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Page created: 4 September 2015
Latest amendment of revision: 16 September 2016
 

An Indian Jew at Oxford University

by Harold Pollins
 

Originally published in Oxford Menorah Magazine, issue 216, September 2015, page 19

Moses Abraham Avaskar was a member of the Beni-Israel community of India and achieved some temporary fame by being the first member of that community to attend Oxford University. That was in the 1880s but something of his earlier history is known. Apparently he joined the Afghan Expedition of 1879 as a clerk and accompanied them during the terrible battle of Maiwand which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of troops, British and Indian. One regiment, whose casualties amounted to over 60 per cent, was the 66th foot, the Berkshire Regiment. There is a memorial to them, a statue of a very large lion, in Forbury Park, Reading.

Avaskar then came to England, to Oxford, where he enrolled as a non-collegiate undergraduate.  He studied jurisprudence and in 1885 and 1886 was awarded his BA and also BCL. While at Oxford he served as a Sergeant in the Volunteers, probably at the same time as Colour-Sergeant Joel Zacharias, the well-known active member of the Oxford Jewish community. Avaskar merited one particular item in the local newspaper, the Oxford Journal, 24 July 1886, which reported a case at the Oxford City Police Court, when he was summoned for assaulting a tram conductor in the High Street. He did not appear and the report does not describe the incident; he was fined 2s 6d and 9s. costs.

He returned to India but died three years later. The Jewish Chronicle (26 June 1889) printed this account:

ĎA correspondent from Bombay writes. I regret to communicate the sudden and premature death of Mr. M. A. Avaskar, who a year or two ago graduated the Oxford University and took the degrees of B.A. and B.C.L. While he was going to Baroda to take up some higher appointment there, he heard that a friend had gone to Surat. He broke his journey at Surat and put up at the Travellerís Bungalow. While resting in an easy chair, he breathed his last on Wednesday the 19th, without any apparent sickness. He was an undoubted ornament to the entire Beni-Israel community in India. He was the first member of that community to proceed to England for the purpose of receiving a liberal education. His lamentable death has been a great loss to our people in the whole of India, and has been regretted by each and every person who knew himí.


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