By Lesley Goldberg



Emma Nathan nee Ottolangui


Left to Right: Sadie Nathan, Joseph Levy, Emma Nathan nee Ottolangui holding Emma Edna Levy, Amelia Nathan




Gershon Ottolangui and Emma Nathan (nee Ottolangui) - standing.

Amelia Romain (nee Ottolangui) and Aaron/Richard Ottolangui.





This paper attempts to draw together the research material, so diligently discovered by members of the Ottolangui family, into a coherent story that sets their experiences in the events of their times.  In part it repeats material provided by Paul Sulzberger.


John Goldberg is particularly interested in the life story of his great-grandmother, Emma Nathan (nee Ottolangui), the youngest child of Aaron and Reyna Ottolangui.


The origins of the Ottolenghi family of Italy


Paul Sulzberger has convincingly demonstrated a Portuguese origin for the Livornese Ottolenghi family.  The more probable theories of the origins of the Ottolenghi's in northern Italy need not be repeated here, but it seems clear that people of that name were in Italy, either from Roman times or from the late 14th century, but were most likely not connected to the family who adopted the name in Livorno, probably in the 17th century.


The Jews of Livorno were overwhelmingly of Iberian origin, i.e. conversos who accepted the Medicis’ invitation to settle in the city.  A record of their lives, in Portuguese, appears in the records of the Livorno synagogue, arguing for a Portuguese origin. [1]


Many “New Christians”, Iberian conversos, left Spain and Portugal in the later 16th and 17th centuries, when emigration was again possible following a century of Christian suspicion of the sincerity of their conversion.  They were highly assimilated Portuguese and Spanish merchants.  In their new mercantile communities they took up opportunities for trade.  The Amsterdam community established a profitable trade with England.  The Livornese merchants traded with their former homelands as well as with the colonies in the New World.  Returning openly to Judaism and using their language skills to trade with Portugal and Portuguese colonies in America, Livornese conversos realised that using their original names jeopardised the safety of relatives still remaining in Portugal.  Thus, they adopted aliases. [2]


The Ottolenghi family of Livorno


It has been established that the Australian and New Zealand descendants stem from one Menachem Ottolenghi of Livorno, the Italian seaport. The first mention of the Ottolenghi family in Livorno is the record of the marriage of Menachem Ottolenghi (born about 1698) who married Judica de Valletro in the Livorno synagogue in 1719.  Menachem, whose family probably arrived in Livorno in the latter half of the 17th century, and Judica had 11 children.


Different branches of the Ottolanguis/Langleys, all descended from David Ottolenghi who moved to London from Livorno in the 18th century, have separately reported an oral tradition of Portuguese origins for the family.[3]  In London some 80 years later, the Portuguese spelling of the name began to be used when the family joined the existing Sephardi congregation in London.  This supports the theory that the Livornese Ottolenghis adopted the name as an alias when they first established themselves in Livorno.


The Jewish community of Livorno


In the 16th century the Medici ruler of the Florentine state, Cosimo 1(ruled 1537 – 1574), made Livorno, at the mouth of the Arno and downstream from Pisa, his principal port, because the river was silting up.  He recruited Jewish merchants to the city, appreciating their commercial skills.  His son, Ferdinand 1(ruled 1587 - 1609) made the invitation more attractive by offering freedom from persecution that threatened the Portuguese conversos after the Spanish occupation of Portugal in 1580.  The Livornese Jews were the only Jewish community in Italy not confined to a ghetto. [4]


Sephardi merchants in Livorno made vast fortunes in this free port, second only to Amsterdam as a centre of Jewish commerce.  Paul Sulzberger has described how they established a monopoly on the Italian production of coral, and in 1632 imported the first coffee into Italy and opened the first coffee-houses in that country.  In 1650 they founded a Hebrew press that supplied the Sephardi communities of North Africa and the Near East.  By the 1760s one-third of Livorno’s commercial houses were owned by the 4000 strong Jewish community, and in addition, Jews owned many shops and houses.  They were also involved in the slave trade, providing ransom money for Christians and handling the return of ransomed Moors. [5]


Ottolanguis in England


The English branch of the Ottolenghi family was founded when Menachem and Judica’s eighth child, David, born in Livorno in 1734, arrived in England in 1776 with his family.  The reason for this migration to London is unknown.  The privileges of the Livornese Jewish community were still in place, and Jewish rights did not suffer until 1796, in the aftermath of Napoleon’s invasion.


