Ezekiel Abraham Ezekiel


I first came across the name of Ezekiel Abraham Ezekiel whilstgoing through the records of the Exeter Assay Office, picking out thenames of Jewish silversmiths who had worked in the west country inthe eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The record was brief - atotal of eight silver medals, all hallmarked in February 1801, andone seal hallmarked the following September. Hardly a large output,and I presumed his presence had been transient.

But then I found out that one Abraham Ezekiel had been amongstthose responsible for the erection of Exeter Synagogue in 1763, anddecided to delve deeper. I rummaged through the card index to theExeter Flying Post in the Westcountry Studies Library, and noted downseveral pages of references, including a whole page of Ezekiels. Ialso skipped around the many drawers of the Burnet Morris Index inthe same library, and found a few more. Burnet Morris was dangerousterritory, for he opened up many more avenues for exploration, all ofthem madly tantalising. Chasing up all his references sent mescurrying round every library and learned institution in Exeter, andthen off to London for the British Library and Museum, and theMocatta Library at University College. Here I spent a busy two daysflicking through the indexes of many books and journals, photocopyingarticles and items of interest to study at leisure later, andacquiring in the process an even longer list of references to chase.I also found the records of the synagogue for the early nineteenthcentury which had been forgotten about back in Exeter - anothergoldmine to quarry later. Librarians now knew me, and were gettingused to my unorthodox working methods; because the time I have tospare for this work is very limited, I do not waste a single second,and descend on their collections in terrific hurries, scattering dustand dispelling tranquillity as I go, occasionally finding time towork more leisurely, and wind through endless rolls of microfilmfollowing up the newspaper references. And I have the results - moreinformation on Ezekiel Abraham Ezekiel's life and work than was everknown before. And armed with more precise information, I was able toreturn to my place of work, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum inExeter, and discover with the help of my colleagues that we have thebest collection of his work right there under my nose. If only itwere all properly catalogued.

Ezekiel was one of the first Jews to be born in Exeter since theexpulsion of 1290 drove the Jews from the city. Has father and uncle,Abraham and Benjamin Ezekiel, came as young men in their twentiesfrom the Rhineland and settled in Exeter some time in the 1740s.Abraham was a silversmith and a watchmaker, and respected for hiscraftsmanship, and recognised and accepted by the Exeter gentry andbourgeoisie, as was his brother Benjamin whose untimely death inOctober 1785 earned him the unusual honour of a brief obituaryin the Flying Post:

Last week died suddenly, as he was walking near St Bartholomew's yard, Mr Benjamin Ezekiel, for many years a respectable inhabitant of this city...

Ezekiel Abraham Ezekiel was born in Exeter in 1757, the eldest ofat least six children. In 1772, at the age of fifteen, he wasapprenticed to Alexander Jenkins, an Exeter goldsmith, and it wastowards the end of this apprenticeship that he produced his firstengraving, a happy co-incidence for me, for it was a view ofBideford, where I then lived. The advertisementon the 23 July 1779 read thus:

A Perspective View of Bideford is just published by Subscription. Engraved by Ezekiel. Sold by Mr Henry Mugg, Bookseller, and the Engraver, at Mr Ezekiel's, Silversmith, Exon; also by Mr John Jewell the Author, at Bideford, by whom Youth are genteelly Boarded and instructed in all the Branches of Practical Mathematics. Price l0s 6d in Colours 12s 6d

The print is listed in Somers Cocks catalogue of Devontopographical prints, along with another engraving by Ezekiel ofTapley House, but no copies of either are held by any of the local ornational collections. Then I followed a hunch. The endpapers ofMuriel Goaman's book 'Old Bideford and District' show an eighteenthcentury engraving of Bideford. A letter to her brought a very helpfulreply, saying that it was reproduced from an original that formerlyhung in Bideford Library. It vanished when local government wasre-organised in 1973. I am still trying to discover whither, thoughmeanwhile I had been put on the tracks of a painting in the RoyalHotel, Bideford, which appears to be John Jewell's original paintingfrom which the engraving was made. A letter to the present owner ofTapley House confirmed Ezekiel's authorship, and the whereabouts of acopy. This turned out to be a photographic reproduction, but itestablished beyond doubt both the authorship and the quality of thework, and the fact that the view of Bideford and the view of Tapleyoccur on the same engraving.

In February 1784 he placed a large advertisement in the FlyingPost listing his skills:

...by constant Supply of new Patterns from London, executes Perspective and Ornamental Copper-Plate Engraving, Shop Cards, Draughts, Bills of Exchange, Household Plate, Seals in Steel, Silver, and Stone, Merchants and all other stamps, in the newest and most elegant taste:- Neat Copper Plate Printing, on reasonable Terms, Jewellery Work in general, with curious Devices in Hair, done in the most pleasing Manner. Mourning Rings and all Funereal Engraving, on the shortest Notice.

