Benjamin Nathan was born
in 1864 at Collingwood, Melbourne into a large family of Benjamin Nathan (d
1902), a gold-rush immigrant and his wife Eliza née Reece that
included brothers Simeon
(q.v.) and George
(q.v.) who all became wealthy in the home furnishing industry. Educated at
the Model School, Nathan went on to make considerable wealth as co-founder
of the Australia-wide Maples furniture and music store chain (1887) with
Frederick Thomas, which by the time of his death had over fifteen stores in
two states. In December 1910 he purchased the mansion Rippon Lea -
192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick from the estate of
Sir Thomas Bent (q.v.), whose
timely death in 1908 saved the nineteen acre estate from further
subdivisions. Under Nathan, the house became more of a family home with
less lavished parties and public functions; he introduced extensive range of
native plants from all over Australia, erected a large conservatory and
numerous glasshouses for his growing award-winning orchid collection and
built the entrance lodge off Hotham Street (1929). Portrayed in Frank
Hardy’s (1917-94) explosive ‘novel’ “Power Without Glory” (1950) as
‘Benjamin Levy’, Nathan was a close business partner of John Wren
(Boroondara Cemetery). In the book, Hardy would describe ‘Levy’ as “a
wizened, bald-headed, miserable-looking old man in his second childhood” who
as owner of the Ascot pony racecourse was in financial difficulty. Together
they purchased the languishing Brisbane Daily Mail (1915), speculated
in mining stocks and acquired control of numerous racecourses principally in
Queensland – Albion Park, Sandgate (Deagon), Kedron Park, and Doomben Park
(“by 1922 Wren and Nathan had owned or leased all Brisbane and Ipswich
racecourses with the exception of…Eagle Farm”). A keen racegoer who was
disqualified in 1896 for bribing a jockey, Nathan exacted revenge through
ownership of the colourful pony tracks (“the poor man’s courses”) at
Richmond, Fitzroy and Ascot “but lacked the flair to make them a success”.
Nathan died on 25 July 1935 aged 71 with an estate valued for probate at
£1,087,903 (“the largest in Victoria during 1935-39”) of which his daughter
Louisa Jones (Necropolis Springvale) inherited Rippon Lea
later donated to the National Trust after her death in July 1972 in honour
of Nathan’s wishes that the estate should be preserved for the public.
(above) Former Maples
Richmond store, Swan Street (2000)
Clark, M & Sagazio, C., “The Story of Rippon
Hardy, F., “Power Without Glory” (1950).
Griffin, J., “John Wren. A life reconsidered”
The Argus 26 & 27 July 1935.
The Herald 25 July 1935.
The Age 18 January 1936 & 26 November 1934.
The Sun 25 March 1963.
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