Henry Spiro was born to Jewish parents in Posen, Prussia in October 1839.  He travelled to Queensland in 1861 at the age of 22 and arrived in Toowoomba in 1863.  Once settled, he took up a partnership with a Mr. Benjamin and opened a store in Stuart Street (now known as Geddes Street).   

In 1865, Spiro and Benjamin built a modern two-story brick building on the southeast corner of Ruthven and Margaret Streets. The partnership became known for its generosity and honesty particularly during the 1860’s depression.  After 1868, when the partnership had dissolved and Benjamin moved to Dalby, Spiro continued on with the business alone.

Jewish weddings were reported to have been performed at the store frequently.  The very first Jewish wedding performed in Toowoomba was held at Benjamin’s house in Stuart Street on March 3, 1873. Spiro was elected as an alderman in the Municipal Council in 1869 making him only the second German to serve on Council after Henry Flori. 

In 1870 he was elected Mayor and held that position until 1872.  Spiro is also reported to have held a position as a Magistrate. An active supporter of the Hebrew faith, Spiro was largely responsible for the erection of Queensland’s first synagogue known as Beth Ysrael Synagogue in Neil Street. 

The site is presently occupied by the Redeemer Lutheran Church.  At the same time that Benjamin and Spiro purchased the land in Neil Street for the synagogue, they bought a section of the Drayton cemetery for Jewish burials.

Spiro’s health deteriorated and on 10 December 1876, at the age of 36, Spiro died from ‘Cirrhosis, Dropsy’.  At the time of his death, Spiro’s business had bad debts accumulating to ₤10 000, many of which were more than 10 years old.  The state of the business and Spiro’s declining health are believed to be results of his great generosity to his customers during the 1866 economic crisis, by allowing credit purchases when everybody else wanted cash.

In his will, Spiro ensured that his large family would be taken care of and that ₤25 was to be paid to the building of a new synagogue in Elizabeth Street, Sydney and ₤15 was to be donated to the building of a synagogue in Brisbane.

After Spiro’s early demise, the Jewish community eventually dispersed and the building and land was sold to the Lutheran Church in 1929.
Spiro’s business was purchased by his old partner, Mr Benjamin, but his debts were too large and in May 1880, the property was sold to the Australian Joint Stock Bank for ₤4500.

Sources

LH files – LH/Jews – Toowoomba and Darling Downs
LH files – LH/Mayors, Toowoomba
Ochert, Morris S. – “Darling Downs Jewry and the Toowoomba Hebrew Congregation” 1996