(August 10, 1850 – September 17, 1907)
Born London, England August 1850
Arrived Levuka, Fiji May 1878
Relocated to Rewa (Elliston) around the time of the move of the capital to Suva in 1882
Enters partnership with a Mr Van Hagen and buys him out.
Acquires Stevens and Johnson in 1886
Married Adelaide Daniel in 1888. Two children Vivian (1889) and Vera (1895) followed
Purchased the Rewa Hotel in 1904
Died Suva, Fiji September 1907
By Michael Abrahams
My great grandfather JOHN ABRAHAMS was born at 6 Petticoat Lane (Middlesex Street), St Botoloph, Aldgate in the City of London to parents Woolf, a General Dealer and Deborah (nee Joseph) Abrahams on 8 August 1850. John, the third of three sons, was preceded by Hyam (1847) and Abraham (1848) and followed by a sister Nancy (known as Annie) who arrived after his father’s untimely death in June 1852. Deborah was left to raise four children with Abraham appearing to have been the first to leave home when he turns up in the Colony of New South Wales (Sydney) in 1866. Hyam married Elizabeth (Betsy) Jacobs in 1867 and it would appear that John had decided to remain in London to support his mother and sister Annie. According to the entry in the Cyclopedia of Fiji (1907) John ‘received his education in several prominent schools of the world’s metropolis. Upon the termination of his education he entered upon commercial pursuits.’ It is clear that soon after Annie’s marriage to Abraham (Alfred) Kahn in 1877, John follows his brother Abraham to the otherside of the world and ultimately arrived on 23 May 1878 in Levuka from Sydney on board the 1,000 ton steamer ‘Wentworth.’
Information on what John did in Levuka is scant. One can speculate that he joined his brother Abraham at Bowman and Abrahams, a company with extensive trading interests in the Lau Group including Lomaloma, Lakeba, Matuka, Totoya and Ono. The first reference to Bowman and Abrahams that I can find is an advertisement which appeared in the Fiji Times of 12 November 1873.
‘Bowman and Abrahams, Shopkeepers, Commission Agents are CASH purchasers of Beche-de-Mer, Tortoiseshell and other South Sea Island produce.’ A listing for the company also appears in Turpin’s Nautical and Commercial Almanac of 1874. I have been unable to determine exactly when Abraham Abrahams or his partner Alexander Schmerrill Bowman, who was born in 1847 in Prussia, arrived in Levuka. Bowman appears to have had business interests in Bau and possibly Lomaloma before entering a partnership with Abraham. In the case of John’s brother Abraham, could it have been earlier than I originally thought? At one stage I had the notion that he had arrived in Levuka in 1873, but court records from Sydney suggest, that having incurred a large debt as far back as 1866, he may have headed soon thereafter for Fiji to escape prosecution. This was not an uncommon occurrence as there was a lack of a functioning government and a serious problem with law enforcement. Indeed, it is possible that Bowman and Abrahams can be counted among the earliest businesses established by members of Levuka’s nascent Jewish community in the wake of the influx of settlers in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s.
In the late 1850’s there were said to be fewer than 40 European residents of Fiji. A decade later that number increased to around 500 and by 1870 had surpassed 2,000. This rapid rise in population can, almost entirely, be attributed to high cotton prices in the wake of the American Civil War (1861-1865) and Berthold Seeman’s assessment that Fiji was suitable for the cultivation of this crop. The arrival of planters wanting to grow this potentially profitable crop was quickly followed by traders, entrepreneurs, and merchants as well representatives of various professions hoping to capitalize on the possibility of rapid economic development. Nor was Fiji spared its share of fortune seekers, petty criminals, and adventurers. One advertisement in the Fiji Times of 8 and 15 October 1870, caught my attention under the Situations Vacant column, ‘Wanted at the Star Chamber, Levuka, Informers, Spys (sic) and Scandalmongers. Apply early, as the situations are likely to be eagerly filled up.’
In the 1870’s merchants with capital also acquired substantial land holdings and some branched into agriculture in addition to their ever-expanding trading interests.
