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Fred Lewis (1882–1956)

by Ann G. Smith

This article was published:

Fred Lewis (1882-1956), public servant, conservationist and naturalist, was born on 4 July 1882 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, son of David Alfred Lewis, paint and colour salesman, and his wife Eliza Emma, née Whitcher. Educated at South Yarra State School, he joined the Victorian Public Service in May 1900 as a clerk in the Office of the Public Service Board, moving in 1905 to the ports and harbours branch of the Department of Public Works.

Officially, Lewis's duties from 1906 concerned immigration returns and stores requisitions, but he was probably well acquainted with his branch's administration of the Fisheries and Game Act for in 1910 he headed the clerks appointed to the newly instituted fisheries and game branch of the Department of Agriculture. When fisheries and game became a separate office in 1913 he was appointed supervising clerk under the chief inspector J. M. Semmens. Lewis became chief inspector and head of the department on 13 October 1924 after long stints as acting chief inspector, particularly during and after World War I when Semmens was on military service, and, from 1920, a member of the Commonwealth Repatriation Commission.

Lewis, who retired in 1947, had a strong influence on departmental policy. Although he was largely self taught, his scientific approach earned him the respect of naturalists, conservators, sportsmen and professional fishermen alike; he insisted on a thorough investigation of the biological implications before adding or removing an animal's name from the list of protected species and took pains to publicly justify decisions unwelcome to sportsmen. The re-establishment of the koala, almost extinct in Victoria by 1910, on a reserve at Quail Island remains his most widely recognized achievement. He also saved the mutton-bird rookeries at Cape Woolamai in the 1920s by planting marron grass to control the sand drifts and in 1928-29 demonstrated that seals did not pose a threat to the fishing industry.

Field work took Lewis to all parts of the State. Fearless in discharging his inspectorial duties, he increased contemporary knowledge of the natural history of many indigenous fauna. As well as submitting official reports he wrote for the press and published articles in the Victorian Naturalist, Emu, Wild Life and National Geographic Magazine; he contributed the chapter on fauna to A. Pratt's Centenary History of Victoria (1934). Lewis had a particularly soft spot for the koala but was said to be 'passionately fond' of all Australian animals. After retirement he joined the Victorian Field Naturalists' Club; he was vice-president from 1949, honorary secretary in 1951-55 and the club's delegate to the Victorian National Parks Association. He was also a member of the committee of management of the Sperm Whale Head (Lakes) National Park. Described by his obituarist as courteous, friendly and 'perennially young', he enjoyed tennis and gardening and was a talented nature photographer.

Lewis died of cancer on 7 August 1956 at Malvern, survived by his wife Ada Lucie Edith, née Smith, whom he had married on 20 October 1909 at the Church of Christ Chapel, South Yarra, and by a son and two daughters; he was buried in New Cheltenham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1929, 1st S (23), p 1155
  • Victorian Naturalist, 73 (1956-57)
  • Sun-News Pictorial, 6 Dec 1937
  • Herald (Melbourne), 5 May 1938.

Citation details

Ann G. Smith, 'Lewis, Fred (1882–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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