Convict Histories

Hyam Lipschitz (c1818 – 1892) (Reg. No. 2658)

By Irma Walter, 2020.

Hyam Israel Lipschitz[1] was a Polish Jew living in London when he conspired to defraud the Russian Bank of Warsaw of a considerable sum of money. Together with confederates he managed to prepare a plate for printing notes representing those of the bank. He attempted to persuade an acquaintance, another person of Jewish descent named Marcus Levin (or Levine), to assist in disposing of the fraudulent currency. He asked him to take some of the money to the Continent and sell it. Instead Levin said that he might be able to dispose of the money through a Dutch sea captain at Portsmouth and asked Lipschitz to send some samples.[2]

With an agenda of his own, and thinking that the notes were Prussian, not Russian, Levin took them to Vice Consul Louis Arnold Vandenburg of the Prussian Embassy at Portsmouth, requesting £2000 in exchange for revealing the source of the forged notes. Mr Brandenburg enlisted the help of the local Police Superintendent and together they set up a meeting at a tavern, with Brandenburg impersonating the sea captain. Lipschitz became suspicious and left the meeting early with Levin, but they were soon picked up by the police. The carpet bag, which contained 353 forged Russian notes, each worth three silver roubles, was handed in by a lady in whose safekeeping it had been left by Lipschitz. The two men were charged with conspiracy to commit forgery.[3]

The trial was held at the Southampton Assizes in the Castle of Winchester, where Levin appeared as the chief witness. It was revealed that fraudulent Russian notes had for some time been causing concern at the Warsaw Bank, and that Lipschitz had recently been employed by the Russian Consul to trace their source. Instead he had his own fraudulent plans.[4]

Lipschitz and Levin were convicted on 28 February 1850 of ‘forgery of an undertaking for payment of money in Russian and other languages.’[5] Both were sentenced to 10 years’ transportation. It is possible that Marcus Levin may have been offered a remission on his sentence for having given evidence to the court, as only Lipschitz was transported to Western Australia.

He arrived on the Sea Park, on 28 March 1854, described as aged 36, widowed, a hawker by trade, 5’5½” tall, with black hair, blue eyes, a round face, sallow complexion, of thin build, and ruptured.

He received his Ticket of Leave on 5 August 1854.[6] As soon as he was able Lipschitz resumed his trade as a hawker and dealer, travelling around the South-West by horse and cart and taking frequent trips between Bunbury and Fremantle by boat. By 1859 Lipschitz had purchased a store previously owned by EG Hester, on a parcel of land fronting Victoria-street from Wellington Street to Prinsep-Street in Bunbury.[7] These premises were not far from the store of another businessman and former convict, named Henry Gillman.[8] [Lipschitz later sold his town blocks to M Hay & Son and the shop became well-known as the Dundee Store.[9]]

Marshall Waller Clifton of Australind frequently mentions his dealings with Lipschitz (or ‘Liepschitz’) in his journals from January 1856. These references mostly indicate transactions over purchases of flour, wheat and other produce. On 15 July Clifton noted that he and George Eliot had attended Lipschitz’s Wedding Dinner, indicating a cordial relationship, although by 14 May 1860 he wrote that ‘Old Lipschitz insulted me.’ A business relationship continued between the two men until Clifton’s death in April 1861.[10]

In 1859 Lipschitz, a widower, married Caroline Hall, daughter of miller John Hall.[11] The couple only had one son, Alfred Israel Lipschitz, born in Bunbury in 1860. That year it was advertised that Hyam had applied for naturalization.[12] The marriage was not a happy one. In 1861 and again in 1866 Lipschitz advertised that he would no longer be responsible for his wife’s debts.

His business interests quickly expanded. In 1861 he advertised that he was the registered Bunbury agent for the cutter Zillah. In 1861 he acquired a property near Bunbury.[13] It was named ‘Preston Farm’.[14] Between 1862 and 1865 he won Government contracts for the supply of forage for police horses in Bunbury. He was the owner of the small coastal schooner Speculator in 1862, when three crew members were charged with stealing bottles of beer and gin from the cargo. During the trial another former convict John McGibbon,[15] a former business associate of Lipschitz, gave evidence in support of the three men.[16] Lipschitz publicly broke off his connection to timber merchant McGibbon and his partner Henry Yelverton in May 1860, when they were in financial difficulties.[17]

By 1862 Lipschitz was experiencing financial difficulties himself and was looking for a buyer for his farm and a large pastoral lease that he had acquired near Donnybrook:


A FARM situated on the Preston River, about 6 miles from J. G. Thomson, Esquire.

