Monday, 26 October 2015

Tragic death of Lithuanian boxer in Broken Hill

The Sydney Morning Herald of 4 November 1933 carried the following news item on page 19:

Broken Hill, Friday
Sydney Ernest Sloan, a Sydney boxer, was remanded at the police court this morning on a charge of having feloniously slain Victor Cromberg, who died in hospital last night following a spar with Sloane.  Letters in the possession of Cromberg indicate that he was a Lithuanian, and that his relatives live overseas.

Cromberg had arrived in Australia around 1927, aged 17 or 18.  He may have been a Prussian Lithuanian from the Klaipeda region (known as Memel before 1923) as his parents had written to him in German.  Cromberg worked as a commercial traveller for Silk Products Ltd of Sydney and was also an occasional boxer who had fought in Sydney and Melbourne.  The previous week he had fought in Port Pirie (South Australia) before making his way to Broken Hill.  Aged 24 in 1933 he was athletic and a solid man, weighing 12 stone.

The Broken Hill press covered the death, including Victor Cromberg's background, in detail.  Cromberg was reported as having been most anxious to learn to box: The Barrier Miner of 3 November 1933 (p1) wrote that "He stated that 12 months ago he did not know the difference between boxing and wrestling, but was determined to learn boxing from the first steps".  In addition, "Cromberg was apparently in poor circumstances in Broken Hill.  He had very little clothing with him. There was only a small balance in his bank book.  Citizens who came in contact with the man during his short stay here stated that he was well informed and could talk on almost any subject."

It is tempting to speculate that Victor Cromberg's interest in boxing, at that time, might have been sparked by the success of another Lithuanian, Jack Sharkey, in the USA (see  Sharkey was the world heavyweight title holder in 1932 and 1933.

Sloan was in Broken Hill preparing for a scheduled fight on 4 November and had sparred with Cromberg on 1 November.  The next day Cromberg also sparred with Sloan; half way through the first round Cromberg was hit and fell backwards, his head striking the flooring boards.  He died later that evening in hospital; the post-mortem examination found a clot on the brain.  

The Coroner found that Cromberg's death was a most unfortunate accident.  Evidence submitted to the inquest suggested that even though Cromberg was wearing good boxing kit, including head gear, he fell heavily onto an unprotected floor and probably as a consequence sustained a sub-dural hemorrhage.  The Coroner recommended that the floor in question should be protected during future sparring bouts. Charges against Sloane were withdrawn; he was reported to have been deeply distressed by the accident and considering retiring from the ring.

Monday, 19 October 2015

A Lithuanian Jewish community in Broken Hill

Jews from Eastern Europe began arriving in Australia in the 1880s, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and the subsequent introduction of anti-Semitic measures in the Russian Empire.  While around 2 million Jews emigrated to the USA during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth century, the numbers reaching Australia were much smaller, probably a few thousand. Most of these were from Poland, but Lithuanian Jews (known as Litvaks) were also represented in this early stream of Eastern European migrants.

Most Litvaks settled in the major cities, but small numbers made their way further afield.  The mining town of Broken Hill is one such, perhaps exceptional, example.  Founded in 1883 following discoveries of huge silver and lead deposits, by 1901 the population had grown to 27,000.  At that time it was certainly one of the most dynamic places in Australia, despite being in an isolated part of the country, in far western New South Wales.    

Postcard of Broken Hill, around 1900;
 from the collection of the National Archives of Australia (NAA:C4076, HN17451)

The Broken Hill cemetery provides an interesting indication of the multicultural nature of the town's early years.  Of the 38 known burials in the Jewish section, around a third were either born in Lithuania or were their descendants (see A Guide to Broken Hill Jewish Cemetery, by Robyn Dryen at  For example:

  • Leopold NUROCK, born in Šiauliai around 1869, was an apothecary who arrived in Broken Hill in 1891 and died there in 1895;
  • Louis OBERMAN, born in Kedainiai around 1857, arrived in Broken Hill with his wife Lena and children by 1895 where he operated a fruit shop;
  • Leaha GORDON, born in Lithuania around 1843, widow, arrived in Broken Hill in 1916 to join her children.  Her son Leo Gordon (1879-1942) had been born in Kaunas and arrived in Broken Hill in 1911; he operated a grocery and mixed business there.

