The first NSW Jewish legislator: Sir Saul Samuel topic of a talk in parliament

March 21, 2022 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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On Wednesday. NSW Parliament presents one of its regular talks dealing with the history of the precinct.

House Talks will highlight the role of Sir Saul Samuel, the first Jewish legislator and Treasurer of the NSW Parliament in the 1880s.  With five-time Premier Henry Parkes “the Father of Federation” they implemented measures to preserve early historical documents.

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Jonathan O’Dea will be introducing Paul Brunton Emeritus Curator, State Library of NSW who will deliver the talk.

Paul will lead participants through the extraordinary story of how Sir Henry Parkes and Saul Samuel worked to access, acquire and preserve Australia’s early colonial documentary history collections.

This is an in-person event but will also be filmed and will eventually be available to watch at any time.

Since 1849 there have been over 85 Jewish legislators across every state parliament and since federation 23 Jewish legislators have sat in the Commonwealth Parliament with four being elected to the first Parliament. Some Jewish legislators served in both State and Commonwealth Parliaments, just not concurrently.

Sir Saul Samuel

The first outstanding nineteenth-century Jewish parliamentarian in Australia was London-born Sir Saul Samuel (1820-1900) a merchant and pastoralist.

His public career spanned an almost unsurpassed period of 43 years as a member of parliament, cabinet minister and then Agent-General for New South Wales.

Samuel was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1859, following Lionel Samson who was the first Jewish member of an Australian legislature. Samson had landed in Western Australia as a pioneer of 1829, the year of settlement, and subsequently became a member of the nominated Legislative Council in 1849. This was ten years before the first British Jew, Baron Lionel de Rothschild, took his seat in the British House of Commons in 1858.

Within twelve months of entering parliament, Samuel had become treasurer with the specific responsibility for settling the final separation of New South Wales and Queensland, completed in 1859.

Samuel served three times as colonial treasurer (1856-60, 1865-66, 1868-70). Samuel resigned from his first term as treasurer when he was unable to introduce his financial proposals which required increased indirect taxes on such basic items as tea and sugar. In a long speech Samuel stated that the government must tackle the persistent deficit, avoid the protectionist ‘madness’ and assimilate their tariff to that of the other colonies pending their future union.

He also served three times as postmaster general (1872-75, 1877, 1878-80). He opened the first stage of the GPO in Martin Place in September 1874. He was a promoter of modern communications technology and expanding opportunities for women in the post offices which he regularly opened around the countryside.

Samuel became Agent-General in London (1880-97). In 1888, he wrote that he had raised 30 million pounds in loans, bought rail stores free of commission and supervised the immigration of 30,000 persons.

As a stalwart of the York Street congregation, Samuel chaired a public meeting which was held in March 1871 and decided to reunite the York St and Macquarie St congregations and erect a bigger and better synagogue. He was among the first donors at the meeting with the substantial donation of 100 pounds and joined the committee to give effect to their proposals. He laid the foundation stone of the building in 1875, was on hand for the consecration of the Great Synagogue in March 1878 and served two terms as its second president from 1878-80.

Samuel was knighted in 1882 and made a Baronet in 1898. He died in London in 1900.

When: Wednesday, March 23
Time: 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Where: NSW Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney

Cost: Free



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