The Farm consists of 80 acres of land well fenced and cleared, with a dwelling house and a large barn.

Also, a Pastoral Lease for 8 years, of 10,000 acres.

Also, 100 head of cattle, consisting of 40 milch cows, 8 working bullocks, 62 heifers and steers under 2 years old.

Also, a new cart, winnowing machine, plough, harrow, and other necessary farming implements.

For further particulars apply to the owner, H. Lipschitz.

Bunbury, 10th March, 1862.[18]

It appears that Lipschitz was able to borrow his way out of his difficulties at this stage and his reputation as a trader remained intact. In 1864 he was appointed to the committee of the Bunbury Town Trust, under Chairman William Spencer.[19] However by 1866 his creditors took action against him, announcing in May that he had signed over control of all of his assets, including freehold and leasehold properties, livestock, implements and all of his goods and chattels, wherever they may be.[20] The following notice appeared in July 1866:

PUBLIC NOTICE having been given 10th July, 1866, that H. Lipschitz, of Bunbury, has assigned all his property to us for the benefit of all his creditors, we hereby give notice that all persons having claims against the said H. Lipschitz are to send particulars thereof, and all persons indebted to the same are requested to settle with the undersigned before the 1st August next, for in default of such settlement, proceedings will be taken for recovery without any further notice.


WILLIAM SPENCER. Trustees Bunbury, 6th June, 1866.[21]

Despite the restrictions placed on his assets, Lipschitz was advertising the auction of twelve milch cows in August 1866.[22] In October that year his properties were again put on the market:

Valuable Property for Sale.

THE undersigned will receive tenders for the purchase of the following Properties, belonging to the estate of H. Lipschitz, until the 16th of October next, viz.: —

1st. Bunbury Town Lots Nos. 7 and 8, on which are a large wooden store and dwelling house, near the beach, and formerly occupied by Mr. E. G. Hester.

2nd. Bunbury Town Lots Nos. 183, 184, and 193, all adjoining, on which is a large wooden house and also a brick-built house, which can accommodate several tenants. 3rd. 2000 acres of Leasehold Land and 20 acres of fee-simple Land, known as Wellington Location No. 129. This property is situated between the Preston and Ferguson Rivers, and is considered a fine run.

4th. 10,000 acres of Leasehold Land, Class B, with 2 blocks of 40 acres each, known as Nos. 201 and 202, on the Preston River, about 28 miles from Bunbury. A large quantity of the freehold land is enclosed and under cultivation, and substantial farm buildings are erected thereon. The run has a large frontage on the Preston River, and joins the runs of Mr. J. G. Thomson and Mr. Eliot.

5th. 100 acres Tillage Lease at Dardanup, about 8 miles from Bunbury, known as No. 654, with 40 acres of fee-simple land; all enclosed and mostly under cultivation, with one acre of Constantia vines in full bearing.

If any of the above properties remain unsold after the 16th October, they will be offered for sale by auction at Bunbury on 19th October next, subject to the mortgages thereon.


WM SPENCER. (Trustees to the Estate.)[23]

The properties continued to be advertised up until 12 October, but it appears that Lipschitz once again was able to borrow his way out of his financial difficulties. He still described himself as a storekeeper when he put his name to a memorial dedicated to Governor Hampton at the time of his departure from the colony in 1867.

The newly enacted Bankruptcy Act of 1871 overcame the scandalous situation whereby debtors could get away with paying little or nothing to their creditors and were then able to acquire property which their creditors couldn’t touch.[24] The new law was immediately applied to Hyam Lipschitz when he was declared bankrupt, with his former associate and ex-convict John McGibbon of Fremantle designated as trustee. It appears that some of the properties which were previously advertised for sale in 1866 remained part of his estate, although under mortgage:

The Bankruptcy Act, 1871. In the Matter of a Special Resolution for Liquidation of the Estate of Hyman Lipschitz of Bunbury, Storekeeper.

MR. JAMES MOORE, Instructed by Mr. John McGibbon, the duly appointed Trustee under this Liquidation, will offer for sale by public auction, at his sale-room, in Bunbury aforesaid, on SATURDAY, the 26th AUGUST current, at 12 o’clock noon, — THE following LOTS, subject to conditions to be announced at time of sale: —

LOT 1.— The Estate and Interest of the said Hyman Lipschitz of and in Bunbury Building Lots Nos. 183, 184, and 193. There are erected on the premises a commodious house of 8 rooms, a cottage of 2 rooms, and a stable. The property is subject to a mortgage to Mr. John Bateman for securing £137, with a small arrear of interest thereon.

