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Sir William Lennon Raws (1878–1958)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published:

Sir William Lennon Raws (1878-1958), businessman, was born on 7 August 1878 at Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire, England, son of Rev. John Garrard Raws, Baptist minister, and his wife Mary Jane, née Lennon. He attended Ellesmere College, Yorkshire, where he received a good classical education. Following a breakdown in his father's health, William migrated with his family to South Australia in 1895.

Obliged to earn a living, William joined D. & J. Fowler, wholesale merchants, in Adelaide and within six months was private secretary to the senior partner. In 1898 he joined the Australian Gold Recovery Co., Adelaide, pioneers of the cyanide method of gold recovery. On 1 August 1905 he married Elsie Cecilia Rogers at St John's Church, Adelaide. That year he had moved to Wallaroo as private secretary to the general manager of the Wallaroo & Moonta Mining Co. Returning to Adelaide in 1913 he joined Elder, Smith & Co. and two years later became their Melbourne manager.

An officer in the South Australian Infantry Regiment from 1907, Raws was appointed lieutenant-colonel, Australian Military Forces, in 1912. In 1914 he was given command of the 63rd Infantry (East Melbourne) Regiment, and in 1915 temporary command of the 14th Infantry Brigade. He was promoted temporary colonel in 1918. But his outstanding war service was as chairman of the Australian Metal Exchange—established to enable the base-metal industry to provide for war requirements while protecting itself from the risk of foreign domination after the war—from its foundation in 1915 until its abolition in 1923. Appointed C.B.E. in 1918, he was knighted in 1926 and known as Sir Lennon Raws.

Meanwhile his business activities proliferated. He was president of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce in 1924-25 and of the Associated Chambers of Commerce in 1925-26. In 1927 he was appointed managing director of Nobel (Australasia) Ltd and special representative in Australia for Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd, England, which had been formed in 1926 by a merger of four companies including Nobel Industries Ltd. When Imperial Chemical Industries (Australia) Ltd was formed in 1928 to acquire the local business interests and co-ordinate the agencies and other Australasian interests of I.C.I., Raws became first managing director. The name was changed in 1929 to I.C.I. of Australia and New Zealand.

By 1933 he was vice-chairman and managing director of I.C.I.A.N.Z., attorney in Australia for I.C.I. Ltd, director of Nobel (Australasia) Ltd, chairman of Brunner Mond (Australasia) Pty Ltd and of Leathercloth Pty Ltd; and a director of various companies including Australian Fertilisers Ltd, Elder, Smith & Co. Ltd and Commonwealth Fertilisers and Chemicals Ltd. Appointed chairman of I.C.I.A.N.Z. in 1934, he continued to fill the two roles of chairman and managing director until retirement in 1946. By 1935 he was a director of eighteen Australian companies and in 1939 became a director of Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd.

A quiet-mannered man with a jutting jaw, keen eyes and grizzled hair, Raws had wide interests. He was an active sportsman in his youth, and continued to play tennis until late in life. A member of the Melbourne group of the Round Table in 1928-36, he was regarded as a leading spokesman on Australian commercial and financial affairs. Always an outspoken opponent of government intervention and advocate of a free market, during the Depression he argued for a rejection of the arbitration system and a reduction in wages and in the tariff. He was an honorary life member of the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand and served on the editorial board of the Economic Record from its foundation in 1925 until his death. An ardent reader of poetry, biography and history, he was appointed to the council of the University of Melbourne in 1929 and became chairman of its finance committee. He was a member of the commerce faculty from 1931 to 1941. Professor Sir Douglas Copland described him as 'a man of discerning intellect' who promoted the study of economics and fostered links between the university and the business world. Succeeding Sir John Latham, he was deputy chancellor in 1939-41. In 1940-43 he was chairman of the Australian national committee of the International Chambers of Commerce.

Sir Lennon Raws died at his South Yarra home on 19 April 1958 and was cremated. His estate was valued for probate at about £45,000. Three daughters and a son survived him. His wife, who had died on 14 October 1946, had been an active worker on auxiliaries for the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Children's Hospital, and for St Martin's Boys' Home.

Raws' two brothers had been killed in World War I. John Alexander (1883-1916) was educated at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, and worked as a journalist with the Melbourne Argus. He enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force in 1915, embarked as second lieutenant in March 1916, and fought with the 23rd Battalion. He was killed in action at Pozières on 23 August. His letters home, with their graphic accounts of the carnage, horror and confusion of the French battlefields, were published as Records of an Australian Lieutenant 1915-16. Robert Goldthorpe (1886-1916), educated at Prince Alfred College and Way College, Adelaide, embarked with the A.I.F. in January 1915 as a second lieutenant. He was promoted lieutenant in August and served with the 23rd Battalion at Gallipoli and in France where on 28 July 1916 he was killed in action.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • Who's Who in the World of Women, vol 2 (Melb, 1934)
  • E. Scott, Australia During the War (Syd, 1936)
  • L. Foster, High Hopes (Melb, 1986)
  • Today (Melbourne), 23 Jan 1932
  • Rydge's Business Journal, 1 Oct 1935
  • Melbourne University Gazette, June 1958
  • Economic Record, Aug 1958
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 28 Feb 1929
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Jan 1946, 21, 26 Apr 1958
  • Argus (Melbourne), 17 Oct 1946
  • Age (Melbourne), 21 Apr 1958.

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Raws, Sir William Lennon (1878–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 27 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 August, 1878
Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire, England


19 April, 1958 (aged 79)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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