Who was Simcha Baevski?

27 December, 2009

Baevski and Slutzkin families, Krichev, Russia 1897
Baevski and Slutzkin families, Krichev, Russia 1897
Source: Gael Hammer

Question: Are Simcha Baevksi and Sidney Myer the same person?

Answer: Yes. The well-known businessman and philanthropist Sidney Myer was born Simcha Baevksi in Russia in 1878. Sidney is an Anglicised form of Simcha, adopted by Baevski after his immigration to Australia in 1899. At this time he also took the second name of his eldest brother as his family name, Myer. It is under this name that he and his brother Elcon founded the cloth-trading company that would create a “retail revolution” and become one of the largest department stores in Australia.

Many Victorians connect the name Sidney Myer with the famous department store and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne’s Alexandra Gardens; but it was Simcha Baevksi who first travelled in central Victoria, displaying samples of the cloth, buttons and thread on sale from his Bendigo store.

Name changes are not uncommon for immigrants, with names being adjusted and adapted by, or even on behalf of, immigrants themselves. This can be at times motivated by a desire to assimilate, or to disguise one’s cultural identity, especially when moving between countries whose dominant languages or cultures are very different. Some people even maintain several names, using the name most appropriate to a particular social situation.

A display case relating to this pioneering immigrant is on display at the Immigration Museum. It tells the story of Simcha and his brother Elcon establishing themselves in Victoria after fleeing their Russian homeland. The story is told within the context of a broader history of Jewish immigration to Victoria, and persecution faced by many Jewish people which forced them to leave their homelands.

The Immigration Discovery Centre located on the ground floor takes its name from its benefactors Sarah and Baillieu Myer, who are relatives of Sidney.

Comments (7)

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Barbara Anker 19 September, 2010 12:47
Hi I am researching my Family tree and I have a contection with Myers that lived in Bacchus Marsh. Lachlan Grant married a Myer (sorry no date) and there son was Lachlan Grant Born 1892. Is this the same people depicted at your Museum. Yours Sincerely Barbara Anker New Zealand
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Discovery Centre 22 September, 2010 11:24
Hi Barbara. The Myers discussed above came to Australia in 1899 but we are not sure if they had any relatives in Australia earlier. By compiling a family tree and tracing the birth, death & marriage certificates of your ancestors, you may be able to establish whether or not they were related. The State Library of Victoria has good resources on beginning your family history that should be useful or you can try the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Historical Index.
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Kay Benjamin 3 April, 2012 22:19
I believe my father in law worked with his uncles at Leroys Fashions after the second world war. I believe his mother was Cecily and would be perhaps Esthers daughter born on ship? My father in law was alan..sister Nona. Alan's surname was Benjamin. The family tree he gave me once was Baevska..then Swartch.
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hannah 4 June, 2012 16:41
why did simcha baevski leave russia
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Discovery Centre 5 June, 2012 12:02
Hi Hannah, a quick search online revealed that he left Russia in order to join his elder brother, Elcon Myer (1875-1938) who had left Russia two years earlier.
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Henry Brodie 10 October, 2012 15:36
hi, do you have any info on what his journey like over to australia? cant find any info, tough assignment question.
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Discovery Centre 21 October, 2012 13:04

Hello Henry, we suggest you start with some broader contextual research into immigration to Victoria in the 1890s, specifically Russian-Jewish migration. You can begin by searching through our Origins website under Russia. As for the ship journey over, have you visited the museum to view our “Journeys of a Lifetime” exhibition, which demonstrates changes in sea travel from the 1840s? From this point in your research, you might also wish to consult some of the secondary literature on Ocean Liners from the period, for example, Ships that passed / Scott Baty (1984), Pictorial encyclopedia of ocean liners, 1860-1994/ William H. Miller (1995), and there is also a book written about Sidney Myer called Sidney Myer : a life, a legacy by Stella M. Barber (2005).  We hope this helps!

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