Jews, expelled from England in the 13th century, had been granted the right to return in 1656, during The Commonwealth and continued to be treated with tolerance under the Restoration of Charles 11.  The early returnees mostly came from Amsterdam, where a community of conversos had been living for more than a century.  On arrival in London, David Ottolenghi and his family joined the already established Sephardi Jewish community centred on the Bevis Marks synagogue in London, opened in 1702, where Portuguese was still used in services.  In London David began using the Portuguese spelling of his name, i.e. Ottolangui.


David had married in 1762 in Livorno (wife unknown) but three of his children are recorded as marrying in the Bevis Marks synagogue and living out their lives in England: Judith, b. 1765 in Livorno, Israel b. 1774 in Livorno and Sarah b.1776 in Livorno (presumably just before the family migration).


The Ottolangui descendants in the South Pacific derive from David’s son, Israel Ottolangui.



Life and times in London of Israel Ottolangui (1774 – 1828)


Israel married Miriam Halevy (d.1842) in 1792 in the Bevis Marks synagogue in London.  Old Bailey records reflect the lack of integration of Israel and perhaps the other Sephardi Jews into the broader London community.  In 1802 he appeared at the Old Bailey charged with receiving 56 lbs weight of whalebone (valuable to manufacturers of women’s corsets) but no evidence was offered and he was discharged.  On another occasion, in 1817 when Abraham Ottolangui, a son of Israel, was appearing as a witness at the Old Bailey he gave the name Langley, because, he said, the English could not pronounce his real name.


In a law report of the Court of King’s Bench, Westminster, of February 10, 1823, Israel Ottolangui, who was also known as Israel Langley, was charged with assaulting an excise officer who was pursuing him for a fine of £10.  Israel Ottolangui escaped but was apprehended.  In his defence he stated that he was “a foreigner, a native of Italy and ignorant of English laws”.  This is an interesting defence as he was two years old when his father brought him to London.  He had paid the fine and already undergone some weeks of imprisonment.  He was sentenced to another three months’ detention, paid £40 security for good behaviour and a further two sureties of £20 each for three years.


If he was in financial difficulties already, it is probable that the family fortunes suffered a permanent decline as a result of this case, as these were large sums for a small trader to find and the months of imprisonment must have affected the family income severely.  Israel died five years later in 1828, and within a year his son David was first apprehended for theft.



Life of the London Jewish community 1815 - 1860


The decline in economic fortune of Israel and his children can be understood by examining the harsh economic conditions in England following the Napoleonic Wars.  The predominantly Sephardi community of London were joined by an influx of Jews from Germany.  While some were middle class, after 1830 increasingly they were poor immigrants from Poland, Russia and Germany.  By 1850, 25 to 30 percent of London Jews were in receipt of occasional or regular poor relief. In addition, another 35 to 40 percent were dependent on street trading or market trading or worked as artisans.  It has been estimated that at a minimum half the Jews in London, including the Sephardim, were impoverished. [6]


In the period between 1786 and 1826, a number of Ottolanguis appeared at the Old Bailey as witnesses to thefts in their neighbourhood.  As dealers in clothing and other items they were, not surprisingly, offered stolen goods.  It is not unexpected, in the economic conditions in the first part of the 19th century that men resorted to theft or were later motivated to emigrate to societies where opportunities seemed greater.


Ottolanguis took both paths.



Ottolanguis leave for Australia and New Zealand


The first Ottolangui to leave London for the Antipodes went involuntarily in 1830 to Van Diemen’s Land aged 19.  With a prior conviction for larceny (stealing from a brassfoundry), David Ottolangui, Israel and Miriam’s eighth child, who described himself in the indictment as a hawker, was sentenced at the Old Bailey to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing a 24lb cheese, valued at 12 shillings.


The period saw a great increase in Jewish criminal activity. [7]  David’s descent into crime may have been directly related to the decline in the family fortunes.  He arrived on the David Lyon on 19 August 1830 after a 3½ month voyage.  Six years later in Tasmania he married another convict and is described at the registrations of their six children as a bricklayer.  However, he appears in the 1860 census in California, where he married again and had a second family and numerous descendants. He died in California in 1882.


