Q. Do we know when and why Jews first came to Australia?A. 16 or so Jews arrived as convicts on the First Fleet in 1788. Altogether nearly 1,000 Jewish convicts were transported to Australia. Among them were colourful characters who pioneered important areas in Australian life, e.g. John Harris, Australia’s first policeman; James Larra, the “Commercial Nabob of Parramatta”; Samuel Lyons, an auctioneer and builder; and Solomon Levey, an economist and philanthropist.
After Levey served his time as a convict he went back to England to publicise the opportunities offered by the new land. Amongst those who responded were his brother Barnett, the first free male Jew to arrive in the colony and the father of the Australian theatre.
From 1828 onwards Jews moved into the country districts. They established shops, inns and even coach lines linking isolated settlements. Today, the only trace left of most of the country communities is an occasional Jewish family and a cluster of graves in a local cemetery.
The first Jewish services were organised about 1818 by Joseph Marcus, a former convict. In 1828, Phillip Joseph Cohen arrived as a free settler with the British Chief Rabbi’s authority to conduct Jewish marriages.