From Australia’s Jewish past: Issac Herbert Boas – continuing the story of the Boas family – an industry leader

April 5, 2022 by Features Desk
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You may remember reading that Abraham and Elizabeth Boas had ten children – their sons all excelling in their career paths.

Isaac Boas

Isaac was born on 20 October 1878 in Adelaide. He was educated at Prince Alfred College, the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, and the University of Adelaide, where he completed a bachelor of science degree in 1899.  In 1901 he was appointed lecturer in geology and mineralogy at the university and later worked as a demonstrator in physics with two very prominent Australian scientists Sir William Bragg and Professor Edward Rennie.  At Sir William Bragg’s urging, Isaac accepted a lectureship in physics and chemistry at the Technical School at Charters Towers, Queensland in 1903.  He wrote of his two colourful and exacting years there where he learnt ‘how to tackle problems of which I had no experience’. In 1906 he became a lecturer in chemistry at the Technical School, Perth.  For his survey of Collie coals, made in 1914 at the request of a State Royal Commission, he was awarded a master of science degree by the University of Western Australia.

Isaac became increasingly interested in the chemistry of wood and associated products. The shortages in view of World War I convinced him that Australia needed a central organisation to deal with the problems of the forest industries. In his makeshift laboratory at the Charters Tower Technical School, he investigated the fundamental and chemical reactions involved in the soda process of paper-making, uninhibited by existing techniques and undismayed by adverse reports of visiting experts. Making pulp from karri and producing a few sheets of paper from it, he showed that the apparent unsuitability of Australian hardwoods was due to misconceived techniques rather than the timber itself.

In 1919 Isaac persuaded the Australian States to establish a forest products laboratory, to be set up in Perth under the auspices of the projected Commonwealth Bureau of Science and Industry. He was appointed officer-in-charge, and between 1919 and 1920 he toured similar laboratories in North America, England, Europe and India.  When by 1921 the Bill to establish the Bureau had not been passed, Isaac resigned to become chief chemist in the Melbourne leather firm of Michaelis, Hallenstein & Co.  He soon found a common interest with Professor David  Masson in the problem of scientific control of the tanning, glue and gelatin industries in Victoria. Meanwhile in Perth, a former student Louis Benjamin CBE was carrying on where Isaac had left off.  Despite difficulties, pulping and paper-making continued – extending to almost all Australian eucalypts.

Isaac was appointed Chief of the Forest Products Division when it was set up in Melbourne in 1928 under the reorganized Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1935 he toured North America and Europe and attended the Fourth British Empire Forestry Conference in South Africa. During World War II he was, among other positions, Assistant Controller for timber supplies in the Department of Supply and Development, and was on the Advisory Committee of Aeronautical Research.  He was also a member of the Commonwealth Committees on Development of Secondary Industries and Flax Production.

Abraham and Elizabeth Boas with nine of their ten children

In April 1944, he retired as Chief of his division so that he could join the Board of New Zealand Forest Products Ltd, but he remained working as a consultant with the Council (CSIR)  and he published a book on the Commercial Timbers of Australia in 1947.  He held a number of offices after retirement, including the Chairmanship of an advisory panel on furniture standards. A foundation member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, and fellow in 1944, he was elected general president in 1952.

Throughout his life, Isaac was closely associated with the Jewish community.  He was President of the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation from 1930 to 1932 and again from 1934 to 1936, a member of the Victorian Jewish Advisory Board, and Chairman of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society in from 1936 to 1946.   A member of the Australian Friends of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, he took a great interest in Israel and helped its forest development and the Wood Technology Institute of Israel was named after him.

Isaac married Adela Isabella Solomon, a cousin in Adelaide on 1 January 1908 and they had three sons and a daughter.  Isaac died in Hawthorn Victoria, on 16 October 1955. The University of Melbourne’s Boas Memorial Lectures for secondary school students were inaugurated in 1961.

Another of Abraham and Elizabeth’s sons – Lionel – was born in 1875 and moved to Perth in 1896 and became Secretary to the Karrakatta Cemetery Board.  He was elected to the Subiaco City Council in 1906, where he served for thirty-six years, including its mayor from 1917 to 1920. He was prominent on behalf of ex-servicemen, as well as in numerous local sporting, cultural and philanthropic organisations. His main achievement was the Foundation in 1905, together with John Simons of the Young Australia League, of which he was President for over forty years until his death.   The League, was established to promote ‘education through travel’. It developed rapidly as a patriotic, independent, non-political, non-sectarian organization, whose membership included girls, but emphasized boys’ activities.

The legacies left by this family are well remembered today – both for their achievements in building Australian business and industry as well as the community.

The Australian Jewish Historical Society is the keeper of archives from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 right up to today. Whether you are searching for an academic resource, an event, a picture or an article, AJHS can help you find that piece of historical material. The AJHS welcomes your contributions to the archives. If you are a descendent of someone of interest with a story to tell, or you have memorabilia which might be of significance for the archives, please make contact via www.ajhs.com.au or its Facebook page.

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