Louis Benas (1820-1890) and Family
by Saul Marks
Louis’ tombstone reads “A descendant of Don Isaac Abarbanel of Spain and of the Maharam of Padua, Italy”. Abarbanel (1437-1508) was one of the wealthiest and most important Jews in Spain, but his bribes to the king failed to prevent the expulsion of all the Jews in 1492. Eventually, he settled in Venice. His lifetime religious and philosophical works are still greatly respected by Jewish scholars today. The Maharam of Padua was born Meir ben Isaac (c.1482-1565) in Katzenelnbogen, Germany, and took Katzenellenbogen as his surname. He served as the chief rabbi of Padua for much of his life and was a leading authority in world Judaism in the first half of the 16th century. His descendants included many rabbis.
Louis Benas’ son, Baron (see below), explained the family’s connection with these reminiscences:
“An ancestor of mine was one of the Sephardim who may be regarded as having inaugurated Jewish communal existence in Liverpool. This particular ancestor sprang from those bands of voyagers, who at the time flourished in the Peninsula, and, when forced by Spanish and Portuguese persecution to seek homes elsewhere, settled in the West Indies, and cultivated a trade with English ports engaged in trans-Atlantic commerce…
My grandmother, Isabel Hoff, was a direct descendant of Don Isaac Abarbanel. I can thus claim kinship to the family of Don Abarbanel Dormido, whose name is prominently connected with the settlement of the Jews in England under the Commonwealth. Through my mother, on the other hand, I am related to several prominent personages in the earlier communal life of the metropolis. One of her uncles was Mr Moses Samuel, of Bath and Park Crescent, and she was a near kinswoman of Sir Benjamin Phillips and of Baron Henry de Worms, who became Lord Pirbright.”
Louis Benas (1820-1890)
Louis Benas (aka Keiler) was born in Krotoschin, Prussia (now Krotoszyn, Poland), in 1820 and married there in 1841. His wife, Rose, had an equally distinguished ancestry. Her father was Rabbi Issacher Beir Lichtenstadt (1760-1837), also from Krotoschin. Both he and Rose’s mother, Rebecca Phillips (1774-1855) were also descended from the Katzenellenbogen family, mentioned above. Rose’s brother, Rev Raphael Barnett, settled in Liverpool probably in the late 1830s.
Louis began as a master boot- and shoemaker in London and, in 1854, he naturalised as a British citizen, by which time he was already the “householder of four houses”. By 1865, he had moved to Liverpool and established himself as a banker. He owned property in both cities and opened a bank named Louis Benas and Sons, which existed for several decades in second half of the nineteenth century and in which he and all three of his sons were heavily involved. He was also a leading figure in the campaign for full political emancipation of the Jews in England.
Unfortunately, Louis spent around the last 20 years of his life paralysed, possibly from a stroke, thereby excluding him from the municipal and political life in which he had been so active.
Louis and Rose had eight children, of whom the eldest was Baron Louis Benas (1844-1914). Baron was one of the most well-known figures in the Liverpool Jewish community, leading not only the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation, but also the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society. He is noted for writing the “Records of the Jews of Liverpool” (1899), which is the seminal work on the history of the community in the city. Baron’s son was Bertram Benjamin Baron Benas (1880-1968), a much-loved barrister, JP and CBE, who wrote a follow-up to his father’s historical work on the community. Both Baron and Bertram are buried at Deane Road’s successor, Broad Green Cemetery.
Louis and Rose’s second son, Alfred Louis Benas, is buried at Deane Road. He served as Junior Treasurer of LOHC in 1885-86, Senior Treasurer 1886-89 and Junior Warden 1889-91. It is not known why he was never elected Senior Warden, to complete his rise through the officers’ hierarchy.
Sadly, Louis and Rose lost two daughters, one in infancy in London and the other, Louisa, aged 23 in Liverpool, in 1873. She is buried at Deane Road, alongside her parents.
- Jewish Chronicle 16 January 1914, page 18 (available via JC Archive (subscription required) at http://www.thejc.com/).
- Liverpool Daily Post 29 April 1890.
- Louis Benas (aka Keiler) naturalisation papers, TNA ref HO 1/55/1879.
Louis Benas (1820-1890): A 10.11
Rose Benas (née Barnett or Lichtenstadt, his wife; 1822-1907): A 10.12
Louisa Benas (their daughter; 1850-1873): A 10.10
Alfred L Benas (their son; 1847-1901): A 27.08