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Lewis, George (1844–1925)

by Janet Howse

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

George Lewis (1844-1925), electoral officer and philanthropist, was born probably on 24 May 1844 in Sydney and named Moses, youngest of four sons of Isaac Moses, Jewish merchant, and his wife Hannah, née Aarons. His father died in 1846 and his mother in 1857 when the boy became the ward of Mrs Eliza Taggart of Woolloomooloo and was brought up as a Congregationalist. He had adopted the name George Lewis when he was appointed a supernumerary draughtsman in the New South Wales Surveyor-General's Office on 1 October 1862. On 5 November 1863 he married Jessie Webster at the Congregational Church, Strawberry Hills. In 1877 he was promoted to first-class draughtsman in charge of the reserves branch, controlling forty million acres (16.2 milliom ha) of crown lands.

When the Department of Lands was reorganized in 1887 Lewis was retired with a pension equivalent to six months pay, but was almost immediately appointed the first district government officer in the newly created local government office, Colonial Secretary's Department. He was responsible, as chief electoral officer, for the electoral system which came into force in New South Wales under the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act (1893) which redistributed boundaries and ended plural voting. In June he was one of three members of the Electoral District Commission appointed to enquire into municipal boundaries in New South Wales and to draft the local government bill, presented in November 1894 but withdrawn and later incorporated in the Local Government (Shires) Extension Act (1905). In December 1894 Lewis was appointed a member of the Districts Government Commission responsible for the subdivision of the Colony into shires and boroughs. In December 1895 he relinquished the post of chief electoral officer. On 15 March 1901 he was appointed the first Commonwealth chief electoral officer and in June chaired a conference in Melbourne of State representatives whose report laid the foundation of the Federal electoral scheme defined in the Commonwealth Electoral Act (1902). Lewis retired in May 1905.

A devout Congregationalist, Lewis was a quiet and generous worker in its philanthropic organizations. He was a force behind the opening of the Mission Church, Sussex Street, Sydney, in 1883, and served as a lay pastor there for many years, working also for the Pitt Street Congregational Church of which he was pastor in the late 1890s. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s he provided free Sunday breakfasts for men in the city. With Sir James Fairfax he was a founder in 1882 and first chairman of the Sydney Newsboys' Brigade (later, Boys' Brigade). He was also prominent in establishing and administering the Queen Victoria Maternity Home for unmarried mothers at Annandale, donating £1500 for the purchase of the property.

Lewis died on 31 May 1925 in Sydney and was buried in the Congregational section of South Head cemetery. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him. His estate, valued for probate at £10,880, was divided between family, friends and various charities and institutions, including the Presbyterian Church for the benefit of the Queen Victoria Maternity Home. The tact and judgement that had distinguished Lewis in the public service made him an effective social worker who 'devoted the best years of his life in the cause of the poor and unfortunate'.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1901-02, 2, p 203
  • Town and Country Journal, 2 Sept 1893
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2, 3 June, 9 Sept 1925
  • Queen Victoria Maternity Home, Annual Report, 1899 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • First annual report of the Sydney Newsboys' Brigade, 1883-84 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Janet Howse, 'Lewis, George (1844–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lewis-george-7187/text12425, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 17 October 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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