Levy, Joseph and Sophia

Full name:

Levy, Joseph and Sophia (née Smith)

Dates recorded for being in Berrima:


Occupation if known and land ownership:

Merchant and innkeeper – 1836-1862. Owner of three allotments plus rural land


Ex-Convict. Wife Born in Colony

Joseph Levy was one of Berrima’s earliest residents and from his arrival in 1836 until his death in 1862 one of the townships prominent citizens. His history is well documented through the research of J H Bergman and J S Levi with many events in his life recorded in the newspapers of the time.[i]

Joseph was born in 1799 in London, the son of Mordecai Levy, a general dealer in Southwark.[ii] He was a labourer who at the age of 19 stole a watch valued at £10, a watch chain valued at £4, a watch key valued at £1 and a seal valued at £5 from one Theophilus Heavey. He was quickly apprehended when the goods were found in his home and received a life sentence, arriving in NSW as a convict on the Mangles in August 1820.

The 1822 General Muster shows he was working as a labourer on the Emu Plains. His good conduct and work performance as an overseer occasioned a petition for a pardon – which was presumably not granted. Later in the 1820s he was again an overseer of a convict gang.

Joseph received his ticket of leave in 1828 and is recorded in the 1828 Census as a labourer in the District of Evan, present day Penrith. [iii] He worked for John Moses, the licensee of the King’s Head in Penrith but when Moses left for Sydney and Joseph requested permission to go with him this was denied. Joseph’s ticket of leave had assigned him to the Evan District and, as he had apparently erred by forging a pass and received a three-month sentence for refusing to work, there he had to stay.

By 1833, however, he was in Sydney living with his new wife Sophie (née Smith), who he had married in 1832, and daughter Rebecca, born in that year, at Brickfield Hill, south of the main Sydney town.[iv], [v]. J S Levi suggests he was working in partnership with a relative Abraham Myers.[vi] As he was still a convict the couple required permission to marry and the official document shows Sophie was 17 (Joseph was 32) and had been born in the colony.[vii] Joseph was Jewish: Sophie was not. They were married in the Scots Presbyterian Church in Sydney but, reflecting this difference of religion, was the lack of the mother’s name in synagogue records of the birth of Rebecca.[viii]

Joseph received his conditional pardon in 1834 giving him complete freedom of movement. In 1842 this was converted to an Absolute Pardon.[ix]

The Sydney Monitor

A year later he purchased Lot 4 of Section 2 in Berrima, and as the copy of the advertisement in May 1836 makes it clear he relocated his Sydney store there in mid-1836.

By December 1836 he had expanded his business into brewing beer in what would be later referred to as the Imperial Brewery.[x] Advertisements in The Australian in 1838 notify his potential customers that he had ‘commenced brewing for this season’ and ‘likewise commenced Ginger Beer brewing, whose constant supply is always on the roads from Bargo to Sutton Forest’. It also informs his patrons that he had employed an experienced cooper.

Adding to his income was his role as an auctioneer as well as a merchant.[xi] In 1839 The Australian reported he was selling at auction the unexpired lease of a farm, a bullock team, cattle, horses and farm implements, as well as ten bales of hay.[xii]

There is also a possibility he was running coaches between Goulburn and Berrima in partnership with a Michael Doyle[xiii] A correspondent to the Goulburn Post, writes:

Old hands will remember the strange partnership of Messrs. Doyle and Levy – Doyle, the devil-may-care Sydney Irishman, and Levy, the wideawake Berrima Jew – the pioneers of southern coach drivers and owners, both keen and lively “Jehus” as ever made passengers foot it up a hill, but, be it is also recounted, as honest a pair of citizens as ever hold the ribbons.[xiv]

This account has not been verified, however.

At some point Levy decided to change the nature of his business. In late 1839 he bought two allotments, numbers 2 and 3 of Section 15, opposite the courthouse and along the new line of road.[xv] He paid a substantial amount for these two lots, £82 in all, a sum way above the average price being paid for Berrima allotments. Given the high price he paid it is likely that he needed them for his business and had not simply acquired them for speculation. It is possible that he moved his brewery and store to the new site at around this time leaving the Market Place site free to build the Victoria Inn which was from now on to be his main interest. Joseph’s will, written in July 1861, makes it clear the Victoria Stores were located on Lot 2 of Section 15 and it is probable that the brewery was alongside making use of a spring of fresh water.

He opened the inn in 1840 and auctioned off his store (and the brewery?)[xvi] The buyer was Hyam Phillips. This is confirmed by two advertisements in July 1840: one where Joseph thanks his customers for their business over the last five years and commends Hyam Phillips to them as the new owner of the store; the other proclaiming the comforts of his new inn.[xvii]

By 1842 the colony was experiencing a financial downturn and Hyam Phillips was unable to pay Joseph for the purchases and Joseph took back the store and the brewery.[xviii] His nephew Lewis Levy had arrived in the colony – probably in 1838 – and an advertisement in May 1841 suggests Lewis was charged with looking after the store and brewery.[xix] This advertisement also refers to Joseph as ‘Late of Berrima’.

