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Davis, Alexander Barnard (1828–1913)

Alexander Davis, n.d.

Alexander Davis, n.d.

from Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol 1, part 7, 1942, p 237

The Rev. Alexander Barnard Davis, whose death took place early yesterday morning, at the residence of his son, Mr. Aubrey Davis, Gurley, Waratah-street, Rushcutters Bay, lived a long life of usefulness, and died mourned by the whole of the Jewish community of Sydney. He had passed the allotted span of life by 15 years, and, though for the last few years he had not been strong physically, he retained his mental faculties unimpaired to the last. 

The late Rev. A. B. Davis arrived in Sydney as far back as 1862, when the Jewish community was very small, and used to meet for worship in the little synagogue in York-street, long since gone; and for 41 years he lived and laboured here. He retired in 1903. 

To-day the Jewish community numbers 6000 souls, and the synagogue, extending through from Elizabeth-street to Castlereagh-street, is noted as one of the most beautiful of our buildings. The forward movement which led to the erection of this splendid edifice was inspired by the Rev. A. B. Davis. Indeed, he was the head and front of every Jewish movement in Sydney over the long span of 40 years; and it may be said of him also that for many years there was hardly a public movement in Sydney with which he was not prominently identified. Though of late years he had been unable to take an active part in such movements, he showed a lively interest up to the last in all that made for the welfare of the community, and particularly for the betterment of the Jewish people.

Born in London in 1828, he was left an orphan when 13 years of age, but he had the advantage of a good training, and his scholarly attributes won early distinction for him. At the age of 20 he was headmaster of the Westminster Jews' School, Soho, London. Four years later he received the appointment of minister of the Portsmouth congregation. In 1863 he married Miss Blanche Harris, of Hatton Garden, London, and shortly after his marriage he left for Jamaica to take charge of the Jewish congregation at Kingston. There he remained for seven years, and on returning to England he was elected by a committee, of which the late Dr. Nathan Adler, Chief Rabbi, was the head, to the position of minister to the Jewish community in Sydney. He was the author of Jewish Rites and Ceremonies, published in 1868. 

An indefatigable worker and a lovable personality, the Rev. A. B. Davis soon won a place for himself in the esteem and affection, not only of his own people, but of all denominations and all classes. In his labours, particularly among the poor and needy, he had the assistance of his devoted wife, whose death in 1892 was a severe blow to him. His life was chiefly devoted to the spiritual uplifting and development of the Jewish people in the State, and the inspiring fervour of his pulpit utterances is remembered by all who heard him. It was only on very rare occasions that he spoke from notes, but he was never at a loss for the right word. He was a pulpit orator possessing a great personal charm. Several of his most notable sermons were printed by request. 

His hobby was his work. He was particularly interested in religious education, and in that cause laboured assiduously. Admired by Jews and non-Jews alike, he had a very wide circle of friends in this city. He was one of the pioneers of the Anglo-Jewish Association, which aims at the improvement of the material and religious condition of the Jews in foreign countries and in the dependencies of the British Empire, and has done much valuable educational work in Turkey, Egypt, Persia, and other countries, especially in regard to the teaching of English. At the outset of that movement he published a special appeal, which had a very wide response, and the branch of the association which he formed here over 50 years ago is still in existence. Apart from this and other Jewish movements, his activities were remarkable, and any movement that had for its object the amelioration of the condition of those in distress always had a special friend in him. Goodness and loving kindness followed him all the days of his life. In his own community he was especially active in promoting Jewish education, and in securing the observance of the Jewish Sabbath. As an instance of his liberality of thought it may be mentioned that be favoured riding on the Sabbath, in order that congregants from distant suburbs might attend the Synagogue, although this is not usually permitted, according to orthodox Jewish custom. 

The affection in which he was held was testified to in August, 1898, when he was the recipient of a massive silver cup, a portrait in oils, and a beautifully-engrossed address, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, and the 36th year of his ministry. Mr. M. Gotthelf, in making the presentation, in his capacity as president of the Sydney Hebrew Congregation, remarked, truly enough, that the work of the Rev. A. Davis had been creditable to himself, and beneficial to the Jewish community at large. His solicitude for their welfare had made him beloved of the poor and needy, and he was one of the first to promulgate the movement that resulted in the establishment of the Montefiore Home. The presentation was to mark the love and esteem they all had for him. 

The present Synagogue was consecrated in 1878, and there the Rev. A. B. Davis ministered for a quarter of a century. He was present in 1905—two years after his retirement—when a welcome was extended to his successor, Rabbi P. L. Cohen, who is now the spiritual head over the congregation. 

The late Rev. A. B. Davis had a family of eleven, but only nine, six sons and three daughters, survive him. These are Mr. Ernest L. Davis (chairman of the Sydney Stock Exchange), Dr. Oscar Davis, Mr. Aubrey Davis, Mr. Sydney Davis, Mr. John L. Davis (Queensland), Dr. William E. Davis (Melbourne), Mrs. Abrahams (wife of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Abrahams, M.A., Ph.D., Rabbi of the Bourke-street Synagogue, Melbourne), Mrs. Rudolph Benjamin (London), and Mrs. Levy, wife of Dr. A. Lewis Levy, late of Newtown, and now of London. 

The funeral takes place to-day, the cortege leaving the residence of Mr. E. L. Davis, Nestalli, McDonald-street, Potts Point, at 1 o'clock. A special circuit will be made of the block bounded by Elizabeth, Park, Castlereagh, and Market streets, where the Great Synagogue stands; and a departure will be made from the Mortuary Station, for Rookwood, at 1.55. Rabbi Cohen will officiate at the graveside, and deliver a special address. 

A special memorial service will be held at the Synagogue at 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon.

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Citation details

'Davis, Alexander Barnard (1828–1913)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/davis-alexander-barnard-3379/text24957, accessed 25 April 2018.

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