Alexander “Alex” Aaron Phillips was born in Liverpool in 1818 or 1824 to Clara (nee Solomons) and Barney Aaron Phillips. On May 14, 1833 the family* moved to Sydney, New South Wales, likely at the urging of their friend, Barnett Levey, of Levey’s Theatre. Barney began working as a carpenter, joiner, Venetian blind maker, furniture repairer, locksmith, and bell hanger. He was unable to secure enough employment with the theater, so he imported a hearse and mourning coach from England. He hired them out in addition to selling cabinets and glassware from his shop.
Barney was involved in building what is now Sydney’s Great Synagogue. He was a Freemason and sold tickets to Masonic events at his shop. However, his business didn’t survive an economic depression in New South Whales and he was declared insolvent on December 21, 1843.
It is unclear what happened to the family when Barney’s business failed. There are accounts that at least some of the the family members moved to Philadelphia, PA.
It is clear that son Alex arrived in San Francisco circa 1849. According to some accounts he prospected for a time before turning his attention to learning the trades of soda-water manufacturing and matzoh making (unleavened bread for Passover).
Alex was betrothed to his second cousin Rebecca. She travelled from Philadelphia to San Francisco in order to marry him. Rebecca set out on a boat, disembarked to cross the Isthmus of Panama on a donkey, and concluded by ship to San Francisco. However, there is a tale which might be apocryphal, claiming Rebecca was kidnapped en route through the jungle, rescued and brought safely to Alex’s waiting arms. The couple wed and resided in San Francisco for 3 or 4 years.
In April 1858 Alex departed for Victoria on the S.S. Panama. He must have returned to San Francisco as he and Rebecca and their eldest son are recorded as entering Esquimalt Harbor on the steamer Pacific on July 17, 1858. On board were also a handful of other Jews. The Phillips’ were one of the first Jewish family to settle in Victoria. Alex was the first to bake Matzoh in the Pacific Northwest. He supplied the Jews on Vancouver Island and in the Washington Territory.
By the fall of 1858, Alex had established what became a thriving business; the Pioneer Syrup, Soda and Cider Works. It was the earliest known soda making factory in Western Canada, the second in Canada. When a number of full or broken soda bottles were recovered from Victoria’s harbor and on the Gorge, some bore the name of Alex’s company or had the initials A. P scratched on them.
For Christmas 1870, Alex’s advertisement on the mainland read:
To Warm the Cockles of Your Heart-Herring’s Red and Black Currant Wine. A healthful and harmless beverage for the holidays.
Alex Phillips, Agent in Victoria.
Originally located on Humbolt Street, by 1863 the syrup and soda water factory was moved to a brick building at the corner of Blanshard and Fort Street. By 1871 it was moved to 8 Yates near Wharf Street (512 Yates today).
In 1879 Alex partnered with his eldest son Philip Aaron Phillips. By 1881 they had opened a branch, A. Phillips & Son, on Columbia Street in New Westminster. By 1889 two sons were part of the business and the name was changed to Phillips and Son. Eventually two other sons joined the family business and daughter, Clara became the bookkeeper.
Alex or one of his sons and their delivery horse Sodawater were familiar fixtures of Victoria’s streets. In June 1861, the Daily Colonist reported that Sodawater had become unhitched from the delivery wagon while on Esquimalt Road. Sodawater continued on the route, on his own, without the driver or the wagon. However, Sodawater was captured and returned before he arrived in town.
The Phillips family were prominent citizens and involved in community affairs. Like his father before him, Alex was active in the Jewish Community. He contributed $50.00 to the building fund for the synagogue and served as the second President of the Congregation in 1863-4, overseeing the synagogue’s construction and dedication.
Alex was a member of the British Columbia Benevolent Society. Although it is widely stated that Alex was a founding member of the Masonic Lodge, that is not true. He was recorded as a Master Mason in the 1896 and 1898 records. Alex was involved in establishing the International Order of Odd Fellows in Victoria. He is listed as a charter member when the lodge formed on March 10, 1864.
Rebecca was a founding member of the Hebrew Ladies Society of Victoria and Vice President in 1877-8. She and at least one of her daughters was active with the Hebrew Ladies for many years.