From the mid-1860’s, labour was increasingly being recruited from the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands to work on the cotton plantations. The late 1860’s and the 1870’s were known by historians as the ‘unregulated’ years of the labour trade and were considered a magnet for less scrupulous operators, some of whom were responsible for shocking atrocities and the use of extremely violent means to recruit labourers. From 1879 the recruiting of labourers for Fiji was regulated by law (Ordinance No. XXIV) and carried out under Colonial Government supervision. For some insights into the ‘regulated’ labour trade see the article on William Scott Petrie on this website.
It is quite possible that John may have joined one of the other trading houses established by members of the Jewish community in Levuka. Perhaps the first of these was Cohen and Brodziak established on 15 November 1870 – a partnership between former school friends Lewis (later Sir Lewis) Cohen and Adolphus Meyer Brodziak. Their initial remit was to trade in cotton, copra, Beche-de-Mer and tortoiseshell but expanded rapidly into general merchandise. They were one of, if not the most prolific advertisers in the Fiji Times in those formative years. In 1873, with Cohen’s return to Sydney, the partnership evolved into A M Brodziak & Co and grew into a major business concern with branches throughout Fiji. Brodziak returned to Sydney at the end of 1875 after making Simeon Lewis Lazarus, who also arrived in Fiji in 1870, Managing Partner of the company. Lazarus, in the absence of a duly accredited Rabbi, acted as head of the community and was authorised to conduct services.
Prior to joining A M Bodziak, Lazarus promoted himself as ‘a purchaser and exporter of cotton, Beche-de-Mer, pearl shell and other local products.’ In addition, he had assisted in the formation of the local Chamber of Commerce and Planter’s Association and Turpin’s 1874 Almanac listed him as a partner in the Criterion Hotel. At the time Levuka was reputed to have 52 hotels and kava salons on its one-mile beach front.
Abraham Abrahams of Bowman and Abrahams, married Lewis Cohen’s sister Leah in 1878. The marriage, the first in the Great Synagogue on Elizabeth Street, Sydney was a double ceremony with Brodziak’s son, Mark, marrying another of Lewis Cohen’s sisters, Sara.
Other members of the Jewish community in business or the professions included Abraham Levy of D Levy and Sons, who was elected to the Tui Viti’s (Cakobau’s) House of Delegates in 1871 to scrutinise the proposed constitution. Their deliberations resulted in a recommendation to establish a Privy Council and a Legislative Assembly – yet another fraught attempt at establishing a constitutional government in the years leading up to Cession. Further down the track, in 1877, Levy was sworn in as a Member of the Colony’s Legislative Council. I should add that Lewis Cohen was elected to Levuka’s first Municipal Council in 1872 and that Paul Solomon, another who landed in Fiji in 1870, was the first Warden (Mayor) of Levuka elected under British rule. On arrival in Fiji, Solomon assumed the editorship of The Fiji Times before turning his attention to accountancy and law. On several occasions, between 1875 and 1895, he served as acting Attorney General, and became a Queen’s Council in 1889. In November 1871, the Los Angeles Star announced, ‘the establishment of a little Jewish congregation (minyan) holding weekly services in Levuka where Mr P S Solomon officiates as reader.’ Solomon served from time to time as a Legislative Councillor after Cession and was a Member when he died in 1895.
Alexander Bowman of Bowman and Abrahams married, (at a ceremony presumably officiated by Simeon Lazarus), Paul Solomon’s daughter, Sara Annette, in Levuka in 1877 and set up residence at Makova Cottage, where their three children were born. Alexander’s son, John Herman Ma’afu Bowman, remained in Fiji after his parents and sisters returned to Sydney and married Ole Asinate from Vanuabalavu. Their daughter Vika was the mother of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase (2000-2006), who died last year (2020.)
This promissory note issued by D Levy and Sons in 1871 is interesting as prior to the establishment of the Colony barter and revolving credit along with the increased use of bills of exchange and IOUs kept the economy afloat and what coin there was came from debased Bolivian silver, which no one really wanted. In 1872 Cohen and Brodziak advertised ‘Treasury Notes taken at PAR’ in the Fiji Times – again, a sign of the times.
