Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Howard Horatio Lewis (1868–1939)

by Ann G. Smith

This article was published:

William Howard Horatio Lewis (1868-1939), motor manufacturer and dealer, was born on 11 March 1868 at Willenhall, near Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England, third of seven children of Jonah Lewis, sheet-iron worker, and his wife Mercy, née Rudge. Educated at Birmingham High School, he arrived in Melbourne with his family in 1879, served an apprenticeship in the furniture trade and was trained as a racing cyclist by his father who, until he purchased a Gippsland farm in 1890, was caretaker of the Warehousemen's Cricket Ground. After winning the one-mile (1.6 km) championship of Australasia in Melbourne in December 1890, Lewis was elected treasurer of the Victorian Racing Cyclists' Association. His prowess, however, could not accommodate the change from the 'ordinary' or high-wheel machine to the 'safety' bicycle and he retired from the track (with a broken collar-bone) in December 1892.

From about 1890 Lewis ran a city bicycle manufacturing, importing and repair business, at first with Ernest Beauchamp, then as Melbourne Cycle Stores and from 1895 with C. B. Kellow. In 1897, however, after his marriage to Maud Emily Paton on 1 July 1896 at the Independent Church, Prahran, he forsook cycles for Harley Tarrant's motor syndicate in Post Office Place; his partnership with Kellow was officially dissolved in March 1898 and the Tarrant Engineering Co. was formed next year.

Between 1901, when Tarrant and Lewis were the first in Australia to manufacture a workable petrol-driven car, and 1906, when they made the last Tarrant, they produced ten or twelve such cars, their quality proven by fine performances in the 1905 and 1906 Dunlop reliability trials. But they could not compete with cheaper imports, and for the bulk of its business the company relied on the assembling and distribution of overseas models. The agencies for Benz and De Dion acquired in 1899-1900 were the first of more than fifty held over the next forty years, including the profitable Ford agency in 1908-15; while the purchase of Alexander Smith's South Melbourne carriage works in 1903 and its metamorphosis as the Melbourne Motor Body Works presaged expansion into Exhibition, then Russell and Lonsdale streets.

Tarrant's became a proprietary company in 1907. Lewis was managing director and from 1920, when the firm styled itself Auto Cars Ltd, chairman of directors. At his death, which signalled the closure of the distributing part of the business, he was a director of the holding company Allied Motor Interests Ltd and its subsidiary Ruskin Motors Ltd, and of Yellow Cabs of Australia Ltd and Yellow Express Carriers Ltd. Earlier directorships had included De Luxe Motor Service, Sydney, Royal Blue Taxi Co., Melbourne, and Olympia Motors Pty Ltd.

Lewis served as captain in the Australian Volunteer Automobile Corps in 1911-14. He was founder and first president of the Motor Traders' Association of Victoria (later Chamber of Automotive Industries) and first president of the Federal Council of Australian Motor Traders. Politically conservative, he enjoyed golf, shooting and fishing and had a fund of good stories about the early days of motoring. He was a founding member in 1903 of the (Royal) Automobile Club of Victoria and belonged to the Commonwealth and Victoria Golf clubs.

Lewis died at his Toorak home on 4 October 1939. His wife had died in 1919 and on 1 June 1921, with Presbyterian forms, he married Dorothea Surrey (Jean) McEwan to whom he left an estate of about £18,000. A daughter from his first marriage and a son and daughter from his second also survived him. His funeral was conducted by a minister of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Winser, Story of Australian Motoring (no date)
  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 2 (Melb, 1904)
  • H. H. Paynting (ed), The James Flood Book of Early Motoring (Melb, 1968)
  • J. Goode, Smoke, Smell and Clatter (Melb, 1969)
  • P. Stubbs, The Australian Motor Industry (Melb, 1972)
  • Australian Cycling Annual, 1897
  • Australian Cyclist, 24 Mar 1898
  • Business Archives and History, 1 (1956), no 6, 3 (1963), no 2
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 3 Mar, 20 Dec 1890, 29 Aug 1891, 7 Jan 1893
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Oct 1939.

Citation details

Ann G. Smith, 'Lewis, William Howard Horatio (1868–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 27 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 March, 1868
Willenhall, Staffordshire, England


4 October, 1939 (aged 71)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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