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Samuel Lyons (1791–1851)

by Paul Edwin Le Roy

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Samuel Lyons (1791-1851), businessman, was a tailor when convicted for theft in London on 16 February 1814. With a life sentence, he reached Sydney in the transport Marquis of Wellington in January 1815. He did not take kindly to convict discipline and in April absconded by ship and reached Prince of Wales Island, where he was detected and handed to Lieutenant Charles Jeffreys who was returning in the Kangaroo from Colombo with other escaped prisoners. Back in Sydney in February 1816 he received corporal punishment and was again assigned as a servant. In August 1816 he was taken to Hobart Town in the Kangaroo and when she returned to Hobart in April 1817, he tried unsuccessfully to escape again with the help of Jeffreys. On 24 July 1819, for robbing government stores at Hobart, he was sentenced to receive 200 lashes and 4 years at Newcastle.

On 20 May 1822 Lyons married Mary Murphy according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Next year he returned to Sydney and began life anew. He opened a small store in Pitt Street and in March 1825 he received a conditional pardon. In October 1831 he was recommended by Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling as a 'man in good circumstances, industrious and respectable in business dealings'; he received an absolute pardon on 15 May 1832.

In 1825 Lyons set up as an auctioneer and vendue master at 75 George Street, where he lived with his wife and children. Within three years he had 'a tolerably fair share of the Public patronage' and was described as a man of integrity deserving what he acquired 'by his extraordinary application to trade'. In 1834 his sales of private land alone yielded £61,872, and he sent his three children to be educated in England. He also moved into new auction rooms and a new residence, built by the architect, John Verge, at the corner of Charlotte Place and George Street. In 1835 he received a land grant in Fort Street and acquired properties in Bridge Street, Sydney, as well as at Bathurst and Newcastle. In 1836 he bought Apsley Lodge near Hyde Park, sold his George Street furniture, announced his retirement as an auctioneer and left for England. When he returned in March 1839 his resumption of business in Lower George Street caused much trouble with other auctioneers, but in January 1840 he had settled his differences with the Australian Auction Co. and regained possession of his property at Charlotte Place. There he recommenced auctioneering on a large scale, and his establishment was said to be second only to the Waterloo Warehouse of Cooper & Levey. He cleared over £5464 a day.

Lyons had many other business interests. In 1842 he built Lyons Terrace, a substantial row of elegant houses, each costing £5000, in Liverpool Street opposite Hyde Park, and acquired many other properties, including a farm at Fivedock, where Lyons Road is named after him. In 1826 he helped to establish the Sydney Banking Co. and later acquired shares in the Bank of Australia and in the Bank of New South Wales. In 1827 he was joined by his brother, Saul, who arrived as a free immigrant, and some time later by another brother, Abraham. Samuel Lyons was also a substantial moneylender, which got him into temporary difficulties in the 1841-42 depression. His business brought him into touch with people of every class, and he won repute for being punctual, respectable and singularly clever.

Lyons was active in various public affairs. He served on the committee of the Sydney College, raised £1400 for it and in 1840 gave it £100 for a classical and mathematics library. He helped to found the Australian Patriotic Association, and joined the provisional committee for raising funds. He shared in petitions for trial by jury and taxation by representation, for the rejection of payment for public services not performed in the colony, for the wiser use of revenue from sales of waste land, and for the local government of Sydney. His conservative views and great wealth aroused antagonism, and in 1843 when William Charles Wentworth and Dr. William Bland won seats in the Legislative Council, he was credited with controlling their electoral machine and with using undue political influence. One editor claimed that Lyons wanted to limit the franchise to voters with at least £100 in property. In 1836 the Sydney Herald attacked the auctioneering system as corrupt, referring to Lyons as Mr 'L', the author of many enormities. Lyons took the Herald to court and was awarded £200 for libel. He denied allegiance to any political faction and, although other editors rallied to his defence, a riotous mob in November 1842 singled out his George Street residence for an attack. Clearly he had more political influence than he cared to admit.

In the 1828 census Lyons had declared himself a Protestant but after his wife died on 19 April 1832 he rejoined the Jewish community and became a prominent member of the York Street Synagogue and of many Jewish committees. His sons George and Samuel and his daughter Hannah were, however, brought up in the Christian faith. He never remarried.

Lyons died in Sydney on 3 August 1851, aged 60. He was buried in the Jewish portion of the Devonshire Street cemetery. In 1901 his tombstone was transferred to Botany cemetery. His large property was left to his daughter and two sons. His elder son George Herbert (b.1823) was a barrister in England. The younger son Samuel (b. 9 June 1826) took over his father's enterprises, and on 24 March 1853 at St James's, Sydney, married Charlotte Margaret Futter; they had three sons and a daughter. He was twice returned to the New South Wales parliament: for Canterbury in 1859 and Central Cumberland in 1868, and was associated with Henry Parkes. Samuel became an 'official assignee' in the late 1870s, and died at Leura on 25 August 1910. His father's sister, Lydia, was the wife of Sampson Samuel, who died in London on 2 November 1820, a month before the birth of his son Saul. Lydia migrated in 1832 to Sydney, where Saul was later knighted.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 2
  • Report of the Committee of the Sydney Synagogue 1845-5605 (Syd, 1845)
  • Sydney Gazette, 29 Dec 1825, 14 July 1828, 15 Mar 1834, 27 Jan 1835
  • Sydney Herald, 15 June, 21 Aug 1837, 5 Aug 1851
  • Sydney Times, 1 Oct 1836
  • Australian, 3 Feb, 21 Mar 1840, 1 Nov 1841, 28 June, 7 Nov 1842
  • W. A. Duncan, Autobiography, 1811-54 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • record book (Court House, Hobart).

Citation details

Paul Edwin Le Roy, 'Lyons, Samuel (1791–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




3 August, 1851 (aged ~ 60)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: life