Assuming John did start work with Bowman and Abrahams (albeit it for a short period of time), his understanding of the role of a ‘General Dealer’ would have been greatly enhanced. What little I was able to discover about the company’s history pointed to a remarkably wide and varied assortment of business interests, some not without challenges and, at times, controversy. Besides the original ‘island trading’ business Bowman and Abrahams dabbled in tobacco growing, ship salvage and dispensing ‘medicines.’
The Daily Southern Cross of 19 June 1876 reported, ‘We have been afforded the opportunity of inspecting (says the Fiji Times) some tobacco manufactured from native leaf by Messrs Bowman and Abrahams, of this town. It got up in a very creditable manner, well pressed and shapely, in suitable boxes, and all presents an appearance quite as attractive as any imported. It is stated by competent judges that it smokes quite as pleasantly as the American leaf, which it bids to supersede to some extent.’ Early tobacco crops in Fiji suffered from disease and provided poor returns to growers. That said, it is interesting to note that the industry appears to be experiencing a bit of a renaissance in the Republic.
Over a year later, an article taken from the Fiji Times and reproduced in the New Zealand Herald of 28 September 1877 discloses that, ‘On Saturday last, Mr Abrahams, of the firm of Bowman Abrahams, the purchasers of the wreck of the schooner Jessie Henderson, returned from the scene of the operations which have been undertaken with a view to raising that vessel. We are glad to be in a position to state that the enterprise has proved successful, and that the vessel may be expected to reach Levuka in eight or ten days.’
Dispensing ‘medicines’ proved to be costly. The Sydney Morning Herald of 8 Jan 1878 drawing on newspapers received from Fiji reported, ‘At the Police Court, Levuka, Mr W Ledingham representing the firm of Messrs D Levy and Sons, and Mr A Lyons on behalf of Messrs Bowman and Abrahams, were charged with carrying on a chemist and druggist business without a licence. It was shown that Mr G Gardiner had purchased castor oil at the above-named parties stores and this was proved to be a medicine, and therefore infringing on the business of a chemist and druggist, the defendants were in each case fined £1 8s and £1 8s, witnesses’ expenses.’
Deryck Scarr in his ‘A History of the Pacific Islands, Passages Through Tropical Time’ provides the following insight into these early days. ‘Before Cession to Britain in 1874-75, they (F and W Hennings) were almost universal creditors in Fiji and pretty general debtors, in a dependant enclave economy run on credit and the promise of future cotton or copra. They looked tricky enough in their ideas of accounting themselves when some of their partnerships came to court. And south sea merchants like Fiji’s Alexander Schmerrill Bowman and Abraham Abrahams, with their lucrative successive bankruptcies and their wives wardrobes overflowing with coin, baffled the colonial courts that came in when all attempts at independent government for a major multiracial society in the western Pacific were given up.’
The partnership between Bowman and Abrahams came to an end soon after John arrived in Fiji. The Fiji Times Notice read, ‘With a view to the dissolution of the partnership existing between them, Messrs Bowman and Abrahams beg to announced that from this date their firm will be in liquidation. Levuka, 29 August 1878. Alexander Bowman. A. Abrahams.’
As best I can determine, and consistent with Deryck Scarr’s observation above, Bowman and Abrahams would have formally filed for bankruptcy around this time and soon thereafter it seems that Alexander Bowman and family left Levuka to take up residence in Lomaloma (returning in March 1880 for a meeting of creditors and to appear before the Supreme Court of Fiji.) Abraham, for his part, looks to have continued trading in Levuka, this time under the auspices of his younger brother John, perhaps as a means of keeping the former firm’s creditors at bay. As it turns out creditors had to wait almost three years before each received a payment of nine Shillings in the Pound from the disposal of stock and assets. This followed a decision by the Supreme Court on 10 May 1880 to place the store and its stock in the hands of the Trustee for the Bankrupt Estate of Messrs Bowman and Abrahams.
