Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lewis, Edward Powell (1862–1930)

by C. G. T. Weickhardt

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

Edward Powell Lewis (1862-1930), engineer and businessman, was born on 24 July 1862 at Heidelberg, Victoria, third son and sixth child of William Richard Lewis, publican, and his wife Martha Ann, née Price, both from Wales. His father died before Lewis was 5 and his mother ran the Old England Hotel at Heidelberg single handed until her remarriage in 1872.

Lewis attended the Model School, Melbourne, and at 17 became an apprentice with the engineering firm of Wright & Edwards (later Atlas Iron Works). He was a quiet, reserved lad, but soon showed his aptitude for engineering work and his willingness to accept responsibility. At the end of his apprenticeship he became leading hand and in 1887 chief draftsman. On 6 February 1889 at Holy Trinity Church, Williamstown, he married Amy Isobel Dobbin and that year was appointed manager of Wright & Edwards's new works at Braybrook which handled large rolling-stock contracts for the Victorian Railways. Here he was respected both for his high standards of workmanship and his ability to 'take off his coat' and operate the machines himself. When the 1890s depression forced the firm into voluntary liquidation he defeated six hundred other applicants to become works manager at Thompson & Co., Castlemaine.

In 1899, financed by his friend W. B. Gray, chairman of directors of the South German Reef Gold Mining Co. at Maldon, Lewis took a bold step for a man with a young family, going into partnership with George Kelly. Operating from Melbourne premises in Little Bourke Street opposite the old works of Wright & Edwards, which they eventually purchased, the partners established a reputation for the excellence of their products. The firm's development was aided by the demand from the Western Australian deep-lead goldfields for steam-driven winders, condensing plants and pumps. Kelly & Lewis constructed plant for A. de Bavay's process of zinc recovery by flotation and in 1910 began producing internal combustion engines. Wartime production included the manufacture of three aircraft engines for the Australian Flying Corps.

In 1913 the firm became a proprietary company with a capital of £50,000; after Kelly died in 1919 Lewis was sole managing director. Many men spent their whole working lives at Kelly & Lewis, with sons following fathers. Edward Lewis's habit was to visit each department at least once a day and his 'system of mental arithmetic and shirt cuff memoranda' enabled him to give instant summaries of the work in hand. Construction of a large foundry at Springvale was begun in 1921 and contracts after this time included extensions to the Yallourn power house and sluice gates for the Hume weir.

Lewis was president of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures in 1925-27 and a director of the Chamber of Manufactures Insurance Ltd from 1924. He was a life governor of the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital from 1914. His recreations were motoring and gardening; he had a cottage at Warrandyte. An Anglican, a Freemason and Rotarian, he had National Party affiliations. He died on 10 January 1930 at his Armadale home and was buried in Springvale cemetery. Sir William McPherson and Burdett Laycock were pallbearers. His estate, valued for probate at £37,205 was left to his wife and daughter and his two sons, both of whom became directors of Kelly & Lewis.

Select Bibliography

  • Kelly and Lewis Ltd, Fifty Years of Engineering 1899-1949 (Melb, 1949)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Feb 1919, 10, 13 Jan 1930
  • Kelly and Lewis Pty Ltd papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

C. G. T. Weickhardt, 'Lewis, Edward Powell (1862–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lewis-edward-powell-7184/text12417, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 11 December 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 10

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