Faces of Tamworth: auctioneer, grazier and councillor Nathan Cohen

WHEN Nathan Cohen arrived in Tamworth in 1858, people thought cereals wouldn’t grow in the district.

Wheat was sold at eight shillings a bushel. 

Ploughing was done with a single furrow and harvest was reaped with sticks.

But 160 years on, it’s a far different story, with an abundance of thriving crops helping us lay claim to being the nation’s food bowl.

Mr Cohen was a pioneer for Tamworth and the wider region, from businessman to grazier to councillor. 

Mr Cohen was born at Port Macquarie in 1842.

Educated at Goulburn, he gained experience in a number of different business pursuits in Sydney before coming to Tamworth at the age of 16 to work for his uncle, William Cohen.

He arrived in one of John Gill’s “two wheelers” on August 27 1858.

In an interview with the Tamworth News on June 27, 1906, looking back to 1858, he said:

“When I first came to Tamworth, there was very little grown. People thought that cereals wouldn’t grow in the district. We used to have to send the grain to Murrurundi 60 miles distant [to be milled] and the farmer who had 20 acres of crop was in a big way. The first wheat I saw sold here was at 8 shillings a bushel. ... Ploughing was done with a single furrow plough, the harvest was reaped with sticks, gathered in by hand, and, as often as not, was beaten out with a flail.”

The following information has been sourced from Lyall Green and Warren Newman’s Chronological History of Tamworth:

During 1866, he married Esther Solomon, a Jewish woman from Eden.

They lived in Church Street, next to his Uncle William’s place, and out of respect for his wife, he named their home “Eden Cottage”.

Nathan Cohen received his auctioneering license in 1868 and set up his own office at what is now 335 Peel Street, near the Tudor Hotel.

Once established in the town, he launched into an amazing range of business and community activities.

In 1870, he established a soap manufacturing works which he eventually sold to James Piper.

Three years later, he put up a building containing a new office for himself and a number of others for lease.

The single-storey building corresponded to the present 421-427 Peel Street, on the Fitzroy Street side of the two-storey former bank building, and was known as the “Exchange Building”.

Eighteen years later, a second storey was added.

The allotment extended to Lower Street, now Kable Avenue, and because of his work as an auctioneer and the need to deal with livestock, Cohen had stockyards built at the bottom of the allotment, fronting Lower Street.

In 1876, he erected a two-storey brick home on a double allotment in East Tamworth and called it “Brighton” in honour of his father.

When he moved into this new home, people were amazed at him living “in the bush”.

The home stood on the site of the present units at 98 and 98A Carthage Street.

During the 1950s, it was still possible to read, on the side gatepost, the faded lettering, “Brighton - Tradesman’s Entrance”.

From 1874 to 1884, he was an Alderman of the Tamworth Borough Council, serving for a term as its Mayor in 1882-84.

When Tamworth was divided into two “wards” in 1877 for the election of aldermen, North Tamworth became known as “Cohen Ward”.

Tragedy struck Nathan Cohen in 1880 when his wife died, leaving him with six children, the eldest of whom was only thirteen.

Two years later, he married his late wife’s sister, Deborah Solomon.

In the years to come, the six children of his first marriage never ceased to speak lovingly of their step-mother.

On December 11, 1883, she had a son, Eliot Tamworth Cohen.

At that stage, Nathan Cohen was still the Mayor of Tamworth and following an age-old custom, the Borough Council presented him with a small silver cradle.

As well as selling sheep and cattle, Nathan Cohen was interested in breeding them.

He owned stock at Willow Tree and Woodlands in the Currabubula-Gowrie area and is known to have had breeding cattle at Nemingha, including a prized Jersey bull called “Sir Patrick”.

Unfortunately he was once gored by one of his bulls and he never completely recovered from the accident.

Somehow, around his business and Borough interests, he managed to find time to be the Secretary and one of the Trustees of the Tamworth Jockey Club; the foundation Director of the Tamworth Co-operative Dairy Company; a foundation member of the original Golf Club; the President of the Tamworth Club, known popularly as the “Gentlemen’s Club”; the Chairman for over thirty years of the Tamworth Permanent Mutual Benefit & Building Society; the Chairman and treasurer of the Hospital Board; and a member of the Tamworth Dramatic Society. 

As if all this were not enough, he and his wife Deborah jointly donated three allotments of land to the Tamworth Ladies’ Benevolent Society which led, in time, to the building of the Tamworth Cottage Homes.

Nathan Cohen was enormously popular, as can be gauged from the fact that when he went overseas with his wife and daughter Alice, somewhere around 1908 or 1909, a public farewell banquet was held for him at the Showground and was presided over by the Mayor.

When he returned in 1910, it is reported that the Tamworth Railway Station “was densely crowded with people who cheered him to the echo”.

Ever with an eye for business, he realised the great potential of motoring, then in its very early days, and while he was overseas, he secured a local agency for “Adam” cars.

Two of them were delivered soon afterwards but his agency involvement was only short-lived.

The goring he had received earlier from one of his bulls took its toll and he died suddenly in August 1910.

Tributes flooded in after his death. Not only was he referred to as “the peacemaker” but also as being “associated with every movement that had the social and commercial advancement of Tamworth at heart”.

A fine marble bust of Nathan Cohen, presumably commissioned by the Borough Council, stands to this day outside the Tamworth City Council Meeting Room.

Writing for the Star of David, Rabbi Reuben Brasch recorded:

“Nathan Cohen of Tamworth, the ‘Queen City of the North’, was compared to ‘one of the old patriarchs of his own noble race’ and described as ‘one of the main pillars of the place’. Of exemplary benevolence, he was a source of great moral, commercial and social strength in the district and, on the day of his funeral, life stopped in Tamworth and all shops closed in his honour”.

  • Information from Lyall Green and Warren Newman’s Chronological History of Tamworth

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