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Harry Lambert (Bert) Wheeler (1889–1982)

by Kevin E. Lindgren

This article was published:

Harry Lambert Edward Dixon Wheeler (1889-1982), solicitor, mayor and community leader, was born on 10 July 1889 at Muswellbrook, New South Wales, third of seven children of New South Wales-born parents Harry Lambert Wheeler, assistant-postmaster, and his wife Sarah, née Dixon. Bert was educated at Hamilton Superior Public School and Maitland East Boys’ High School. In 1908 he was articled to a Newcastle solicitor, Henry Vincent Harris, and was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 29 August 1913.

Having served for seven years in the Citizen Military Forces, Wheeler was appointed as a captain in the Australian Imperial Force in April 1916 and posted to the 34th Battalion on the Western Front. He was adjutant of his unit in March-November 1917 immediately before being promoted to major. Wounded in action in April 1918 and twice mentioned in despatches, he returned to Australia where his AIF appointment terminated on 14 October 1919.

Following World War I Wheeler became a partner in Harris’s law practice in Newcastle. In the late 1930s he was gazetted as a notary public. He remained with the firm, variously named over the years, until he ‘progressively retired’ in the late 1970s. In his prime, when there were no barristers with chambers in Newcastle, he conducted cases in the higher courts, rather than bringing counsel from Sydney. President of the Newcastle Law Society, he was awarded life membership of the Law Society of New South Wales.

Wheeler was an alderman (1924-30) of the city of Newcastle. In 1928-29 he served as mayor—at the time of the building of the Newcastle City Hall and Civic Wintergarden. Wheeler Place in that vicinity was named after him. From 1937 he was, for many years, the Newcastle city solicitor.

Resuming his CMF service, Wheeler had commanded the 2nd Battalion (City of Newcastle) in 1921-24 as a lieutenant colonel. In World War II he served full time (1942-43) on the camp staff, Newcastle, before transferring to the Reserve of Officers.

A major contributor to the community, Wheeler was a member (1938-60) of the Newcastle Hospital Board, a member and honorary solicitor (1921-71) of the Newcastle District Ambulance Committee and a member of the Lake Macquarie and Hunter Valley Ambulance Board (of which he was sometime president). He was a committee-member (1934-74) and president of the Newcastle Club and foundation president of the Newcastle Masonic Club. Interested in sport, he was captain (1935-38) of the Newcastle Golf Club and patron of the Newcastle District Cricket Association and the Newcastle Rugby League; he also assisted the Newcastle Jockey Club. In 1940 he helped to found the Newcastle City Mission. He was president of the local branch of the Adult Deaf (and Dumb) Society of New South Wales and of the Newcastle School of Arts. In 1976 the Newcastle City Council awarded him an honour plaque.

Wheeler was particularly concerned with the welfare of returned servicemen; he provided an informal relief and rehabilitation service, assisting gratis with job searches, pension applications and court appearances. His acts of generosity were never publicised. He was chairman of trustees of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Institute and patron of the Newcastle branch of the Limbless Soldiers’ Association. The Returned Services League of Australia awarded him life membership.

A boyhood friendship with Walter Bramble junior led to Wheeler’s close association with the Brambles. For more than sixty years he was solicitor to members of that family. He served on the board of W. E. Bramble & Sons (Transport) Co. Pty Ltd, which was listed as a public company in 1954. From 1958 the company was named Brambles Industries Ltd. Wheeler was chairman (1954-62) and continued as a director until 1972. He was also chairman of the board of directors of Interstate Steamships Pty Ltd and Maitland Main Collieries Pty Ltd.

On 27 November 1926 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney, Wheeler had married Linda May Fell, daughter of William Fell. He was appointed OBE in December 1960. In 1962 Brambles commissioned William E. Pidgeon to paint a portrait of Wheeler, which the company donated to the Newcastle City Council. Predeceased (1973) by his wife, Wheeler died on 25 December 1982 at Garden Suburb, Newcastle, and was cremated; they had no children. A lord mayor of Newcastle, Joy Cummings, remembered him as ‘a gentle and warm man with a marvellous boyish humour’.

Select Bibliography

  • D. L. Manuel, Men and Machines (1970)
  • Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, 7 Dec 1928, p 7, 18 Mar 1950, p 2, 28 Aug 1963, p 2
  • Newcastle Herald, 30 Dec 1982, p 2
  • B884, item N153354 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Kevin E. Lindgren, 'Wheeler, Harry Lambert (Bert) (1889–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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