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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lewis, Robert (Bob) (1878–1947)

by John N. Molony

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

Robert (Bob) Lewis (1878-1947), jockey, was born on 30 November 1878 at Clunes, Victoria, ninth child and fourth son of Thomas Lewis, Welsh miner, and his London-born wife Martha Ann, née Miller. His mother was reputed to be a great horsewoman and Bobby took to a horse early, though forbidden by his father to ride with a saddle. An elder brother, a horse-breaker, taught him how to handle horses and in later life Bobby was a keen student of breeding and an acknowledged judge of horseflesh. His education in this equine atmosphere suffered in other respects, however, so that, leaving school at 10, he never achieved proficiency in reading and writing.

Lewis won his first race on the Clunes course in 1892 and his first metropolitan in Melbourne in 1895. In 1899 he went to England with his trainer J. E. Brewer but, homesick, quickly returned to resume a forty-year association with the master-trainer Jim Scobie. With Eric Connolly and Scobie, Lewis made up that 'Triumvirate' of the turf which for over a generation dominated the Victorian racing world. Lewis was soon acclaimed by many connoisseurs as the finest jockey they had ever seen. Always physically fit he seemed to have immense power in his meagre frame. According to Scobie he never 'knocked a mount about' but rode with heels, hands and head. A brilliant judge of pace in a race, he enjoyed a good view of proceedings as he rode long and was himself clearly seen above the other jockeys.

On race days Lewis always took a Turkish bath but he rarely had to waste for a ride. One exception was in 1927 when, almost 49, he determined to meet 7 st. 6 lb. (47 kg) to ride Ernest Clarke's Trivalve in the Melbourne Cup. Clarke had never won a Cup in thirty years as a breeder and Lewis wanted to carry the pink and pale blue jacket to victory. He succeeded. Two years later in his thirty-second Cup he rode Phar Lap to a third placing, a controversial ride as the great horse suffered a check near the start and pulled hard in the early stages. In all Lewis rode four Cup winners in thirty-three starts (The Victory, 1902; Patrobas, 1915; Artilleryman, 1919; Trivalve, 1927) and gained five minor placings. Although never successful in a Sydney Cup he won a series of major events including eight Victoria Derbys, eight Victoria Racing Club St Legers and five Fisher Plates.

Abstemious but jovial, loyal and utterly dedicated to his profession, ever ready to share his knowledge with younger riders, Lewis was only once suspended, at Randwick in 1925, when the general impression was that no fault lay with him. He handed in his licence in 1938 after forty-six years in the saddle to become a grazier with properties at Glenroy and Ferntree Gully.

Lewis died at Glenroy on 31 March 1947 survived by his wife Mary Irene, née Rowntree, whom he had married at Christ Church, Hamilton, on 15 June 1920, and by two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Scobie, My Life on the Australian Turf (Melb, 1929)
  • E. Bland (ed), Flat Racing Since 1900 (Lond, 1950)
  • J. Pollard, The Pictorial History of Australian Horse Racing (Syd, 1981)
  • B. Ahearn, A Century of Winners (Brisb, 1982)
  • M. Cavanough and D. Meurig, The Melbourne Cup (Melb, 1983)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 Nov 1927, 1 Apr 1947
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 26 Dec 1931
  • Sporting Globe, 2 Dec 1931
  • Herald (Melbourne), 30 Nov 1932, 24, 27 Oct, 1, 10, 11, 15, 20, 23, 28, 29 Nov, 25 Dec 1933, 30 Nov 1936, 8 July 1938, 2 June 1947, 2 Nov 1982
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Nov 1933, 1 Apr 1947
  • Star (Melbourne), 26 Dec 1933
  • Age (Melbourne), 1 Apr 1947.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John N. Molony, 'Lewis, Robert (Bob) (1878–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 October 2020.

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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