For close to thirty years, Rebecca and Alex and their family resided at 40 Kane Street (now Broughton Street; 754-760 Broughton today). Rebecca bore eleven children, some in San Francisco, others born in Victoria.**
Eldest son Philip and brother Charles were attracted to the Klondike gold rush. For a short time they resided in Dawson City before moving to Washington. Philip died in March 1909 at Sedro Wooley, Washington.
Alex and Rebecca’s eldest daughter, Eva married Victorian merchant Jacob Isaacs who was an active member of the board at Congregation Emanu-El.
In June 1893, David Phillip married Sarah Levi. Theirs was the first wedding held in the new Hebrew Ladies Hall. The couple eventually moved to San Francisco as did David’s brother Samuel.
On March 22, 1894 a lavish wedding of the former bookkeeper Clara Phillips to Mr. Joseph Mayer of Seattle was held in Victoria. Rabbi Philo officiated. The couple honeymooned in a few major cities in the United States and in Europe before settling in Seattle where Joseph was a well established jeweller. In 1896, Joseph’s brother Albert married Clara’s sister Leah, in Seattle. The Mayer brothers were early watchmakers in Seattle. Descendants of the Phillips-Mayer family lay claim to being the oldest Jewish family in the Pacific Northwest.
Barney Phillip married Sarah Lubosch in Hawaii in 1903. He was managing a soda manufacturing company near Honolulu. They eventually settled in Reno. Barney fell off a roof and broke his leg. On February 20, 1914, e died of gangrene which developed from his injury. He was survived by his wife, a six year old son, and an infant son who died at 6 months old.
After 36 years as a pioneer soft drink manufacturer, Alex retired in 1894 at the age of 76. The sons carried on the business under the name Philip Bros. until 1897. Alex and Rebecca joined Clara and Leah in Seattle as did two other daughters. A fifth daughter moved to California and a sixth lived in Japan.
At the age of 80, Alex died in November 1900 in Seattle. Rebecca died on January 14, 1917 in Oakland, California. Alex and Rebecca are buried in the Hills of Eternity Reform Cemetery in Seattle, Washington.
Alex Phillips’ siblings:
Eight children were brought to Sydney;
Charles Aaron (1823-1867)
Alexander Aaron (1818/1824-1900) Married Rebecca
Anna (Hannah) (1826-1877) Married David Newton on June 6, 1841
Michael Aaron (1827
Samuel Aaron (1828- July 26, 1902)
Sara (1831- 1906) Married Samuel Davis May 29, 1850
Jacob Aaron (April 18, 1832- August 20, 1893) Married Susan Moses ca 1854
Rosa (1833-1893) Marries Lewis Johah Jones in Sydney March 24, 1852
Eight more children were born while the family lived in Sydney;
Rebecca (September 24, 1834- March 15, 1837 from scalding)
Nancy (October 29, 1835)
Jane (December 3, 1836- June 31, 1840)
Eve (August 29, 1839)
Wolff (Wellington) ( November 21, 1840 died at 5 mo)
Leah (April 19, 1841- 1862) Married Joseph Boscowitz in Victoria
Isaac Aaron (January 7, 1844)
**Children of Rebecca and Alex Phillips
Philip Aaron Phillips (1857-1909) Married Sarah Assenheim (1861- or 1859-1931);
Son Solomon Lambert “Sol” Phillips (1888-1946) Married Johanna “Jennie” Johnson Phillips (1893-1946)
Eva Phillips (1859- Married Jacob Isaacs (1837
Phoebe (Pheobe) Phillips (1861 Married Casper (Wolfe???)
David Aaron Phillips (1863- Married Sarah Levy (1874-). Wedding June 29, 1893 in Victoria
Samuel Phillips (1865-
Barney Aaron Phillips (1867- February 20, 1914) Married Sarah Lubosch (1867- February 20, 1914) in Hawaii in 1903
Clara Phillips (1869-1928) Married Joseph Mayer (1868/9-1937). Wedding on March 22, 1894 in Victoria
Leah Phillps (1872- Married Albert Mayer
Charles “Charlie” Phillips (1873-
Kate “Katie” Phillps (1876-
Michael “Mikie” Phillips (1879