Ottolangui UK Ottolangui-Langley OZ & NZ

The Shipwreck

Jacob (John) Ottolangui (Langley) 1834 – 1894
Fanny Ottolangui (Langley) nee Simmons 1838 – 1917

Madras in 1858 ( now Chennai)

35 Bourke Street and Nicholas Lane (now Myers Lane)
Photographs taken in 2005, now Heritage Listed.

Jacob Ottolangui was born on the 19 November 1834 in Spitalfields, Christchurch, Middlesex (now London E1, England) The eldest son of Moses Ottolangui and Emma Bensabat(h). His birth record from Bevis Marks Synagogue names him Jacob Ottolengui.  According to census records Jacob was born and raised at 29 Shepherd Street, Spitalfields. He was the second born of eleven children.

On 1st September 1851 Jacob aged 18 set off on an adventure with his cousins Jacob Bensabat aged 17 (son of Jacob O’s mother’s brother David Bensabat) and Juda Mendes 17 (brother of Gershon Mendes, Jacob O’s brother-in-law) travelling to New York, USA on the good ship “Julia Howard”. They claim to be Cabinet Makers and carry between them two boxes and a bundle.

By the mid 1850’s Jacob had returned to London and on 19th August 1857 he married Fanny Simmons (born 1838) at the home of her parents Isaac and Rachel (nee Solomon) Simmons of 29 Field Lane, Holborn, London. Fanny was born and raised at this address and was one of six children.

Fanny Ottolangui nee Simmons

It is interesting to note one of Fanny’s brothers, Henry Simmons, married Jacob Ottolangui’s cousin Rachel Ottolangui.

Just two months after their marriage on 7th October 1857 Jacob and Fanny along with his brother Israel Ottolangui and their cousin Abraham Ottolangui embarked on board the good ship ‘Helen’ departing from London for Melbourne, Australia. With the discovery of gold in nearby Ballarat (1851) some years earlier, Melbourne was now a ‘Boom Town’ attracting immigrants and adventurers seeking their fortune on the gold fields.

Unfortunately, just eight weeks into the voyage the ship carrying 21 passengers caught on fire and all the family’s belongings valued at 900 pounds – worth about 12,000 pound today……!

Loss of the Helen by FireThe Jewish Chronicle 9th April 1858

An urgent appeal to the benevolent

On the ill-fated vessel destroyed by fire on her voyage from London to Melbourne there were five coreligionists Jacob Langley otherwise Ottolangui and his wife, Abraham and Israel Ottolangui, and Nathan Barnet.  They were emigrating to Australia carrying with them all their property and goods to the amount of 900 pounds .  Rescued at last from the alternative of a fiery or watery grave, they were totally unable to save anything from the flames, save the clothes on their backs, as may be seen from the following extracts from the “Morning Advertiser” of the 3rd ult and the “Standard” of the 27th ult:


Sir, I beg leave to communicate to you the following distressing account of the loss by fire of the ill fated ship “Helen”, which I have received from my brother who writes from Madras under date the 18th January.  My brother was a passenger on board the ‘Helen’, and your publication of the annexed extract may serve to expel the anxiety of those whose friends embarked with him on the voyage which met with such melancholy interruption.

I am, Sir, yours, &c.

March 1st, 1858

I take the first opportunity which has been offered to me to communicate an occurrence of a very painful character.  I left London on the 7th October, and had a very pleasant sail until the 7th December, when we were aroused from our beds at 2 o’clock in the morning, by the cry of “Fire!”.  Little can I explain the feelings which agitated me when I reached the deck the ship being already a mass of fire.  We immediately directed our course for Algoa Bay 500 miles distant.  I had to go to the pump at half past 2 o’clock and remain there all that day and the next night, together with other of the passengers, until my fatigue became almost intolerable.

The smoke now made its way out of the hatches and diffused itself in all other directions which compelled us to stop up every part of the ship to smother the fire, but for which we should all have suffocated.  All this time a strong gale of wind was blowing from the south-west and a strong wind running.  On Tuesday December the 8th, we sighted a ship and at once bore down on her, hoisting our flag of distress.  She heaved down upon us and upon us making known to her our position, she said she would take us high, and Almighty God only knows how we reached the ship in safety.  Thank God in his great mercy, however, not a life was lost, and our preservation was most miraculous against such a sea and wind.  The ship that took us on board was a Swedish Schooner from Shields laden with coal for Madras, and she was called the “Thor of Gaffe”.  I still look back in horror on the frightful fate that threatened us in the ill-fated vessel.  Every night I thought we should have been burnt up in her; our rations were reduced to a pint of water and two biscuits a day which had to serve us in place of breakfast and tea, and we were kept on two meals a day, at nine and four o’clock; we could not eat the meat for fear of scurvy; you can hardly conceal my feelings in this shocking situation which we had for four weeks: at the end of that time we fell in with an English vessel which furnished us with some wholesome food, and we landed at Madras a fortnight onwards on the 16th of January.  The only things I saved from the ill-fated vessel were one blue shirt, a pair of slippers, a cap, a pair of trowsers, and my old coat and not a farthing in money.

