Nathan Spielvogel (1874-1956)

Posted on: 27 April, 2022

Nathan Spielvogel (1874-1956) is another example of someone from Ballarat promoting education and local history. He was an author, a schoolteacher and a historian. In Ballarat he is remembered for his strong association with the Ballarat Historical Society.

He was born in Ballarat on the 10 May 1874 to Newman and Hannah. His father was a tailor and pawnbroker. His parents were married in the Ballarat Synagogue in 1867 and Nathan had his Bar Mitzvah there in 1887.

Nathan was educated at Dana Street Primary School and trained there as a student teacher between 1892-95. After completing his training, he worked in various Victorian rural schools including Dimboola, Orbost, Longwood, Mitcham, Wangaratta and finally back to his former primary school Dana Street, returning as its Headmaster in 1924, retiring in 1939.

In 1904 he travelled overseas touring Egypt, England, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. He wrote a book about his travels, entitling it “A Gumsucker on the Tramp”. Gumsucker was a colloquial term used to describe a country Victorian. The book proved popular which encouraged him to write another book, “The Cocky Farmer”.

With the revival of the Ballarat Historical Society he developed an interest and passion for local history. He served as the first President of the Society from 1933-56. Nathan published brief accounts of early Ballarat history and one of the more popular books was “The Affair at Eureka”. During the 1930s he presented a weekly program on local radio station 3BA, on various topics of Ballarat History which created a renewed interest in Ballarat history. The Historical Society have collected these talks into a three-volume set titled ‘The Spielvogel Papers’ which can be purchased through the Society.

Nathan was also President of the Ballarat Hebrew Congregation, The Mechanics Institute, The Teachers’ Institute and Dana Street Old Scholars Association. In his retirement years he was responsible for placing markers and plaques at historical sites around the Ballarat area.

Nathan Spielvogel passed away in Ballarat on 10 September 1956, aged 82 and is buried in the Old Ballarat Cemetery. His grave is in Area H, Section 3, Row 2, Grave 2.

Each year the Ballarat Historical Society hold the Nathan Spielvogel Oration to honour his legacy as their first President and his commitment to the preservation and collection of Ballarat’s history.

Click here to access his book ‘The Affair at Eureka’ courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.

Main image: ’Nathan Spielvogel’, photograph, ca. 192?, J.K. Moir Collection, State Library of Victoria, H28050/1b.

Portrait of Nathan Spielvogel
’Nathan Spielvogel’, photograph, ca. 1940-45, J.K. Moir Collection, State Library of Victoria, LTAF 1250/341.
Book cover image
Cover image, from Nathan Spielvogel, 'Gumsucker on the Tramp', second ed., George Robertson & Co Prop. Ltd, 1910. Shared with permission from Orbost & District Historical Society.
Portrait of Spielvogel as a young man
Sherwood Orbost, 'Nathan F. Spielvogel, teacher, writer and historian', photograph, ca. 1925, State Library of New South Wales, P1/1615.