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William (Willie) Hort Levin

William (Willie) Hort Levin


William Hort Levin—better known as Willie—was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on August 7, 1845.

Willie was educated in his hometown and in England. The son of practicing Jews, he married out, eventually converting to Anglicanism after wedding Amy FitzGerald, the daughter of a onetime prominent Wellington politician. Abraham's descendants included a future prime minister, Frances Dillon Bell, and William Hort Levin, a prominent Wellington merchant who have his name to the town of Levin.

In 1864, he joined his father's merchant business, Levin and Company, as a wool clerk, and by the time he was 22 a partner. In the 1870s—by then a sole chief executive—he became active in the wider commercial community by taking up directorships in several companies and reviving the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, which he presided over in 1875 and 1876.

Three years on, Levin stood for Parliament, and aided by his widely known charity he polled highly. In politics, according to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, he was described as “a pronounced Liberal and anti-Greyite,” although his abiding political interests tended to be provincial. He was also known for his public benefactions, among them a £1,000 that would establish the Wellington Public Library.

Upon news of his death, in 1893, both Parliament and the Wellington City Council adjourned for the day, the governor, Lord Glasgow, cancelled his evening dinner party, schools were closed, artistic events postponed and flags flew at half-mast in Wellington, Christchurch and Napier.

The Horowhenua township of Levin is named after him, albeit with a mispronounced emphasis on the second syllable.


Image (above) header: Carte de visite portrait of William Hort Levin. Bell Family: Photographs relating to Francis Dillon Bell and Francis Henry Dillon Bell.  Ref: PA1-o-735-28-1.  Reproduced here with the permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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