The stock along with the remainder of the lease, the store and all fittings were auctioned on 19 May 1880. On 10 June 1880 both Bowman and Abraham Abrahams gave notice of their intent to apply to the Supreme Court for a Certificate of Discharge under the Bankruptcy Ordinance of 1878. On 14 June 1880, the Court ‘granted a qualified Certificate to Alexander Bowman on the grounds of his not exercising an efficient supervision over the affairs of the late firm and ordered him to pay into the credit of the estate a sum of £55 within a period of one year. The Court adjourned the matter of Abraham Abrahams until Monday next.’ I have not found any record of what happened on the following Monday to Abraham Abrahams. I can only assume that he too was given a qualified Certificate of Discharge and was also ordered to make a payment into the estate like his former partner?
There can be little doubt, with creditors breathing down his neck, that Abraham, and for that matter John, continued as traders in Levuka at least up and until the time the capital of Fiji moved from Levuka to Suva in 1882. Both were listed, for example, in the Fiji Planting and Commercial Directory of 1879 as being in the Magisterial Division of Levuka. Abraham’s first two children, Vivian Woolf (1878) and Elizabeth Beatrice (1880), were born in Levuka at Coodra House and Muriel Deborah (1881) in Suva, though the birth was registered some months later in Levuka. Somewhere between 1882 and 1884 Abraham and his family headed back to Sydney where two more daughters, Alma Madeline (1884) and Vera Gwendoline (1886), were born. I can only guess it would have been around this time that John relocated to Elliston on the Rewa River. Via Suva?
I digress briefly and suggest that Abraham felt free to return to Sydney after having been ordered by the Supreme Court of the Colony of New South Wales to repay his 13-year-old debt (which he duly did.) According to the Sydney Morning Herald of 13 March 1879, ‘This was an action brought by Mr. Benjamin Braun, importer of hats, carrying on business in Brickfield Hill, against Mr Abraham Abrahams lately a storekeeper at Levuka, Fiji, to recover £310 1s 6d (for the balance of goods, principally hats, sold and delivered.) The defence was pleas of infancy when the debt was contracted, and the statute of limitations barred plaintiff’s claim.
The defendant in this case carried on business in George Street, Sydney, about the year 1866. On the 14th August 1866, defendant gave the plaintiff a bill of sale for £200. Subsequently, the defendant went to Fiji, where he carried on a business as a storekeeper. The defence was the defendant was only eighteen and a few months old when he contracted the debt, having been born on 29th of June 1848. Also, that about 18 months ago he came to Sydney, got married, and again left for the colony.
The jury found a verdict for the plaintiff for £341 6s.’
In the 1880’s there was further influx of Jewish merchants and traders, this time to Suva, the most prominent of whom was Henry (later Sir Henry) Marks who arrived from Melbourne in 1881 and whose contribution to economic and social development of the colony was substantial. His company Henry Marks & Co, through either aggressive acquisition or mergers with competitors, became one of the most extensive commercial enterprises in the Western Pacific.
Those brought under the Mark’s umbrella included Stephenson & Cousens (1887); Benjamin Brothers (1889), established by two Jewish brothers who were also from Melbourne; James McEwan and Co (1900) as well as A S Bowman’s (mentioned above) interests in the Lau Group (1901). Henry Marks was very civic minded, serving several terms as Mayor of Suva and on the boards of schools, private companies and public bodies. He was also elected seven times to the Legislative Council. The cost of sending Fiji’s First Contingent to World War 1, which included my grandfather, was met by Henry Marks. See entry on this website for Vivian Abrahams.
I am led to speculate that either Abraham or John, or both, may have entered a limited partnership in Suva by the photo above from the Burton Brothers collection taken in 1884. The shopfronts include ‘Cohen & Abrahams Outfitters – Shipping Supplies and Provisions Store.’ ‘A M Brodziak & Co – Importers and Exporters’ and ‘A Stevens – Baker, Grocer and Confectioner.’ Two of the business were clearly established in 1882 and it would not be unreasonable to assume that was also the case with Cohen & Abrahams. As best I can determine there were only two Abrahams in the Colony at the time. Samuel Abrahams (no relative), from Melbourne, did not arrive in Suva until 1893 to take up his position with Henry Marks & Co. To date, I cannot find any details about the Suva connection and I am hoping that the National Archives of Fiji has copies of land titles and deeds covering this period.