The progenitors of the Australian and New Zealand settlers are his brothers, Israel and Miriam’s sixth and seventh children, Moses Ottolangui (1808 – 1885) and Aaron Ottolangui (1810 – 1874).  At the Bevis Marks Synagogue In London these brothers had married sisters, Emma and Reyna Bensabat.  For more than 20 years the brothers and their families lived next door to each other in Shepherd Street, Spitalfields.  The closeness of the first two generations of Ottolanguis in Australia and New Zealand most likely stems from this close proximity, with doubly related cousins growing up together in London.



Melbourne and Dunedin: boom towns in the South Pacific


In the 1850s when Israel Ottolangui’s grandchildren and their contemporaries were contemplating leaving London, gold discoveries ushered in a boom time in the British colonies in the South Pacific.  The new cities of Melbourne and Dunedin were attractive to young people of adventurous or entrepreneurial bent in the years after the gold strikes in Victoria (1850s) and Otago (1860s).  Both cities were flourishing and retain some of the grand buildings that reflect the optimistic climate of the time.



Amelia’s story


The first of the family to make the decision to migrate to Australia was Amelia (b.1832), the eldest daughter of Moses and Emma, and she came without her family.  There are some puzzling aspects to this tale.


There was a shortage of marriageable women in the new Australian colonies.  The heavy imbalance between the sexes meant that the newly established Jewish communities depended on providing Jewish brides.  Without a Jewish mother, a Jewish man’s children would be lost to the new communities.  The problem became more acute with the arrival of more Jewish single men during the gold rushes.  In 1853 Caroline Chisholm, founder of the Family Colonisation Society and the champion of female emigration to Australia, was in contact with the London-based Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society and she brought out a group of single Jewish women in 1853 and a few more as part of another group of Jewish families on the Ballarat which sailed from England on April 14, 1854.[8]  One of these was Amelia Ottolangui, aged 22.


A week after Amelia sailed, her aunt, Sarah Mendes (nee Bensabat), her mother’s sister, died on April 21, 1854, leaving several children.  However, Sarah’s widowed husband, Gershon Mendes, seems to have migrated to Melbourne later that year, as he married his wife’s niece, Amelia Ottolangui, very much his junior, in Melbourne on 20 December 1854.  We can only speculate about what family arrangements were put in place to bring about this surprising match or whether concern for Amelia’s situation led to family action or whether the bold young Amelia took the opportunity for a free passage.



Amelia’s family join her


Soon, Amelia’s siblings began to join her and Gershon.  In 1858 she sponsored her sister Rachel (b.1837) who was soon married in Melbourne and by 1859 her oldest brother Jacob and his wife had migrated also.


Jacob Ottolangui had already made an early attempt to escape the poverty of the London Jews.  Like many others, Jacob first sought his fortune in America.  He took ship in 1851 for New York, accompanied by his cousin Jacob Bensabat and that young man’s cousin Judah Mendes. They were all 17 – 18 years old.  However, Jacob did not find success and was back in London by 1857 when he was married at the Bevis Marks synagogue.


By 1859 he was operating a china and glass business in his new home of Melbourne.  In the prospering new city with migrants pouring in, a business supplying household necessities did well, so well that in the early 1860s Jacob took his family on a return visit to England.  He returned in 1864 on the Yorkshire and it may have been as a result of this visit home that in 1866 his parents, Moses, aged 58, and Emma made the decision to leave London for Melbourne.  They arrived with their youngest daughter Hannah, who was only ten years old, to be greeted by three children and 12 grandchildren.  They brought with them Gershon Mendes’ three children from his first marriage, whom Emma had been caring for in London. [9]  Moses and Emma’s voyage may have been financed by the successful business of their son Jacob, and their son-in-law Gershon Mendes must have wished to be reunited with the children of his first marriage.



Ottolanguis in New Zealand


Recently it has been established that Aaron and Reyna’s son, Abraham (b.1843) was attracted to the Otago diggings in the 1860s.  Abraham was close to his cousin David, Moses and Emma’s third son who was a little younger, and with whom he had grown up in London.  It seems likely that it was at Abraham’s urging that David moved to New Zealand.  Certainly, the cousins were living close to each other in Dunedin in the 1870s.  David’s now successful brother Jacob may have seen this as a new family business opportunity.


By 1875 David Ottolangui (b.1846) was married and operating a china and glass business in Dunedin.  The existence of two glass and china emporia in Melbourne and Dunedin argues for arrangements by the brothers with common suppliers in London, and there seem to have been trips across the Tasman also.  Moreover, Israel, David’s older brother (b.1841) also moved to New Zealand and had a china and glass business in Hokitika on the west coast of the South Island, not far from a new gold field in Westland.


