Selina Cohen was the Mayoress of the City of Adelaide (married to the Mayor) between 1889-890, 1901-1904, 1909-1911, and Lady Mayoress between 1921-1923.
Selina was the fourth child and second daughter of Mark and Henrietta Marks. She was born in Melbourne in 1856. Her father owned the ship in which he and his family sailed from England to Australia. Selina was brought up in a wealthy Jewish household in Melbourne.
On 9 April, 1873, Selina married Lewis Cohen. Their marriage was recorded in the Jewish newspaper.
Lewis Cohen – Marriage 9.4.1873, at the residence of the bride’s parents, by Rev. AF Ornistien, assisted by Rev. LGoldstein, eldest son of Henry Cohen, Sydney, to Selina, 2nd daughter of Mark Marks, Victoria House, Albert Street, East Melbourne.
Lewis was aged twenty four, Selina was seventeen. I have a diary of Lewis’s for that time in which he writes of “his darling Selina”.
Who was Lewis Cohen? He was the eldest son of Henry and Elizabeth Cohen who came to Sydney from Liverpool in 1851. When Lewis was 13 years old the family returned to England so that Lewis could attend a Jewish College. When he was seventeen the family returned to Sydney.
After working in his father’s office for some time, Lewis was financed by his father to go to Fiji to trade in cotton, copra, trepang and tortoise-shell. There are conflicting dates for Lewis’s time in Fiji. I have photos of both Selina and Lewis taken in Fiji in 1873. Selina is wearing an engagement ring or a wedding ring, or possibly both. It is possible that Selina and Lewis spent the first years of their married life in Fiji. If they did it is probable that their son Henry was born there.
In 1876 Selina and Lewis and their two young children moved to Adelaide to live. Lewis was an asthmatic and it was suggested to him that the climate of Adelaide would be beneficial to his health. People did not know then that Adelaide was the driest city in the driest country in the world. The climate obviously suited Lewis as he lived to the age of eighty three. Henry and Hannah (my grandmother), their small son and daughter, came to Adelaide with them. They had four more children:
Mark Victor Napoleon 1880 – 1926
Horace Alan Louis 1880 - 1900
Jessel Rupert 1882 - ?1948
Gladys Elizabeth KRANTZ, later LEVY 1888 – 1966
Lewis opened a branch of the Melbourne based London Loan and Discount Bank. In time he prospered and became a stockbroker and wealthy businessman.
Lewis was a member of the Adelaide City Council for twenty seven years, but not continuously. He was also a Member of Parliament. He loved entertaining and Selina was an accomplished hostess. She was thirty three years old when she first became Mayoress of Adelaide. After being Mayoress for seven years she was Lady Mayoress for two years, from 1921 to 1923.
Both Selina and Lewis were active in the Jewish community in Adelaide, and Selina was an acomplished public speaker. In 1890 she founded “The Wattle League,” which was the women’s offshoot of the Australian Natives’ Association.
In 1873 Selina visited, or possibly lived in Fiji.
In 1911 Lewis and Selina represented the City of Adelaide at the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in London.
Selina and Lewis entertained lavishly. In 1891 they gave a Ball in the Exhibition Building to which they invited 3,600 guests. Selina was an excellent hostess. Dinner at the Cohen home was always a formal occasion. The butler and maid waiting at table wore white gloves.
For the Lewis Cohens, Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Adelaide, 1923 was a particularly glittering year – the year of their Golden Wedding. Mrs Cohen was one of the acknowledged fashion leaders of the day and whether it was a mayoral ball or an afternoon tea you could count on her dressing up for the occasion. Details of her ensembles took up inches in the social columns. Mrs Cohen gave a mayoral reception for Miss Gladys Pott, chairman of the Overseas Settlement of British Women. The Lady Mayoress’s reception room was definitely one of THE places to be in 1923.” Lewis chose many of Selina’s clothes.
In later life Selina had bouts of depression. Lewis is known to have had several mistresses. Was Selina’s depression caused by Lewis’s philandering, or did Selina’s depression cause Lewis’s philandering? Hannah Bridgland, the Cohens’ elder daughter, with her husband Harrie and son Walter lived with them for many years. Hannah sometimes acted as hostess for her father, and deputised for her mother as Mayoress and later as Lady Mayoress.
1933 was the year of Selina and Lewis’s Diamond Wedding. Invitations were sent out for a luncheon. One was sent to me. I have it still. I was three years old. Due to Lewis’s ill health the party cancelled.
Lewis died in June 1933 and Selina three months later.
They were my great grandparents. I called them Ga and Pa.
Margot Bailey AUA
Daughter of Walter and Elizabeth Bridgland
Great granddaughter of Selina and Lewis Cohen
Berger, D, The Jewish Victorian Genealogical Information from Jewish newspapers 1871 – 1880, Witney: Robert Boyd Publications, 1999.
Morton, P, After Light: a history of the city of Adelaide and its council, 1878-1928, Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 1996.
Rubinstein, H, The Jews in Australia: A Thematic History, Vol.1, 1788 – 1945.
The Mail , 'Sir Lewis Cohen Dies, Aged 83', 24 June 1933, p1.
The News, 'The Social Scene of Adelaide 1923, 23 July 1973.
Oral History told to Margot Bailey by her father and mother, Walter and Elizabeth Bridgland, and her grandmother, Hannah Bridgland (nee Cohen).
Conflicting dates for Lewis’s time in Fiji.
The Adelaide newspaper “The South Australian” of July 8th, 1926, states that he went to Fiji in 1866 and stayed there or 4 years, that is until 1870.
In the book “The Jews in Australia” Hilary Rubinstein says that Lewis’s brother Isaiah, who was also known as Reginald, joined Lewis in Levuka (one of the Fijian islands) in 1874.
“The Dictionary of Biography” says that Lewis returned to Australia 1873.
The “Cyclopedia of South Australia 1907 – 1909 says that Lewis went to Fiji in 1870 and returned to Australia in 1873.