Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lewis, David Edward (Dafydd) (1866–1941)

by T. A. Hazell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

David Edward (Dafydd) Lewis (1866-1941), businessman and philanthropist, was born on 7 March 1866 at Llanrhystyd near Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire, Wales, son of David Lewis, farmer, and his wife Catherine, née Mason. His mother died at his birth and his father in 1875, and he was brought up by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather Rev. Edward Mason was an Anglican clergyman. David attended a village school which he left at 12. His formal education, though fairly brief, was of a good standard and gave him a love of learning and literature.

After leaving school, Lewis worked for a grocer. He was then apprenticed to a draper at Neath and afterwards worked for William Lewis, seemingly no relation, of Pontnewyndd, who encouraged him to attend evening classes and had much influence on him. In the mid-1880s David worked in London with Jeremiah Rother's wholesale drapery. He became greatly interested in Shavian socialism, even speaking at Hyde Park Corner.

Lewis migrated in 1890 with a small capital and found employment with the drapers Craig Williamson Pty Ltd, Melbourne, and then with Miller's of Geelong. On 9 February 1899 he married an Irish-born milliner, Marion Frances Smyth (d.1921), at St Mary's Catholic Church, East St Kilda. After one unsuccessful business venture, in partnership with J. A. Love in 1902 he opened a drapery shop in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, that was so successful that within a short time they opened another in Chapel Street, Prahran. When Love retired in 1910 Lewis became sole proprietor. In 1930, when he was listed as the largest single holder of Commonwealth bonds, he purchased property in Bourke Street for a city headquarters. Lewis travelled extensively in his later years, partly for business purposes, and on 8 December 1928 he had married Mary Jane Jones Evans in London. In 1936 he bought a country estate, Carabobala, near Culcairn, in New South Wales, which his energy and enterprise converted to a showplace.

Prudent and careful in financial matters, he was quietly and discreetly generous to deserving causes, particularly in the Prahran municipality. Through the influence of his first wife he became interested in the work of the Presentation Sisters for the education of girls and was a financial supporter of their convent at Windsor. In 1928 he donated £2000 to the engineering school of the University of Melbourne for laboratory extensions. Always keenly interested in youth movements, and possibly influenced by his friendship with Martin Hansen, Lewis was very aware of the plight of boys who were, as he had been, deprived of education through lack of money. His will established the Dafydd Lewis Trust, with a £700,000 endowment, to provide scholarships for full-time degree courses (other than in theology, arts, music or education) at the University of Melbourne for boys from Victorian state schools whose parents could not afford a university education for them. Provision was also made for students to receive assistance for postgraduate study. Lewis's generosity was widely greeted as a big step towards democratic education.

His interests were travel, politics and his extensive and valuable library. He always delighted in speaking his native language. Although formally a Methodist, he might, perhaps, be better described as an agnostic; occasional attendances at the Welsh Church in his later life were as much for the opportunity of hearing spoken Welsh, for music, and for social contact, as for anything else. A kindly man, he never forgot those who had helped him to establish himself in his new country of which he was very proud.

Lewis died at his Prahran home on 17 August 1941 and was cremated. His wife and two sons of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Aug, 23, 24 Sept 1941
  • Dafydd Lewis Trust Scholarship pamphlet (University of Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

T. A. Hazell, 'Lewis, David Edward (Dafydd) (1866–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lewis-david-edward-dafydd-7183/text12415, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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