The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 shortened the time taken for consignments to reach Melbourne from London, and there were frequent sailings between Melbourne and Dunedin. A letter sent from Melbourne could reach its cross-Tasman destination in as little as a week, with a favourable crossing.  Both businesses suffered in the depression of the 1890s, and Jacob turned to other types of enterprise, and seems never again to have achieved his earlier level of prosperity.


In Dunedin, however, David and then, after his death, his widow Agnes, carried on the business until the 1930s depression.  In 1934 David and Agnes’ son Victor and his family left for Australia, though others of the family remained in New Zealand.  They were not the only Ottolanguis/ Langleys to move back and forth across the Tasman, and were following a common pattern in many migrant families over more than 150 years, continuing to the present.



Cousins migrate to Melbourne


Aaron and his wife Reyna did not join the emigration from London to Australia.  It is likely that they never had sufficient funds or perhaps felt they were too old.  At different times Aaron described himself as a confectioner and later as a grocer and general dealer.  However, many of their children followed their cousins to find better lives in Australia, knowing they could join an established clan.  The eldest daughter Rachel (b.1833) came with her husband Henry Simmons and other arrivals were Jacob (b.1841), Gershon (George) (b.1854) and Sarah (b.1857) and finally, Emma (b.1859).


The closeness of the two families was further reinforced by the marriage in Melbourne in 1880 of Aaron’s daughter Sarah (b.1857) to her first cousin, Moses’ son Joshua (b.1848), although she died two years later.



John’s great-grandparents


The youngest daughter of Aaron and Reyna, Emma (b.1859), married Abraham Nathan in the Great Synagogue in London in 1884.  Both her parents had been dead for some 10 years, and census records show that Emma had been living since then with her sister Millie (Miriam Amelia) who had married David Romain in 1868.  Soon after their marriage, Abraham and Emma Nathan also migrated to Melbourne, arriving in 1885. The post-gold boom had ended and soon a severe depression began in the southern colonies.  However, Abraham came with some capital and in Australia he became a very successful businessman, establishing furniture businesses in the thriving inland towns of Bendigo, Albury and Wagga, as well as in Melbourne.


The continuing attachment between the generations is perhaps reflected in the continuance of family names.  Emma Nathan named her first daughter Sarah, presumably after her still recently deceased sister and her second daughter Amelia (Millie) after her beloved older sister who had stood in the role of mother after the death of their own mother when Emma, the baby of the family, was 15.  The youngest daughter, Hazel, also bore the name of Reyner, a variant of her grandmother’s name.  Sarah Levy (nee Nathan), John’s maternal grandmother, named her only daughter, his mother, Emma Edna, after her grandmother, and Emma Edna’s daughter, John’s sister, was named Sari, a variant of her grandmother’s name.  There is a cherished family photograph taken in 1909 of Emma Nathan with her daughter Sarah and granddaughter Emma Edna.


Emma Nathan made at least one return trip to London to see her sister, Millie and Millie and David Romain visited her and her family in Melbourne.  A Melbourne photograph from the early 1890s (all the persons have yet to be positively identified) may be a record of the four siblings, Jacob Ottolangui, Millie Romain, Gershon, who now used the name George Langley, and Emma Nathan during a visit by Millie from London.  In 1908 another photograph testifies to the visit of the now widowed Millie for the wedding of Emma’s daughter Sarah (Sadie) to Joseph Levy.  Through stories told by her grandmother, “Aunt Millie Romain” remained a vivid figure to Emma’s granddaughter, Emma Edna, who married Norman Goldberg in 1930.


[1] Paul Sulzberger ‘Ottolangui – The search for our Roots: a review of evidence for Portuguese ancestry

[2] Jeffrey Malka ‘Inquisition Records’ p200 in Sallyann Amdur Sack & Gary.Mokotoff,eds ‘Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy’ NJ 2004

[3] Personal communications to Paul Sulzberger.

[4] Sulzberger op.cit.for sources

[5] Sulzberger op.cit.for sources

[6] Todd M. Endelman ‘The Jews of Britain 1656 – 2000’ UCP 2002 pp 79-82

[7] Todd M. Edelman op.cit.

[8] Hilary I. Rubinstein ‘The Jews in Victoria 1835 – 1985’ Allen & Unwin pp25-26

[9] 1861 Census



Lesley Goldberg

April 2005