Levi history set in stone

Tracing history: Jeffrey Everitt overlooking the land that was once owned by his descendants and from where Levy's Point gets its name. Picture: Christine Ansorge

Tracing history: Jeffrey Everitt overlooking the land that was once owned by his descendants and from where Levy's Point gets its name. Picture: Christine Ansorge

When Jeffrey Everitt discovered his great-great grandfather - one of Warrnambool's earliest settlers - had no headstone, he decided to do something about it. In an effort to find out why this seemingly wealthy man had no headstone, Mr Everitt made a surprising discovery.

For 158 years after a tragic horse accident claimed his life, George Levi’s grave at the Warrnambool cemetery remained unmarked. 

Even when his stillborn grandson was laid to rest years later in the same grave, there was still nothing to acknowledge who was buried there.

For one of the region’s earliest white settlers and the man who gave one of Warrnambool’s landmarks its name, it seemed only fitting to his great, great grandson Jeffrey Everitt that something was done about it.

Mr Everitt, along with 12 of George’s other descendants, chipped in to pay for a headstone to be erected. But why was there no headstone for this well-known and seemingly well-off man? Mr Everitt made it his mission to try and find out.

Family project: Yvonne Greenwood, Jeffrey Everitt and Margaret O'Donnell at the gravestone of family descendant George Levi, one of Warrnambool's original settlers.

Family project: Yvonne Greenwood, Jeffrey Everitt and Margaret O'Donnell at the gravestone of family descendant George Levi, one of Warrnambool's original settlers.

George was a pioneering dairy farmer and Levi’s Point was the name he gave to his farming property on the Merri River flood plains in south Dennington which he established in 1848.

That was in the year after the first land sales of the Warrnambool township and barely a decade after the first settlers in the area arrived. “In the early 1850s, Dennington was a bigger place than Warrnambool and that wasn’t very big either,” Mr Everitt said.

The four-bedroom farmhouse, barn and milking sheds are now gone – a modern home now sits on the site.

About 1.5km south of where the house once sat is what is now called Levy’s Beach which Mr Everitt said was obviously named after the farming property – why and when their name was changed from an ‘i’ to a ‘y’ is not clear. He said he would like to see an historical marker erected at Levy’s Point Coastal Reserve so tourists understood the significance of the area.

George’s dairy farm prospered, mainly because of the rich grazing Crown land they leased, although they did own about 40 acres of land to the north and east of the farmhouse. In 1850 he married Ann Elizabeth Toogood in Warrnambool and their first child, Edward, was born in the farmhouse.

Heavily pregnant with their second child, Ann accompanied her husband on a trip to the Victorian gold fields to deliver a large amount of butter to gold miners. There she went into labour and delivered a son called Joseph. Their other children - George-Newton, Hannah (Annie) and Moses - were all born in the Levi farmhouse. 

Moses – Mr Everitt’s great grandfather - was born in 1859, but he would never know his father.  Just two months after his birth, his father was killed in an accident near the intersection of what is now Mortlake Road and Wangoom Road.

The Warrnambool Examiner reported on the inquest into the death of the “well-known farmer and one of the oldest residents” of the district. “The deceased has just been appointed Collector for the Woodford District under the Electoral Act, and was yesterday proceeding on his duties, when he was thrown from his horse, near the Telegraph Hotel, Three Chain Road, and received such injuries that he died within two hours of the accident,” it reported.

A witness who saw the accident unfold through the hotel window said George was galloping at full speed on his horse when he was thrown off and landed on his head. Hotel patrons raced to his aid and sent for a doctor who tried to save his life by relieving the pressure on his brain, but George lapsed into a coma and died.

Homestead: A painting of the Levi's Point property supplied by a descendant and included in a reprint of 'The History of Warrnambool' by Richard Osbourne. Artist unknown.

Homestead: A painting of the Levi's Point property supplied by a descendant and included in a reprint of 'The History of Warrnambool' by Richard Osbourne. Artist unknown.

In an appendix to the The History of Warrnambool, written by proprietor of the Warrnambool Examiner Richard Osburne, information supplied by another of George’s descendants says that with an election pending, politically-minded George was riding around the countryside soliciting votes for his friend, Mr Allen, of Allansford. (George’s wife Ann had come from England to be a governess to Mr Allen’s children.)

