The Theomins in Dunedin

The Theomin Family led active lives of community commitment, with involvement in many fields of interest. They were well travelled and cultured.

read more about the members of the Theomin family

The Theomin family. Front: Dorothy Theomin, David Theomin,
Back: Edward Theomin, Marie Theomin.

Taken at the time of the building of Olveston
by Muir and Moodie, c. 1902.

The Theomin Family Tree

David Theomin.

David Theomin

Marie Theomin.

Marie Theomin
(née Michaelis)


Edward Theomin.

Edward Theomin

Dorothy Theomin.

Dorothy Theomin

click on a Theomin family member
to read more about their lives below

David Edward Theomin

David Theomin (born David Ezekiel Benjamin) was born in Bristol on 25 April, 1852. He was the third son of his father, Joseph Benjamin-Theomin, a Jewish Leader who had come from Central Europe sometime after the Napoleonic Wars to settle in England in the vicinity of Sheerness. Once in England, he discontinued using the name of Theomin. His first wife, Rebecca, bore him two sons, Abraham and Lewis and a daughter, Rebecca. After his first wife’s death, he moved to Bristol and married again in 1851. His second wife was Esther Braham, whose family had come to Devon from Bavaria before the middle of the eighteenth century. Esther’s first child was born in 1852 and was given the name David Ezekiel Benjamin. This name he retained officially until 1885. In 1854, Esther gave birth to a second child, who was named Helen. She was Joseph Benjamin’s second daughter and David Benjamin’s full sister.

David Benjamin was educated at Wharton’s School in Bristol, then between 1862 and 1864, at the Bristol Grammar School. He was apprenticed in the mercantile world of Bristol and continued to work in his birthplace until 1874 when he immigrated to Melbourne. His older half-brother, Abraham Benjamin was in business there. As a younger son in a family which was far from being well-to-do, David Benjamin found it necessary to strike out and make his own way in the world. In this, he was typical of a great many young men in the Britain of his time.

Four years after arriving in Melbourne, he took a trip to Auckland. From there, he set out to sail to Lyttelton on the steamship ‘Taranaki’ and he was shipwrecked in the Bay of Plenty. It was a wreck that claimed no lives. Having completed his visit to the South Island, David Benjamin returned to Melbourne where in January 1879, he married Marie Michaelis. The couple sailed for Dunedin and by 1881 they were living in Royal Terrace in a house, the land for which formed part of Olveston’s present site.

Quickly, the general importing firm of David Benjamin and Company was established and by the middle of the 1880’s the Dresden Piano Company was founded and soon extended to open branches in all the main towns of New Zealand. At the time of the First World War, the name of the firm was changed to the Bristol Piano Company. It was also in the eighties that David Benjamin and his father-in-law along with Messrs Hallenstein and Farquhar, helped develop the tannery at Sawyers Bay, later to become known as Glendermid Ltd.

In February 1885, close upon the birth of his first child, David Ezekiel Benjamin changed his name by Deed Poll. He resumed the surname his father had discarded after his migration to England and officially he came to be called David Edward Theomin.

With his businesses flourishing, Mr Theomin was able to develop his interest in the arts.

David Edward Theomin. David Theomin
Portrait taken by The Falk Studios, Melbourne, London.

He had a long and active association with the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and with the Royal Dunedin Male Choir. He was also an active private collector, a fact to which the contents of Olveston amply bears witness.

A public spirited man, David Theomin gave many years of service to the Patients’ and Prisoners’ Aid Society, the Shipwreck Relief Society and the Otago Patriotic and General Welfare Association. For twenty-seven years he served as a commissioner of the Dunedin Sinking Fund, a body responsible for ridding the city of its debt burden.

He was a member of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce and held the Presidency in 1901 and 1902. In 1900 he represented the Chamber of Commerce at the celebrations for the inauguration of the Federation of Australian States. He represented the same body at the Coronation of Edward V11 in 1902.

During much of his Dunedin life, he was President of the Hebrew Congregation. A man of small stature, he had, nevertheless, a commanding presence. In dress, he was immaculate. The commonest observation made of him referred to his unfailing kindness and consideration given to all who came his way.

David Theomin died at Olveston on 15 July, 1933 aged 81.

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  • David Theomin in his later years with daughter Dorothy Theomin. (1/22) David Theomin in his later years with daughter Dorothy Theomin.

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