Julia Lazarus was Mayoress of the City of Adelaide (married to the Mayor) from 1855-1858.

Julia Lazarus was the wife of John Lazarus, also known as John Lazar, who was Mayor of Adelaide from 1855 to 1858 – the first Jewish mayor. In these times Julia’s role as Mayoress would have been limited. Julia Lazarus née Solomon came to Australia in 1837. According to her immigrant record she was 30 years old at the time. But it is not known exactly where Julia was born. Prior to 1837, Jewish marriages did not appear on UK civil records, but according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography Julia married John Lazarus in London. We do know John had grown up in Edinburgh, Scotland.

On 5 November 1836, Julia and John together with their five children – ten-year-old Rachel; Abraham, who was eight; Mary, who was five; three-year-old Priscilla; and Henry, the baby of the family – embarked for Australia. The family travelled as assisted immigrants aboard the Lady McNaghten, which sailed from Cork with 412 emigrants, 30 crew members, the captain’s wife, and the ship’s surgeon. Ninety percent were Irish; the balance of passengers were mostly from England and Scotland. But the overcrowded ship was doomed. The unsanitary conditions that prevailed on the ship triggered a fatal epidemic resulting in 54 deaths. There were at least another 90 cases of typhus fever on board when the ship arrived at Port Jackson, New South Wales, on 26 February 1837. It was immediately put into quarantine. While the sick remained on board, the healthy and convalescent were put ashore, to live in tents. With hot and humid conditions in Sydney prevailing that time of year, the government arranged for the hasty construction of wooden sheds and houses to ease the conditions for those on shore. Eleven weeks after their arrival, the immigrants finally cleared quarantine, but not before a further 13 passengers had died. Julia, John, and their two eldest children survived. But records of Mary, Priscilla and baby Henry cannot be found. We do know, however, of the 111 children on board under the age of seven, 49 lost their lives.

John quickly established himself in Sydney theatre circles and in 1838, another son, Samuel, was born. But by the end of 1840 the family had moved to Adelaide, and it was around this time that the family name was changed to Lazar. For some years John managed Adelaide’s historic Queen’s Theatre in Playhouse Lane. This theatre opened in January 1841 with a performance of Othello, with Lazar playing the leading role. Julia and John’s daughter Rachel also performed.

John retired from civic life in 1863 and moved to New Zealand where he died in 1879. Julia’s name does not appear with her husband’s on the records of pioneering Jews in New Zealand. According to NSW state records, Julia died in Sydney in 1881 where her son Samuel was living at the time.

By Cheryl Williss, HerStory Project

The HerStory project came about to recognise and celebrate the lives and the achievements of Women’s work in South Australia and was initiated in 2015 on the 175th anniversary of the City of Adelaide, by Genevieve Theseira-Haese, Lady Mayoress of Adelaide. The stories collected offer a unique perspective of Adelaide and South Australia that form a different history to what is often heard. This community built initiative is supported by the City of Adelaide and the History Trust of South Australia.

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