Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Bathurst Lew (1891–1970)

by Don Wright

This article was published:

Robert Bathurst Lew (1891-1970), Methodist minister, was born on 2 January 1891 at West Tamworth, New South Wales, second child of native-born parents Robert Lew, railway-engine cleaner, and his wife Annie, née Jelbart. Educated at Lithgow, at Newcastle and at the Theological Institution, Newington College, Sydney, young Robert played football and tennis, and developed a lifelong interest in sport. The Church sent him to Coraki, Lismore and Gloucester as a probationary minister. From 1 May 1916 he served as a Young Men's Christian Association representative with the 9th Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force; he also acted as a stretcher-bearer at Passchendaele, Belgium. Lew was ordained at Wesley's Chapel, London. On 1 May 1918 he was commissioned honorary lieutenant; from March 1919 he was a chaplain 4th class in the A.I.F.

Demobilized on 30 December, Lew completed his degree at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1923) while serving in the Bankstown, Waverley, Ballina, Five Dock, Katoomba, Lismore and Wollongong circuits. On 6 September 1924 at the Methodist Church, Summer Hill, he married Sylvia Jean Hay, who held a diploma from the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. Lew had continued as a part-time army chaplain and served full time with the Militia in 1942-44 before returning to work in the Chatswood and Manly circuits. A forceful preacher and a faithful pastor, he believed that the Church spent too much time in abstruse speculation about details of ritual and organization instead of getting on with the 'supreme function' of presenting Christ 'as He was and is'.

In 1948 Lew was appointed principal of Methodist Ladies' College, Burwood, a post he held until his retirement in 1959. Known as a good administrator, he presided over a period that saw increasing numbers of students, considerable physical expansion and the financial consolidation of the school. Sylvia Lew's work for the boarding house and with the boarders' choir (which she founded) drew even more attention. Under her leadership the choir flourished and took part in Australian Broadcasting Commission programmes.

Secretary (1946-48) and president (1949-50) of the New South Wales Conference, Lew was secretary-general (1951-54) and president-general (1954-57) of the Methodist Church of Australasia. He chaired the Methodist Overseas Missions board, the Federal Methodist Inland Mission council and the federal council of the Methodist Mission to the Nation. A member of the central committee of the World Council of Churches and vice-president of its Australian council, he represented (1954) Australian Methodism at the second assembly of the W.C.C. at Evanston, United States of America. In addition, he was a delegate (1956) to the World Methodist Conference at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, U.S.A., an executive-member of the World Methodist Council and vice-chairman of the Australian commission for Inter-Church Aid and Service to Refugees.

Lew received an honorary D.D. from the Baldwin-Wallace College, Ohio, in 1956 and was appointed O.B.E. in 1959. Survived by his wife and three daughters, he died on 20 October 1970 at Gordon and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • S. and R. Coupe, Walk in the Light (Syd, 1986)
  • Methodist Church of Australasia, New South Wales Conference Minutes, 1959, p 161, 1970, p 62
  • Methodist Ladies' College (Burwood, Sydney), Excelsior, Dec 1959, Dec 1970
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Nov 1927, 25 Apr 1936
  • Sun (Sydney), 24 May 1954, 21 Oct 1970
  • Methodist (Sydney), 7 Nov 1970
  • private information.

Citation details

Don Wright, 'Lew, Robert Bathurst (1891–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 January, 1891
Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia


20 October, 1970 (aged 79)
Gordon, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.