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Michael Samson

Michael Samson (1844-1907) was the eldest son of Lionel Samson, and Mayor of Fremantle 1905-07, dying in office. His son Sir (William) Frederick Samson, was Mayor 1951-72. Michael built Samson House, on the corner of Ellen and Ord Streets. Frederick lived in it after him, then left it to the people. It is administered by the National Trust.

michael samson

Michael Samson (8.06.1844 - 22.09.1907), eldest son of Lionel and Fanny Samson (nee Levi). Educated at St. Peter's College, South Australia. Married 1888 Mary Murphy. Three children: William Frederick 12.01.1892 - 6.02.1974. Married Daphne Alice Marks 1935. She died in 1953. Mayor of Fremantle 1951-1972. Kathleen Mary Caroline 8.04.1894 - 24.07.1980. Married Colonel Sidney Evans. Adelaide Rita Dorothy 21.10.1897 - 28.11.1982. Married Bruce Laurie, son of Captain Robert Laurie, stevedore and sometime M.L.C. (December 1901 - May 1912). When Lionel Samson died in 1878 his business was carried on by Michael, who later transferred his interest to his brother William. Largely responsible for sandalwood trade with China. Returned after many years to become Inspector of Customs at Fremantle. Shortly after his retirement from that position at the age of 60, Michael became Mayor of Fremantle in 1905 and died in office in 1907. Point Samson in the Pilbara was named in his honour. He participated in an expedition with Walter Padbury to carry cattle to the north. Fremantle Library photo #500, c. 1900, and text.

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, by their courtesy, is the section on Michael Samson.

Michael Samson lies here next to his father and hopefully they have reconciled themselves. Michael Samson was the eldest son of Lionel, born 8 June 1844. He was well educated like his father, having been sent to St Peter’s College in Adelaide, staying with his mother’s brother. He was one of the school’s first prefects. His father chartered ships to carry his son back and forth.
After he left school he went to work for his father, which is where the trouble seems to start.
Michael had a number of theatrical and operatic interests. He was President of the Fremantle Lyric, Operatic and Dramatic Club. In earlier days, Michael’s dramatic club was notorious for its’ licentiousness’. This seemed to have contributed to his falling out with his father. It’s not clear exactly what he did wrong, but he was more or less banished to China in 1875. Even worse, the running of the family business was given over to his younger brother William, and he was essentially cut out of Lionel’s will, when his father died 3 years later.
However, China was a good posting financially, as he was largely responsible for developing the sandalwood trade, one of the best exports from the colony (large piles of sandalwood could be seen on Fremantle wharf). After his father’s death, he came back to Fremantle, and eventually married Mary Murphy. (Mary Samson as she became, was the owner of our house in Arundel Street.)
He spent the rest of his working life in Fremantle as Inspector of Customs. One of his adventures was to go along with the Padbury Expedition which delivered the first cattle and sheep to Cossack in the Pilbara. The cattle were then destined for pasture across the De Grey River. They landed on the coast at a place which was named Point Samson after him (reputed to have the best F&C in WA). Cossack was originally Tien Tsin, named after the ship that Samson arrived on.
Later in life, Michael became yet another Mayor Samson, but had the distinction of being the only Fremantle mayor to die in office (though this was better than being removed on the grounds of insanity, as Edward Davies was). He served from August 1905 until his death in September 1907 and during his time was responsible for the Fremantle-Perth railway and the beautiful Victorian railway station. He also initiated the sea baths at Bathers Beach (between the South Jetty and the Long Jetty). These were the new baths, to distinguish them from the older baths at Arundel Street. Very modern, hot and cold, fresh and sea water baths were available. The council allowed mixed bathing only on Thursday nights, which they dubbed “Continental Nights.”
One of the most significant aspects of Michael’s life was his involvement in the Freemasons. He originally joined at age 21. He continued to be involved with the Freemasons throughout his life. In some ways this was his ‘religion’ though there was still recognition of his Jewishness by the Freemasons. In fact many Jews belonged to the Freemasons, including the PHC Rabbi Freedman himself. However, this was possibly another contentious issue with his father.
His obituary from the Freemasons acknowledged him as “one of the most distinguished members of the Craft in this State and has placed to his record long and distinguished services faithfully and ably rendered in the service of Freemasonry.” He founded one FM lodge, the Samson Mark Lodge, and reached the exalted position of Pro Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of WA.

References and Links

Antonovsky, Ari & Wendy, text used for their tour of the Jewish section of Fremantle Cemetery, entitled 'Visiting the residents of the Jewish section of the Fremantle Cemetery', as above.

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

Brown, Patricia 2012, Entry in the ADB for Sir Frederick 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: 24 September, 2021