From Australia’s Jewish Past: Jewish businessman who shaped the Colony

June 15, 2021 by J-Wire News Service
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Emanuel Solomon, the son of Samuel Moss Solomon and his first wife Elizabeth, was born in London on 13 May 1769.

Emanuel Solomon

He and his brother Vaiben Solomon were serving time for larceny.  They were transported to Sydney on the Lady Castlereagh arriving on 1 May 1818 .  He travelled to South Australia in 1837 and was one of the founders of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation.

Emanuel, together with his brother, founded the Queen’s Theatre in Playhouse Lane, Adelaide.  It is the oldest intact theatre in mainland Australia, having originally been built in 1840.

In 1848 he, together with a colleague, purchased 85 acres of land at Spencer Gulf South Australia, westernmost of two large inlets on the southern coast of Australia and subdivided it as a township to be known as Port Pirie. Little development occurred on-site and by the late 1860s there were only three woolsheds on the riverfront. It was later re-surveyed and became Port Pirie’s suburb Solomontown, commonly referred to as “Solly”.  Edward had reserved a parcel of land for a synagogue, but it was never taken up by the few Jews who lived in Port Pirie. A clause in his will advised that he would leave the land to whichever denomination should erect a building there.  The offer was taken up by the Bible Christians, who transported a surplus building to the site.

Emanuel is commemorated for the generosity he provided to Mary MacKillop from the Sisters of St Joseph who, in November 1871 had been evicted from their convent, and which he had given to them as rent-free.

In 1871 Emanuel called on all colonists, who had arrived before 1841, to submit their names so he could extend an official invitation to a grand banquet on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the foundation of South Australia. The event was held at the Adelaide Town Hall on 28 December 1871 and was attended by 620 invitees. In March 1872 Henry Jones, a well-respected photographer, called on those gentlemen who had been invited to the banquet to present themselves within the first month of the opening of his new studio in Adelaide to have their photographic portrait taken. From June 1872, he invited the lady colonists to have their portraits taken.  One of the photographs remains in the foyer of the Adelaide Public Library.

Emanuel became prominent in the South Australian Parliament having been elected to the seat of West Adelaide in the South Australian Legislative Assembly in November 1862, resigning in 1865.  He was elected to the Legislative Council in 1867, retiring in September 1871.

He married fellow convict Mary Ann Wilson on 6 November 1826, married a second time in 1844 to Cecilia Adelaide Smith and third time lucky to Catherine Abrahams.  The marriages produced six children.  Emanuel died in 1873.

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.


2 Responses to “From Australia’s Jewish Past: Jewish businessman who shaped the Colony”
  1. Mary Ryan says:

    The Sisters of Saint Joseph will never forget the support and generosity of our early friend and benefactor, Emanuel Solomon. He is honoured in our Mary MacKillop Museum in Kensington, Adelaide:

    Here is what is written here: Emanuel Solomon was born in England. As a teenager, he and his brother Vaiben were wrongly accused of stealing. Their punishment was severe: transportation to New South Wales in an over-crowded, disease-ridden prison ship. Like all convicts, Emanuel was treated harshly, and he received 50 lashes of the ‘cat-‘o-nine tails’ on several occasions.

    After he had served his sentence, Emanuel moved to South Australia where he worked very hard. He became an important businessman, a politician, and one of the founders of the Adelaide Jewish Congregation. Because South Australia did not welcome former convicts, he never referred to his past. His children were unaware of the story of his early life.

    A generous-hearted man, Emanuel never forgot his own origins. He supported anyone who was seen to be assisting the poor and disadvantaged. He admired Mary MacKillop. When he observed how Mary and the Sisters of St Joseph worked among the destitute and marginalised people of Adelaide, he assisted them whenever he could. In January 1868, when their convent became overcrowded, he gave them a short-term lease, rent free, on Dorsetta Terrace, Franklin Street.

    In 1871, after Mary had been wrongfully excommunicated, Emanuel provided rent-free accommodation in Dorsetta Terrace, Flinders Street, for the more than 40 Sisters who had been evicted from their Convent in Franklin Street, Adelaide.

    There were many occasions when Mary and the Sisters were grateful for both Emanuel and the Jewish community’s generosity. Mary wrote:

    ‘The kindness of the Jewish community has been remarkable … ‘

    Thank you, once again, Emanuel!

    Mary Ryan rsj
    Mary MacKillop Precinct Adelaide

  2. Gavin Silbert QC says:

    Amongst Emanuel’s thousands of descendants was Heath Ledger , Australian Actor and Bruce Monteath, captain of the 1980 Richmond premiership team.

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