BENJAMIN MENDES DA COSTA, S.A. MERCHANT & PHILANTHROPIST
Two 1846 stampless South Australian entires were seen on Ebay, the first addressed to Benjm M Da Costa Esqre, Adelaide, South Australia had a red square with rounded corners handstamp which read D/ PAID/ 26 MR 26/1846, and there were two large manuscript ratings, a red 2/- and a black 1/- (Figure 1).
The second was addressed to B.M. Da Costa Esqre, Adelaide, South Australia with two black manuscripts ‘Paid’ at top RHS and ‘1 Augt/1846' at bottom LHS, as well as two large ratings, a red manuscript 1/- and a black ‘8' (pence). There was a red double ring handstamp with PAID/ EO/ 1 AU 1/ 1846 (Figure 2).
Benjamin Mendes da Costa, merchant, land owner and philanthropist, was born on 17 July 1803 at Enfield, London, first of two children of Benjamin Mendes da Costa and his second wife Louisa, daughter of Edward Naylor of Ponders End. Benjamin was baptized on 9 February 1804 at Enfield Parish Church, where his parents had been married on 21 September 1802 according to the ceremonies and rites of the established Church. The marriage register discloses that Louisa was a minor and married with her father's consent. Their second child was a girl, Louisa, born in 1806. Neither Benjamin nor Louisa married.
Their father came of a large Portuguese Jewish family that settled in England in the eighteenth century. By his father's first marriage to Esther Machoro, recorded in the London Synagogue Register, they had two children, Hananel and Jacob Joseph; who were brought up as Jews, but the children of the second marriage were members of the Church of England. The crest for the Mendes Da Costa family is seen in Figure 3.
Da Costa and his sister arrived in South Australia on 7 July 1840 in the Fairlie. He set up as a merchant in Hindley Street and in 1843 moved to Grenfell Street. The reasons for his migration to Adelaide are obscure but other Jews, such as the Montefiore brothers, had played an important role in founding and developing South Australia and may have influenced him to settle in the new province. He weathered the depression, his business prospered and he acquired six town acres (2.4 ha) and fifteen country sections. He was also elected to the committee of the Mechanics' Institute. With his sister, on 4 February 1848 da Costa sailed for London. At first he lived at 53 Gower Street, and then retired to 8 Bedford Square, Brighton, where he died of lung cancer on 26 November 1868.
In Adelaide, da Costa had become friendly with the second colonial chaplain, Rev. James Farrell, who ministered at Trinity Church where da Costa was a regular worshiper. The only personal legacy in his will was a bequest to Farrell 'as a mark of esteem'. Da Costa had also become friendly with Bishop Augustus Short who with Farrell was closely connected with the founding of the Church of England Collegiate School of St Peter, which had started in 1847 at Trinity Church.
Their interest in this school undoubtedly influenced da Costa to bequeath his real estate (which included the Somerset Hotel, other Adelaide property, and much land in the vicinity of Grenfell, Hindley, Pulteney Streets, and Gawler Place in South Australia) to the Council of the Collegiate School of St Peter, subject to the life interests of ten relations, one of whom was his sister Louisa who died in 1898. The last surviving relation died in 1910 and in 1912 the property was vested in the school. The Da Costa Building is now on the site where he had lived in Grenfell Street, and at the school a hall, house and scholarship are named after him.
Benjamin’s sister Louisa was born in London (1806-28 February 1898) and may have been associated with Benjamin’s business and properties, for she had money in her own right and she donated money to the newly constructed Palmerston Hospital, Northern Territory, near Darwin (Figure 4).
The above paper almost entirely relies on the description of Benjamin Mendes da Costa found in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.