An Anglican Church is a strange place to find memorials to two brothers who were the sons and grandsons of some of the most prominent of New Zealand’s Jewish pioneers, but at Old St Paul’s you can find exactly that. The first is the Joshua and the Centurion Window, which was placed in memorial to Major Lionel Levin in 1886, and the second is the beautiful Good Samaritan window, a memorial to William Hort Levin, who died only eight years later. The two of the windows sit close to each other in the south transept.
William and Lionel’s parents were Nathaniel William Levin and Jessie Hort, who were both active adherents to the Jewish faith. Both Levin and Jessie’s brother, Abraham Hort Jnr, had come to New Zealand as some of the first settlers to Wellington after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Abraham Hort Jnr was followed soon after by his father Abraham Hort Snr and numerous members of his family and other members of the faith, in an organised migration. Abraham Hort Snr, on his arrival in 1843, took over the leadership of the Jewish community in Wellington and is likely to have carried out the first organised Jewish ceremony in this country. He had come to New Zealand with the specific purpose of promoting Jewish settlement here and establishing safe homes for European Jews who were suffering from discrimination at the time. He was sent to New Zealand with a blessing from the Chief Rabbi of London.
Both the Levin and Hort families established successful businesses in Wellington, and Nathaniel William Levin was the first Jew to be appointed to the New Zealand Legislative Council. However, with the downturn in the economy in the 1860s, Nathaniel Levin became depressed about the prospects for the future of the colony and returned to the United Kingdom.
Nathaniel’s son William Hort Levin (1845-1893) remained in New Zealand and became one of Wellington’s best known businessmen. Despite his strong Jewish heritage he converted to Anglicanism at some point prior to his wedding to Amy FitzGerald in 1876. His wedding was conducted by Bishop Hadfield, reflecting the social standing of both families, and ‘All the shipping in port displayed an immense spread of bunting in honor of the happy event’. He was a vestryman at Old St Paul’s for many years. He made a substantial donation which established the Wellington Public Library, and the town of Levin is named after him. His Good Samaritan memorial window is already discussed in this post.
Good Samaritan window
Nathaniel and Jessie’s other son Lionel Levin (1849-1886) was born in Wellington and was baptised into the Anglican church in London at the age of 11 in 1862, during one of his parent’s trips to the United Kingdom, before their permanent return there. (Perhaps his parents and William, who would have been 17, all converted at the same time?) The conversions of the family must have been a deep disappointment to the Jewish families in New Zealand, who had given up so much to establish the faith in this country.
Lionel Levin, c1869 at around the age of 20
Lionel went into the British Army and served in India, where he was made a major at a young age. Lionel married Beatrice Curgenven in London 1885, at the impressive church of Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, London*, and his son was born in 1886. Just two months later, Lionel died in London, probably of a disease he picked up in India, at only 32. His widow placed a memorial window to him in the church where they had been married, and his family placed these windows (below) to him at Old St Paul’s, Wellington. His parents, by then living in London permanently, are said to have arranged for the windows to be shipped back to Old St Paul’s. The Evening Post wrote when news of his death reached New Zealand: “Major Levin, like his brother, was a general favorite with all who know him, and his early death is deeply regretted by a large circle of friends in Wellington who have known him from childhood”.
Lionel’s memorial windows show martial themes in keeping with his profession – Joshua, who in the Old Testament led the Israelite tribes in the conquest of Canaan, and the Roman Centurion, whose faith so impressed Jesus. They were made by Lavers and Barraud in 1887, like most of the windows in Old St Paul’s.
[*As a side note, the once impressive Christ Church at Lancaster Gate, in London, only exists as a spire now; the rest of the church was removed and replaced with apartments in the 1970s. I’m not sure what would have happened to the window Lionel’s widow paid for].
Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, London, as it once appeared.
Images: Carte de visite portrait of Lionel Mocatta Levin. Ref: PA1-q-559-07-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Good Samaritan Window image: Peter Shepherd, copyright, all rights reserved. https://www.flickr.com/photos/peteshep/sets/72157604449659322/. Other photos, Elizabeth Cox. Sources: Roberta Nicholls. ‘Levin, Nathaniel William’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1l7/levin-nathaniel-william (accessed 19 December 2017); M. N. Galt. ‘Levin, William Hort’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993, updated November, 2011. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2l9/levin-william-hort (accessed 19 December 2017); ‘HORT, Abraham’, from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/1966/hort-abraham (accessed 19 Dec 2017); Goldman, Lazarus Morris, The History of the Jews in New Zealand. Wellington: 1958; ‘Death of Major Levin’, Evening Post, 1 April 1886