Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Montefiore, Moses Haim

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1330623Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 38 — Montefiore, Moses Haim1894James McMullen Rigg

MONTEFIORE, Sir MOSES HAIM (1784–1885), philanthropist and centenarian eldest son of Joseph Eliahu Montefiore, Italian merchant, of London, by Rachel, daughter of Abraham Lumbroso de Mattos Mocatta, was born in the Via Reale, Leghorn, on 24 Oct. 1784. His paternal ancestors were Jewish merchants settled in the seventeenth century at Ancona and Leghorn, his grandfather and namesake having emigrated from the latter place to London in 1758. His mother's family was of the most ancient among the Spanish Jews.

Montefiore received an ordinary commercial education in London, and, after spending some time in a mercantile house, acquired for 1,200l. the right to act as a broker on the London Stock Exchange, where the number of Jewish brokers was then limited to twelve. He rapidly amassed a fortune, and in 1824 retired from business. Thenceforth he gave himself up almost entirely to the service of the Jewish race at home and abroad. In 1827, on his way to Jerusalem, he paid a first visit to Egypt, where he had a private audience of Mehemet Ali. On his return to England he became a member of the United Deputies of British Jews, and threw himself with energy into the struggle for emancipation. In 1837 he was chosen sheriff of London, and knighted on the occasion of the queen's visit to Guildhall (9 Nov.) Full of a scheme for planting Jewish colonies in Syria, he returned to the Levant in 1839, and submitted it to Mehemet Ali, who promised to give it favourable consideration, and suffered it to fall through. In the following summer he intervened on behalf of some unfortunate Jews who had been arrested and tortured at Damascus on a charge of 'ritual murder.' At the head of a deputation from the Jewish communities of England and France, he pleaded the cause of the prisoners before Mehemet Ali, convinced him of their innocence, and obtained their release (September 1840). He then proceeded to Constantinople, and obtained from the sultan a firman, placing Jews on the same footing as other aliens throughout the Ottoman empire (November). On his return to England Montefiore was presented to the queen, who testified her sympathy with his self-denying exertions on behalf of his race by granting him the privilege of bearing supporters to his arms, with the inscription 'Jerusalem' in Hebrew characters. His own people recognised his services by the appointment of a day of thanksgiving, and the presentation to him of a silver pyramid ornamented with allegorical figures.

On 20 April 1844 (O.S.) Tsar Nicholas of Russia issued a ukase for the removal into the interior of all Jews domiciled within fifty versts of the German and Austrian frontiers. When the news of this unjust act reached England, Montefiore made strong representations to the Russian ambassador, Count Brunnow, which resulted in a suspension of the ukase. Its threatened reissue brought Montefiore to St. Petersburg in the spring of 1846. He was admitted by the tsar to a private audience, and obtained the abrogation of the obnoxious ukase. At the tsar's suggestion he made a tour in Eastern Russia, in the course of which he made careful notes of the condition of the Jewish population, which he afterwards communicated to the Russian ministry. On his return to England a baronetcy was conferred upon him (23 July 1846).

In consequence of a revival of strong anti-Semitic feeling in Syria in 1847, Montefiore obtained through Guizot (9 Aug.) a private audience of Louis-Philippe, whom he besought, as protector of the Christians in that country, to repress the agitation. The king received him with marked respect, and gave and kept the desired promise.

Montefiore took a principal part in the collection and distribution of the fund for the relief of the sufferers by the Syrian famine of 1855, in the summer of which year he founded at Jerusalem a girls' school and hospital : some almshouses were erected at a later date. In 1858 Montefiore's attention was engrossed by the celebrated Mortara case. Edgar Mortara, a child of Jewish parents resident at Bologna, had been secretly baptised by his catholic nurse, who disclosed the fact in the confessional ; and on 23 June 1858 the papal police, acting under the instructions of the holy office, removed the child from the custody of his parents and placed him in a Dominican convent to be educated as a Christian. The child's father applied in vain both to the holy office and to the pope for his restitution, and his mother died of grief. The affair created a panic among the Jewish population of Italy, and aroused the utmost indignation throughout Europe, and remonstrances were addressed to the papal government by the great powers, but without effect. As a last resource Montefiore undertook the almost hopeless enterprise of personal appeal to Pope Pius IX, and in April 1859 went to Rome for the purpose. The audience was refused ; the pope consented, through Cardinal Antonelli, to receive Montefiore's petition, but remained inflexible. Mortara was educated as a catholic, and eventually entered the priesthood.

