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Brewis, Charles Richard Wynn (1874–1953)

by Michael Komesaroff

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Charles Richard Wynn Brewis (1874-1953), naval officer, was born on 7 October 1874 at Ibstone, Buckinghamshire, England, son of Samuel Richard Brewis and his wife Frances Caroline Williams, née Wynn. He joined the Royal Navy at 14, training as a cadet on H.M.S. Britannia. He was midshipman on H.M.S. Curacoa, part of the Imperial squadron on the Australian station, in 1891-94 when, having attained the rank of acting sub-lieutenant, he undertook further studies in England. Back in Australia in 1896-1902, as lieutenant on H.M.S. Penguin, he helped survey much of the Western Australian and Tasmanian coastlines and the South Pacific. He then returned to England to assist as navigating officer in the training of men under the Dreadnought programme, receiving appointment as commander on 30 June 1908.

In 1910 Brewis's wife, Corry Jeannette, whom he had married in Sydney on 20 February 1900, holidayed in Hobart where her father William Crosby, M.L.C., was a prominent ship-owner. During her return voyage to England aboard S.S. Pericles, the ship struck an uncharted rock and sank off Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia, on 31 March. The resulting deterioration in his wife's health prompted Brewis to resign from the navy and migrate to Hobart the following August.

His immediate approaches to Prime Minister Andrew Fisher and the first naval member, Captain (Sir) W. R. Creswell, seeking a position in the Royal Australian Navy, were unsuccessful and he sought farming opportunities in northern Tasmania. Then in 1911 he was appointed a consultant to the Commonwealth government on the requirements for a national lighthouse service. He urged the use of unattended, quick-flashing acetylene lights, countering opposition by stressing that these could be established in places where the erection of manned lighthouses would be difficult and costly. His recommendations led to the formation in 1913 of the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service, which body thereafter was guided by the administrative procedures he had evolved. His reports were published officially in 1912-14. Brewis was expected to apply for the directorship of lighthouses in 1913 and, after some hesitation, he did so. However, despite being the best-qualified candidate, he was by-passed in favour of J. F. Ramsbotham because of his 'unsuitable temperament', which had already led to conflict with public-service colleagues.

With the outbreak of war Brewis was appointed principal naval transport officer in the R.A.N., commanded the second convoy in December 1914 and was made captain in 1916. In 1920-22 he was district naval officer in Victoria and member of the naval board investigating regulations under the Control of Naval Waters Act (1918). The Royal Navy accorded him a captaincy (retired) in November 1918. Appointed C.B.E. in 1920 and honorary aide-de-camp to the governor-general in April 1922, he retired from the R.A.N. during a period of staff retrenchments at the end of that year. He soon left Melbourne for England where he settled at Bosham, Sussex, and indulged in his lifelong hobby of small-boat sailing.

Brewis died on 31 January 1953, survived by one son and four daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • M. B. Komesaroff, ‘The Commonwealth Lighthouse Service’, Victorian Historical Journal, 48 (1977), no 2
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 4 Feb 1953, p 8
  • Navy series 1923-50, MP763 series 328/2/5, 358/2/15 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michael Komesaroff, 'Brewis, Charles Richard Wynn (1874–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brewis-charles-richard-wynn-5352/text9049, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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