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Levey, George Collins (1835–1919)

by Suzanne G. Mellor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

George Collins Levey (1835-1919), by unknown engraver

George Collins Levey (1835-1919), by unknown engraver

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN09/10/80/189

George Collins Levey (1835-1919), journalist and politician, was born on 13 April 1835 in London, son of George Levey. Educated in private schools and at University College, London, he sailed for Melbourne with his brothers Oliver and William and arrived in 1851. In May 1852 he was appointed clerk to the gold receiver at Forest Creek but stayed less than ten weeks. According to J. A. Panton, Levey was 'very green' but he soon ventured into gold-buying with success and was among the first to use quartz-crushing machinery. In the mid-1850s he began contributing to Melbourne newspapers.

In 1858 Levey toured western Europe and Russia and wrote for the English press. On his return in 1860 he became sub-editor of the Herald and continued to write to English papers. By 1863 he was editor and chief proprietor of the Herald and reduced its price to 1d., thereby pioneering cheap newspapers. In 1868 he sold out to David Syme and until 1891 was a contributor and sometime editor of the Age. Among other business interests he maintained connexions with his brother William, who was a pioneer theatrical printer and proprietor of Bell's Life, then the only sporting journal in Melbourne; it started in January 1857 and was absorbed by the Australasian in January 1868. His brother Oliver was less successful as a printers' broker.

From August 1861 to December 1867 Levey held the Normanby seat in the Legislative Assembly. A fluent speaker and an excellent working member, he introduced in January 1862 the aliens' bill which was enacted in June. In the 1863 debates on Heales's amendments to the Duffy Selection Act of 1862, he advocated the reinstitution of public auction, claiming that 99 per cent of applications for land near Hamilton were made by speculators. By advocating protective duties to alleviate unemployment and encourage industry around Hamilton, he was returned unopposed in 1864 while near-by electorates were fiercely contested. However, he failed to win the Normanby seat in 1868 and Warrnambool in 1871.

In 1870 Levey had become secretary to the commissioners at the Sydney Exhibition. Later he represented Victoria and other colonies at exhibitions in Melbourne in 1872, 1875 and 1880-81, London and Vienna in 1873, Philadelphia in 1876, Paris (where with special permission he was awarded the Légion d'honneur) in 1878, Amsterdam in 1883 and the Crystal Palace in 1884. He was also secretary to the Tasmanian commission of the exhibition there in 1894 and to the colonial committee of the British royal commission to the Paris Exhibition in 1900. Experience gained from travel was augmented by his 'energy, zeal and powers of organizing', and in 1878 he was appointed C.M.G. for his services as an eminently successful emissary for his colonies.

Levey had continued writing for the international press: he published The Handy Guide to Australia (London, 1891) and Hutchinson's Australasian Encyclopaedia (1892), contributed to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and wrote some minor travel books. He had been an original member of the Yorick Club in 1868. In 1881-82 he served on the royal commission inquiring into the Kelly outbreak and performance of the police, and then returned to England. In 1885 he was examined in the Bankruptcy Court in London on a private engagement he had made in Melbourne with his creditors in 1866. He was appointed a member of the Board of Advice to the agent-general of Victoria in 1906 and joined the National Liberal Club. He was twice married: first, in 1863 to Euphemia Caulfield Dalton, daughter of C. W. Ligar; second, on 23 January 1877 at Washington to Mary Elizabeth, daughter of George Parker and widow of John Edward Bouligny (1824-1864), a congressional representative for Louisiana. Levey died in London on 13 April 1919.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian series, 1st ed (Melb, 1878)
  • Illustrated Australian News, 9 Oct 1880
  • Times (London), 15 Apr 1919
  • J. A. Panton, Memoirs (LaT L)
  • J. M. C. Watson, Selectors and Squatters in the Hamilton District in the 1860s (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1957)
  • L. C. Duly, The Land Selection Acts in Victoria 1859-1869 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1959).

Citation details

Suzanne G. Mellor, 'Levey, George Collins (1835–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/levey-george-collins-4014/text6363, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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