Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas, Lewis (1832–1913)

by Margaret Bridson Cribb

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Lewis Thomas (1832-1913), colliery proprietor and politician, was born at Tanyrallt, parish of Llanfihangel-Genau'r-Glyn, near Talybont, Cardiganshire, Wales, on 20 November 1832, son of Thomas Thomas, carrier, and his wife Mary, née Hughes, who were members of the Talybont Independent Chapel. At 9 Lewis went to work in a woollen factory, at 15 in the lead-mines of Esgair and Bwlch Gwyn and later in the coal and iron mines of South Wales. Before migrating to Australia in July 1859, he married Ann Morris; she joined him in Queensland in July 1877.

After failing on the Victorian gold diggings, Thomas moved to Queensland in April 1861. Having completed his share of a railway tunnel contract, he turned again to coal and discovered and opened up much of the West Moreton field. In 1866, while continuing the search for good quality coal, he exploited the outcrop deposits at Tivoli with John Malbon Thompson. The partnership collapsed after quarrels in 1870. He opened the famous Aberdare Colliery at Bundamba, followed by a new mine at Dinmore in 1870, where coal chutes serviced the Ipswich to Brisbane steamers. The extension of railways in Queensland created a demand for coal that boosted Thomas's fortunes and earned him the title of 'Coal King', though a depression in 1894 caused him to convert his mine-ownership into a co-operative that lasted for a decade.

News of Thomas's success stimulated Welsh migration to Queensland. In 1891 he built Brynhyfryd, a mansion overlooking the coalfields; around it clustered a Welsh community at Blackstone, stressing Welsh life and culture in Queensland in the United Welsh Church, the Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir and the eisteddfodic movement, the last two of which Thomas founded and endowed. He established scholarships to the Ipswich grammar schools and, for students from the Talybont district, to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Later his interests expanded to dairying and politics. With Samuel Grimes, M.L.A. for Oxley, Thomas introduced the first Illawarra Shorthorn milking herd to Queensland. In 1893-99 he was M.L.A. for Bundamba. Called to the Legislative Council in 1902, he remained a member until his death on 16 February 1913. His only child Mary married Thomas Bridson Cribb, grandson of Benjamin Cribb.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Harrison (ed), Jubilee History of Ipswich (Brisb, c1910)
  • M. J. Fox (ed), The History of Queensland, vol 1 (Brisb, 1919)
  • Dictionary of Welsh Biography Down to 1940 (Lond, 1959)
  • E. Ross, A History of the Miners' Federation of Australia (Syd, 1970)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1877, 3, 59, 618
  • T. MacDonald, ‘The Welsh boy who made good’, Coal Miner, Nov-Dec 1959
  • Jack cutting book (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

Margaret Bridson Cribb, 'Thomas, Lewis (1832–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thomas-lewis-4706/text7801, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 20 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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