Storytellers February 2020 – 114th Meeting

Greta Davis, who first presented to the Storytellers back in 2012, was our Storyteller for the night and provided some most interesting details about her family history which she had been tracing for some 30 years. All of her ancestors came to Australia in the second half of the 19th century. Some were mad, some were bad, and some were good!

Greta began with the story about her great-grandfather on her mother’s side Solomon Richards / Richter. Solomon, a Jew, was from Krakow, the Polish side of the family. He was born in 1859 and migrated to Australia in 1878 and with little money began trading with a horse and cart in the Riverina region, settling in Narrandera in 1883. Greta’s research told of ‘S Richards’ stores in Narrandera and Leeton and managed to obtain a photo of the Leeton store. Solomon struggled in the early days losing his entire stock in a fire. The Narrandera Argus reported that he had a reputation for integrity and a strong sense of justice. He died in Melbourne in July 1914 returning from London because of ill health. A good ‘un!

Greta spoke of several name changes in the family, perhaps due to cultural assimilation in a new country and in the army as quite a significant number of Jews volunteered for service in Australia during WW1 & WW2. Greta was also surprised in her research as to how much travelling her ancestors did in the 19th Century.

We then heard of Solomon’s sister Bertha. Bertha married Joseph Kops in Sydney in 1881, Joseph was also from Krakow. They opened a shop in Yass and then a store in Cowra. A suspicious fire ‘happened’ and Joseph was found guilty of attempted arson. There was an appeal, but the conviction was sustained by four judges to three. Joseph died the following year in Parramatta Mental Hospital. Bad and mad perhaps!!

Greta then looked at her father’s side of the family. Her great-grandfather was Marcus Benjamin who hailed from Lithuania. Marcus was a watchmaker, not only repairing them but making them. This was an amazing accomplishment as parts were scarce and making watches involved several separate skills all needing lengthy apprenticeships. Another good ’un!

We then heard about Marcus’s daughter Theresa Taube who married David Davis Klippel. David must have been quite an entrepreneur of his time. Sheet music was all the rage and he focused on selling sheet music that was out of copyright as there were no royalties. He became one of the richest men in NSW. Not resting on his laurels, he started to import records, the next big thing, from the USA. Due to tariffs he decided that it would be more profitable to press the records in Australia and opened the first record press in Australia in 1924. He bought an estate in Bowral, and property in Sydney, Manor Flats, Macleay St, Darlinghurst, as you do.

As is often the case when money is at stake there were family issues with his will as he left large amounts to charities, hospitals and Sydney University whilst disinheriting his boys. Wealthy family fun & games!

Lastly, we learnt about Greta’s father Jack Davis. He was another entrepreneur and must have been a good salesman. He travelled regularly to the USA to see his suppliers. He started talking to a book company and managed to obtain the rights to sell their books in Australia, their books being the ‘Little Golden Books’. Rather like the sheet music, the sales of these books went crazy and Jack sold the music company and concentrated on the books. Mindful again of the import tariffs he decided to open a printing press. There were 3 presses in Australia, one being owned by Frank Packer, who Jack knew from sailing together. Against advice Jack sold 51% of the business to Frank. A good ‘un but could’ve been better!

Members have to be on the lookout now for ‘S Richards’ stores when out and about in NSW country towns. Photos of faded facades will do nicely!

Many thanks to Greta for preparing and sharing her research.

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