Jewish Cemetery Trust

Our history

The Sydney Jewish Cemetery, Devonshire Street was the first burial ground for the Sydney Jewish Community. Its Trustees were Messrs. Joseph Montefiore, Phillip Joseph Cohen and Michael Phillips.

The Sydney Jewish Cemetery had been part of the General Cemetery where the Town Hall stands.

The Devonshire Street Cemetery served as the main burial ground from 1832 to 1860 for the Sydney Jewish Community.

Because of the disagreement of the burial laws between the York and Macquarie Street Synagogues, Joseph G Raphael, treasurer of the newly formed Macquarie Street Congregation had negotiated the purchase of a freehold title together with L.W. Levy, President. The private purchase of 4.5 acres of land adjacent to Rookwood was intended for the congregation of the short lived Macquarie Street Synagogue. The ground was purchased in March 1866-1867 at Haslem’s Creek which became known as Raphael Ground Cemetery. The entire block of land 4.5 acres was bounded by Railway and Davey Streets on the North & South, and East and Raphael Streets on the East and West.

Raphael Cemetery privately purchased and owned by Messrs Raphael and Levy, was in their names until their deaths in 1879 and 1885. The Raphael Cemetery was originally consecrated by the Rev A.B. Davis and S.Phillips, Ministers of the Macquarie and York Street Synagogues on 18th August, 1867.

Mr Joseph Raphael in his Will left the property “unto the Presidents of the various Jewish Synagogues and their heirs and successors for persons dying professing the Hebrew Faith”. L.W. Levy made no mention in his Will; the property subsequently was registered in the name of the Trustees of his Will. In 1989 the Trustees in turn decided to transfer it to the Trustees of the Great Synagogue (G.J. Cohen, L.M. Phillips and Gotthelf) provided that “Mrs J.G. Raphael and members of her family should have at all time free access of the ground and be exempt from burial fees and charges”.

The more numerous York Street Congregation had accepted Government grant of part of the New General Cemetery at Haslem Creek.

The Devonshire Cemetery was relocated at Botany and Raphael Cemeteries in 1902 to make room for Sydney’s Central Railway Station.

In 1905 the tombstones and remains of the Raphael family were removed to Section 4 of the New Rookwood Jewish Cemetery.

By 1950 Raphael Cemetery had fallen into a state of neglect, decay and disrepair. The Auburn Council and members of the Board of the Great Synagogue decided to relocate the stones which were legible in to the old Jewish Section at Rookwood opposite the Martyr’s Memorial and to give the ground to the Auburn Council for use as a children’s playground. A plaque on this site reads “Presented by the Great Synagogue of Sydney”.

The first piece of ground allocated to the Jewish Community for burial in Rookwood Cemetery proper was two acres and one rod in 1867 adjoining No 1 Mortuary Station. In 1881 an additional allocation of 11 acres was made.

Records of burials were kept by the York Street Synagogue and later by the Great Synagogue. The Great Synagogue was established in 1878. The Great Synagogue combined both Macquarie and York Street Synagogues.

Funerals were taken into Rookwood by horse drawn vehicles until the Railway line was extended into the cemetery by a spur line from Lidcombe. From 1869 funeral trains became the main form of conveyance. By 1948 cars took over and it was the end of funeral trains.

Sandstone monuments were predominant up to 1890; after that marble and granite were used. Some of the more ornate monuments of the earlier period – the late Samuel Harris 1867 and George Meyers 1882 used copper, bronze and cast iron for decorative structural purposes.

According to the Australian Jewish Historical Society newsletter December 1969, Vol. l No.3 the first Jew in Australia was buried on April 15.1788. He was Joseph Levy who arrived with the First Fleet in Scarborough. On 13th July 1790 another Jewish convict Yaziel Barrach died.

In June 1791, the reverend Richard Johnson who kept the Births, Deaths & Marriages Register of the Colony, noted in the Register of Burials at Sydney Cove, - “Solomon Rockson (or Bockron) convict, Jew.

The first interment at Rookwood in our register was that of Isaac Abrahams who was buried on the 22nd June 1907.

Our Minutes begin with a Meeting of the Trustees’ Jewish Cemetery, Rookwood, held on Sunday 23rd October 1904 at the residence of Mr M Gotthelf at Elizabeth Bay. The Meeting was attended by the following Trustees – Mr Louis Phillips in the Chair; Messrs Justice Cohen, Moritz Gotthelf, George J Cohen and John J Cohen. It was recorded at this Meeting that 11 acres of land has been granted for burial purposes to the Jewish Cemetery Trust under the “Necropolis Act of 1893”. It was resolved at this meeting that the Board of Management of the Great Synagogue, Elizabeth Street, be asked to transfer the balance of the funds now standing to the credit of the Trustees to a separate account to be opened in the name of Trustees of Jewish Cemeteries Rookwood, with the Commercial Banking Co of Sydney Ltd. To be operated by cheques drawn and signed by any of the two Trustees and counter signed by the Secretary Simeon Frankel.

It was further decided that Messrs. Justice Cohen and John J Cohen draft a code of rules and regulations under the Necropolis Act 1901 to be submitted to the Trustees at a future Meeting

At a meeting a month later, it was decided to appoint a Chaplain Rev A Dobrinski at a salary of 30 pounds per annum and a Secretary Mr M.S. Frankel at 25 pounds per annum.

At a meeting in August 1905 it was decided that A Larcombe be appointed as caretaker of the freehold Burial Ground at Rookwood. He was allowed to occupy 135 ft. frontage at a depth of 83 feet from December 1906 at a rental of one shilling per month and payable in advance. Mr Larcombe was to put up swing gates; keep and maintain ground in good order. The Contract was for five years.

A Chapel was erected within the Mortuary Station area. The two acres of ground first allocation for Burial ground Jewish Section were divided by carriage drive into 2 equal parts and is now referred to the Old Ground and divided into Blocks 1 to 5.
The records for this part were not re-written and are contained in a red bound alphabetical Index. Graves reserved in the Old Ground in recent years are recorded in the Reserved Ground Index. Mr Orwell Phillips appointed in February 1914 as a Trustee to replace Mr Louis Phillips deceased. Mr Louis Phillips was Chairman of the Trust since 1904.

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