Something had happened in Joseph’s life to make him move back to Sydney.

His private life had been less successful than his commercial one. In March 1837 he placed a notice in the Sydney Monitor stating that:

‘As my wife, Sophia Levy and I, Joseph Levy, have separated, I caution the Public against giving her credit, on my account as I will not be answerable for any debts she may contract. I also caution those who stand indebted to me not to pay her any monies without my signature as I am not in partnership with any person.

JOSEPH LEVY, Berrima March 11, 1837.[xx]

What happened after this, and the fate of Sophie, has not been discovered.

Also in 1839 a notice is placed in the newspaper stating Joseph is indisposed and has to postpone the auction of cattle scheduled to take place at John Atkinson’s Kentish arms, south of the township.[xxi]

There is also a hint at problems in 1841 when in a response to a communication from Henry Forster, the berrima gaolor, to the high sherriff complaining he could not obtain oil, soap and flour from the contractor, a Mr Oakes, who used Levy as his agent. A note alongside, written by the police magistrate, suggests the reason was that Mr Levy might be having some personal problems.[xxii]

His name is given as the licensee for the first year of operation of the Victoria Inn before Philip Solomon takes it over for two years and another of Levy’s nephews, George, for one year.[xxiii] It is possible that Joseph was not in Berrima at the time of the 1841 Census and remained absent for most of the period until 1844.[xxiv],[xxv]

Joseph Levy had long been a respected member of the Jewish Community. He and daughter, Rebecca, had given £15 to assist the building of the York Street Synagogue in 1839.[xxvi] In 1843 he was elected a representative of the Berrima district on the board of the committee of the Bridge Street Synagogue.[xxvii]

After he returned to Berrima as licensee in 1844 there are numerous references to him in the press as a resident of Berrima and to the quality of his inn. As owner of the Victoria stores he won government contracts to provide fodder for Stonequarry (Picton) and Berrima and became the agent for the Sydney Morning Herald in Berrima.[xxviii],[xxix] As business in the township grew through the 1850s, in part due to the opening up of goldfields to the south, Joseph Levy prospered. In an advertisement for the Victoria Inn in the Sydney Morning Herald of 18 January 1852 he opens with a marketing slogan:

The Mail – The Mail –the Royal Mail!
Breakfast Ready, without fail

And closes with the footnote:

‘Parties proceeding to the Diggins(sic) supplied with Provisions and Forage, at a reasonable rate, at the rear of the “Victoria Inn”.

Between 1852 and 1857 he bought more land in the district: his holdings at the time he wrote his will are listed at the end of this document.

His personal life was also changing. His will reveals the presence of Lionel Levy, born in 1846, the natural son of Mary Ann King, his late housekeeper. That Lionel was Joseph’s son is evidenced by Lionel’s death certificate and the inscription on his gravestone in Bombala cemetery.[xxx] Mary Ann Merryman, born 1816, had been married to a James King in 1836. There are records of the birth of a daughter by this marriage in 1845 and given that he is mentioned in Berrima in as late as 1846 it is possible they were still married. No death certificate for James has been found.[xxxi]

Joseph’s daughter, Rebecca, married Maurice Solomon of Maneroo in 1853/4 and moved to the Bombala district.[xxxii]

At this time, too, Joseph was a local banker. A court case in 1858 describes him as a store-keeper but also recounts a criminal charge being brought against him by a Mr Peter Perowitch who claimed Joseph had induced him to deposit two hundred and twenty-six sovereigns with him for safe custody ‘as my banker’, but would not now release it. Joseph denied he had received any money and the case was thrown out when evidence of Mr Perowitch’s character and history of employment was presented.[xxxiii]

The Victoria Inn continued to be a very substantial enterprise and one Levy continued to run and support. In 1854 he had recourse to assure his customers that he was still open for business, refuting the misinformation being put out by some coach drivers that he had no accommodation to offer.[xxxiv] In the advertisement he stresses that his customers:

may rely on having a good clean and substantial meal, for Joseph Levey (sic) has no occasion to send to any of the strong-armed butchers or bakers for meat or bread, as he has always abundance of these on hand; and he kills his own meat, and bakes his own bread.[xxxv]

But an advertisement in October 1855 to tempt someone to lease the Victoria Inn from him reveals he was unwell. It also provides a good description of the inn:


