Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred de Lissa (1838–1913)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published:

Alfred de Lissa (1838-1913), solicitor, was born in London, son of Solomon Aaron de Lissa and his wife Rosetta, née Solomon. After study at University College, London, he arrived in Sydney in 1854 with his family. His father set up as a cabinet maker and upholsterer but in October 1856 was declared bankrupt. Soon afterwards he began as an optician and in July 1861 was again insolvent. Alfred was articled to Want & Johnson and was admitted a solicitor on 31 March 1866. Till 1878 he then practised alone and won repute in trademark cases. As one of the oldest practising solicitors in Sydney, he retired in 1912. He was a founder and first secretary of the Incorporated Law Institute of New South Wales.

De Lissa specialized in company law: he was a publicist with an elaborate and sometimes florid style. His first work, Bankruptcy and Insolvency Law (Sydney, 1881), advocated a legal limit of liability to prevent a trader from incurring debts of more than four times his capital, and a reform in the administration of insolvent estates by placing them under a 'bureau of insolvency', not the law courts. More substantial was his Companies' Work and Mining Law in New South Wales and Victoria (Sydney, 1894), in which he tabulated procedures for joint-stock companies. He also published The Codification of Mercantile Law (Sydney, 1897), a lecture to the conference of Australasian Chambers of Commerce, and The Bill of Lading Question and Marine Insurance Policies, read to the Institute of Bankers in August 1901.

On the eve of sailing for England in 1887 de Lissa had tried to interest Sir Henry Parkes in a finance company to introduce English capital 'for all kinds of industrial enterprise'. In the financial crisis he assumed that the trend toward socialism was due to insufficient government intervention. On this theory he published several pamphlets in Sydney. His lecture, Protection and Federation, to the Granville School of Arts was chaired by Edmund Barton. His Law of the Incomes (1890) proposed a more equitable distribution between the incomes of workers and capitalists, a theme later developed in Production, Distribution and Quesnay's Tableau Economique (Sydney, 1896). In The Labour Problem (1891) he advocated a government bureau of industry to issue licences for restricting competition and limiting capital and employment in private industries. In January 1892 his lecture, 'The Organization of Industry', to the Hobart meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science enlarged upon this system, hoping that in Australia at least, 'labour and capital may join hand in hand in the proud work of Anglo-Saxon progress'. In Credit, Currency, and a National Bank (1891), he showed that Australian banks were not overcommitted, and did not need a national bank. He lectured to the Institute of Bankers against Bi-Metallism: Or The Silver Question (1892) and in An Empire League: [by] Hoc Vincet Omnia (1905) envisaged a British customs union with preferential tariff.

At Melbourne in 1873 de Lissa married Elizabeth, née Hart. A practising Jew, he had long been auditor of the Great Synagogue. He died on 25 February 1913 in Sydney, his debts greatly exceeding his assets. He was survived by his wife and two daughters; his son Horace, admitted a barrister on 14 November 1901, had died in 1912 in a riding accident.

Select Bibliography

  • C. D. W. Goodwin, Economic Enquiry in Australia (Durham, N.C., 1966)
  • Hebrew Standard of Australasia, 28 Feb 1913
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Feb 1913
  • Telegraph (Sydney), 26 Feb 1913
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • bankruptcy papers under de Lissa (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'de Lissa, Alfred (1838–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


25 February, 1913 (aged ~ 75)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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