohammedans, and non-believers’, such was the high regard officials had for these three groups.

Theodore married Brina Israel, who arrived here in 1853 with her sister Esther, who eventually married Lapidus. The two women had made the unusual decision to leave London to start a new life in the Swan Colony. They were two single emigrant women on supported passage to a colony that was desperate for domestic servants and wives for its male population, with little distinction between these two categories.

Theodore obtained his ticket of leave from Fremantle, meaning he could go to work each day unsupervised. When the bell rang at the Round House, he had to be back at home. Consequently, many of the ticket of leave families lived in the cottages which adjoined the Round House. He worked as a teamster for livery stables around Fremantle, similar to the one that existed at the current Atwell Arcade site. He also worked in the bush, out along the Williams Road.

Theodore seems to have passed on this ability with horses to his sons, including two of them, Rudolph and David, both born and raised in Fremantle. What follows is their story, as well as an attempt to correct an historical injustice; namely, that the Holland Track should, by rights, have been called the Krakouer Track.

At the start of the Western Australian gold rush there was no direct route to the goldfields, which was a problem for prospectors and the merchants trying to supply goods and services to the area. Several groups had attempted to cut a direct route across from the end of the railway line at Broomehill to the goldfields, but all had failed, often disastrously. Rudolph himself had been prospecting at Coolgardie and realised that a solution was needed. He was a good bushman, and had been very enterprising in the development of Broomehill. So, it was not surprising that he had decided to organise an expedition to cut a track to Coolgardie. Contrary to the official version of the history, it is clear from newspapers at the time that Rudolph had both organised and financed the expedition.

The Australian Advertiser said on 26 April 1893:

Mr RT Krakouer and party have left here, striking a direct route through the bush for the Goldfields. The evening previous to their projected departure, a farewell social, initiated by members of the Broomehill Cricket Club, of which Mr Krakouer was for years (been) a most prominent member, was held in the Alpha Hall.

On 14 April 1893, Rudolph and David left with John Holland and John Carmody, to cut a route across to the goldfields. The group started from Broomehill, 302km southeast of Perth. The Krakouer Brothers and party reached Coolgardie two months later. They had surveyed and cleared over 500 km of unexplored country, thus providing the catalyst for developing the goldfields.

However, a combination of John Holland’s claims in speeches and newspapers stories, along with official antipathy to the Croakers, meant that all official recognition went to Holland. Even two geographic features named by the expedition party, Krakouer Rocks and Lake Krakouer were later renamed by officials, on what became known as Holland’s Track. Attempts by Abraham Krakouer, the oldest brother, to recover the £393 spent by his younger brother on the expedition were coldly rebuffed by the Western Australian government.

In the end, the role of Rudolph Krakouer in the development of the mining industry was relegated to a footnote in Western Australia’s history.


Rudolph Krakouer and family, acknowledging his role in pioneering the Holland Track. (Coolgardie Historical Museum)

The Krakouer brothers went on to start a string of hotels from Collie to Norseman. More significantly, they married local indigenous women, starting a dynasty of football players of Jewish-Aboriginal descent. Perhaps this is the most fitting legacy of that one enterprising convict who arrived in Fremantle 155 years ago.


These are just four individuals, and a community is of course based on the work and contributions of many more than that. But hopefully their stories have provided a sense of what one segment of the Fremantle population has contributed to the development of this community in its early days, when the words ‘progress’ and ‘development’ had a more positive meaning. A direct line can be drawn between these early pioneers - their dedication to developing their new home - and the cohesiveness and the commitment to place that is Fremantle today.

Certainly the many migrant groups that came to Fremantle; the Irish, the Italians, the Yugoslavs, all contributed in their own way to the evolution of Fremantle. What is unique in the four people described above is their experience of Jewish communal life in Europe and the Americas. Their heritage was one of moving from place to place and needing to re—establish a working society wherever they went. This instilled in them an ability to quickly establish themselves in this new colony, and create the social institutions that we often depend on for our quality of life today. Fremantle History Society general meeting, April 2008


The Inquirer & Commercial News, ‘The late Mr Lionel Samson’ (obituary), 20 March 1878, Lionel Samson file, Fremantle Library Local History Collection.

Ruth Merchant James, To the Manner Born, Lionel Samson file, Fremantle Library Local History Collection.

John S Levi & GFJ Bergman, ‘The Samsons of Swan River’, in Australian Genesis Jewish Convicts & Settlers 1788-1860, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002.

David Missensen, Hebrew, Israelite; Jews the history of the Jews of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1990.

Coralie Solomon, Elias Solomon, first Federal Member of Parliament for Fremantle: life and letters 1839-1909, Fremantle Studies: Journal of the Fremantle History Society, vol 3, 2004.

Terri-Ann White, Finding Theodore and Brina, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 2001.

Rosa Smith, ‘The Sailors Rest’ in Minutes of the Conventions, 1892-1932, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Western Australia.

Descendants of Thomas Wright Smith Generation 1, notes supplied by Mr and Mrs Reese, Virginia, West Virginia, during visit to Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, West Perth, 2002-2003.

Joyce R Henderson, The Strength of White Ribbon, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Western Australia (Inc.),West Perth, 1992.

Julia Ball, ‘History of Holland Track’, report for Centre of Western Australian History, University of Western Australia, Battye Library, 1992.

Rebecca Tortello, ‘Pieces of the Past: The Jews in Jamaica’ Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved 3/11/2007 from history/story0054.htm.

Les Fleurs de l’Orient The Genealogy Site. Rosa Henriques. Retrieved 1 1/11/2007 from

Edward Kritzler, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, Random House, New York, 2008.

Federal Electorate of Fremantle website, Elias Solomon Member for Fremantle 1901-1903. Retrieved on 25/07/10 from http://john.curtin.

Garry Gillard | New: 1 April, 2018 | Now: 16 December, 2018