In 1860 Montefiore's impartial philanthropy was exercised in raising funds for the relief both of Jewish refugees, whom the apprehension of war between Spain and Morocco had brought to Gibraltar, and of the Christian survivors of the massacre of the Lebanon. In the spring of 1863 he visited Constantinople, and obtained the confirmation by the new Sultan, Abdul-Aziz, of all firmans granted by his predecessor in favour of the Jews. An outbreak of anti-Semitic fanaticism in Tangier in the following autumn led the veteran philanthropist, now in his eighty-first year, to undertake a mission to Morocco. H.M.S. Magicienne carried him from Gibraltar to Mogador, whence, under an escort provided by the sultan, he crossed the Atlas desert, arriving at Morocco on 26 Jan. 1864. He was well received by the sultan, who issued an edict placing the Jews upon a footing of perfect equality with his other subjects. In 1866 he was once more in Syria, distributing alms to the sufferers by a recent plague of locusts and epidemic of cholera. In the following year he visited Bucharest, and interceded with Prince Charles on behalf of the persecuted Jews of Moldavia (August 1867). By the prince he was well received, but the excited populace surrounded his hotel and threatened his life. Though in ill-health, he maintained perfect self-possession, quieted the mob by addressing them from an open window, and afterwards drove through the streets without escort in an open carriage. In 1872, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Peter the Great, Montefiore carried to St. Petersburg an address from the British Jewish community felicitating Tsar Alexander II upon the event. He was then in his eighty-eighth year, and the tsar, to mark his respect for his aged visitor, left his troops, whose summer manoeuvres he was then directing, and returned to St. Petersburg to receive him at the Winter Palace (24 July). A seventh and final pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which Montefiore made in the summer of 1875, is described in his 'Narrative of a Forty Days' Sojourn in the Holy Land,' printed for private circulation on his return. He passed the rest of his days in comparative seclusion at his seat, East Cliff Lodge, Ramsgate, where he died on 28 July 1885, within three months of completing his hundred and first year. His remains were interred in a private mausoleum on his estate. Montefiore was one of the strictest of Jews, rigidly orthodox in his religious opinions, and scrupulously exact in his observance of the precepts of the Mosaic law. On his death without issue the baronetcy became extinct, but a similar honour was conferred, on 16 Feb. 1886, on Montefiore's grandnephew, Francis Abraham Montefiore (b. 1860). Montefiore was brought into close relationship with the Rothschild family by his marriage, 10 June 1812, with Judith, second daughter of Levi Barent Cohen, whose sister Hannah was wife of Baron Nathan Mayer de Rothschild (1777-1836). Lady Montefiore was a woman no less remarkable for vigour and refinement of mind than for beauty, piety, and benevolence. She died on 24 Sept. 1862, and was buried in the mausoleum at Ramsgate.

Lady Montefiore was her husband's inseparable companion in his wanderings, which not unfrequently involved great personal risk and hardship Their first expedition to the East is described in her entertaining 'Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine by way of Italy and the Mediterranean,' printed for private circulation, London, 1836, 8vo. A portrait of Montefiore by H. Weigall was lent by him to the Victorian Exhibition.

[Diaries of Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore, ed. Dr. L. Loewe, 1890 (portrait); Wolf's Sir Moses Montefiore, 1884; Bailey's Modern Methuselahs, 1888; An Open Letter addressed to Sir Moses Montefiore, bart., &c., 1875.]

J. M. R.