02 December 2006

Noteworthy new resource on Australia's Jewish history

The Age, a Melbourne paper, had a great article about a new book on Australia's Jews. Melbourne rabbi John Levi's These are the Names was launched Dec. 3.

According to the article, thousands of Australians have Jewish ancestry and don't know it. Levi's new book is a biographical dictionary that documents the first 62 years of European settlement and the 1,500 Jews who arrived during that time.

In the works for some 40 years, the book's title comes from the opening of the Book of Exodus, and covers the time from the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet until just prior to the 1850 Gold Rush era.

Levi compiled names, dates and milestones in shoeboxes and eventually into a database. According to his wife, Robyn, "Probably 'obsession' is not an unreasonable word to use."

According to the story:

One of the book's most interesting subjects is Esther Abrahams, who in one lifetime went from convict to First Lady.
In 1786, aged 15 and pregnant, Abrahams was jailed for stealing some black lace from a London shop. In 1788 she was transported to Australia, bringing her baby, Rosanna, on the First Fleet ship Lady Penrhyn.
On board, Esther took as her lover First Lieutenant George Johnston. They didn't marry until 1814, but had seven children together.
Lieutenant Johnston grew wealthy through his farm Annandale (now a suburb of the same name) in Sydney, and led the 1808 rum rebellion that overthrew William Bligh as the colony's governor, making Esther de facto First Lady. When Johnston died in 1823, Esther inherited 995 hectares.

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