From Australia’s Jewish Past: Jacob Barrow Montefiore – Improving ship travel to the colonies

October 26, 2021 by Features Desk
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Jacob was the eldest son of Eliezer Levi Montefiore and Judith and nephew of Joseph and Jacob.

Jacob Barrow Montefiore

Having arrived in Australia in 1837, Jacob joined his brother Joseph [profiled lastweek] and they became partners in J Barrow Montefiore & Co.

In 1834 the two brothers appeared in an advertisement announcing the prospectus for the formation of the Bank of Australasia – a predecessor of the ANZ Bank – In 1855, Joseph became the local representative and Jacob, founding Director.  Joseph’s association with the bank did not last long, although the two continued their close connection and made significant in-roads into the colonies in both NSW, SA and Tasmania.  This is evidenced by the township of Montefiore in New South Wales, which stands at the junction of the Bell and Macquarie Rivers in the Wellington Valley.

However, his land-holdings were dwarfed by those of his brother Joseph Barrow Montefiore. Jacob was a member of the South Australian Colonization Commission in London, a body appointed by the British Government under King William IV to oversee the implementation of the South Australia Act 1834, which established the Colony of South Australia.  He was involved with the colonial produce trade and invested amongst other ventures in the Swan River Settlement in Perth WA.  Even before his arrival in Australia, he and his brother Joseph were sharing real estate business interests in NSW.

Jacob and fellow Commissioner Lieutenant-Colonel George Palmer were responsible for fulfilling all of the agents‘ and other requirements for the “First Fleet of South Australia” in 1836, under the command of Colonel Light. As part of the process, the pair trialled a new code for emigrant ships, requiring that a ship’s surgeon travel on any ship with over 100 passengers. It also specified a minimum deck height. This reform, leading to reduced deaths at sea, was adopted for all British emigrant ships in 1839.  As the Commission’s first two ships, Rapid and Cygnet, were readying for the voyage to Australia in August 1836 (the South Australian Company having sent the first three ships in July), Jacob and Palmer helped Colonel Light to prepare the ships.  Jacob travelled back to England to assist with the launch of the ships and, on returning from England and returning to South Australia in 1843, he was received by the Governor of South Australia – Sir George Grey.  By the time he visited again in 1854, his brother Joseph was in Adelaide and once again successful in business, as proprietor of JB Montefiore & Co. Jacob was a keen advocate for South Australia for the rest of his life, and full of praise for Colonial Light.

Unfortunately, Jacob over-extended himself and his company went bankrupt around 1841, when he returned to England for a period and, on his return to Australia in 1846, he went to the new colony of South Australia.  In Adelaide, Joseph with others founded the Adelaide Marine Insurance Company and the railway linking Adelaide with Port Adelaide.  He was also involved in copper and gold mining at Montacute.

Jacob’s house was on Montefiore Hill in North Adelaide (this hill on the fringe of the City of Adelaide was the location of Light’s Vision (a statue of founding father Colonel Light), which is named after Jacob Barrow Montefiore. The Adelaide premises of his company was on the corner of King Willliam and Grenfell Streets in Adelaide city.  This site was established by his nephew Eliezer Levi Montefiore and subsequently occupied by the Imperial Hotel and then by Westpac.

In 1885, Jacob gifted a portrait of himself painted in London by artist Barnett Samuel Marks to the National Gallery of South Australia.  Following this, he was appointed Honorary Commissioner of South Australia at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886.

Despite his very active business life, his estate was relatively modest.

He died in London in 1895.

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 or its Facebook page.

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