From Australia’s Past: 1852 Ballarat and the arrival of Abraham Abrahamsohn

March 9, 2021 by  
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This is the story of a very talented German who ventured to Australia via the US, having practised as a travelling mohel for the San Francisco Jewish community and occasional baked matzoh.

Bendigo Synagogue

He used the proceeds to open a saloon but, alas, the building was lost to a fire and, with only his clothes and very little money, he turned to gambling. He claimed witchcraft drew him to accursed houses by night.  However, on hearing about the discovery of gold in Victoria, he packed his bags and booked his passage to Sydney, then trekking to Bendigo.

In Bendigo, he teamed up with some English and American folk and bought mining equipment and, within two days of panning, they had gathered 18 ounces of gold.

But their luck would wax and wane — and so did their trust in each other. At one point, he and his American teammate discovered their three British colleagues were cheating them when, after the Brits brought back five ounces of gold to split among the pot, a passer-by congratulated them on finding a full eight pounds of gold earlier that day.

Naturally, a beating ensued, and the team broke up, leaving Abrahamsohn to fend for himself once more. He continued panning for gold for about a month with mixed success, and then quit while he was ahead, having made about $1,500.

He had noticed that the traders who supplied the miners with food and goods ‘earned as much or more than a miner,’ and so he decided to return to the trade of his youth — baking. He found clay with which to form bricks to build his oven.  He would travel to Melbourne to purchase the necessary utensils and raw materials, hired an assistant, and created a most successful bakery in Bendigo.  He would sell out of loaves almost as soon as he could bake them. Even after building a second oven and hiring three more assistants, he still could not satisfy the great demand for bread in the goldfields

. So lucrative was his bakery that within eleven months, Abrahamsohn had amassed enough savings to quit working altogether.

A very checkered career path with a good outcome for our German friend, sailing back to Germany a very wealthy man.  It is told that he had blessings on his lips for Australia, the ‘land of milk and honey’ which had made his fortune.

Other notable Jews who make their mark were David Hecksher, a successful miner, finding 16 pounds worth, a discovery which allowed him to open a store and a hotel.  He later became an officer of the Bendigo Synagogue that had been built in 1872.  Jacob Cohn, a brewery owner, served as a mayor and a councillor.  Together with his brother Moritz, a successful businessman, he founded what we know today as the Bendigo Bank.

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 Past: 1852 Ballarat and the arrival of Abraham Abrahamsohn”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    Is the synagogue still standing as it a great looking building. The 4 towers look like minarets.

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