He engraved many bookplates, somefourteen of which are recorded in publications, but I have been ableto trace only one, in the Jewish Museum [and seven more in theBritish Museum]. He also produced a great many tradecards, several of which have been described but cannot now betraced, though five are preserved in the British Library, and theVictoria and Albert Museum has Ezekiel's owntrade card, a fine example of the engraver's art, dating fromc1797 and adorned with cherubs engaged in various branches of thearts and sciences.

His finest works are his portraits: ThomasGlass in 1788, John Patch in 1789,Major General Stringer Lawrence c1790,Micaiah Towgood 1794, William Holwell,John Marshall 1798. He also engraved theheadline used for a while by the FlyingPost, the title page and a map forDunsford's 'Tiverton', and the breastplate of the Third ExeterVolunteer Corps. These engravings are amongst the best produced inthe medium, and almost all are of local interest.

In 1795 he added to his already considerable repertoire of skillsthat of optician, claiming to have studiedthe science with an expert, and to be the first of the profession inthe westcountry. He was no mere dispenser, rapidly adding telescopes,microscopes, fossils and mineralogy. The microscope with slidesdisplayed in the museum in Exeter is a tribute to his skills.

In 1799 he advertised yet a further talent, that of miniaturist,and achieved quite a reputation in this field. I have been able totrace only one work by him, again in the Museum, though others arementioned in family papers. His own portrait was exhibited at the endof the last century, but cannot now be traced.

In the manner of the time, and to his credit, Ezekiel passed onhis skills to an apprentice. He firstadvertised for one in May 1790:

As Genius will be the principal Premium required, it is expected that none will apply but such who possess a real Turn for Drawing, and Skill in Penmanship.

He advertised again in June 1805, but by now he was already a sickman, a fact noted by the Militia List, discharging him for reasons ofhealth from any possible military service in the war with France.Just eighteen months later the Flying Post carried his obituary,a remarkable testimonial to his standing in the town, with areputation achieved whilst constantly and proudly maintaining hisJewishness.

On Saturday last died aged 48, Mr. E. A .Ezekiel, of this city, engraver and jeweller. He had long lingered under the complaint of dropsy and contemplated his dissolution with a most religious resignation. He was followed to the grave by many respectable persons, who have for several years passed enjoyed the pleasure of his agreeable conversation, and the attachment of his unshaken friendship. In the profession of an engraver, he possessed a correct taste, a happy facility in making designs, to meet the ideas of his employers, and as a workman, he was certainly unequalled out of London: his portraits of several distinguished characters in this city and neighbourhood, will always be admired for their faithful execution: they never fail to excite the reward due to his merit, while they renew the presence of a person whose likeness he represented, with great correctness. In a word there are few men whose loss will be more felt, not only by his immediate friends and connections, but by the public at large. A discourse was delivered at the grave, previous to the interment, by the chief priest of the Synagogue; who, truly and affectingly, held up the deceased as a pattern for imitation, both as a good son and brother, a good man, and a good citizen of the world.

That this obituary was no mere ephemeral flattery can be seen fromthe fact that Ezekiel's name was listed as late as 1830 among 'A Listof Persons of Eminence, Genius and Public Notoriety, Natives ofExeter', a series of biographies of distinguished Exonians written byGeorge Oliver, Roman Catholic priest and scholar. The obituary alsogives some clues to his private life: Ezekiel died unmarried, and inhis will requested that the minister,the Rev. Moses Levy, say kaddish for him, normally a son's duty. Hisfamily life had not always been happy - it appears from his will andother evidence that his parents had separated some years before hisdeath, the father going to live with his daughter Rosy in Portsmouth.For her pains Rosy was cut off by her brother with a shilling, whilstanother sister, Anne, received five pounds in recognition of her'great attention of duty to our dear mother and to me.' Ezekiel spenthis adult life living with his unmarried brother Henry and maidensisters Kitty and Amelia at their shop at 179 Fore Street, whocontinued the business after his death. He had passed on his artisticskills to his pupil, C. Frost. His artisticgenius met with some financial success: at his death his estate wasvalued at just less than £600. He left eight pounds to thesynagogue for the purchase of a clock with a commemorativeinscription on the dial. As for his brother Henry, although awatchmaker, he lacked his elder brother's genius as an artist andcraftsman, but was evidently more successful financially:

Providence having blessed him with a competency and happy prospect in life, any small legacy is unnecessary, but as a small remembrance I bequeath to him all my Hebrew and English books...

Henry was married justover three years later on Wednesday 14 March 1810 in Exeter toBetsy Levy, a marriagewhich appears to have brought him money. Henry was thirty eight athis marriage, his wife ten years his junior. She bore him threedaughters, all of whom married. Henry died in 1835, leavingproperties and investments. The portraits of himself and his wifeBetsy show a wealthy, middle class couple in their prime. The twosisters, Kitty and Amelia, continued to run the business until thelast of them died in 1837.

After Ezekiel's death, his brother Henry presented proofimpressions of his brother's engravings to the Devon and ExeterInstitution in the Cathedral Close, and there most of them stillhang, in the entrance hall, a fitting reminder of one of Exeter's,and its Jewish community's, finest sons.

 

Frank J. Gent
 
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