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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Joel Fox

Joel Fox and his family

Joel Fox was born in 1803 in Lissa, Germany (now Leszno, Poland) and died in Norwich in 1872.

His father, Alexander Fox (1758-1846), came to England in about 1814-15. He had two sons Barnett, and Joel, the father of Alexander Fox (1830-1882) and grandfather of Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865-1915).

Alexander Fox was born Salkind Fabisch Fuchs in 1758 in Lissa, Prussia arriving in this country with his son Joel who was born in 1803. As national records in the UK only commenced in 1837 it is not known if his wife, Rechil, and daughter, Sorrel born in 1804, accompanied him as I can find no mention of them. Alexander had an elder son Barnett, born about 1790 This information comes partly from English censuses and partly from research in Leszno.

Research in Leszno identified Salkind Fabisch Fuchs as being a furrier with three children Barnett, Joel and Sorrel. There is no documentary evidence that the family arrived in England in 1814/15 but it can be inferred from there being no mention of the family in the civil sources in Leszno after 1814.

In 1826 there is mentioned in a London Business Directory the firm of Alexander Fox & Sons (Furriers) of Houndsditch, the first mention of the family in England. In 1842, Alexander was the subject of a highway robbery. I imagine that today this would have been called a mugging. In the newspaper report of the incident and the subsequent trial, Alexander is described as a 'Hebrew gentleman' and 'a fine venerable looking old man'.  Alexander died in 1846 at the age of 88. After his father's death, Barnett moved his family and business to Leeds, where Barnett was a leading light in the Jewish community.

Joel Fox went to live in Norwich in 1832 and was a founding father of the Norwich Jewish community for which service he was presented with a silver salver. The salver has had a checkered history. It went to Australia in the 1850s with Joel's son, also Alexander. In the 1970s it was stolen from a descendent of the Fox family and then re-appeared in 1998 when it was sold at Christies in New York.

In 1845, under the Act of 8 & 9 Vict. chapter 52, The Jewish Disabilities Removal Act, a Jewish person wishing to be admitted to municipal office was not required to  take the Christian oath. Joel Fox availed himself of the freedom granted by the Act to become a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom and stand for the Norwich City Council. In his Memorandum (statement) for his naturalisation papers dated 13th August 1846, Joel stated that he is "a native of the friendly kingdom of Prussia, 43 years of age, and is a fur manufacturer; is married and has two children; has resided in Norwich for fourteen years......has resided 30 years in the United Kingdom..."

Mr. Harry Levine in his history of the Norwich Jewish Community for the year 1840-1860 commented as follows upon Joel's naturalisation: 'the naturalisation must have been among the earliest recorded. The Naturalisation Bill was passed in 1773, (but see above The 1845 Jewish Disabilities Removal Act) but popular clamour against Jews caused it to be repealed the following year. Very few Jewish immigrants fleeing from the tyranny of Prussia had the means and resources to apply for naturalisation and it is a tribute to Joel Fox's personality and reputation that he not only applied, but was successful. Six years later he was elected to the Town Council. Joel Fox was President of the Norwich Hebrew Congregation and founder of the Synagogue in St. Faith's Lane, 1848-9.'

Joel was elected to the Town Council as a Liberal but an attempt was made to bribe him to vote for the Tories' choices for Aldermen. He was offered the halves of a number of treasury notes with the other halves to be given when he had carried out the vote for the Tories. There was much publicity given in national and local press around the country Joel refused the bribe and voted for his Liberal colleagues. A number of Tories were found guilty of corruption

Joel Fox married twice. His first wife, Eliza Emanuel (born circa 1800), was a daughter of Moses Emanuel, of Portsmouth. Joel and Eliza had two children, Alexander born in 1830 ,and Annie born in 1834. Annie married Maurice Fryer but had no children and died in 1914.

Joel Fox's second wife was named Sophia Samuel, a widow; they married on 11 March 1852 at the Great Synagogue in London. There were no children of this marriage.Joel was a successful furrier. In 1968 in the Beccles & Bungay Weekly News, there appeared news of his activities: 'Mr Joel Fox, furrier, of Norwich, has just sent to the Paris Exhibition a pair of very handsome ladies' muffs. One of these, and by far the most attractive, is made of the skin of the golden pheasant (with the head of the bird stuffed). on spotted miniver. It is lined with white silk, and has white cords and tassels. The other, which corresponds with it, is of the skin of a most beautifully marked British pheasant, on seal-skin, with dark brown silk lining, cords and tassels. Mr Fox has displayed a great taste and skill in the production of these beautiful muffs.'

The Norwich Mercury reported Joel Fox's death on 24 January 1872, stating him to have been "much respected by a large circle of friends".  Sophia Fox had died in 1859. However, it could be inferred from a photo of Sophia's headstone in the Earlham Cemetery that her death took place when Joel was able to erect a handsome head stone. Joel's own head stone is very simple. Either he had little money or for some reason his daughter could not help having been widowed in 1863.

