Our History | Spiritual heart now quiet

In 1843 the foundation stone for the first Jewish synagogue in the colony was laid in Hobart.

The Jewish community in the north of the island wanted the same and put a request in to Sir John Franklin for land to be given for the erection of a synagogue.

The request was denied, much to the disgust of approximately 100 Jewish families in Launceston.

Many letters to the editor in the newspapers discussed Franklin’s anti-Semitic reasoning behind his denial of land.

However, by July 1844 a subscription fundraiser was begun, and the community soon had enough money raised to use as a deposit for a £500 loan to buy land.

A plot in St John’s Street between York and Elizabeth was purchased from Mr Benjamin Francis in the same month, a bargain according to the papers.

A notice inviting tenders for a design was advertised, and by August Mr Richard Lambeth was named as the successful applicant.

Barton and Bennell were hired as the builders of the second-oldest synagogue in Australia, and the only building in the Egyptian Revival style in Launceston.

Mr Lambeth had migrated with his family in 1838 from England to be with his wife’s uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Bickford.

He was advertising as an art teacher in September 1838 and also worked as an architect, later becoming the Colonial Architect for South Australia.

Lady Franklin, who met Lambeth at a dinner held by Bickford in 1838, described him as a glass blower and architect in her diaries.

The synagogue was completed by 1846. But sadly by 1871 the congregation had decreased to just six families, so the building was closed for several decades.

In 1917 a Mr Benjamin led an application by the trustees to sell the building due to it not being used.

Fortunately, this was declined.

Despite sitting mostly unused for several more years it was eventually reopened in September 1939 for a short time when it was found that numbers in the Jewish community had increased, possibly due to an influx of European refugees, escaping the developing crisis overseas.

During the 1930s Mr Sim Crawcour, a trustee of the synagogue, would use it for personal prayer on Yom Kippur.

From that time to the present the Jewish community has struggled with numbers that enable full-time use of the synagogue.

For now it is opened for celebrations and feast days with a Rabbi present in Launceston.

Amazingly, the interior remains reasonably unchanged from when it was first constructed.