Dr Joshua Van Oven (1766-1838)

by Saul Marks

Joshua Van Oven (1766-1838)

Joshua van Oven was a surgeon and educationist, who was born and lived the majority of his life in London. He was the son of physician Abraham van Oven (d.1778) whose roots were in Spain, according to family tradition. Abraham had settled in London in 1759, shortly after qualifying at Leiden in Holland. Both Abraham and his son were Hebrew scholars and private medical practitioners, and both served as honorary medical officers to the poor of the Great Synagogue in London. Joshua was an intellectual, hard-working and self-confident young man, who studied under Sir William Blizard, and qualified as licentiate of the Company of Surgeons in 1784.

In 1791, he married Elizabeth Goodman (d.1823, daughter of Hirsch Gutman), with whom he had two daughters and three sons. Their youngest son, Barnard, was also a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Van Oven conducted a large practice, first from his home in Bury Street and, later, at 14 Fenchurch Buildings, Fenchurch Street, and 12 Devonshire Square, Bishopsgate. He was in partnership with his son Barnard for many years. Inspired by his father, Van Oven took a strong interest in Jewish studies and Hebrew language and literature at a time of Jewish new learning on continental Europe. He corresponded with colleagues in Hebrew, wrote some Hebrew and English verse, and was a leading figure in efforts to promote Hebrew literature in Britain.

A smaller drawing of Joshua

Van Oven was instrumental in the establishment of the private Jewish boarding-school for Jewish boys in Highgate in 1799, of which the headmaster was his friend, the Hebraist Hyman Hurwitz. Van Oven was later one of the founders, and then president, of the Jews’ Free School in London in 1817, at which he encouraged the improvement of teaching methods and the extension of training in manual skills.
Periodically, he gave sermons in English at the Great Synagogue, and contributed to the nationwide movement for sermons in the vernacular. He frequently addressed the pupils at the Jews’ Free School on Jewish life and faith, and strongly believed in the training of cantors from within congregations, in styles more suited to English congregations. His works for young people include his English translation from the Hebrew of Elements of Faith by SJ Cohen (1815) and his Manual of Judaism (1835).


A detailed drawing of Joshua in the Jewish Encyclopedia

He almost developed a scheme for addressing the numerous unskilled, unemployed Jews of London, who were highlighted in a 1795 report. Van Oven and the report’s author, Patrick Colquhoun, proposed a scheme not dissimilar to those used in retirement homes today, but the financing, which was to have come from taxation within the Jewish community, was a victim of divisions within the community and opposition from the parishes. However, the opening of the Jews’ Hospital in Mile End (1807) was acknowledged to have been based on Van Oven’s proposals. Joshua and Barnard were also involved for many years in the campaign for Jewish civic and political emancipation, and Barnard was a major pamphleteer for the movement.

By 1830, Van Oven was deep in debt as a result of failed speculation and was declared insolvent. Consequently, he left London and settled in Liverpool in 1831, where he was cared for by his daughter, Harriet. He was an active member of the Liverpool Hebrew Congregation [it only became the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation in 1838, with the establishment of the New Congregation in Hope Place] in Seel Street, where, he occasionally delivered sermons, despite his failing health. Joshua Van Oven died at 10 Great George Street on 3 February 1838 and became one of the first few to be buried at Deane Road; his unique monument with its lengthy inscription is attached to the end wall of the cemetery and is in relatively good condition today. 

http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/71597 (subscription required)

Other Sources
- Jewish Chronicle, 13 January 1905, page 12 (available via JC Archiv(subscription required) at http://www.thejc.com).

Grave Reference
Joshua Van Oven (1766-1838): 1 (mounted on end wall)