After weeks of indescribable deprivations and intense suffering they at last reached Madras in safety, where they are now supported in the Sailor’s Home. Being reduced to beggary and in a strange land amongst strangers, they are unable to either return to their mother country, or to prosecute their voyage to their new home.  The benevolent are therefore urgently appealed by to the undersigned, who vouch for the truth of the statements made, to assist by relieving the misery inflicted by this dire calamity on fellow-beings united by the ties of common religion, and anxiously look forward to being able to restore at least partially the goods lost, and to continue their voyage to Melbourne.


 There can be no doubt that these poor people will receive all the care and attention the Sailor’s House can afford to give, but theirs is a case imminently commending itself to the sympathies of a benevolent public.  All the passengers have been beggared in their praise-worthy endeavour to push their fortunes in a different country from their own, and although we are certain that Captain Biden will not fail to raise his voice on their behalf, there is yet plenty of room in their present necessitous state.  They are much in need of clothing, the females particularly and anything in this shape that our lady readers may see fit to send will be received with thanks.

We take this opportunity respectfully to call the attention of the friends to charity who have not yet responded to this appeal, and we confidently hope that the benevolent will not withhold that support so necessary and well deserving to carry out its intentions.

That as there are five coreligionists in a foreign land, away from home and friends, and in the most deplorable conditions, that the Jewish community, will assist in important charity, so that relief may be afforded the sufferers in their present state of misery.

We beg most respectfully to state that some of the gentlemen who have kindly consented to receive donations, are desirous of meeting at Sussex Hall, Leadenhall Street, on Tuesday 13th of April, 3618 – 1858, at 4 for 5 o’clock, for the purpose of receiving report as to the sum already received, and it’s disbursements.

Benevolent contributions will be thankfully received by the Rev Dr N M Adler’, Crosby Square, Bishopsgate; Rev A Levy, College, Smith’s Buildings, Leadenhall Street; Rev A Barnet, Synagogue, St Helen’s; M Levy Esq., Stanhope Terrace, Hyde Park; M Davis Esq., 113 Tottenham Court Road, and 30 Union Street, Bishopsgate; H Solomons Esq., Heneage Lane, Bevis Marks; S Fullslove Esq., 61 Farrington Street; S & I Solomons Esq., 1 Charring Cross; S Hart Esq., 35 Mount Street, Westminster Road; I Nathan Esq., 114 Bethnal Green Road; James Meacock, Esq., 7 Snowhill; J Lyon Esq., 11 Wilson Street, Finsbury; Charles Marks Esq., 37 Alfred Place, Bedford Square; and at the office of the “Jewish Chronicle”.

Rev D JOSEPH, 33 Maiden Lane Covent Garden, Hon. Sec. C JOEL, 1 Tilley Street, Spitalfields, Assistant See.

Helen. Wooden ship, 1003 tons. Built at Boston, USA, 1857. Captain West With twenty-one passengers and twenty-three crew and a valuable general cargo, left London for Melbourne on 7th October 1857. In December caught fire and headed for Algoa Bay one thousand kilometres away while boats were prepared in case of emergency. On 8th December sighted the Swedish ship “Thor” and was finally abandoned in latitude 37O50’S, longitude 31O12’E. The passengers and crew were forced to leave her without any of their personal belongings but were well cared for while being transferred to several passing vessels before finally reaching Madras, India, where in dire straits they were eventually placed on R.M.S. European for Australia. 

In March 1858 Jacob, Fanny, Israel & Abraham and the other Jewish man Nathan Barnett, arrived in Melbourne on board the ship the ‘European’

LANGLEY           MRS 35 MAR 1858 EUROPEAN F 056 001

LANGLEY          ALFD 20 MAR 1858 EUROPEAN F 056 001

LANGLEY          ISAAC 22 MAR 1858 EUROPEAN F 056 001

LANGLEY          J 29 MAR 1858 EUROPEAN F 056 001

BARNETT N      24 MAR 1858 EUROPEAN F 056 001

Their ages are not quite right and we are not sure why Abraham (Richard) is using the name Isaac unless of course this was his middle name. Israel was known as Alfred and died as Alfred Langley in New Zealand.

Abraham (Richard) Ottolangui
Israel Ottolangui a.k.a. Alfred Langley & his wife Mary Ann

We can presume Jacob, Fanny, Abraham (Richard) and Israel (Alfred) arrived in Melbourne rather destitute after losing all their worldly possessions and would have relied on help from the Jewish community to get back on their feet again.

