Ebb and Flow of Success:  Samuel Lyons


In the 1840’s the most select residences in Sydney were a row of five houses in Liverpool Street called Lyons Terrace, facing the south end of Hyde Park. Elegantly attractive, they cost builder Samuel Lyons £5,000 each. Their early tenants included the Chief Justice, Sir Alfred Stephen, and the family of Major-General Edward Wynyard, commander of Her Majesty’s forces in NSW.

Lyons Terrace (1880 photograph)

Lyons, a highly successful merchant and auctioneer, had come a long way since his arrival in the colony in January 1815 on a life sentence for theft. He was a high-spirited young man, far from amenable to convict discipline, and in his first few years he made several attempts to escape but was caught and punished each time. His career reached its lowest ebb in 1819 when he was found guilty of robbing the government stores and sentenced to 200 lashes and four years at Newcastle.

At Newcastle he married Mary Murphy, and from then on he be­came a reformed character. In 1823 he and his wife returned to Syd­ney and opened a shop in Pitt Street. By 1831 Governor Darling was writing of him as “a man in good circumstances industrious and respectable”, and in the next year the reformed Lyons received an absolute pardon.

Among other things, Lyons became an auctioneer and his scrupulously fair dealing brought so much business his way that he could afford to send his three children to be educated in England. He built a handsome residence in George Street and acquired properties in Bridge Street and near Bathurst and Newcastle.

He and his wife left for England in 1836 intending to live there, but the call of the colony and the opportunities it offered lured them back three years later. Lyons recovered better than most businessmen from the depression of the 1840’s and in a few years he gave much time to public affairs. He was on the committee of the Sydney College & founder of the Australian Patriotic Association.

In the early years Lyons declared himself a Protestant. He was however Jewish, and during the 1830’s he rejoined the Jewish community and became a prominent member of the York Street Synagogue. When he died in 1851, aged 60, he was buried in the Jewish section of the Devonshire Street cemetery. One son, George, became a barrister in England, and the other, Samuel, became a prominent politician in NSW and an associate of Henry Parkes.

Reprinted with permission from Heron Flyer, July 2006

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