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The interior of the synagogue in 1906 (Christchurch City Libraries)

Advertisement for Thomas Raine's sodas, Lyttelton Times, 3 September 1859

The Synagogue shown in a detail from Plan of the city of Christchurch (Selwyn County) Canterbury, N.Z., 1883

Beth El Synagogue

formerly at 78 Gloucester Street

Beth El Synagogue stood on what is now a carpark at 78 Gloucester Street for over 100 years, 1881-1987.

Beth El replaced a wooden synagogue built there in the 1860s – one of the earliest synagogues in New Zealand, along with Hokitika and Dunedin.

Before the synagogues, the site was associated with Thomas Raine’s aerated water manufacturing business.

The Canterbury Hebrew Congregation is now based in Durham Street.


How many Jewish people lived in 19th century Christchurch?

When the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation first met in 1864, there were “around thirty five prominent Jewish families” in the city. This could have been up to 200 people. Most of them had migrated from England, Germany and Poland.


The gold rushes of the 1860s prompted some local families to head for the West Coast.


The first rabbi of Beth El, Isaac Zachariah, had himself served on the Hokitika goldfields before moving to Christchurch in the 1870s.


Rabbi Zachariah was born in Baghdad, trained in Jerusalem, and worked in India and Australia, before arriving in New Zealand. He spoke several languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi, and forms of Aramaic, and taught Hebrew to some Anglican officials in Christchurch.


‘Soda Pop’ Raine

Thomas Raine (1820-1907) had been involved in the soft drink trade in Sunderland, England. In 1859, he sailed to New Zealand on the Mystery, with his wife Harriet and six children.  


After a brief and unsatisfactory stint in business with Walter Gee in Lyttelton, Raine moved in to Christchurch where he manufactured "lemonade, raspberryade, gingerade", and soda water.


Bottled water was big business

Thomas Raine was not the only producer of aerated water, sodas and ginger beer.

During the post-quake excavation of the Lyttelton Fire Station in London Street, archaeologists recovered 291 aerated water bottles. There were bottles from London St producers: Curtis and Co (manufacturing late 19th century to 1920s), J.B. Milsom (1885-unknown), N.C. Schumacher (1891-1915), N.Seaforth (1915-unknown), and T.W.Firmin (1920-1942). There were also bottles from five producers over the hill in Christchurch: Ballin Brothers (1885-1980s), Phil Kortegast (1930s+), Lister and Co (1894-1906), H. Mace and Co (1902+), and Were Brothers (1911+). Not a Raine bottle amongst them.


Central New Brighton: once was Rainestown

Thomas Raine was a prominent figure in early New Brighton. He bought 25 acres south from Seaview Road, which became known as Rainestown.


Find out more

Beth El Synagogue and the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation  Blogpost from Christchurch City Libraries, September 2017


An account of a Jewish Wedding at Beth El appeared in The Press, 10 April 1873  Stephen Levine’s story of the Jewish community in New Zealand in Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2005


Raining soda water in Christchurch! Blogpost by archaeologist Jessie Garland about Thomas Raine, December 2014


The difficulties of dating #3: the bigger picture  Blogpost by archaeologist Jessie Garland using the example of the site of Rabbi Isaac Zachariah’s house, 72 Gloucester Street, to explain some ways to determine the age of artefacts.


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