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Weeks, Lewis George (1893–1977)

by Robert Murray

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Lewis George Weeks (1893-1977), geologist, was born on 22 May 1893 near Chilton, Wisconsin, United States of America, second of six children of George Weeks, an American-born farmer, and his wife Katherine, née Schneider, who came from Switzerland. Lewis attended Chilton High School and worked as a schoolteacher before studying geology at the University of Wisconsin (B.A., 1917; D.Sc., 1970). In 1917-18 he served as an aviator in the United States Navy. Following brief periods as a geologist and mining engineer in Mexico, and as a teacher at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, he was recruited in 1920 by a British company searching for oil in India. At All Saints Pro-Cathedral, Shillong, Assam, on 12 October 1921 he married Alice Una Austin with Anglican rites.

Joining the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey (Esso, later Exxon) in 1924, Weeks travelled extensively in South America on field-work. In 1938 he moved to New York as a research geologist. He was credited with discovering (1947) huge oil reserves at Leduc, Alberta, Canada. In 1958 he retired as the company's chief geologist and set up as an independent consultant. One of his first clients, Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd, sought his services as the 'best petroleum geologist in America' to assist its efforts to find oil in Australia. Visiting Australia in 1960, he asked for (and was granted) a 2.5 per cent royalty on any commercial discovery. He then recommended that B.H.P. begin exploration off the south-eastern coast of Victoria. It was critical timing, as the technology for drilling in rough seas was then being developed in California.

Geologists had known from the 1920s that there might be major oil accumulations in the offshore Gippsland Basin. A huge investment in capital, skill and new technology would be required to find them: Weeks's great advantages were his reputation, knowledge and contacts. With his backing, B.H.P. took up permits over most of the region and started preliminary investigations. The results were sufficiently encouraging for the company to seek an international oil company as a partner. Weeks's involvement was one factor that led Esso to agree to continue the exploration programme in return for 50 per cent of the profits. Drilling by Esso in the 1960s revealed the largest oil and natural-gas province found in Australia to that time. By the early 1970s the wells supplied two-thirds of Australia's crude-oil needs and had the capacity to provide more natural gas than Victorians could consume.

Wiry in build, Weeks was nervous, individualistic, strong willed, health conscious, financially careful, and a committed Christian. He used much of his new wealth to establish an oil-exploration company and to endow his favourite institutions, among them the University of Wisconsin. Although he often returned to Australia, he never warmed to it. After his wife died, he married with Episcopalian rites her widowed friend Anne Sutton, née Newman, on 14 December 1957 at Salt Lake City. He died on 4 March 1977 in his home at Westport, Connecticut, and was buried in the cemetery of St James the Less, Scarsdale, New York. His wife survived him, as did the son of his first marriage. Weeks's memoirs, A Lifelong Love Affair, were published in 1978.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Murray, Fuels Rush In (Melb, 1972)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 May 1969
  • R. Murray, The Bass Strait Story (manuscript, 1986, University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Murray, 'Weeks, Lewis George (1893–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/weeks-lewis-george-11994/text21507, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 June 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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