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Frederic Ernest (Eric) Lampe (1892–1972)

by John Young

This article was published:

Frederic Ernest (Eric) Lampe (1892-1972), retailer and businessman, was born on 27 February 1892 at Elsternwick, Melbourne, fifth (second surviving) child of Victorian-born parents Hermann Ernst Franz Lampe, schoolteacher, and his wife Mary Pechina, née West. Educated at a state school and a business college, Eric worked in an indenting business. On 22 September 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and in December sailed for the Middle East. He served with the A.I.F. Records Section in Egypt, France and Britain, rising through the ranks to quartermaster and honorary captain (1917). At the parish church of St George, Islington, London, on 23 June 1919 he married Hilda Sheehan. That year he was appointed M.B.E. and became a member of the A.I.F. Disposals Board. In 1920 he returned to Melbourne where his appointment terminated on 8 August.

Within the year he was governing director (1920-34) of Lampe, Moffat Pty Ltd in Flinders Lane, an importer and supplier to the garment trade. The experience gave him a thorough understanding of the supply side of retailing. In 1934 Lampe was invited to join the board of Manton & Sons Pty Ltd, drapers in Bourke Street. The firm acquired the adjoining site (occupied by the Theatre Royal) and built a modern department store. Within three years the site was further enlarged. While Manton senior continued as chairman of directors, Lampe supplied much of the drive and organizing skill for the business. As deputy-chairman (from 1943) he presided at annual general meetings. He was appointed joint managing director in 1946 and succeeded Manton as chairman in 1954.

After being elected deputy-president of the Master Drapers' and Traders' Association in 1940, Lampe was president in 1941-43, 1948 and 1949-50. During his first term of office the association advocated the cause of city retailers who were striving to satisfy civilians' needs in the face of wartime rationing and austerity. In addition, Lampe was president (1943-44, 1948 and 1949-50) of the Australian Council of Retailers. Following World War II the retail clothing trade was faced with unprecedented demand and its representatives lobbied the Commonwealth government to relinquish price control and restore normal market conditions. President (1948-58) of the French Chamber of Commerce in Australia, Lampe was appointed to the Légion d'honneur by the French government for his work in fostering relationships between France and Australia. He also promoted trade with Japan.

Lampe had become a foundation member of the Institute of Public Affairs, Victoria, established in 1943 to promote private enterprise. He served on its industrial committee which produced Looking Forward (c.1943), a statement on basic political and economic problems. As chairman (1951-57) of the editorial committee, he read and commented on every article published in the I.P.A. Review. He succeeded Sir George Coles as president of the institute and held office from 1957 to 1971. In chairing meetings, Lampe 'dispensed with stiff formality' and displayed 'his warmth, friendliness and natural breeziness of manner'. In 1968 Coles, Sir Ian Potter and Lampe were invited to serve on the finance committee of the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party, not least for their fund-raising contacts.

Coveting Mantons' prime site with its 115-ft (35 m) frontage, G. J. Coles & Co. Pty Ltd launched a takeover bid in 1955. When the Manton sons accepted, Lampe resigned, ending thirty-five years involvement in the garment trade. In the following year he took up a directorship of Alex. Cowan (Australia) Pty Ltd, papermakers and wholesale stationers, and was the firm's chairman (from 1958). In 1956 Lampe was appointed a life governor of the Retail Traders' Association of Victoria, and to an economic advisory committee by the Menzies government.

The theatre 'was one of the great loves of his life'. Lampe was director of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (1954-71) and of the Australian Ballet (1962-71); he was also deputy-chairman of the Union Theatre Repertory Company (Melbourne Theatre Company from 1968). To them he brought 'his own special brand' of 'infectious optimism'. The Lampes travelled abroad 'frequently and extensively'. In 1960 they visited Moscow. Shortly after returning home he published his observations in Two Eyes on Moscow (1960), crediting the Soviet economy with giving its citizens a better standard of living than he had expected. A member of the Athenaeum and Australian clubs, Lampe was appointed C.B.E. in 1970. He died on 20 November 1972 in his home at Toorak and was cremated. His wife predeceased (1969) him; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Iverson (compiler and editor), The Leaders of Industry and Commerce in Australia (Melb, 1963)
  • IPA Review, Oct-Dec 1971, p 78, Oct-Dec 1972, p 82
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 Nov 1972
  • Manton files (Coles Myer Archives, Melbourne).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Young, 'Lampe, Frederic Ernest (Eric) (1892–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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