Alexander Fox, the son of Joel and grandson of the original Alexander must have gone to Australia sometime after 1850 as the first we hear of him in Australia is when he married in 1854. The Victoria State Archives database of inbound ships shows an Alexander Fox arriving in Australia in October 1852 which fits in well with what we know. However, the age is given as 37 which is 15 years older than my Alexander Fox. Either this is an error or another Alexander Fox. I have not been able to find confirmation either way.

It is said that Alexander came to Australia as a "gentleman digger" in search of gold. At this distance it is very difficult to confirm the family story that Alexander went to Melbourne after prospecting in the goldfields in about 1853 or 1854. In his book about the family Len Fox says that Alexander was invited to visit the Phillips family and turned up one day in the typical gentleman digger's outfit of red shirt and white breeches with a revolver stuck in the back of the belt.  Rosetta Phillips was present with other Phillips family relatives and she is said to have asked whether a revolver could be quickly drawn and fired from such a position. Alexander replied that he would show how it was done and the gun went off accidentally wounding Rosetta slightly in the leg.

Romance blossomed during Alexander's visits to ask how she was. They married in Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne on September 20, 1854. Rosetta was nearly 20 and Alexander was four years older. The marriage was turbulent. Despite this they had eight children of whom one was Emanuel Phillips Fox, born in Fitzroy, Melbourne, in March 1865, Australia's foremost Jewish artist.

After the marriage the newly married couple lived in Bendigo, some 93 miles north west of Melbourne, Victoria. The town was then known as Sandhurst, an official name after the Royal Military Academy in the UK.

Alexander did not make his fortune as a gold digger but gradually became interested in  photography which was in its early days. However, it was difficult to be a stable breadwinner for his growing family. He would leave the family on his photographic trips, return for a reunion and be off again. Rosetta Phillips was known to Len Fox, the author of the book about the family, and to his elder sister to whom Rosetta spoke in her later years of her great affection for Alexander. Unfortunately this did not pay the bills and during one of his absences Rosetta's brothers insisted that this could not go on. They said that they would look after Rosetta and her children on condition that there were no more reunions as nine months after each one another child was born.

Although Alexander continued to write letters showing that he was still fond of Rosetta he was unable to send her any money because the bottom had fallen out of the photographic business as it always tended to in the early years in periods of economic depression.  Today, Alexander is recognised for his early photographs with examples in the National Gallery of Australia.

As far as his relatives knew Alexander disappeared with no one knowing what happened to him. Len Fox says in his book that it was possible that he headed for the goldfields of New Zealand or America and perished at sea. Len died in 2004 without knowing the final chapter of Alexander Fox's life.

One hundred and forty years after his 'disappearance' an Australian academic decided to write a book about Australia's early photographers and in his research he looked into the background of Alexander Fox and discovered what had actually happened to him. He went to the USA, firstly to Napa, California and then to Salt Lake City, Utah. In Salt Lake City he set up a photographic business , Fox and Simons in 1872. Alexander died in 1882 at the early age of 52. On his death record it is stated that he died of alcoholism. There is no evidence that he and Rosetta divorced but in the American census of 1880 he had a wife named Amelia. Research showed that she was a Mormon who might have been contented with polygamy but for Alexander this would have been bigamy. However, just because she appeared in the census as his wife it does not mean he married her. Further research would be needed to see if there is a marriage in America.

Meanwhile, Alexander's son Emanuel Phillips Fox was growing up in Melbourne without a father. He showed early talent and trained at the National Gallery Schools where he won awards for landscape painting at the gallery students' exhibitions in 1884 and 1886. In February 1887 travelled to Europe and studied in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. 1890 saw Emanuel  painting in Cornwall at St Ives. He returned to Melbourne in October 1892 and exhibited widely between 1893 and 1900 with  shows in Sydney, Adelaide and Bendigo. In 1893 he and Tudor St George Tucker with whom he had studied in Paris established the Melbourne School of Art which was the most dynamic art school in Melbourne in the 1890s.

Emanuel returned to Europe in 1901 working in St Ives and London where he exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1903 - 1912.

On 9 May 1905 Emanuel married Ethel Carrick at St Peter's Church, Ealing, London. After this they spent time until 1913 in Europe and North Africa while based Paris. During these years Emanuel's art was recognised and celebrated allowing them a comfortable life. He became a member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers and, an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1907.

The outbreak of the First World War saw Emanuel and Ethel return to Melbourne where they helped to organize an art union in aid of war funds and the French Red Cross.

However, shortly after this Emanuel was diagnosed with cancer and died on October 8 1915 at the early age of 50. Today, Emanuel is recognised as one of Australia's foremost figure painters and colourists Ethel, herself a recognised and gifted artist, lived on for many years and died aged 80 in 1952.

The journey from the birth of Salkind Fabisch Fuchs, the furrier, of Lissa, Prussia to the death of Emanuel Phillips Fox, the artist in Australia took nearly 160 years via London, Norwich, Melbourne and Salt Lake City and shows a fascinating saga of immigration and settlement into new life.


Diane Barnett

April 2011