LOT 2.— The Estate and Interest of the said Hyman Lipschitz of and in Wellington Location No. 227, consisting of about 40 acres at or near Dardanup. This Lot is subject to a mortgage to Mrs. Ramsay for securing £101 11s. 11d., and interest thereon.

Also, there will be offered for sale, if not previously disposed of by private bargain— 4 Horses, 2 Carts, 4 sets Harness, Saddle, Bridle, Weighing Machine, 1 Steer, and a lot of stray cattle.

For further particulars apply to the Auctioneer, at Bunbury; or to the Trustee, Mr. McGibbon, at Fremantle; or at the office of the Solicitor, Mr. G. W. Leake, at Perth. August 7th, 1871.[25]

The colony was rocked by the news that Mrs Matilda Padbury of the Blackwood District near Balingup was facing trial for the attempted murder by poisoning of her husband on 28 December 1872. Evidence was given that Mark Padbury, suffering from tooth-ache, had become extremely ill after drinking some rum from a pint-sized black bottle found by his wife in a cupboard. Hyam Lipschitz was drawn into the trial when it was revealed that the bottle was one left by him when he had stayed overnight at their farmhouse back in October. They had all had a drink from it that night with no consequences. It was mentioned during the trial that Lipschitz’s wife was by then living nine miles from Padbury’s homestead. No conclusive evidence was given as to the source of the strychnine found in the bottom of the bottle, so a verdict of not guilty was reached.[26]

Lipschitz’s name was mentioned in the bankruptcy trial of storekeeper Henry Gillman, as one of his suppliers of sandalwood for export in 1873.[27] In 1876 Hyam Lipschitz, storekeeper, took action against Michael Flynn, farmer of Dardanup, for the recovery of £91 9s. 2d. owed for goods supplied and cash advanced during the sandalwood season. Lipschitz’s son Alfred gave evidence of having delivered five bags of flour to Flynn’s place. The verdict resulted in a payment to Lipschitz of £64 4s. 6d. in damages.[28]

Lipschitz finally gave up storekeeping in 1877.[29] He had employed a total of 19 ticket-of-leave men between 1863 and 1876.[30] In 1876 two expirees, James Lithgow and James Hannen, were arrested at the Serpentine and charged on a warrant issued at Bunbury with deserting from the service of Hyam Lipschitz at the Ferguson.[31]

An entry in the WA Police Gazette, dated November 1879, tells us that ‘HIAM LIPSCHITZ, exp., late 2658, at Bunbury, was arrested on the 31st ult., by P.C’s, Monger and Sherman, for indecently assaulting Ellen Mary Wenn, on the 29th inst.’ No more information has been found in regard to this matter.

In 1881 he was charged with selling a keg of wine without a license to do so. The case was dismissed.[32]

The news of the death of his estranged wife Caroline by strychnine poisoning came in 1887 and shocked the local community. News of her death was recorded that day in the diary of George Fee of Dardanup:

Mrs. H. Lipschitz a servant woman in the employ of Mr. Turnbull of Princep [Prinsep] Park committed suicide today by taking a dose of poison. Deceased was living apart from her husband and was addicted to drink.[33]

At first murder was suspected as rumours ran rife within the community:


A sad case of poisoning occurred at Prinsep Park, the residence of Mr. Turnbull, on Wednesday afternoon, about three o’clock. It appears that Mrs. Lipschitz, the cook, had been drinking a little whisky out of a cup, and immediately afterwards fell down in a fit, showing signs of poisoning by strychnine. A messenger was despatched for Mr. Turnbull, who had gone to Bunbury in the forenoon, and on his arrival he found that Mrs. Lipschitz had died about four o’clock. The cup was produced and grains of strychnine were seen at the bottom. Report was current that she had poisoned herself, but at the preliminary inquest held yesterday at Prinsep Park, before Mr. Cowan, R.M., coroner, a bottle about half full of whisky was produced. This bottle was found in the kitchen, and in it was plainly to be seen a considerable quantity of strychnine crystals. Dr. Sampson was present and held a post mortem examination, and has taken possession of the contents of the stomach. The public are of opinion that the strychnine had been put into the bottle of whisky by some person not the deceased, and that Mrs. Lipschitz has been wilfully poisoned. There will be a searching enquiry. The inquest stands adjourned until Tuesday next.[34]

The inquest into Caroline Lipschitz’s death found that the poison had been self-administered. It was said that she was upset after being told by her employer that her services as cook were no longer required. Her treatment by her husband disowning her would have added to her woes. It is said that by 1870 she had lived in a de facto relationship with another former ex-convict, Thomas Ellerton.[35]

