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Sir Saul Samuel (1820–1900)

by G. F. J. Bergman

This article was published:

Saul Samuel (1820-1900), by unknown photographer

Saul Samuel (1820-1900), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, PX*D 624

Sir Saul Samuel (1820-1900), merchant and politician, was born on 2 November 1820 in London, the posthumous son of Sampson Samuel and his wife Lydia, née Lyons. In 1832 his mother decided to join her brother Samuel Lyons and eldest son Lewis in New South Wales and arrived with Saul in The Brothers on 25 August. He was educated at W. T. Cape's school and at his Sydney College. In 1837 he joined the Sydney counting-house of his uncles A. and S. Lyons. With his brother Lewis he later formed the mercantile firm of L. and S. Samuel with a branch at Bathurst. By 1841 he had taken up 190,000 acres (76,891 ha) on the Macquarie River. He was the first Jew to become a magistrate, in 1846. Although successful, he abandoned pastoral pursuits after the discovery of gold in 1851 and became a director of several companies operating in Bathurst. In 1856 he explored the feasibility of laying an electric telegraph line to Belvoir, the northern terminus in Victoria. On 16 December 1857 he married Henrietta Matilda Goldsmith-Levien (d.1864).

Favouring full representative government, in 1854-56 Samuel represented the Counties of Roxburgh and Wellington in the Legislative Council, and Orange in 1859-60 in the new Legislative Assembly. He was the first Jewish legislator in New South Wales. Described as a practical, independent and liberal politician, from 27 October to 8 March 1860 he was colonial treasurer under William Forster and the first Jew to become a minister of the Crown. In 1862-69 he represented Wellington and in 1869-72 Orange. In 1872 he held East Sydney until June when he was appointed to the Legislative Council where he sat until 1880.

In 1865 Samuel had become colonial treasurer under Charles Cowper, but resigned in 1866 after his budget proposals for trade licences and increased duties on tea and sugar had been defeated. In 1868 Samuel became treasurer under John Robertson and continued under Cowper in 1870. In 1869-70 he opposed Governor Belmore's reforms of public expenditure methods, though he assisted him by reducing recommendations to the Executive Council to sanction payments in anticipation of Appropriation Acts. In 1870 he attended the Intercolonial Conference in Melbourne and proposed intercolonial free trade to settle the border customs dispute. Samuel hoped to abolish ad valorem duties but his plans for a tax on incomes of over £200 were bitterly contested and led to the downfall of the government in December.

In 1872-75 Samuel was postmaster-general and vice-president of the Executive Council and Henry Parkes's government representative in the Legislative Council; he also acted as treasurer in 1872. He was again postmaster-general and government representative under Parkes in 1877 and in 1878-80. In 1873 he visited New Zealand, the United States and England and negotiated a subsidized mail service from England to Australia via San Francisco; the tender for the service was given to H. H. Hall who was soon bankrupt and unfounded imputations were made against Samuel's official and personal honour. In 1874 as postmaster-general he opened the new General Post Office.

In the 1860s Samuel had been a founder of the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Co. and a director of the Wentworth Gold Field Co., Tomago Coal Mining Co., Moruya Silver Mining Co. and the Sydney Exchange Co., of which he was chairman in 1876-80. In the 1870s he was involved with the governor Sir Hercules Robinson, John Frazer, John Sutherland and others in attempting to exploit Henry Parkes's coal lands at Jamberoo. He was sometime chairman of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and the Pacific Fire and Marine Insurance Co. and in 1881 still owned the copper mine at Canobolas.

Active in the Jewish community, in the 1840s Samuel had contributed to the London Voice of Jacob; he was a member of the board of management of the York Street Synagogue and remained loyal to it after it divided. He was a trustee of the Jewish section of the Devonshire Street cemetery and from 1871 chairman of the Sydney Hebrew Certified Denominational School Board. On 26 January 1875 he laid the foundation stone for the Great Synagogue, Elizabeth Street, and was later its president. He was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales and the New South Wales Academy of Art, and with his second wife Sarah Louisa, née Isaacs, whom he had married on 31 October 1877, was a founder and committee member of the Hospital for Sick Children.

On 10 August 1880 Samuel was appointed agent-general for New South Wales in London, despite the opposition of Sir Daniel Cooper who suspected him of being 'in favour of the Colonial Office'. An energetic, shrewd and efficient representative, he helped negotiate government loans and by 1885 claimed that he had raised £30 million. He fostered assisted immigration, negotiated with the Peninsular and Oriental and the Orient shipping companies for weekly mail services to the colony and in 1885 about the New South Wales contingent to the Sudan. He was a commissioner for New South Wales at the 1883 Amsterdam Exhibition and represented the colony at the 1887 Colonial Conference in London. In 1891 he also represented Queensland at the Postal Convention in Vienna.

Appointed C.M.G. in 1874, K.C.M.G. in 1882, C.B. in 1886 and created a baronet in 1898, Samuel was a London director of the Mercantile Bank of Sydney, a councillor of the Jews' College and of the Royal Colonial Institute, and a vice-president of the Society of Arts, London. He visited Sydney in 1888 and retired as agent-general in 1897. He died in South Kensington, London, on 29 August 1900. Survived by two sons and two daughters of his first wife and by his second wife and their son, he was succeeded by his second son, Edward Levien. His estate was sworn for probate at £17,000. His brother Lewis, who had returned to England, died on 17 February 1867.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 1-4 (1939-58), 6 (1964-69)
  • Southern Cross (Sydney), 21 Jan 1860
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Sept 1867, 15 May 1871, 30 Aug 1900
  • 'Death of Sir Saul Samuel', Times (London), 30 Aug 1900, p 9
  • Sydney Mail, 8 Sept 1900
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • York Street and Great Synagogue minutes (Synagogue Archives, Sydney)
  • CO 201/535, 538, 548, 551-53, 557-59, 563, 570, 574, 577, 583, 585, 591-92, 601, 603-05. 608, 616, 620.

Citation details

G. F. J. Bergman, 'Samuel, Sir Saul (1820–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Saul Samuel (1820-1900), by unknown photographer

Saul Samuel (1820-1900), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, PX*D 624

Life Summary [details]


2 November, 1820
London, Middlesex, England


29 August, 1900 (aged 79)
London, Middlesex, England

Cause of Death


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