1859 proved to be an important year for Jacob. Fanny gave birth to a son, Maurice, and Jacob opened a ‘China Shop’ in the heart of Melbourne, a business which was to last 36 years.

From the directories: Known as “John Morris” Langley:

1860 – at 206 Bourke St East (Earthenware dealer), Melbourne.

1863 – 208 Bourke St, Melbourne.

1885 – 218 Bourke St, Melbourne.

When Jacob opened his shop in 1859, it was the heyday of the gold rush, and money was pouring into Melbourne. The glass and china industries had not yet been established in either Australia or New Zealand, and so domestic items such as drinking glasses and plates all had to be imported. It was a golden opportunity – the market was there, and so was the money. Immigrants were pouring into Melbourne, and young couples were setting up new homes on all sides. Jacob’s shop, right at the centre of the town, must have been a success from the first day. In 1861, Melbourne was declared a city, and its growth continued to spiral upwards.

By 1861 brother Israel (Alfred) and cousin Abraham (Richard) had now travelled onto New Zealand.

Sometime in the early 1860’s Jacob took his wife and sons, Maurice, Isaac and George back to England, perhaps this was to cement his business relationship with the English suppliers of his wares, they returned to Melbourne on board the ship ‘Yorkshire’ in 1864.

In 1872 Israel (Alfred) opened the second ‘China Shop’ in Revell Street, Hokitika, New Zealand and in 1875, his younger brother David had established the third ‘China Shop’ in Dunedin, New Zealand, another town that was booming at the time as a result of the discovery of gold in Otago in the 1860’s. There is much evidence to suggest that there were many trips between Melbourne, Hokitika and Dunedin, and so some sort of co-operative commercial venture between Jacob and brothers Israel (Alfred) and David is highly likely.

Jacob’s first shop was at 164 Russell Street where he remained for three years. By 1862, he had moved his shop around the corner to 206 Bourke Street (south side) where he was to remain until 1866, the year his parents Moses and Emma Ottolangui arrived from England. In 1867, his address changes to no. 218 where his shop was to remain until 1888.

By the 1880’s the gold had run out, and a major economic depression had set in. By 1881 Melbourne’s boom time was over and a devastating depression began. Many businesses closed down but Jacob’s shop survived, although it’s not difficult to understand that his business must have been terribly affected by the events of those years. The glass and crockery business was running out of steam. In 1887, just two years after Jacob’s father Moses Ottolangui died, the local business directory lists Jacob’s shop as a “portmanteau manufacturer”. The sudden switch to suitcases after almost 30 years in the china trade, clearly points to a major crisis in the business. The suitcase business, however, was apparently unable to generate enough cash to sustain the business, and in 1888, his listing in the business directory changes again to “General Importer”, possibly relying on the relationships he had established in former days with exporters in England. The following year (1889) saw a change of address to 35 Bourke Street, now further away from the central downtown area, which we have to interpret as a desperate move to reduce overheads. Jacob managed to stay at 35 Bourke Street for another three years and in his final year in business; he tries the “portmanteau” business again and advertises himself as a “trunk importer”.

In 1891 at 58 years of age, Jacob must have decided the time was right to retire. Jacob rented his premises at 35 Bourke Street to the Government for £375 per year and it was used as a Post and Telegraph Office.

Jacob and Fanny moved to 195 Victoria Parade, (Roslin House) Fitzroy.  They were to remain there until John died in 1894 at the age of 60.

Fanny remained in Melbourne and died on the 26 February 1917.  At the time of her death she was living with her son Isaac Ottolangui/Langley and family on Wellington Street, Windsor.

Jacob Ottolangui and Fanny Simmons had 9 children:

Maurice Ottolangui/Langley        b.1859 Melbourne, d.1933 Melbourne (Murdered)

Isaac Ottolangui/Langley              b.1860 Melbourne, d.1942 Melbourne

George Ottolangui/Langley          b.1863 Melbourne, d.1948 Sydney

Emma Ottolangui/Langley           b.1865 Melbourne, d.1950 Melbourne

Rachel Ottolangui/Langley           b.1867 Melbourne, d.1954 Sydney

Henry (Harry) Ottolangui/Langley            b.1869 Melbourne, d.1956 Melbourne

Aaron (Arthur) Ottolangui/Langley          b.1871 Melbourne, d.1955 Sydney

Joshua Ottolangui/Langley                           b.1876 Melbourne, d.1884 Melbourne

Unnamed Female Ottolangui/Langley     1881-1881, Melbourne

Researched and written by Merle Langley.

By bryanell2020

Occasional genealogist and full-time Ottolangui family historian. 8th generation descendant of the 17th century Ottolenghi family of Livorno, born in London, graduated in Birmingham, lived around the United Kingdom, Israel, and in Rome, Italy. For a short while in Buenos Aires, and currently residing in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where I have been since 2005.

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