From Australia’s Jewish Past: Sigmond (Solomon) Hoffnung – an entrepreneurial merchant of his time

April 12, 2022 by Features Desk
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Sigmond was born in 1830 in Kalisz, Poland and was the elder son of Rev Samuel Hoffnung and his mother Caroline.

Sigmond Hoffnung

In 1836 the family migrated to England.  His father became minister and cantor of the small Jewish community in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and in 1840 moved to the Exeter Synagogue. Sigmond was educated in Liverpool but lack of money forced him to leave home and become a junior salesman with a West Country firm. He became friendly with a customer, Henry Nathan, who lent him £500 to buy assorted goods and take them to Sydney.  Sigmond arrived early in 1852 and opened a wholesale business in Wynyard Square, soon sold his stock, repaid the loan, and then made arrangements with Nathan to act as his buyer.

In 1855, Sigmond having prospered in Wynyard Square moved to larger premises in George Street. Knowledgeable about the needs of settlers, he visited England in 1857 to replenish his stock and to swell his capital and made a formal partnership with Nathan.  He returned to Sydney the following year and married Elizabeth Marks.

Sigmond was prominent in Jewish activities.  He was the auditor of the York Street Synagogue in 1858 and remained one of its leaders.  He served on committees to raise money for distressed Jews in Palestine, the Sydney Jewish Sabbath School, the Sydney Hebrew Certified Denominational School and the Jewish Philanthropic and Orphan Society.  In 1866 he became treasurer and a benefactor of the Great Synagogue’s Building Committee, President of the York Street Synagogue and from 1870 to 1876 a member of its board of management.  In 1875 he organized the Hebrew Ladies’ Bazaar at which his wife alone raised £1285 towards the Great Synagogue Building Fund.

In 1870 S. Hoffnung & Co moved into new premises in Pitt Street designed by Thomas Rowe architect, builder and gold miner who became one of Australia’s leading architects of the Victorian era. He was also a politician, the first Mayor of Manly and designed the Great Synagogue.  Thomas also designed Sigmond’s second premises in Brisbane which was opened in 1871.

The firm also established other branches in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji and had its head office in London. They had a large factory in Sydney making saddlery and harnesses. Their range of wholesale goods included American canned fruits and jams, watches, glass and china, ironmongery, rocking horses, firearms, iron safes and patent medicines.   Sigmond set up the first opal-cutting business in Australia and exported uncut diamonds and sapphires for industrial use.  Sigmond’s company was known as the first company to import one of the first typewriters into Australia which he exhibited in Sydney in December 1875, followed by his Queensland branch entering it in the Intercolonial Exhibition in Brisbane in 1876.  In 1875 he became a committee member of the Trade Protection Society of New South Wales.

Sigmond returned to England in 1877 and took charge of the London office. His brother Abraham, who had been a successful merchant in America, Canada and Liverpool UK   joined the company in 1886.   Abraham spent some years in Australia and in London.  He became the Chargé d’Affaires (business manager) for Hawaii before its annexation.  Together Abraham and Sigmond restored the Exeter Synagogue – the third oldest synagogue in the UK.

Elizabeth and Sigmond had one child – Sidney – who married Violet, daughter of Sir Julian Goldsmid, in London.  Sigmond retired in 1889 from the company to make way for Sidney to become a director.   Sidney later changed his family name to Hoffnung-Goldsmid by royal licence.

Hoffnung & Co became a private company in 1889 and a public one in 1902.  Their head office was at 153 Clarence Street.  The building was designed by Samuel Lipson, another well-respected architect, also designed the Temple Emanuel in Woollahra.  153 Clarence Street later became the headquarters of the Australian Red Cross.

The company, S Hoffnung & Co was later bought out by Burns Philip in 1980.

Sigmond died on 27 August 1904 in London, aged 74 years of age and was buried in the Golders Green Cemetery London.

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.


One Response to “From Australia’s Jewish Past: Sigmond (Solomon) Hoffnung – an entrepreneurial merchant of his time”
  1. Katzenjammer says:

    Sigmond Hoffnung was among the unpaid creditors who supplied pots and pans to my great-grandfather’s general goods store in Pitt Town on his bankruptcy in 1862. NSW State Archives has held the invoices and accounts in their archives for over a century and a half, which allowed me to know in detail the range of items he stocked. My ancestor’s accounts were unexpectedly in English words but rendered in cursive Hebrew script. To research such info about early Australian Jews, contact the AJHS or AGJS.

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