During the first half of the 1900s families with Litvak origins were a significant component of Broken Hill's Jewish community (estimated to have numbered around 250 during the 1920s and 1930s).  For example:

  • BUB (BURBAS); Simon/Simonas and wife Dobe (born in Židikai, around 1878), daughters Dveire and  Base; 
  • DUBIN (DEMBINSKY); Louis (born in Vištytis on 9 July 1880), wife Lisbeth, sons Rudy and Werner;
  • EDELMAN; Louis (born 1846 in Lithuania) arrived in Australia with his two oldest sons (Albert, born in Veikšniai, and Edward George) in 1889, followed by his wife Sophia and the other four children in 1891. They settled in Broken Hill in 1897; Albert later operated a grocery and drapery store and was a founder of the Synagogue in 1910;  Albert's son Alwyn Edelman died in Broken Hill in 2005.
  • GRIFF: Frank (born in Žagarė) arrived in Australia in the early 1900s from South Africa and became a prominent businessman as well as head of an influential Broken Hill family.  While Frank and his family relocated to Adelaide in the late 1930s, one of his sons stayed on in Broken Hill.

Other Broken Hill residents with Lithuanian Jewish origins or connections included the HYMAN (HEIMAN), PRESS and SILVER families.

Suzanne D Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora: Two Centuries of Jewish Settlement in Australia, 2nd ed., Brandl & Schlesinger, Sydney, 1997;
Suzanne D Rutland, Leon Mann, Margaret Price (eds), Jews of the Outback; the Centenary of the Broken Hill Synagogue 1910-2010, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2010.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Tasmania #2

Last week we looked at nineteenth century arrivals in Tasmania.  Here are a few from the first half of the twentieth century; in contrast to the earlier arrivals who were primarily mariners or convicts, the later arrivals were a more diverse group.

William KALIN/KALINOVSKY/KALINAUSKAS), a Lithuanian Anzac who had been born in Žagarė and trained as a tailor, enlisted in Queensland in 1916.  After the war, he led an itinerant life for a few years which including working as a court translator in Tasmania for a short while.  I doubt that the translating involved the Lithuanian language given the extremely small numbers of Lithuanians in Tasmania at any one time; most likely he was utilising his knowledge of other European languages developed during his service as as a interpreter in France 1917-1919.  He later established a tailoring business in Brisbane (see my post of 23 April 2015  and Elena Govor's Russian Anzacs blog post at for more details on William Kalin).

William SUSCAVAGE, born in Vilkaviškis in Lithuania, submitted a notice of intention to seek naturalisation which was published in The Mercury (Hobart) on 4 August 1927.  He stated that he was a Lithuanian national living at Catamaran, southern Tasmania, and had been resident in Australia for 13 years.  On the other hand, the UK outward bound passenger lists on show a William Suscavage bound for Australia in November 1925 on the Jervis Bay; he was listed as aged 40, retired, with an address in London at the 'Jews Temporary Shelter' in Whitechapel.  One explanation for this apparent discrepancy could be that he had been already resident for 13 years in the British Commonwealth as opposed the Australia.  

Stanislaus Paul SURVILLO, born in Kaunas, submitted his notice of intention to seek naturalisation in The Advocate (Burnie) on 28 September 1933.  He stated that he was a Lithuanian national living in Burnie and had been resident in Australia for 8 years.  In that same year his name also appears in The Advocate in relation to proceedings in the Launceston Divorce Court; records on show that he had first married in Queensland in 1928 and had remarried in Tasmania by 1936.  The electoral rolls show that he was an electrical engineer; by the early 1940s he was living in Sydney and a partner in a business manufacturing thermostatic expansion valves.  His later years appear to have been spent in Queensland.

Juozas and Balys RUZGAS: Metraštis No.1 (p11) records that a post World War 2 migrant had encountered this father and son living at Gretna, Tasmania, operating a sawmilling business; the report noted that Juozas had arrived in 1927 followed by his son Balys 1937, and that they were known by the surname ROSS.  The current records on suggest a slightly different story:

