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

June 8, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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George Judah Cohen was known as an Australian nonagenarian.

George Judah Cohen

He was born on 27 April 1842 in a cottage in Bridge Street Sydney.  He centred his business fortunes, at 19 years of age, as chief of the firm David Cohen and Co, following in his father’s footsteps.

He returned to Sydney with a reputation as a financial expert, and reports show that the business world at that time was described as a financial cavalcade.  In 1885, George joined the board of the Commercial Banking Company, steering it through the financial crises of the 1890s, and then becoming Chairman of Directors in 1901. He held this position for 32 years, during the last of which the bank weathered the Depression. From the late 1880s to the early 1930s, George was chairman of many other companies, including Australian Gas Light, United Insurance, Tooth and Co. and the Sydney Exchange.  His chairmanship clocked up to 41, 44 and 45 years with these three companies.  He and his wife were collectors of antiques and European paintings and they supported many charities.  George was a liberal supporter -yet low-key- and a lifelong advocate for the Jewish community

George derived his business philosophy from the scriptures.  He was a religious man and felt he had been as successful as he was with a quotation from the Book of Proverbs.

“Seest thou a man diligent in his business.  He shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men.’’  His words of wisdom were:

“Be Upright and Diligent”.

He married Rebecca Levy, daughter of Samuel’s partner, Lewis Levy at the Macquarie Street Synagogue on 19 February 1868.

The honeymoon was to have been in Richmond NSW but unreachable due to floods and they changed this to Botany in Sydney which was then a fashionable resort.  What was special about this marriage, is that they reached their diamond jubilee wedding anniversary and were, even in those times, recipients of King George V personal congratulations.  The Cohens claimed that they never quarrelled – the secret of a long and happy marriage is the give and take – a fair amount of giving, mind you, but give and take.

George Lambert painted George’s portrait which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, together with that of another of the family members – Sir Paul Cullen.

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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