As a further aside Henry Marks married Annie Abrahams (also no relative), the daughter of Joseph Abrahams of Carlton in the Colony of Victoria, in 1883 and was soon joined in the family business by brothers Moss (1884) and Gabriel (1885.) Gabriel was the first Warden (Mayor) of Suva. Over the years the Marks family recruited several young Jewish men from Australia and New Zealand to work for them, including Bert Israel and Abraham Jacobs. Gabriel Marks and his wife Marian drowned in the St. Lawrence River when the S.S. Empress of Ireland sank on the 23 May in 1914. The deaths were announced in the Fiji Times on 2nd June 1914, and ‘flags from Government House, the foreign consulates, and various businesses were flown at half-mast.’ The octagonal bandstand and clock-tower in Thurston Gardens was erected by Henry Marks as a memorial to his brother and his wife. This photo was sourced from the Fiji Times.
Now, back to the Rewa. The township of Elliston, where John settled presumably to provide for the interests of planters on the eastern bank (Nausori side) of the river was, according to an article on ‘Sugar Growing on the Rewa’ in the Leader newspaper, Melbourne (1886), named after an American, Charles Ellis, though not the Ellis I had originally thought it may be. Perhaps, I was beguiled by the notion that a former Confederate soldier and adventurer born in Richmond, Virginia would come to Fiji to grow cotton! The Ellis listed in Turpin’s Almanac of 1874 as carrying out business in Rewa and in the 1875 Census of Europeans as living at plantation 21 on the ‘right hand side’ of the river with wife, three sons and six daughters is a different Ellis, and I am grateful to his great great granddaughter for pointing this out to me. The correct Charles Ellis was born in Illinois (ca. 1824) and married Mary Jane Mullen in Ballarat on the Victorian gold fields in 1856 and arrived in Fiji, via New Zealand in about 1870. This Ellis made an application to the Lands Office in Levuka in 1875 for a land grant near Uludugu (Ula Dulo), Rewa, which is located directly opposite where the Waimanu River enters the Rewa. According to the map of major sugar plantations on the Rewa (1870-1890s) below he may have still been there towards the end of the century. That is about the total of what I have been able to find on Charles Ellis, though he does appear to have some descendants in Australia and New Zealand.
The exact location of Elliston has been a mystery, though my father mentioned that some remnants of the old family home and store had existed on the riverbank just north of Nausori. This is supported by the Leader article which stated, ‘Above Nausori is the township of Elliston.’ Likewise, by H H Thiele who, in his article on ‘The Rewa River (1891)’ published in the Scottish Geographical Journal, placed Elliston between Nausori and Verata, Wailevu, but provided no description. Nevertheless, it is clear from the Leader (1886) newspaper article and the Cyclopaedia of Fiji (1907) that it was large enough to be serviced by a general store owned by Messers Stevens and Johnson and subsequently John Abrahams, who also owned the Rewa Hotel on the opposite bank.
Early settlers with strong connections to the Rewa include the Storck and Hennings brothers along with the Abbot, Bentley, Carew, Dodd, Eastgate, Ellis, Freeman, Joske, Koester, Lee, Mathews, Smithyman and Turner families. Many came to the Rewa to seek their fortune, especially in growing cotton. Few succeeded and by mid-1871 when the Fiji cotton boom was over, those who had the means, (most were heavily in debt) and inclination to do so, moved to other crops, especially sugar cane. Some dabbled in coffee, tobacco, vanilla, and bananas, with the latter proving to be quite profitable. In time the Colonial Sugar Refining (CSR) Company Ltd, which established its first mill at Nausori in 1882, took over a number of the failing sugar estates belonging to many of the early Rewa settlers.
Of historical note, CSR intially chose Elliston and two new settlements, Thurston and Burlton, to serve the Company’s Nausori mill. Thurston, though a good site, never developed into a township and Burlton ended up being leased and run as a estate by Thomas Mathews – one of the Colony’s earliest entrants into the cultivation of cotton and sugar cane. In 1886 he was also reported to be the owner of the Waimanu Hotel.
It is not clear when John entered a partnership with a Mr Van Hagen, formerly of Lomaloma (according to Turpin’s Almanac 1874), and trading in general merchandise. In earlier times Lomaloma was an important trading centre with strong connections to Tonga and was said to rival Levuka until Cession, when the economic importance of the town dwindled. According to the Cyclopaedia of Fiji 1907, ‘within a year after the establishment of this business he (John Abrahams) bought out his partner, and from that day to the present has carried on upon his own account.’
