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Hope, Lowther Charles (1892–1969)

by W. Ross Johnston

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Lowther Charles Hope (1892-1969), manufacturer, was born on 4 August 1892 at Fairford, Gloucestershire, England, one of five children of George Marfield Hope, an illiterate gardener and domestic servant, and his wife Mary Ann, née May. Charles was educated at the local Farmers' Endowed and Church of England schools until he was 12 years old. Determined to become an engineer, he helped out at a blacksmith's shop in his spare time. After labouring for two years on his father's farm and attending night-school, he served an apprenticeship in a small coach- and body-building factory at Fairford. During this period he developed into a resourceful, practical and 'tough' individual, being influenced by his mother who stressed that hard work and independent action would reap their rewards. Aged 17, he was employed as an engineering smith by a vehicle body-building factory at Farnham, Surrey. Six months later he went to Hooper & Co., London, where bodies were made for Daimler and Rolls-Royce. In 1910 he joined his elder brother Stanley at another motor-body works at Coventry.

Concluding that, if he were to make his fortune, he needed to emigrate, Hope read about the British colonies. Australia became his preferred destination, especially after his uncle John May returned from New South Wales with stories of opportunity. Sponsored by May, he reached Sydney in 1912 to find opportunities somewhat limited. He took a succession of jobs in Sydney and at Warialda, and cut sugar-cane along the Richmond River, before finding work, first as a blacksmith, and then in a coach- and body-building factory at Lismore. There, in 1914 he opened his own business, Charles Hope Ltd, making sulkies and motorcar springs. On 11 September 1915 at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Lismore, he married Gladys Hart; they were to have three children. On the outbreak of World War I, he obtained a supply of spring steel and expanded his business (under the trade slogan, 'Hope springs eternal') through agents at Newcastle, Sydney and Brisbane.

In 1921 he visited England to examine engineering and design developments, and to acquire spring-making machinery. He opened the Monarch Engineering Works in Brisbane in April 1924 to manufacture springs for motor vehicles and railway rolling stock; he also diversified into iron and steel fabrication, as well as electroplating. Drawing upon his flair for technology and design, he ordered special presses to meet the demands of various clients. Hope continued to improve his techniques, and learned much from his trips in 1925 and 1929 to Britain and the United States of America. In 1927 he had opened a spring factory in Sydney and soon claimed to be supplying about 80 per cent of springs required by motorcar importers. That year, realizing that profits could be made from producing a light utility vehicle, he sent for his younger brother Harold, a body-designer, and Hope's Body Works Pty Ltd was established. In 1932 the factory and the works were merged. The Depression and a large, unpaid order by General Motors-Holden's Ltd severely affected Hope's operations. Following a brief entry into the Melbourne market, he concentrated on Queensland. Recovery was helped by Harold who designed a body to fit the new Morris (People's) car.

The design and manufacture of domestic refrigerators became Hope's next challenge. By 1939, with the help of a European designer, he was producing a kerosene-powered, air-cooled, absorption refrigerator. During World War II manufacturing was interrupted to allow his Brisbane factory to service American military vehicles, at considerable profit. Production of the Charles Hope Cold Flame refrigerator resumed in 1946; by 1953 he had supplied over 100,000 households. Charles Hope Ltd, floated as a public company in 1948, kept innovating. A contribution was made to door insulation through development of a laminated plastic, Panelyte, made under licence from 1952. Hope's postwar motor-body business prospered, aided by a Brisbane City Council contract for the bodywork for its buses. In the mid-1950s the company was also assembling Austin 95 motorcars for the British Motor Corporation. By 1960 Hope was prepared to enjoy his success. In that year his company, one of Queensland's largest metal industries, was sold to Australian Consolidated Industries Ltd on the basis of two A.C.I. shares for every three of Charles Hope Ltd's—or, as Hope put it, the equivalent of 'a million and a half b— quid'. He retired in 1962.

Keenly interested in sport, as a young man Hope had tried cricket, soccer, boxing, bare-knuckle fighting and bicycle racing. In 1948 he established the Cotswold Hills Thoroughbred Stud at Toowoomba. President (from 1960) of the Bloodhorse Breeders' Association of Queensland, he remained active in horse- and cattle-breeding after retirement from business and published an engaging autobiography, Hope Springs Eternal (Brisbane, 1965). He died on 18 April 1969 at Toowoomba and was cremated; his wife, son and one of his two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Queensland Manufactures Yearbook, 1947-61
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 19 Apr 1969
  • Australian, 22 Apr 1969
  • files on Charles Hope Ltd and Hope's Body Works Ltd and Charles Hope Holding Co. Ltd (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

W. Ross Johnston, 'Hope, Lowther Charles (1892–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hope-lowther-charles-10542/text18719, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 29 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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