Hyam Lipschitz, an enigmatic character in many ways, continued to live in Bunbury, still conducting some business transactions. In December 1888 he won a contract ‘for the conveyance of a mail on horseback, once a week, for one year, between Australind and Hampden, via Parkfield, Springfield, Runnymede, Myalup, and Long Swamp, at £20 per annum.’[36] In 1891 he was making skin rugs for sale, using tanned wallaby skins which could be purchased for just a few pence. He won a Court case against David Hay that year over non-payment of £3/5/- for a carriage rug that he had ordered.[37]

By 1892 at the age of 75 Hyam’s failing health caused him to seek medical care in Perth. The following notices describe Hyam Lipschitz’s last days:

The death is reported of Mr. H. Lipschitz a very old resident of this place, and in the earliest days one of its wealthiest settlers. He proceeded to Perth by the Flinders on her last trip for medical aid; but succumbed in the Metropolis on Tuesday last.[38]

Mr. Herman Lipschitz, a very old resident in the southern districts, died at the private hospital, Hutt-street, on Wednesday last, and was interred in the Jewish cemetery at Fremantle on the following day. Deceased, who was in his 76th year, had been in declining health for a considerable time.[39]

No mention has been found in his later years of Hyam’s relationship with his son Alfred, who appears to have disappeared from the Western Australian scene. There are records of two Wills being drawn up by Hyam Lipschitz, skin and rug dealer, shortly before his death. The first, dated 6 July 1892, appointed two Jewish businessmen of Perth, Victor Mandelstam and Abraham Kott, as his executors. Probate was granted to them on the 21 September 1892, but this was withdrawn when they were informed that a later Will, dated 7 July 1892, had directed that Bunbury men Edward Woodrow, Charles Spencer, WB Mitchell (the younger) and Henry Stanley had been appointed executors. They were to receive £40 each, with instructions to sell all of the real estate and effects of Lipschitz after his death, and that the proceeds were to go to his brother and sister.[40]

The final record of Hyam Lipschitz’s long association with the town of Bunbury reads as follows:

TENDERS will be received until noon of SATURDAY, 14th INST., for pulling down the uninhabitated house formerly occupied by H. Lipschitz; The whole of the materials to become the property of the person whose tender is accepted. T. HAYWARD.[41]


[1]Note: there were many variations in spelling of Lipschitz’s name, including Hiam, Hyam, Hyman, Hyams, Liepschitz, Leipschitz, Lipshitz, etc.

[2] Dundee, Perth and Coupar Advertiser, 2 October 1849.

[3] Morning Post, 9 March 1850.

[4] Ibid.

[5] England & Wales Criminal Registers, 1791 – 1892, Hampshire 1850.

[6] Convict Department, General Register, 1850-1868 (R21B)

[7] Perth Gazette, 18 November 1859.

[8] See Gillman’s story on Harvey History Online website.

[9] Bunbury Herald, 22 July 1899.

[10] Barnes, Cameron et al, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840 – 1861, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, WA, 2010.

[11] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australia, p.1872, at

[12] Inquirer, 30 May 1860.

[13] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australia, p.1872,

[13] Barnes, Cameron et al, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840 – 1861, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, WA, 2010, p.1872.

[14] Brian Rose Index Card.

[15] John McGibbon, Convict No. 1425.

[16] Inquirer, 14 January 1863.

[17] Perth Gazette, 15 June 1860.

[18] Perth Gazette, 21 March 1862.

[19] WA Times, 21 January 1864.

[20] Perth Gazette, 18 May 1866.

[21] Inquirer, 25 July 1866.

[22] Inquirer, 15 August 1866.

[23] Inquirer, 3 October 1866.

[24] Inquirer, 14 December 1870.

[25] Inquirer, 9 August 1871.

[26] Inquirer, 8 January 1873.

[27] WA Times, 19 March 1875.

[28] WA Times, 13 October 1876.

[29] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australia, p.1872.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Police Gazette, 1 November, 1876.

[32] WA Police Gazette, March 1881.

[33] Fee’s Dardanup diaries: George Alexander Fee 1886-1942 of Roseland, Dardanup, W.A. /​ edited by Norm Flynn, Bunbury, c2008, p.13.

[34] Inquirer, 5 October 1887.

[35] WA Convict No. 277.

[36] West Australian, 5 December 1888.

[37] Southern Times, 16 February 1891.

[38] WA Record, 29 September 1892.

[39] Inquirer, 17 September 1892.

[40] WA State Records, Item AU WA S34,cons3403 1892/1131

[41] Bunbury Herald, 14 September 1895.