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Bendix Hallenstein Jill Leichter


At 22, Bendix Hallenstein (1835-1905), a German Jew, followed his two brothers to the Australian goldfields after learning English and the art of business in Manchester, England. In Victoria, the brothers shared a house and ran a store and the three men all fell in love with Mary, their housekeeper. In the end, she chose Bendix to be her husband.

In 1863, they moved to New Zealand, lived briefly in Invercargill, then moved to Queenstown where he sold groceries, liquor, draperies and iron goods. He soon expanded the business to Cromwell, Arrowtown and Lawrence, became a wool agent, opened a flour mill, and farmed wheat, oats, and fruit trees. From 1869-1872, he was mayor of Queenstown. During his tenure, he planted trees, built bridges over the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers, as well as a new courthouse and a jail.

By all accounts Bendix was a good man. He was well liked and inventive and his businesses prospered. He was a leader in the Jewish community and although Mary was Anglican, they gave their daughters a Jewish education. Their girls were well educated and travelled to Europe to continue their education. Sarah married her cousin Willi Fels, Emily married Isidore de Beer, Henrietta married James Hyams, and Agnes married Siegfried Brasch. Together they ran the Hallenstein businesses and became the most prominent Jewish family in Dunedin.

In 1873, Bendix had difficulty sourcing men’s clothes for his stores. He solved the problem by opening the New Zealand Clothing Factory in Dunedin.  Three years later, he opened his first clothing store in the Octagon and by the turn of the century, there were 34 Hallenstein’s stores nationwide.

During the labour woes of the late 19th century, he fully supported unions and worker’s rights and argued publicly in favour of a tailoresses’ union. In 1883, Hallenstein started a special fund for his workers and used the interest to pay for free medicine for staff. 

Bendix’s spirit of egalitarianism was passed on to his daughters’ families who established fellowships at the University of Otago, funded purchases and donated rare books to the Hocken and University of Otago libraries, donated fine art to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and objects, including an amazing collection of Pacific artefacts, to the Otago Museum. His legacy lives on in the cultural institutions of Dunedin.


Image above: Bendix Hallenstein and family. 

Back row: Willi Fels, Agnes H., Frank Hyams, Henrietta Hyams.  Seated: Sarah Fels, Bendix H., Mary H., Emily de Beer with Mary Louise. Children: Kate Fels, Emily Fels, Helene Fels (mother of Charles Brasch). S06-453c - Hallenstein Family. Ex. MS-1392/101, De Beer Family Papers. Printed with permission of the Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago.

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