In a strange twist of fate, just a few months after George’s death, his German servant Charles Stetter also fell from a horse. 

The Warrnambool Examiner reported that he’d been found lying on the road just out of town after being thrown from his horse in the pouring rain. 

Jeffrey Everitt next to the gravestone of George Levi, one of Warrnambool's original settlers. Picture: Christine Ansorge

Jeffrey Everitt next to the gravestone of George Levi, one of Warrnambool's original settlers. Picture: Christine Ansorge

“It is rather remarkable that the master of the deceased, Mr George Levi, met with a similarly fatal accident some few months ago,” the paper reported.

Mr Everitt’s quest for answers to the missing headstone uncovered a mystery and one he was keen to solve – even if the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit neatly together.

The search for how George came to be in Australia had proved fruitless until Mr Everitt found a notation on George’s 1855 petition for naturalisation. It provided a clue that could explain how one of Warrnambool’s earliest settlers came to Australia and why.

The research has given Mr Everitt a theory about George’s past - a theory he admits not all his relatives initially agreed with.

Most researchers would deduce that the Dennington pioneer dairyman Gerorge Levi and the Van Deiman’s Land prisoner George Levi were one and the same person. - Jeffrey Everitt

He said many had tried to research George’s past without luck – the only information available was that which George had provided himself, or that was supplied by his wife on his death certificate.

The death certificate revealed George was born in 1816 in Lobsens, Kingdom of Prussia (now Poland), to Raphael and Sarah. 

However, George’s naturalisation petition suggests he was born in 1819. It also says he left Prussia in 1839, coming first to Melbourne for three years to work as a tailor until he moved to Warrnambool in 1843 to be a farmer.

But in the column next to where he details his passage to Australia are four words “in the ship Duncan” that appear to have been added later and written in different writing.

“It seems to me that this is evidence that someone, in the process of checking George’s petition, had at least discovered he arrived into Australia on the ship Duncan,” Mr Everitt said.

“As it happens, the Duncan made only one voyage to Australia and this was to convey 259 convicts from Sheerness to Van Dieman’s Land in 1840-41.

“The only person named George Levi on board that voyage was a convict.”

Convict records show that the George Levi on the ship Duncan was born in 1818 near Warsaw in Poland and was being transported to Van Dieman’s Land to serve a seven-year sentence for stealing pocket knives from a shop in Sheffield, England. It also recorded that he had a prior conviction for stealing cloth.

Mr Everitt found that prisoner George Levi did not spend much time at Port Arthur because in 1841 the penitentiary was in its early stages of construction and many were sent to work on farms in Tasmania.

“George’s prison records show that he laboured on farms in Northern Tasmania...this farming experience of about six years would have stood him in good stead for later establishing his own farm,” he said.

There are no records to show where George Levi the prisoner went after he finished serving his sentence in 1847. Similarly there are no records to show how George Levi came to Warrnambool.

Mr Everitt said he believed the two George Levis are one in the same and he came to Warrnambool from Launceston via Melbourne – or perhaps from Devonport to Port Fairy. 

While there are discrepancies between birth dates of the two Georges, they were both born in Prussia and they both had a mother called Sarah. 

“Because of the amount of matching/near-matching information in these records, I believe most researchers would deduce that the Dennington pioneer dairyman Gerorge Levi and the Van Deiman’s Land prisoner George Levi were one and the same person,” Mr Everitt said.

Clue: George Levi's naturalisation petition with the additional four words included in the column which suggests perhaps he was a convict.

Clue: George Levi's naturalisation petition with the additional four words included in the column which suggests perhaps he was a convict.

Mr Everitt said he wondered if perhaps George’s wife Ann knew of his convict past and that could explain why there was no headstone.

He said after reading a biography written by Ann’s grandaughter Emily Sugden, he is convinced Ann probably knew of her husband’s convict past.

However, Emily’s biography states that George came to Warrnambool after arriving in Portland with his brother and opening a small store close to the beach.

After George’s death, Ann married Richard Thomas who had been brought in by George as a tutor for his children and later took up a teaching post in Dennington’s first school. 

Mr Thomas had also renamed the Levi’s Point property Riverside and together they had six more children.

The Levi’s Point estate was valued at 160,000 pounds at the time of Mr Thomas’ death, according to Mr Everitt.

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