From Australia’s Jewish Past: Michael Cashmore

April 16, 2024 by Features Desk
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Michael Cashmore – a most important business, community, and family Melburnian from the early days

Michael Cashmore

Michael was born on 7 March 1815 in England and emigrated to New South Wales in 1836, working initially for Mr Emanuel on George Street near The Rocks and then going into his own business as a merchant on the same street.  He left Sydney in June 1840 to explore commercial possibilities in the newly founded town of Melbourne, at which time he would have been one of the first Jewish settlers.  He returned later that year to Sydney.

There is a considerable family history including Michael’s great-great grandson, Trevor Cohen, whose mother, brother, sisters, and their families were to arrive not long after Michael.  Michael married Betsy Solomon in 1840 and, apparently, were shipwrecked aboard the steamer “Clonmel” on the 90 Mile Beach whilst on their honeymoon from Sydney back to Melbourne.  Michael was fluent in Hebrew and is credited with having conducted Melbourne’s first Jewish burial service.

The couple went on to have ten children, one son playing in the first game of Australian Rules Football to be played in Melbourne.  The first daughter was to be the first Jewish girl to be born in Melbourne, in a house on the present site of Alston’s Corner, which was located at Elizabeth and Collins Streets and was known as No 1 Melbourne. This must surely have been an exclusive address as anyone could hope for in a capital city.   The family later lived in Albert Park.

It was on this corner that Michael opened his haberdashery business in 1840, together with Samuel Emmanuel.  It was in 1839 that the first brick building was built in Melbourne.   By 1844, Michael was running the business on his own.  This unique Edwardian building became heritage-listed. There is, in fact, a plaque on the building attesting that it was the first brick building in Melbourne.  Interestingly, the corner was also known as Cashmore’s Corner. Alston Corner was named in honour of Henry Alston, an active member of the community who ran a tobacconist shop on the site from 1887.  In 1903, Henry commissioned architect Nahum Barnet, another member of the community, to design new premises that would include a basement, ground floor shops, a mezzanine, five floors of flats to rent, and a roofed studio suitable for artists or photographers.  The building remained owned by Henry until 1956.  The business closed and in 1999 the building was purchased by Trevor Cohen.  The building was then officially known as ‘Cashmore’.

In a newspaper advertisement, there was a comment -“We should explain that Cashmore is a real name. If the syllables were transposed it would, of course, be more appropriate, as, like all true traders, he is tolerably anxious [for a profit].”

As can be imagined, with ten children and a growing Jewish community of Cohens and Solomons, many of them married children with the family name of ‘Cohen’.  As mentioned earlier in the story, Ada is the family member who kept up the link with Michael, including naming her elder son Michael.

In 1843 Michael, Solomon Benjamin, and Asher Hymen Hart were, appointed trustees on an acre of land in Melbourne for a Jewish cemetery and, the following year, more land was granted to build a synagogue.  Asher Hart, in 1841, became the founder of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation with Michael as its first President, an office he held three times.  The history goes that, so direct was the line and so close the family connection that Ada Cohen, the great-granddaughter of Michael and Betsy became the wife of a later president of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation.  Michael was also one of the trustees of the Bourke Street Synagogue.

In 1841, Michael was elected to the Melbourne City Council for the Latrobe Ward and was the first Jew to achieve such a position.  He resigned in 1848, the reasons not declared but quite distressing for him.  He became the first Jewish Justice of the Peace for Melbourne as well as the first Jewish Police Magistrate.  Time did not stand still for Michael and he was duly appointed Inspector of the Elizabeth Street Meat Market for Melbourne’s City Council in May 1874, this position, was also associated with the Central Board of Health and, one he held for seventeen years.

Michael retired from business in 1874 and, the marvellous heritage building was taken over by tobacconist William Alston, who rebuilt the premises, and gradually ‘’Cashmore’s Corner’’ became known as ‘’Alston’s Corner.  Michael became a leading spokesperson for the Jewish community and felt snubbed when omitted from an 1854 grant to churches.  In 1855, he became a member of a committee that established a Jews’ Seminary.  Next, he became president of the Jewish Mutual Aid Society.   Other activities he was associated with included a directorship, major shareholder in the Melbourne Gas and Coke Company, and a National Bank of Australasia director.  He was connected with several societies and charitable institutions and was a member and past master of the Lodge Of Australia Felix which was founded in 1839 in Melbourne.

In February 1886, he was ordered to cease work and all commitments due to ill health.  He died six months later, on 17 October, leaving his wife Betsy and eight grown-up children.

Michael’s extraordinary family tree has only continued to grow and branch out over the years. The Cashmores have effectively remained one of the largest Jewish families in Melbourne throughout time and this will certainly continue.  As of 2023, the family consists of four direct descendants of the late “Poppa” Cashmore and his late wife Marie. All four of their kids who are now in their 80s have since branched off and created their own new family trees.  An amazing legacy.

The AJHS acknowledges the following references in the preparation of this story:

Jewish World, December 1886; Trove – Our Jewish World – Australian Jewish News – Mrs Sydney Cohen by Pamela Ruskin; Lamm Jewish Library of Australia, Wikipedia;


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 that might be of significance for the archives, please make contact via or

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