…begs to return his most grateful thanks to all his old friends and customers for the extensive patronage he has received from them during the last twelve years, and to state that, in consequence of ill health, he is compelled to retire from the public life, and let the above inn, with the whole of the stock-in-trade, for such number of years as may be agreed on. The house is situated in the centre of the town of Berrima, is brick-built ; It contains three parlours, large taproom, ten bed rooms, pantry, men’s room, kitchen, bakehouse, washhouse, office, stores, granary, harness room, coach house, stabling for twenty-two horses, under-ground cellars; porter and ale drawn by an engine; there is a well on the premises with a never falling supply of supply of water, and should this fail, the Wingecarribbee River runs at the bottom of the yard. The furniture can be taken at a valuation. For further particulars, apply to Mr. JOSEPH LEVY, Berrima.[xxxvi]

Gravestone of Joseph Levy & Rebecca Solomon

He returned to run the inn again in 1862 but died later that year on 25 September while residing in Pitt St, Sydney.[xxxvii] The funeral was held at the Jewish Synagogue in York Street and he was buried in Devonshire Street Cemetery (his tombstone later transferred to Rookwood Cemetery with an added inscription commemorating Rebecca who died in 1930 aged 97). [xxxviii],[xxxix]

In his will Joseph leaves the Victoria Inn and all it contains to Rebecca. To Lionel he leaves the Victoria Stores and adjacent building yards. As Lionel is under-age Joseph places Lionel’s share into the trust of Rebecca also requesting she looks after his education. Joseph’s will also confirms the origins of the housekeeper Mary Ann King. She was the daughter of George Merriman and her brother, James, was one of the executers of Joseph Levy’s will.

In all this it would seem that Joseph was a trusted person. John Henshall, Drum Major of the 50th Regiment of Foot had asked Levy to look after his daughter, Jane, in the event of his death. Jane became Joseph’s ward in 1853 and she became the second wife of Joseph’s business partner, James Powell. (A contributor to Powell’s history suggests her father became friendly with Levy while stationed in Berrima)

Joseph was also generous. He is featured an article about Berrima in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1847 provides a picture of the Aboriginal members of the township who were not counted in the Census.[xl]

In the afternoon, Mr. Levy, of Berrima gave his usual annual dinner to the Aborigines, which takes place on the Queen’s birthday; a table was laid out on the green, and about sixty native youths sat down to dinner. The well-known ‘Jackey Plowright’ (King of Berrima), sat at the head of the table, and his better half at the foot thereof. His majesty wore an (sic) uniform coat, but I am not prepared to say to what particular branch of the service he belonged; however, he also wore a cocked hat, which may lead to a discovery. After the cloth had been removed, His Majesty Plowright briefly, but energetically proposed the health of ‘Queen Victoria,’ and assuredly the company did ample justice to it; three times three and all the honours having been drunk, with a remark from Sergeant Neddy, that they should give the cheers more for Keen Detoro, as he pathetically designated Her Gracious Majesty. The company then rose to display some of their fantastic dances, and indeed the exhibition was well worth viewing particularly the Emu Dance, which was performed under the management of King Plowright, in full rig. After going through the various dances they drank the health of ‘Joe Levy’, their worthy host and friend, and then adjourned to Mr. Levy’s yard, to enjoy the pleasures of the weed. When night had set in, they again assembled in front of Mr. Levy’s, and performed some curious antics under the blaze of some brilliant fireworks, which were let off at the time. Altogether Mr. Levy and the darkies have decidedly made a very strong demonstration of their loyalty. All the public houses in the town were illuminated for the greater part of the night.

There is a record of him continuing to provide a treat for the Aborigines on the Queen’s Birthday in 1862, the year he died.[xli]

Rebecca sold the Victoria Inn after Joseph’s death, together with the town allotment that had once been the site of the military barracks and a third unoccupied allotment on Jellore Street. What happened to Lionel’s share has not been researched.


Monday 5 January 1863
occupied by Mr. Lewis Levi,

RICHARDSON & WRENCH Have received instructions from Maurice Solomon Esq., to sell by public auction, At the Rooms, Pitt-street, Sydney, ON MONDAY 5TH JANUARY, at eleven o’clock,
The following choice properties in the
LOT 1. – That well-known principal Hostelrie in Berrima,
built of brick on stone foundations, containing bar, fourteen rooms, cellars, kitchens, bakehouse, oven, store-room, &c.; also detached cottage, together with stabling for twenty-four horses, coach-house, and extensive out-buildings, &c.
The inn fronts the market-place, and occupies half an-acre of land, being lot 4 of section 2, as per government plan. The position of this extensive property is the best in Berrima, commanding the best trade in the town, being the stopping place for the mail. It is at present leased to Mr. Lewis Levi, but arrangements could be made to give immediate possession, if required.
LOT 2. – Consists of an allotment of land, No. 10, of section 1, town of Berrima, containing about half-an-acre, on which are the
consisting of the following promises built of stone:-A building containing six rooms and three attic rooms above, a stable, with six stalls, a coach-house, &c.
LOT 3. – An allotment of land, No. 2 of section 6, town of Berrima, containing 2 roods.
Those acquainted with the above properties will admit that they occupy the best and most important positions in the town of Berrima. They have a large prospective value, as there cannot be a doubt that on the extension of the southern line of railway (now contracted for) to this locality, Berrima will become a most important town.