  • Juozas Ruzgas [born 1 February 1890 in Lithuania, location unknown] arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia, in June 1930.  The passenger list for the Oronsay listed him as a farmer from Lithuania, aged 40, and bound for Inglehope Siding, via Pinjarrah, Western Australia. That area was known for its timber industry and it seems possible he was on his way there to obtain work in the timber industry. Unfortunately for him the Great Depression was well under way and competition for jobs would have been stiff.  Interestingly, Juozas travelled with three other Lithuanians aboard the Oronsay - K Zakas, J Vainilavičius and I Levinas - but these three men continued on towards the east coast.  After some time in Western Australia, Juozas also made his way to the east coast and made arrangements to allow his son to join him in Australia;
  • Balys Ruzgas [born 6 February 1914 in Lithuania, location unknown] arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, in February 1938 on the Orion.  Both he and his father appear to have lived in Victoria for the next several years; Balys is recorded as having resided in Abbotsford (a suburb of Melbourne) and also having been associated with the timber industry in northern Victoria.  By the late 1940s he is in Tasmania, known as William Ross, and operating the Ross and Triffitt Sawmill at Rosegarland (near Gretna); that business partnership was dissolved in 1949 and the business subsequently was renamed the Derwent Valley Timber Company.  
  • Both father and son appear to have remained in Tasmania.  The 1954 electoral roll shows William Ross and his wife Lena still living at Rosegarland, with William employed as a sawmiller.  Juozas (Joseph) Ruzgas, who continued to use his Lithuanian surname, had a house at nearby New Norfolk.    

Monday, 5 October 2015


The island of Tasmania (formerly Van Dieman's Land) has been welcoming small numbers of people from Lithuania for almost 200 years, probably longer than any other part of Australia.  The earliest arrivals were often sailors: 

Stanislav STANKEVICH (Stasys Stankevičius would be the Lithuanian version of his name) from Vilnius was one of four sailors who absconded from the Russian ship Kreiser in 1823.  While the other three gave themselves up after negotiations, Stankevich remained at large (Elena Govor, Australia in the Russian Mirror; changing perceptions 1770-1919 (Miegunyah Press, 1997), p8).

Ernst ELSNOR who was recorded as a native of Lithuania (region unspecified) on shipping records arrived as a convict aboard the English ship John in 1833.  He had been a bookbinder in London before receiving a 7 year sentence for stealing two shirts (Luda Popenhagen, Australian Lithuanians, (UNSW Press, 2012), p15).

Frederick Robert SUPPLIES was a sailor born around 1834 in Memel, Prussia (now Klaipėda, Lithuania).  He married in Tasmania in 1855 and fathered four children but was drowned off New Zealand in 1863 while serving as second mate aboard the Hargraves (

Charles GRINING was also from Memel/Klaipeda and has possibly left the clearest legacy of all early Lithuanian migrants.  The following is courtesy of World Heritage Cruises ( which is located on the beautiful West Coast of Tasmania and operated by Charles Grining's descendents:

Charles Grining: 1837 (Memel) - 1922 (Strahan)
Source: (several public family trees)
Charles Grining was born in 1837 in Memel, Prussia (today known as ‘Klaipeda’, Lithuania). He ran away to sea at the age of 11, becoming a cabin boy. After many years at sea he arrived in Australia, finding work around the mining fields of Victoria where he married an Irish lass, Mary Minnock. Mary was born in Kings County, Ireland, in 1841, in an area known today as Offlay. They were married in Daylesford, Victoria, and raised eight children.
In 1872 the Grinings moved to Trial Harbour (then known as Remine) on Tasmania’s West Coast, where a ninth child was born.
Charles and his two eldest sons worked the Heemskirk mineral fields for about eight years, but on the night of February 26, 1887, their lives were changed forever. A massive bushfire swept through the town, destroying everything in its path and driving the residents down to the sea for protection. With the family home destroyed, Charles decided to move his family to the new settlement of Strahan.
After re-establishing in Strahan, Charles built one of the town’s early hotels and became a sea-farer once more, this time building boats to ply the waters of Macquarie Harbour. He is remembered as one of the more influential businessmen of the period.
Two of the Grining boys followed their father down to the sea – Charles jnr as a sailor and Harry as a boat builder who was to distinguish himself as a master of his craft, building, among other boats, many of the famous Gordon River punts used by the piners.

I found Charles' story particularly interesting because of a possible family connection: Tasmanian licencing records show that in 1898 Charles Grining was the proprietor of the Royal Exchange Hotel in Strahan while my wife's grandfather Felix Arthur Burns was the proprietor of the Ringville Hotel near Rosebery.  After a short while at Ringville Felix moved on to operate the Terminus Hotel at Mount Read for many years.  I think it is almost certain that Charles and Felix knew each other.