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Hart, Isaac (1838–1899)

Isaac Hart, by Thomas Chuck, 1872

Isaac Hart, by Thomas Chuck, 1872

State Library of Victoria, 49205753

One of the oldest and best known members of the Melbourne Jewish community, the gentleman whose name heads these lines, passed away on Sunday, 19th February, at his residence, "Walmer,'' Victoria-parade, East Melbourne. Many an old resident of this city must have felt that with the death of Isaac Hart a piece of the early history of this city, and, indeed, of the colony, was passing away, for few people have been so long and so closely identified with the good and bad fortunes of Victoria and her capital as the deceased was. There were few people of note and few events of any importance of which he had not a lively recollection, and as he retained his mental faculties almost to his end he could, and often did, impart valuable information to his juniors in years and in colonial experience.

Mr. Hart arrived in this colony in the year 1840, and shortly afterwards entered into business with his brother, Edward Hart. At a later period their brother, A. H. Hart, joined the firm, who together, carried on business as general importers in Collins-street until 1854, after which date Mr. Isaac Hart carried on the business on his own account for a short period, and then finally retired from active commercial pursuits. In 1858 he was elected a director of the City of Melbourne Gas Company, and retained that position until the amalgamation of that company with the Collingwood and South Melbourne Gas Companies in the year 1878, when the new company was incorporated under the style of the Metropolitan Gas Company; and at a hotly contested election for nine directors for that company, Mr. Isaac Hart was elected as one of the directors. He retained the position up to the time of his death. Upon the formation of the present Melbourne General Cemetery at Carlton, six persons representing the principal religious denominations were appointed as trustees of that cemetery, and on the 30th August, 1858, Mr. Isaac Hart was appointed as the representative of the Jews on that Trust, which position he also retained up to the time of his death. The interest he evinced in that position is shown by the artistic and ornamental manner in which the approaches to the Jewish portion of the cemetery are laid out, solely due to the gentlemnn now deceased, who for over forty years took a keen interest in matters appertaining to the cemetery generally. He was on five separate years elected by his colleagues as chairman of the Trust, and during his trusteeship attended no less than 495 meetings of the Board, and amongst other permanent improvements suggested by him were the present handsome entrance gates and lodges, as well as the substantial iron palisading fence now round the cemetery. In 1870 Mr. Hart was appointed as a territorial magistrate of Victoria, and a few years later, when the colony was divided into bailiwicks, a justice of the peace for the central bailiwick for Victoria. Prior to the present State school system coming into force there was a Board of Education, consisting of six commissioners, appointed by the Government for the purpose of arranging for and regulating the education of the young of the colony, and from 1859 to 1867 Mr. Isaac Hart held one of the honorary positions of Commissioners of Education.

Mr. Isaac Hart was without doubt the oldest member of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, having been one of those who took an active part in the formation of the congregation in 1844, but even four years prior to that Mr. Hart was one of the ten persons who met in Melbourne, then called Port Phillip, to form Minyan on the New Year holidays. For several years Mr. Hart was a member of the executive of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, and from 1854 to 1857 he acted as treasurer. Mr. Hart was one of the most regular attendants at the synagogue services. Whilst a Commissioner of Education Mr. Hart did not fail to interest himself in the education of the Jewish young, and it was at his instigation and by his instrumentality that the Melbourne Hebrew School, which for many years and until recently was carried on at the rear of the Bourke-street synagogue, was brought into existence.

The funeral of the deceased took place at the Melbourne General Cemetery on Monday, the 20th February. The cortege from the deceased's residence was very long, there being a large number of the deceased's non-Jewish friends present in addition to a large concourse of his co-religionists, the former including the directors and chief officers of the Metropolitan Gas Company and the trustees, and chief officers of the Melbourne General Cemetery.

The Rev. Dr. Abrahams officiated, and prior to reading the usual burial service said that, shortly after his arrival in the colony, some fifteen years ago, the late Mr. Isaac Hart made him promise that should he ever officiate at his (Mr. Hart's) burial he would not deliver any oration. This promise had been exacted, not at the end of Mr. Hart's life, but while that gentleman was in full possession of all his faculties, and it must, therefore, have been his wish that there should be no oration at his grave. This being so, his (Dr. Abrahams) lips were sealed. He regretted it, for, otherwise, he would be able to dwell on the services rendered by one who had been one of the founders of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, and he (the speaker) would have been able to say a good deal in favour of the deceased. As it was, they must bow to his will, as it was one of the principles of the Jewish religion to honour the wishes of deceased persons. The rev. gentleman then read the burial service.

Another wish which the deceased had expressed was that there should be no floral emblems on his coffin, and in deference to this wish the body of the deceased was placed in a plain cedar coffin without any ornamentation or flowers whatever.

Mr. Hart, who lost his wife (a daughter of the late Moses Benjamin, of this city) some fourteen years ago, has left a family of nine children, including Mr. Edward Hart, solicitor, of Collins street; Messrs. Lionel and Arthur Hart, Mrs. Alfred De Lissa, of Sydney; Mrs. N. J. Simmons, of Lismore, New South Wales; Mrs. Louis Horwitz, of Hamilton; Mrs. Leo. Benjamin, of London; Mrs. Louis Benjamin, of Wellington, New Zealand, and Miss Edith Hart. As a coincidence it may be mentioned that the husband of each of the first three mentioned ladies is a solicitor, and as a further strange coincidence it may be remarked that the father of Mr. Louis Horwitz died at a ripe old age at St. Kilda only ten days before Mrs. Louis Horwitz lost her father.

This notice cannot be better closed than by quoting the concluding paragraph of a letter of condolence received by the deceased's family from one of the metropolitan congregations. It runs thus:

"The president feels that the community by the death of Isaac Hart has suffered the loss of a gentleman of unblemished integrity and honourable record as a citizen, and one whose efforts had always tended to the benefit of his co-religionists."

Original publication

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Citation details

'Hart, Isaac (1838–1899)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hart-isaac-20298/text31334, accessed 18 October 2019.

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