‘In 1886 he bought out the business of Messrs Stevens and Johnson, of Elliston, Rewa river. Since then, the business has developed largely and extends throughout the Rewa river district.’ Stevens and Johnson also operated as the local Post Office, with the firm’s name and Elliston on the postal cancellation mark. Interestingly A S Bowman operated the Post office in Lomaloma around the same time.
On 8 February 1888 John married Adelaide Jane Daniel at the English Church in Suva. How and where they met is not known, however it was not unusual for early Jewish settlers in Fiji to marry gentiles. Adelaide was born in 1870 in Hargraves in the Colony of New South Wales to parents James and Maria (nee Pullen) Daniel. James, a stonemason by trade, arrived in the colony in 1856 from Edinburgh, Scotland and presumably headed for the goldfields to seek his fortune. It was there that he met and married Maria and where Adelaide, along with eight siblings, were born.
We do know that Adelaide registered the birth in Sydney of a son, Clive Percival, in 1887, though later documents suggest he was born the previous year. No father was recorded on the Birth Certificate and Clive was, more than likely, raised as one of Adelaide’s siblings by her mother, who, at the time, owned the Commonwealth Hotel in Surry Hills. Could it be that Adelaide headed for Fiji soon after Clive’s birth? Perhaps her marriage to John was arranged or did she seek work as a governess for a family on the Rewa or a Suva resident, to protect the interests of her wider family and son?
According to shipping records Adelaide, along with her elder sister Isabella Sarah (Tibbie), arrived in Suva on 1 July 1887 on board the 1,200 ton steamer ‘Fijian.’ There were three single women passengers on the manifest. The third was a Miss Zollner, of whom I have no further details. Were the three travelling together?
The witnesses at the wedding were A B Joske and a what has been transcribed as a Miss Brandler (Zollner?) My guess is that it is more likely to have been Adelaide’s travelling companion to Fiji.
Adolph Brewster Joske arrived in Fiji in 1870 as a 16 year old with his parents, as did his 9 year old bother Alexander Brewster Joske. I therefore cannot be sure which A B Joske attended the wedding.
By way of background, the boys’ father Paul Joske was associated with the Polynesian Company Limited (registered in 1868 in the Colony of Victoria) and whose promoters and shareholders notorious attempts to profit from the cotton boom in Fiji, though short lived, resulted in the acquisition of a large tract of land near the village of Suva which was given in exchange for the settlement of Cakobau’s American debt. Paul and William Brewer established Fiji’s first sugar mill, (where the old Government Buildings currently stand), in 1872 but the soil and weather in the Suva area were poor and the mill struggled. It was closed three years later, with the partners losing a considerable sum of money in the process. This failure dampened the enthusiasm of others to venture into cane growing around Suva. The Joske family also appears to have owned a property on the middle Rewa at Waindra, not far from Elliston where John Abrahams had established his business and this would, more than likely, explain the relationship with my great grandfather. Of note is the active role played by Paul Joske in the planning and design of the new capital Suva.
Paul’s son Adolph Brewster Joske joined the colonial service in 1884. He held the positions of Commissioner of Colo East and Colo North, as well as Deputy Commissioner of the Fiji Armed Constabulary (FAC) and in 1902 he accompanied a detachment from the FAC to the coronation of Edward VI. Adolph was also a member of the Legislative Council between 1908 and 1910. He retired to Bath, UK in 1910 and wrote books including The Hill Tribes of Fiji, published in 1922.
Adolph’s younger brother, Alexander Brewster Joske was appointed agent for the CSR Company Ltd in 1884 and in 1888 entered into an agreement with Leslie Brown to establish the firm of Brown and Joske, which turned out to be a very active and prosperous partnership until Brown’s death in 1919. Brown and Joskes’s interests were considerable. They were substantial exporters of island produce, especially copra and bananas; agents for The Fiji Shipping Company and stakeholders in the Club Hotel and Pier Hotels on Victoria Parade, Suva and a number of other establishments, including a hotel on the Rewa.
