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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Levy, Lewis Wolfe (1815–1885)

by C. N. Connolly

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

Lewis Wolfe Levy, from Sydney Mail, 28  Dec 1889, p 1421

Lewis Wolfe Levy, from Sydney Mail, 28 Dec 1889, p 1421

Lewis Wolfe Levy (1815-1885), businessman and politician, was born on 13 June 1815 in London, son of Benjamin Wolfe Levy, merchant, and his wife Martha, née Levy. In 1840 he migrated to Sydney and soon went into business at Maitland. In 1846 he moved to Tamworth where he bought land and established a flourishing general store. About this time he became a partner with his cousins, Samuel and David Cohen, in the Maitland mercantile firm, David Cohen & Co., and was the driving force behind the firm's expansion after he returned to Maitland in 1854. He moved to Sydney in 1862 but remained active in the firm's affairs. His business reputation grew steadily and from the mid-1870s he occupied an increasing number of commercial posts, becoming chairman of the Hunter River New Steam Navigation Co. and a director of the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Co., the Australian Gaslight Co., the United Insurance Co., the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney and the Australasian Steam Navigation Co. He also acquired pastoral interests and by 1871 held Yarraman on the Liverpool Plains and was a partner in seven other runs.

In 1871 Levy was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Liverpool Plains. His disapproval of the Martin-Robertson coalition led him into opposition until he retired early in 1872. In August 1874 he was returned for West Maitland, and with some reservations supported the government of Henry Parkes who had backed his candidacy and promised flood mitigation works in the district. However, Levy retired only three months later to devote more time to business matters. In parliament his chief concern had been to hold Parkes to his promise of flood works and, although he was a free trader with vague commitments to land and electoral reform, he displayed scant interest in matters of general policy. He had also advocated an elective Legislative Council but accepted appointment to it in 1880 as a representative of the Jewish community. He defended the council's rights and privileges and remained a member until 1885.

Levy's inability to give much time to politics stemmed partly from his active involvement with charitable, educational and religious institutions. He was a director of Prince Alfred Hospital and the Industrial Blind Institution, served on the board of the Sydney Hebrew School and was president of the Macquarie Street Synagogue in 1862-74 and from 1876 to 1877 when it closed. He then travelled overseas with his wife Julia, daughter of Samuel Solomon, whom he had married in 1845. He died on 25 January 1885, survived by his wife, eight sons and five of their seven daughters. He was buried in the Hebrew section of Rookwood cemetery. Although self-made, plain spoken and occasionally short tempered, he was widely respected and sincerely mourned. His estate, sworn for probate at over £245,000, was left mostly to his relations and friends and charitable institutions received £3875.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Macphail, The Australian Squatting Directory (Melb, 1871)
  • D. J. Benjamin, ‘The Macquarie Street Synagogue, 1859-1877’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 3 (1953)
  • ‘Lewis Wolfe Levy’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 6 (1970)
  • Maitland Mercury, 1, 4 Aug, 5 Dec 1874
  • CO 201/592/313.

Additional Resources

Citation details

C. N. Connolly, 'Levy, Lewis Wolfe (1815–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 5

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