Dunedin Family History Group

Otago and Southland related research

Dunedin’s First Synagogue


front-view The Dunedin synagogue is unique. It is the southern-most synagogue in the world.

This building was used until 1881, by which time it was proving too small for the growing congregation. The building was sold to the Freemasons, who occupied it until 1992 as a Masonic Lodge. Since that time it has been a private residence.



The architect W.H. Clayton was appointed by January 1864. Born in Norfolk Plains, Australia, Clayton trained as an architect in England, and designed more than three hundred buildings in Tasmania, most notably Launceston’s St Andrew’s Kirk in 1849 before emigrating to New Zealand in 1863
Like Clayton’s other contemporary designs, the Synagogue was built in brick, 18 inches thick, English bond with alternate courses of headers and stretchers, with a cavity and an inner lining wall. The foundations facing Moray Place were high because of the steep slope. Built of bluestone, probably Leith Valley trachy-andesite, there were two round-arched windows on the southeast elevation.

The rectangular brick exterior included a narrow wooden porch on the elevation facing Moray Place. The wooden entrance porch was inset into the northeast elevation and topped with a small pediment.


The interior of the building is very impressive. The Ark of the Covenant has a very imposing effect as you enter the Synagogue; it is composed of four Corinthian columns in white and gold. Between the pillars are panels with gold mouldings; the whole is surmounted with a most elaborate carved arch, tinted with gold. In the centre are placed tablets on which are inscribed the Ten Commandments. The covering in front of the ark is composed of crimson silk velvet, with a very splendid border, elegantly embroidered with gold in the centre, bearing the ‘shield of David’ … The approach to the ark is by circular steps, imitating white and black marble, the centre covered with a costly carpet. The reading desk or pulpit is placed in the centre, and is one of the most elaborate pieces of workmanship we have seen in the province. Like the Ark, it is painted in pure white, with gold mouldings, and surrounded by sixteen pillars in sienna marble. The ladies’ gallery is particularly chaste, and supported by eight massive pillars, corresponding with the pulpit; beneath the dwarf balustrades, which are placed at the top, are mouldings very elaborately carved and tinted with gold …

The walls were plastered and the ceiling timber stained and varnished. The principal rafters were dressed and chamfered with cut pendants under the queen posts. The seats were ranged on one side of the synagogue with simply designed scroll ends. The seat backs and elbows were padded and covered in crimson plush. The wood work was painted white to correspond with the other fittings. Ventilation was provided for by iron gratings inserted in the exterior walls which were linked to interior ventilators in the floor and in the ceiling.








Early Jewish Settlers

NameGift to SynagogueNotesDeath
Abraham MyersCanopy for marriages -186429 Apr 1893
Silver Dish 187863 years
Abraham SnyderSilver Cup - 1878
Abraham Solomon
Adolph BingWholesale draper and importer Bing, Harris and Co.
Bendix HallensteinBendix opened the New Zealand Clothing Factory in Dunedin.  Three years later, he opened his first clothing store in the Octagon and by the turn of the century, there were 34 Hallenstein’s stores nationwide.6-Jan-05
Benjamin Leopold Farjeon
B. IsaacsVelvet Cover - 1875
Reuben Isaacs6-Jun-11
C.J. LevienVelvet cover for desk - 1875
D. IsaacsMinister for 1863-1866
David Edward TheominSilver Pointer - 1889Olveston was built for Dunedin businessman, collector and philanthropist David Theomin.15-Jul-33
Edward Goldstein1 Sep 1890
Ezekiel Nathan28 Oct 1884
55 Years
George Casper
Hermann NashelskiSilver Pointer
H. Joseph
Henry Hart25-Aug-08
68 years
Henry Hayman
Henry NathanScroll of the Law - 1862Auctioneer, Land and Estate Agent
Edward Nathan Hyam
Mark Cohen
Mark Cohen
In 1863 Mr. Cohen arrived in Dunedin, where he was apprenticed to the sign writing and painting trade, under the late Mr. Borthwick. Later, however, he entered the service of the legal firm of Messrs Ward and O'Loghlen, and whilst there studied law. In 1865 he joined the employment of the “Otago Daily Times,” and in 1866, entered the service of the late Mr. W. J. Henningham, who was proprietor of the “Evening Star,” and was soon taken on the reporting staff of that journal. In 1869 he joined the “Sun,” then under the editorship of Sir Julius Vogel, and with Mr. Ebenezer Fox as chief of the reporting staff. The “Sun” ceased publication in 1869, and Mr. Cohen returned to the staff of the “Evening Star,” on which he held, successively, the position of chief reporter and subeditor, and was appointed editor in 1893.3-Mar-28
78 years
Max HaymanSilver Cup - 1879
Michael Hyman (Sen)Velvet covers for Scrolls - 1864
Julius Hyman17-Aug-11
84 years
Moses MossEntrance Lamp and fittings - 1875
Joseph Myers
Joseph MossChoir Master - 1875
Isaac Herman
Jacob FogelLegacy of 80 guineas - 1874
Jacob LevyMinister 1867-1874
John LazarTown Clerk of Dunedin circa 1864
Julius HymanScroll of the Law and Silver Pointer - 1875He began as a jeweler in Princes Street and later became a hotelkeeper
Julius Vogel
Mark Cohen
Maurice JoelCanopy – 187513-Nov-07
Scroll of the Law - 187878 years
R. da Costa
Robert Michael MarksVelvet Covers - 18788-Jul-26
88 years
S. IsaacsMinisters surplus and hat - 1868
S. KohnSilver cup - 1875
Samuel E. Shrimski
Samuel JacobsSilk Covers - 187526-Apr-23
74 years
Woolff HarrisSilver Pointer - 1872Wholesale draper and importer Bing, Harris and Co.