But perhaps the last word on Joseph Levy should be left to ‘Old Tom’ writing in 1902 who said

The deaths of Levy and Powell [Levy’s business partner] left a void in the old town that has never been filled.[xlii]

NB. Family members have generously contributed information to this story.

[i] G F J Bergman and J S Levi. Australian Genesis: Jewish Convicts and Settlers, 1788-1850. Rigby, Adelaide 1974. p 68. Also J S Levi. These are the Names: Jewish Lives in Australia. Mirgunyah Press 2006.

[ii] Joseph’s will states he was formerly called Mortdecai

[iii] SRNSW Convict Records Ticket of Leave 4/4079; Reel 915. 1

[iv] NSW BDM V183322 136/1833

[v] State Archives BDM V1832261 73A/1832

[vi] Levi J S p 465

[vii] SRNSW, Series: 12212; Item: 4/4512; Page: 60

[viii] NSW BDM V1832261 73A/1832 and personal communication

[ix] SRNSW Convict Records. Conditional Pardon 1834, 4/4432; Reel 775 p. 42. Absolute Pardon Recommendation; 4/4489; Reel 800. Granted April 1842; 4/4488; Reel 800 pp. 255-256

[x] The Sydney Monitor, 30 December 1836 and The Australian 1 November 1838

[xi] Government Gazette, vol lX 1840 indicates he held an Auctioneers licence from 24 July 1839 but in an advertisement in The Sydney Monitor, 18 August 1837 Levy says he has taken out an Auctioneers Licence and ‘will hold periodical Sales at the Market Place in that Town, for the disposal of Cattle, Horses, Merchandise, and Produce’.

[xii] The Australian, 5 January 1839

[xiii] It has not been established whether this is Michael Doyle of the Mail Coach Inn in Berrima or someone of the same name in Sydney

[xiv] Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 9 September 1905

[xv] Registers of Land Grants and Leases; Series: NRS 13836; Item: 7/476; Reel: 2701 Book 57 folios 103 and 105

[xvi] The Australian, 30 May 1840

[xvii] Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser,18 July 1840

[xviii] Hyam Phillips become the licensee of the Jew’s Harp south of the Wingecarribee Riverowned by Henry Forster, the Berrima gaoler

[xix] The Australian, 27 May 1841

[xx] The Sydney Monitor, Wednesday 29 March 1837 p.1

[xxi] The Australian, 5 March 1839

[xxii] SRNSW. Correspondence to High Sherriff, H M Gaol Berrima to the High Sherriff from Henry Forster. 4/2622.2. An assumption is being made here that it is to Joseph, rather than Lewis Levy he is referring.

[xxiii] SRNSW. Publicans Licences NRS 14401 [7/1501]; Reel 1236

[xxiv] http://srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/indexsearch/searchform.aspx?id=69&new=1

[xxv] The Australian, 25 August 1843 and SRNSW Publican’s Licenses and NRS 14401 [4/75]; Reel 5058

[xxvi] http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/society_art/jewish/religious/circular/index.html (accessed Jan 2016). In this document Rebecca is referred to as ‘Mrs’ Rebecca Levy.

[xxvii] Bergman and Levi op.cit

[xxviii] Sydney Chronicle, 20 November 1847

[xxix] Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 1951

[xxx] Lionel died in 1899, (NSW BDM 2680/1899) and is buried in Bombala cemetery. An obituary appears in The Murrurundi Times and Liverpool Plains Gazette, 9 December 1899

[xxxi] NS BDM V1836100 20 and Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 1846.

[xxxii] Sydney Morning Herald, 1 September 1854

[xxxiii] Sydney Morning Herald, 10 March 1858

[xxxiv] Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, 23 December 1854

[xxxv] The Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser, 23 December 1854

[xxxvi] Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1855

[xxxvii] NSW BDM V1862238 136

[xxxviii] Sydney Morning Herald, 26 September 1862

[xxxix] Louise Rosenberg, Of Folktales and Jewish Folk in Australian History, Printworthy Press, 2004. Rosenberg wrote: Joseph Levy’s ‘daughter Rebecca, born 1833, married Maurice Solomon in 1853 and died in 1930, at 97. Her descendants and those of her brother are counted among today’s Jewish community.’

[xl] Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 1847

[xli] Goulburn Herald, 29 May 1862

[xlii] Old Tom’s Reminiscences Bowral Free Press, 19 April 1902