Fremantle Stuff > People > Lionel Samson

lionel samsonLionel Samson

Lionel Samson (1799-15 March 1878) was an early Swan River Colony settler and businessman whose firm, Lionel Samson & Son, is the oldest continuing family business in Australia.
It is likely his father was Michael Samson, "a member of one of the old established and wealthy families of English Jewry", according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. After studying at Oxford University and being a member of the London Stock Exchange he emigrated to Western Australia.
Samson arrived at Fremantle in 1829 on the Calista and soon set up business as a wine and spirit merchant, importer and auctioneer. He purchased Fremantle town lots 27 and 28 in the first state land sale. He was postmaster-general from 1830 to 1832. In 1835 he obtained the state's first liquor license. In 1842 he returned to Britain and married Frances Levi. They had six children: three sons and three daughters. Samson was a member of the Fremantle Town Trust and a nominee in the Western Australian Legislative Council in 1849-56 and 1859-68.
Lionel Samson & Son's interests include wholesale liquor distribution, vineyards and wine making, woven bulk bags for industrial use and industrial packaging. It also owns Sadleirs Transport, a national transport and freight forwarding company. Lionel Samson Building, in Cliff Street, Fremantle, is on the Heritage Council of Western Australia's Places Database.
Samson's grandson Frederick Samson was mayor of Fremantle from 1951 to 1972. Wikipedia.

Lionel Samson (1799-1878), wine and spirit merchant, arrived in Fremantle with his younger brother, William, only two months after the arrival of the first white settlers. The Samson brothers unpacked their ample merchandise and Lionel set up a shop on the beach near Arthur Head and went into business as a wine and spirit merchant, importer and auctioneer. The following year the brothers bought a stone cottage in Cliff Street as a residence.
Lionel was appointed postmaster, but this was not a lucrative appointment. However, the Samson brothers had wealthy financial connections and were able to wait out the difficult early years. Meanwhile, they set up a second shop.
Lionel quickly earned a high standing in the fledgling community and was appointed to the board of the Bank of Western Australia in 1837. He was 42 when he sailed for England in 1842 and married his cousin Frances (Fanny) Levi, 19. She was connected to the Rothschilds, and for ten years was the only Jewish woman in the colony. They had six children.
William left the colony around this time [moving to Adelaide]. Lionel became the first Jewish person to sit in an Australian legislative chamber and served two terms in the WA Legislative Council. To the present day, Lionel Samson’s company has remained in the hands of direct descendants making Lionel Samson & Son the oldest continuing family business in Australia. The Samson family has produced three mayors of Fremantle, and has a suburb east of Fremantle (Samson), a town in the Pilbara (Point Samson) and a number of streets around the Perth metropolitan area named in their honour. Text and photo from MCB.

samson family Lionel Samson's family in what is said by John Dowson (2003: 11) to be the 'oldest known Fremantle photograph', in 1856: Lionel and Fanny (Frances Levy) Samson with their children: Caroline (b. 1845), Adelaide (b. 1847), Louis (b. 1849), and Elizabeth (b. 1850)—and one more girl. The eldest son Michael (b. 1844) was away at boarding school in Adelaide at that moment. The youngest child William Frederick was probably born in 1856, as he was 44 when he died 5 March 1900, and so is not in the photo as not yet born.

samson building

The Lionel Samson building, at 31 Cliff St. Part of the older Samson premises (now called 'Fanny Samson's cottage') is visible at the left of the photograph.


Ari and Wendy Antonovsky occasionally conduct a tour of the Jewish section of Fremantle Cemetery. They have kindly provided the text of the talk. Here is the section on Lionel Samson.

Lionel Samson came from a well-to-do Jewish English family. Like Solomon, he was a Londoner. There are records of the Samson family history going back to the early 1700s in England. His father and he had a seat on the London Stock Exchange. Unlike many of the settlers in Fremantle he had received a good education, at Oxford University.
Lionel had been planning to head for Canada, but developed his pioneering interest for this new land called Australia through a chance meeting with Capt James Stirling (who eventually became Governor of the Swan River Colony and gave his name to the Stirling Highway). Lionel was sent off from London in style with many dignitaries, including the Prince of Wales, turning up for the occasion.
In August 1829 Lionel and his brother William stepped off the sailing ship Calista on South Beach, south of Fremantle. Lionel came out very well-prepared for his new life in WA. He brought out the wine and liquor that he planned to sell, a pre-fabricated house, sheep and horses, and four servants to help get all this organised.
According to the system in those days, Lionel was granted land proportional to the value of what he brought out here. That year, he also purchased Fremantle town lots 27 and 28 in what was the first WA land sale. He started a merchant liquor and general import-export business. Even then they could see that grog would be a good business in Australia. Both the business and the license are still on Cliff Street 180 years later.
This office was situated in a key location in the new colony. Goods off-loaded from ships at the south end of Cliff St (South Bay) were carted down Cliff St. and loaded onto barges at the north end of Cliff St (to go up the river to Perth).
Lionel seemed to be a friend to everyone, from the Governor down to the humblest colonists; and anyone that came through the colony met Samson and left with fond memories of him. The story goes that as honorary Postmaster, he distributed the mail when a ship arrived. Invariably people coming for their mail would borrow the money to pay for the postage and while there they also drank his brandy.
However, friendship wasn’t enough, and in 1842 he went back to England to bring back a wife. The story goes that a previous object of his affections had refused to marry him, but promised he could marry her daughter, when she was old enough. And so, Fanny Levy came back with Lionel, making them and their their children the first Jewish family in WA.
He held many honorary posts in the new colony. Among his many official positions, he served in the Legislative Council under three Governors. The Samson tradition certainly was passed on to two of Lionel’s sons who became mayors of Fremantle, as well as his grandson who was mayor for 21 years.
The final word goes to his obituary, which said, “To write a sketch of Mr. Samson’s colonial career would be to write a history of the colony itself”.

References and Links

Wendy & Ari Antonovsky, notes about Lionel Samson in their Heritage Walk around the West End of Fremantle.

Berry, Elaine 1994, 'The Samsons in Fremantle', Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle Society: October 1994.

Brown, Patricia 2012, Entry in the ADB for Sir Frederick Samson

Mossenson, David 1967, Entry in the ADB for Lionel Samson

Wikipedia article on Lionel Samson

Wikipedia article on Sir Frederick Samson

National Trust pdf about the Samson family


Garry Gillard | New: 17 January, 2015 | Now: 28 May, 2017