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Lyons, Herbert William (1888–1958)

by Joan Hancock and Eric Richards

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

Herbert William Lyons (1888-1958), farmer, politician and company director, was born on 30 September 1888 at Wild Horse Plains, South Australia, son of Henry Alexander Lyons, storekeeper and farmer from Ireland, and his wife Margaret, née Crothers. He was educated at the local school and in Adelaide, and then returned to work on the family farm.

With an elder brother Charles he formed a partnership, Lyons Bros, which after farming initially at Wild Horse Plains, extended its activities to Long Plains, Inkerman, Mallala and Avon in the Adelaide Plains area, the South Australian Mallee and the Western District of Victoria. They became one of South Australia's biggest wheat-growers. Later the partnership split, with Charles taking over the Victorian property and Herbert carrying on locally.

In 1929 Herbert Lyons became a director of 'The Farmers' Own Company', Cresco Fertilizers Ltd (formerly South Australian Fertilizer Co. Ltd), and chairman in 1930-31. Australia's rural industries were then in crisis because of the Depression: prices on international markets had plummeted, with grim consequences for the fertiliser industry, heavily dependent at one remove on these export markets, particularly for wheat. Disagreement about appropriate policies in the continuing slump led to a vigorous contest for directorships in 1932; Lyons retained his seat. Next year the board, still under his chairmanship, sacked the founding managing director. Lyons became joint managing director for a period, and in 1939 sole managing director. He retained this post and the chairmanship until his death. He was a director also of associated companies—Cresco Fertilizers (W.A.) Ltd, Sulphuric Acid Ltd, Nairne Pyrites Ltd, Fertilizer Sales Ltd and Albany Superphosphate Co. Pty Ltd, W.A.

As chairman for twenty-eight years and managing director for twenty-five, Lyons played a major role in piloting Cresco through the economic troubles besetting rural industries, and their linked suppliers, in the 1930s to secure first a share of shrinking demand and later a healthy position in the expanded post-war market. Substantial plant modernization and expansion undertaken in the post-war decade, along with receptiveness to ideas arising from agricultural research, improved product, output levels and profits.

Lyons entered the House of Assembly in 1933 for the seat of Barossa; an elder brother, John Alexander, was already member for Stanley. Although he remained in parliament until 1938, Herbert Lyons spoke seldom in debate after his first year: his responsibilities with Cresco probably left him little time for a large involvement. He usually restricted himself to the interests of primary producers and hardly influenced proceedings, although his remarks suggest sound commercial acumen and practical knowledge of farming. A member of the Liberal and Country League, he retired in 1938. In 1952-54 he was on the Unley City Council.

Lyons attended Methodist and Congregational churches. He had married a schoolteacher, Vera Adelaide Rinder, on 14 March 1925 at Manthorpe Memorial Congregational Church, Unley; they had one son and one daughter. Tennis was his favourite relaxation. He died on 1 September 1958 of hypertensive heart disease.

Select Bibliography

  • South Australian, 9 Dec 1926
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 3 Sept 1958
  • business records, Cresco Fertilizers Ltd (BRG 90, State Records of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joan Hancock and Eric Richards, 'Lyons, Herbert William (1888–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lyons-herbert-william-7277/text12615, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 17 November 2018.

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

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