Exeter Synagogue Archive

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The Elsner Family

I think I am the great granddaughter of Solomon Elsner, as I understand it. (My mother will be mortified reading this that I do not have a clear view of the family tree!). My father, John Elsner, who father in turn was Hubert Elsner, died almost 3 years ago, and I was never close to his small family or his father, so the interest in family heritage has always been more historical than particularly personal. John was an only child and we never knew anything about Hubert's family: it was almost mysterious! Growing up, there were no other related Elsners in Perth Western Australia, and as I am not Jewish (mother is not) we were not involved particularly in the religious aspects of the Jewish community in Perth. We had more contact with some of my Grandmother's (Boas family) side of our family tree, as there were many in Perth. I have always known very little about the background of the Elsners.

I visited Exeter back in 1984 and searched for Rosina's gravestone, and various bits of information that I could. I was amazed at how much had been destroyed. I visited the synagogue at that time. At that stage we were only hypothesising that Rosina was buried there and my father had done many hours of research to find out what he could. Unfortunately, before the internet it was all so much more difficult! I found it fascinating to explore my Jewish heritage in Exeter!

I am the end of the Elsner line in this family. Whilst I personally use Elsner as a surname, my children are Abby (4yo) and Elliott (3yo)Johnston, their father's surname. We live in Melbourne Australia, and my mother Rhonda who lived all her life in Perth, has moved to Melbourne to be with us.

Please let me know what information you would like to have about the Elsner family, as I may be able to provide you with details for archiving and correspondence purposes. Now that the Internet is here, my children and grandchildren will have such easy access to family history, and it is nice to be able to retain those links. My children have no real exposure to Judaism or any Jewish or Elsner relatives, so it would be nice to know that they can trace their family history and potentially other relations easily in the future if they wish!

It seems Solomon and Rosina may have had either 2 or 3 children: Dora, Jacob and possibly Pauline. Jacob was my great grandfather, known apparently in Australia as John Reginald Elsner. We were never sure if he was escaping something, as apparently he would not talk about life before Australia, and my Grandfather Hubert would never discuss family origins. The change in identity had confused people as to the heritage in Exeter, and stalled any finding out about the family for many years, until it was assumed that Jacob and John Reginald were the same person and that Rosina was the Grandmother of Hubert.

It would be fascinating to find the descendants of the others: Pauline and Dora. It was also unclear as to when and where Solomon Elsner died. Do you have any records to show he stayed in Exeter, or where/when he may have died. All we have is the Devon Gazeteer records, which show Solomon's detail up until the 1866 edition. In the 1871 edition there was no record. It seems so extraordinary, that we unsuccessfully tried to find details about Rosina, and all the while you were actually using the breastplate every Sabbath.


Firstly, I cannot help you with information about Solomon Elsner's donation of 21 New Guinean arrows, a tobacco pipe also from New Guinea, or a pair of Middle East slippers to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in 1866. I am presuming that he could have acquired them when he ran the antiquary store we have heard he ran in Exeter, perhaps donating them later when dispersing stock or leaving town.

This 1866 donation does show that, in all likelihood, Solomon continued living in Exeter after the death of his wife, Rosina, in December 1863. We have been unable to establish whether he remained in Exeter after Rosina's death, whether he remarried, whether he raised his three children, Dora, Jacob and Pauline alone or with assistance of family or friends, or how long he lived. His wife Rosina had been a daughter of the Sylveston family, also of the Exeter Synagogue congregation, and it is possible that the Sylvestons assisted Solomon Elsner with his children.

The Minutes (1860-1897) were also very interesting. It seems that Solomon Elsner stood down from his role as Treasurer at a special meeting 26th September 5627 and left the congregation the next day. The minutes record a vote of thanks to him for the "great exertions he has at all times used to advance the funds of the Congregation", wishing him "years of health and happiness ...to rear his children with the blessings of providence...". This implies to me that he had become a widower, and that he might have been about to leave Exeter. My problem is that I do not understand the date. Can you tell me which year is meant by 5627? From an earlier entry in the minutes, it seems that it is after 1867, that is, several years after Rosina's death.


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