Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Levvy, Frances Deborah (1831–1924)

by Jennifer MacCulloch

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Frances Deborah Levvy (1831-1924), animal protection advocate, was born on 14 November 1831 at Penrith, New South Wales, fourth child of Barnett Levey, a Jewish watchmaker and theatre director, and his wife Sarah Emma, née Wilson. Both parents had come free to the colony from London. Barnett died in 1837 and his impoverished widow educated their four children in the country. They became devoutly Christian. Later, Frances and her mother may have lived with the elder daughter Emma (1826-1885), who in 1847 married Dr George Thomas Clarke of Hill View, Penrith. By 1873, when Sarah died, both Emma and Frances had adopted the surname Levvy.

George Clarke died in 1874 and his widow and her sister moved to Newtown in Sydney. Later Frances lived at Woollahara until she purchased Yulah Cottage at Waverley. On 4 January 1884 she became involved with the cause that was to shape and fill the rest of her life: she and Emma founded Australia's first Band of Mercy, to teach children kindness to animals. Frances was reported (1889) as aiming to make children more alert 'to save something, to stop stone throwing at old people, and to induce men to desist from being cruel to the dumb animals under their charge'. Miss Levvy worked energetically to expand her organization. By 1897 she claimed 446 bands with membership numbering 26,000. Permitted to establish bands within New South Wales public schools, she was paid £50 per annum by the Department of Public Instruction. Each year she visited up to sixty schools, organizing and judging an essay competition that elicited hundreds of entries. She also engaged in voluminous correspondence with leaders of bands outside Sydney.

In December 1886 Levvy helped to found and was honorary secretary of a women's branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. During the 1890s, however, one of her inspectors was convicted of extortion. This led to a humiliating public rejection by the British R.S.P.C.A. in 1896, and Levvy's organization became the Women's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In 1899 its committee presented her with a purse of sovereigns. She resisted amalgamation with the Animals' Protection Society of New South Wales in 1902.

Levvy's greatest capacity was for writing, and her major achievement was her editorship of the Band of Mercy and Humane Journal of New South Wales. Each month from July 1887 until August 1923 she presented a publication, of remarkably even quality, for both children and adults. The magazine reported the activities of the bands and the W.S.P.C.A. on behalf of animals, such as deputations for a lethal chamber for the painless destruction of stray dogs and fund-raising for a horse ambulance. Submitted articles were subjected to her energetic editorial comment, while she wrote many of the poems and stories herself. Full of passionate concern for animals and reflecting her deeply held religious convictions, the magazine was a rare record of a moderate animal protectionist's personal philosophy and life.

Levvy also belonged to the Girls' Friendly Society and the Church of England Temperance Society. She donated money to the London Society, an organization for promoting Christianity among Jews. In her later years she was blind, bedridden and almost deaf, but continued her magazine. She died on 29 November 1924 at Waverley and was buried in the Anglican cemetery at Randwick. Sir Joseph Carruthers, former minister for education, and the R.S.P.C.A. honoured her with the establishment of the Frances Levvy essay competition. Her will asked that she be buried with oil paintings of her beloved sister.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Radi (ed), 200 Australian Women (Syd, 1988)
  • Church of England Record, 21 Nov 1884, p 163, 27 Feb 1885, p 261, 1 Jan 1887, p 5, 18 Jan 1890, p 6
  • Band of Mercy and Humane Journal of New South Wales, 14 Sept 1896, p 101, 27 Sept 1911, p 10
  • R.S.P.C.A. Journal, 7, no 2, 20 Dec 1924, p 10
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Nov 1885, p 6
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 16 Dec 1889, p 3
  • J. MacCulloch, Creatures of Culture: The Animal Protection and Preservation Movements in Sydney, 1880-1930 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1994).

Citation details

Jennifer MacCulloch, 'Levvy, Frances Deborah (1831–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/levvy-frances-deborah-13044/text23587, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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