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Percy Joseph Marks (1867–1941)

by Suzanne D. Rutland

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Ernest Samuel Marks

Percy Joseph Marks (1867-1941), solicitor and historian, and Ernest Samuel Marks (1871-1947), woolbuyer, politician and sportsman, were born on 12 November 1867 and on 7 May 1871 at West Maitland, New South Wales, eldest sons of Joseph Marks, London-born storekeeper, and his native-born wife Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Benjamin. Their father became a woolbuyer and the family moved to Sydney in 1882; the brothers were educated at Royston College, Darlinghurst. Percy attended the University of Sydney (B.A., 1887), was articled to Creagh & Williams and, admitted a solicitor on 6 June 1891, set up in practice.

Active within the Jewish community, the brothers worshipped regularly at the Great Synagogue and were early supporters of Zionism. Neither was to marry. Percy was associated with (Sir) Daniel Levy on the Australasian Hebrew in 1896, sometime honorary secretary of the Board of Jewish Education and honorary solicitor for sundry communal institutions. In 1908 he was a founder and first president of the Sydney Zionist Society and later of the local section of the Friends of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Ernest was associated with the Jewish Girls' Guild, the State branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association, and the New South Wales Jewish Association and Jewish War Memorial.

From 1912 Percy acted as unofficial historian of Australian Jewry. He was a council-member of the (Royal) Australian Historical Society in 1912-18 and published many articles and pamphlets including two bibliographies, Australasian Shakespeareana (1915) and Australian Judaica (1930, 1936). He was a committee-member of the Australian Ex-Libris Society, the Society of Australian Genealogists and the Numismatic Society, and a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute.

In 1888-90 Ernest won over forty trophies as an athlete. He was a founder and executive-member of the New South Wales Amateur Athletic Association, the Amateur Athletic Union of Australasia and the International Amateur Athletic Federation; vice-chairman of the New South Wales Olympic Council and the Australian Olympic Federation and chairman of the Australian division of the British Empire Games. As touring manager, he attended the Olympic Games in London (1908), Stockholm (1912), and Los Angeles (1932) where he was awarded the Veterans' medal. He also founded sporting clubs and institutions such as the Darlinghurst Harriers, North and East Sydney Amateur Swimming clubs, Manly Surf Club; and the New South Wales Amateur Swimming Association, Sports Club Ltd, Amateur Billiard Championship committee and National Coursing Association. (As 'Messrs Hadles' he won many coursing events.) For fifty years he was a council-member of the New South Wales Rugby Union.

Ernest had joined his father's woolbuying firm, Joseph Marks & Co., in 1889 and in 1919 became managing director; he was also a director of the National Association Properties Ltd. During World War I he was a member of the State Recruiting Committee and of the Citizens' War Chest Fund committee. He became a life governor of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1917 and was sometime chairman of the United Charities Fund. He joined the State executive of the Australian Red Cross Society in 1927 and became a vice-president of the St John Ambulance Association in 1938.

In 1920-27 Ernest Marks represented Lang Ward on the Sydney Municipal Council for the Citizens' Reform Association. He was vice-chairman of the health and by-laws committee and campaigned for more children's playgrounds and the preservation of parks. Defeated in 1922 and 1925 as a Nationalist, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for North Sydney in 1927, but was defeated in 1930. He was a council-member of the National Party in 1923-28. In 1930 he was re-elected to the reconstituted Sydney Municipal Council for Gipps Ward, which he represented until 1947. When he was lord mayor from July to December 1930, his sister Hilda Violet (d.1948) acted as lady mayoress. He was also president of the Noise Abatement Society and a member of the State Council for Physical Fitness. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1938.

The brothers shared many cultural activities: they were involved with the Jewish Literary and Debating Society, were founders and office-bearers of the Shakespeare Society and Percy, with Ernest's backing, was the moving force behind the formation of the Australian Jewish Historical Society; he was first president in 1939-41, followed by Ernest in 1944-47. Percy collected coins, on which he was a recognized authority; and his valuable collection of Australian Judaica was left by Ernest to the Mitchell Library, as well as his own notable collection of books on sport.

Percy Marks died at his Kirribilli residence on 22 June 1941; Ernest died in St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, on 2 December 1947; both were buried in Rookwood cemetery. The City of Sydney Athletic Field is a memorial to Ernest.

Select Bibliography

  • Jewish Chronicle (London), Mar 1922
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 1 (1941), no 6, p 203, 2 (1947), no 8, p 454
  • Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 27 (1941), p 306
  • Town and Country Journal, 29 July 1908
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June 1930, 2 Dec 1947
  • Life of E. S. Marks, CBE: autobiographical notes, and Council Minute, 11 Dec 1947 (Australian Jewish History Society Archives, Great Synagogue, Sydney)
  • E. S. Marks biographical material (Sydney Municipal Council Library, Sydney)
  • E. S. Marks papers and newsclippings (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Suzanne D. Rutland, 'Marks, Percy Joseph (1867–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 November, 1867
Maitland, New South Wales, Australia


22 June, 1941 (aged 73)
Kirribilli, 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.

Key Organisations
Political Activism