Julia Levy – Philanthropist

From Australia’s Jewish Past:

Julia Levy 1826-1914


First published in J-Wire July 6, 2021

Julia Levy was born in Bath England in 1826. Her father, Samuel Solomon was transported as a convict in 1832 to New South Wales and Julia, with her mother and seven siblings, followed him to Australia, as free immigrants arriving on 1 February 1835.


Her father was pardoned in 1842. At the age of nineteen, in 1845, she married Lewis Wolfe Levy, who would become a prominent businessman, a leader of Sydney’s Jewish community and a member of parliament.

They moved to Maitland New South Wales where Lewis’s cousins, the Cohens – several of whom were married to sisters of Julia – also resided. The Levys had fifteen children, thirteen of whom survived to adulthood.

david cohen co warehouse Maitland NSW
David Cohen & Co Warehouse, Maitland

After operating a profitable general store in Tamworth, Lewis became partners with two Cohen cousins, Samuel and David in the Maitland company David Cohen & Co., and directed the firm’s development.

There is little evidence of Julia‘s specific activities during the time Lewis was building his wealth, but together the couple were seen as leaders of the Maitland Jewish community and renowned as dedicated supporters of a great many charitable, educational, and benevolent causes. 

They returned to Sydney in 1863, with their children. Her life was more than busy raising their children and, had very little time to participate in communal and charitable activities, but what she lacked in this respect, she more than made up by the exuberant manner in which she distributed her generosity. Both Lewis and Julia were most effective in advancing the welfare of Judaism and Lewis was very involved in the York Street Synagogue as well as having a seat on many Boards of Management of NSW and Australian companies.

Julia gave to every worthy cause and whilst she supported so many institutions, her greatest love was the New South Wales Board of Jewish Education. Even when Lewis passed away, Julia continued her philanthropic work and gave considerably more than half the income left to her by Lewis.

Children at Sydney Day Nursery in Darlinghurst 1906
Children at Sydney Day Nursery in Darlinghurst 1906

Julia became known as the “Grand Woman of Sydney Jewry.” So much was this the case that she gave considerably more than half the ample income left by her husband for the betterment of less fortunate fellow citizens, no matter what their denomination. By this time they lived in ‘Cahors’, a house at 117 Macleay Street, Pott’s Point. The residence was the location of the Sydney Day Nursery Association’s Drawing Room meeting on 24 August 1905, the object being “to arouse interest in the movement to establish a creche at Woolloomooloo”.

Julia never rested and, in the last months of her life, she was involved in knitting socks and sewing shirts for soldiers fighting in World War I. She passed away in 1914 at the age of 89. So well thought of was she that her death cast a gloom over the Sydney Jewish community. An obituary in the Sun newspaper stated that she was ‘renowned for her great charity, which embraced all denominations and sectors of the community and she was praised as ‘one of the greatest philanthropists in New South Wales’.

From Australia's Jewish Past is written by Ruth Lilian OAM for AJHS and published weekly in J-Wire. ​