W R Carprenter and Co Ltd purchased a controlling interest in Brown and Joske in 1936. Henry Marks & Co (amalgamated with Morris Hedstrom Ltd in 1921) also ended up as part of the Carpenter Group in 1955.
Although AB senior was closer to John in age, I suspect the friendship is more likely to have been with the mercantile AB junior rather than the civil servant, though I could be dreadfully wrong!
My grandfather, Vivian Rudolph, was born on 5 June 1889 and great aunt Esme Vera on 5 December 1895, both at the family home in Elliston. Sadly, their mother died on 14 July 1898 from an ulcerated intestine at the age of 28 years. The informant and witness at her death was A B Joske, merchant of Suva, Fiji.
John Abrahams was the first to make ‘legitimate use’ of a new pontoon commissioned in 1902 for crossing the Rewa and although I have seen the photo of him with his horse and buggy, I cannot lay my hands on it! The Fiji Times of 22 January reports:
“On Saturday morning, a party of officials and prominent townsfolk proceeded to Rewa in a Government launch for the purpose of witnessing the ceremony connected with the opening of the recently constructed ferry.
Several settlers from the Suva side of the river further swelled the increasing crowd and all being on board, including Mr Abrahams and his buggy, the ferry left the Nausori side of the river for the opposite bank. On reaching the landing Mr Carl Koster brought his horse and trap on to the pontoon, so to this gentleman and Mr Abrahams belongs the novelty of first using the pontoon for its legitimate use.’
In 1904 John purchased the Rewa Hotel, which according to an advertisement in the Fiji Times was established in 1873 by a Mr Eugene O’Sullivan and converted from the building known as the Toga Store into a hotel. The Cyclopedia of Fiji 1907 described the hotel as a ‘well known Fijian hostelry pleasantly situated on the right bank of the noble Rewa River, nearly opposite to the great Nausori mill.’ By the time the Hotel was sold by W R Carpenter and Co and became a school in the 1960’s it was the second only to the Royal in Levuka in terms of length of operation in the Colony.
A notice in The Fiji Times of Wednesday 18 September 1907 states that, ‘It is with regret that we have to chronicle the death of Mr John Abrahams, an old time colonist who departed this life at the Suva Hospital on Tuesday. The deceased for some time past, had been suffering from an affection of the heart, and returned from New Zealand in May last, when he proceeded for medical advice. The deceased was born in London in 1850 and arrived in Fiji in 1878 and established himself in business in Levuka. Some years later he removed to Rewa where he carried on a store keeping business. In 1904 he acquired the Rewa Hotel. The deceased leaves a son and daughter to mourn their loss. The funeral takes place this morning.’
In his Will of 8 March 1907 John appointed his friend John Morrison, Chief Engineer, of CSR’s Nausori mill as Executor and guardian of his infant children and to hold both personal and real property in trust for Vivian and Vera on attaining the age of 21 or in Vera’s case getting married. In the event of an early death John directed his said Executor and Trustee ‘to expend in his absolute discretion any part of my said estate in the maintenance and education of my said children or child.’ According to my grandmother this is exactly what happened and not necessarily on the children as Vivian had already finished school. After Henry Scott, acting for the family, had been paid his fees plus sundry other expenses and the balance having been expended by the Morrison family there was apparently nothing left of the estate, valued at £1,984 and 11s, for the children.
Entry By: Michael Abrahams, Sydney, Australia.
Many years ago, when I embarked on this genealogical journey equipped with only one name (John Abrahams), a location (Middlesex) and a date (1850), I really did not know what I was getting myself into. Fortunately for me some wonderful people came to my rescue. My heartfelt thanks to Dr Anthony Joseph (The Jewish Historical Society of England), Raymond Foster (Genealogist and Record Agent), Harold Lewin (for access to the Hambro Registers) and Helen Bersten (The Australian Jewish Historical Society) for the support and encouragement they offered me in those early days. It was, and remains, very much appreciated. To Anthony, passionate researcher, wise counsellor and faithful correspondent, goes the credit for my continued interest in these matters. What fun we had. Thank you, Anthony.