From Australia’s Jewish Past: Lionel Samson – Lionel Samson & Son – WA’s oldest continuing family business

June 7, 2022 by Features Desk
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Lionel was born in 1799 in England and was the son of Michael Samson, supposedly a member of one of the old established and wealthy families of English Jewry.  

Lionel Samson

Lionel studied at Oxford University and became a member of the London Stock Exchange.  With his friend George Leake he became interested in emigration to the colonies and legend has the two friends meeting Captain (Sir) James Stirling who persuaded them to turn their eyes from Canada towards Western Australia.  Lionel emigrated to West Australia in 1829 and became an early Swan River Colony settler.

Lionel’s brother William accompanied him,  but after some years moved to Adelaide. Lionel maintained his original business interests throughout the rest of his life, adding whaling and other projects to his activities.

He set up business as a wine and spirit merchant, importer, and auctioneer. He also engaged in whaling. He purchased Fremantle town lots 27 and 28 in the first state land sale.  He was Postmaster-general from 1830 to 1832 and in 1835 he obtained the state’s first liquor license, establishing his company to be known as Lionel Samson & Son, which has become the oldest continuing family business in Australia.

Lionel returned to the UK in 1842 and married Frances Levi. They had six children – three sons and three daughters. Once back in Australia,  Lionel was seen as a prominent figure in the public and business life of Perth and Fremantle. With his wit and charm and his commercial integrity, he achieved a respected and prominent position in society. He was a member of the Fremantle Town Trust and a nominee in the Western Australian Legislative Council in 1849-56 and 1859-68.

His business interests continued to include wholesale liquor distribution, vineyards, and winemaking, woven bulk bags for industrial use and industrial packaging. In the 1880s Lionel Samson & Son was the single largest importer of beers and spirits into Australia. Their import range included numerous British wines, spirits and beers from producers.  By 1898 Lionel’s business had grown substantially, having benefited considerably from its involvement as a major merchant satisfying demand from the Western Australian gold rush.  In 2012 Lionel Samson & Son acquired Saidlers Transport, a national transport and freight forwarding company.  The company’s headquarters operates from the Lionel Samson Building in Cliff Street Fremantle, the building being one of the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s Places Database.

Lionel died on 15 March 1878. The business which Samson started in Fremantle passed to his sons. It has remained in the family’s hands ever since.  His descendants have also remained closely identified with the commercial and civic life of the city of Fremantle.

Two of Lionel’s sons became Mayors of Fremantle –  William Frederick and Michael and his grandson Sir Frederick Samson was Mayor of Fremantle from 1951 to 1972.


The Australian Jewish Historical Society is the keeper of archives from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 right up to today. Whether you are searching for an academic resource, an event, a picture or an article, AJHS can help you find that piece of historical material. The AJHS welcomes your contributions to the archives. If you are a descendent of someone of interest with a story to tell, or you have memorabilia which might be of significance for the archives, please make contact via or its Facebook page.

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