Peasants from Plock

The family of my maternal grandmother’s father’s side were named Levy, indicating an ancestral claim to be descended from the ancient Levitical tribe (servers in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Levites were also musicians during sacred service, and I sort of like that musical link).

I imagine them to have been good solid European Jewish peasant stock, vainly toiling the frozen ground in Plock, Poland, fleeing political and religious persecution to England, and from there migrating to one of the far-flung colonies. What motivated my great-great-grandparents Joseph Levy (1840-1919) and Esther Cohen (c.1851-1902) to leave Mile End for Sydney? Overcrowding in the increasingly Jewish East End? A reunion of sorts with family who had already moved out here? So far I have located Esther’s sister, Hannah Cohen, who married Solomon Goldstein, and we know of some the children of the Goldstein family.  But that’s it so far in terms of details.

Unfortunately, I doubt we will ever find out any tangible reasons for the relocation. Joseph went on ahead in March 1876 on the SS Rotarua, leaving behind a pregnant wife with three young children: Mark (4 years old), Daniel (3 years old) and Ann (2 years old). Clara was born in 1877, and Esther arrived in Sydney with her four children on February 24, 1878, free passengers on the Lochee. In Sydney she would give birth to five more children: Fanny (1879), my great-grandfather Simeon (1881), Rosa (1882), either Isaac or Isadore (1884), and an infant who did not survive, Samuel (1885).

In Sydney, my great-grandfather Simeon married Emma Maude, and had three children: my grandmother Esther, and her two brothers, David and Neville. Both brothers had a form of muscular dystrophy, and died in their teenage years (David died at 14 in 1918, Neville died at 16 in 1927). My grandmother was taken out of Fort Street High School,  where she was excelling at science and hoping to train in chemistry, so that she could nurse her brothers through their sicknesses. She never spoke of this to us – but I always sensed a deep sadness in her, a bias towards male relatives, and a profound personal regret in the cessation of her formal education.

The most famous and successful of the Levy family was my grandmother’s uncle Daniel. A precocious lad, he attended Crown Street Superior Public School, where according to family legend he apparently used to play cricket with Victor Trumper. I am a little doubtful of this … Dan was 5 years older than Victor, and I cannot imagine an 11 year old playing cricket with a 6 year old in the playground. Still, stranger things have happened …

Dan went on to obtain a scholarship to Sydney Grammar School, where he won the Knox Prize  and Morehead Scholarship. Proceeding onto Sydney University, he won the University medal in Classics. No wonder my grandmother was so keen on my continuing study in Latin!

Uncle Dan, as he was known in the family, became Sir Daniel Levy MLA, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the NSW Parliament. You can read all about his career in the following link, written by Lionel Fredman:

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/levy-sir-daniel-7181

In subsequent posts, I will write a bit more about Uncle Dan. His personal life is shrouded in mystery, because the day after his death his sister Fanny went to the house and burned all the personal papers in the back yard. He was unmarried – was there some scandal involving a non-Jewish mistress? Or was he secretly gay?  We shall never know …

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