Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Levey, Solomon (1794–1833)

by G. F. J. Bergman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Solomon Levey (1794-1833), emancipist and merchant, was sentenced in October 1813 at the Old Bailey to transportation for seven years as an accessory to the theft of 90 lbs (41 kg) of tea and a wooden chest, a charge that he denied. He arrived in Sydney in the Marquis of Wellington in January 1815. He lost no time in starting his business career in Sydney, and was soon dealing in real estate and supplying the government store with various goods. On 8 February 1819 he received an absolute pardon and three days later married Ann, daughter of William Roberts, a wealthy emancipist who gave her a rich dowry of land and livestock. In November 1819 a son was born and in 1822 a daughter who died in childhood. The marriage proved a failure; Ann took a lover and ran away but died of maltreatment in February 1824. Levey never married again.

Levey prospered as store-keeper, shipbroker and agent and by 1825 claimed a turnover of £60,000 a year. He had sealing interests and a base at Tahiti whence he imported island products in his own ships; he was a partner in a water-mill at Liverpool, owned a rope factory, and had grazing properties and land grants in the Counties of Argyle and Cumberland. Soon after his pardon he became a proprietor of the Bank of New South Wales; he advocated lower interest rates and association with English banking firms. In December 1824 he joined other respectable citizens in a request to be admitted to jury duties. He was a generous supporter of benevolent and religious institutions and acted as a trustee for the Sydney Public Grammar School.

In June 1825 Levey joined forces with Daniel Cooper. They took over the Lachlan and Waterloo Co., formerly owned by Hutchinson, Terry & Co. By indenture of 6 May 1826 the firm Cooper & Levey was founded, each of the partners bringing £30,000 into the joint-stock enterprise. As importers, exporters, woolbuyers, shipowners and shipbuilders, shipping agents, whalers and sealers and with their general store at the Waterloo Warehouse in George Street, Sydney, they had a large share of the colony's business. In March 1826 the firm acquired the properties of Captain John Piper in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. In 1828 Cooper & Levey were among the colony's largest owners of stock. The partners later acquired, by grant or purchase, most of the land in Waterloo, Alexandria, Redfern, Randwick and Neutral Bay. In 1826 Levey went to London to establish a buying office for Cooper & Levey and to raise money. In London he chartered several ships to take his merchandise to Sydney and acted as an ardent agent especially for Jewish emigration to New South Wales.

In December 1829 Levey was introduced to Thomas Peel and became his partner in a venture to establish colonists in the new settlement at Swan River. Under the name of Thomas Peel & Co., Levey was to act as director in London and Peel to manage affairs in Western Australia. Through mismanagement in the colony, the venture languished; Peel made no reports and even neglected to assure for Levey half of his land grant of 250,000 acres (101,173 ha) at Cockburn Sound. Although Levey had provided all the company's capital of £20,000 he continued to back the venture, selling land in Sydney to buy supplies for Peel and his settlers. By 1832 Levey was forced to seek information from the Colonial Office, thus revealing for the first time his share in the company. Although he lost a fortune in the venture he did not live to see its final failure. After a short illness he died in London on 10 October 1833.

Among bequests to his family and to benevolent institutions of various faiths, Levey left £500 to the Sydney College, which became the Sydney Grammar School. This sum, transferred after twenty years, made him the first benefactor of the University of Sydney.

Levey's real estate in New South Wales took ten years to liquidate and the estimated total value amounted to £14,332 10s. In 1843 his son John Levey-Roberts, who lived a life of leisure in Paris, settled the affairs of the partnership with Daniel Cooper and in 1851 came to an agreement with Peel in which Solomon Levey's share of 125,000 acres (50,586 ha) in Western Australia was assigned to him.

Solomon Levey was a man of upright character and great kindness. He was not only a shrewd pioneer businessman and able financier but an economist of great foresight and an outstanding immigration agent for Australia. When he trusted Thomas Peel, he was probably made incautious by the fact that an aristocrat and relation of Sir Robert Peel deigned to become the partner of a Jewish former convict. He had to pay dearly for this misjudgment.

Select Bibliography

  • G. F. J. Bergman, ‘Solomon Levey in Sydney: From Convict to Merchant Prince’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 49, part 6, Mar 1964, pp 401-22.

Citation details

G. F. J. Bergman, 'Levey, Solomon (1794–1833)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/levey-solomon-2353/text3077, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 30 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014