Essington Lewis

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Essington Lewis

Essington Lewis PRG-247-83-2.jpeg
Essington Lewis (circa 1900)
(State Library of South Australia collection)
Born13 January 1881
Died2 October 1961 (aged 80)
Alma mater South Australian School of Mines
OccupationMining engineer
Years activeEmployee 1904 – 26
managing director 1926–50
Chairman 1950–61
Employer Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd (BHP)
Gladys Rosalind Cowan(m. 1910)
Children5 [1]
Parent(s) John Lewis
Martha Brook
Relatives Tom Lewis (nephew)
Sandy Lewis (nephew)
James Cowan (father-in-law)
Darcy Rivers Warren Cowan (brother-in-law)

Essington Lewis, CH (13 January 1881 2 October 1961) was a prominent Australian industrialist. He was the Director-General of the Department of Munitions during World War II.

The Department of Munitions was an Australian government department that existed between June 1940 and April 1948.

World War II 1939–1945, between Axis and Allies

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.



Early life

Essington Lewis was born in Burra, South Australia on 13 January 1881. His father was the pastoralist and politician John Lewis (1844–1923), founder of Bagot, Shakes & Lewis. He was named after Port Essington, where his father owned a cattle property. [2] He was educated at St. Peter's College, Adelaide and the South Australian School of Mines.

Burra, South Australia Town in South Australia

Burra is a pastoral centre and historic tourist town in the mid-north of South Australia. It lies east of the Clare Valley in the Bald Hills range, part of the northern Mount Lofty Ranges, and on Burra Creek. The town began as a single company mining township that, by 1851, was a set of townships collectively known as "The Burra". The Burra mines supplied 89% of South Australia's and 5% of the world's copper for 15 years, and the settlement has been credited with saving the economy of the struggling new colony of South Australia. The Burra Burra Copper Mine was established in 1848 mining the copper deposit discovered in 1845. Miners and townspeople migrated to Burra primarily from Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Germany. The mine first closed in 1877, briefly opened again early in the 20th century and for a last time from 1970 to 1981.

John Lewis (Australian politician) Australian politician

John Lewis was an Australian pastoralist and politician. He was a member of the South Australian Legislative Council from 1898 to 1923, representing the Northern District (1898-1902) and North-Eastern District (1902-1923). He was the father of Essington Lewis.

Port Essington human settlement in Northern Territory, Australia

Port Essington is an inlet and historic site located on the Cobourg Peninsula in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park in Australia's Northern Territory. It was the site of an early attempt at British settlement, but now exists only as a remote series of ruins.


After joining Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd (BHP) (now BHP Billiton) in 1904, he rose through the company ranks to become managing director in 1926 and chairman in 1950, a position he held until his death in 1961. For the whole of his period as M.D., he had a close working relationship and personal friendship with Chairman of Directors Harold Gordon Darling (1885–1950).

During his travels to Germany and Japan in the 1930s, he realised the threat of these countries to Australia. Accordingly, he helped establish the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and many munitions facilities meaning Australia was better prepared for industrialisation when the war started in 1939. During World War II, he also served as Director-General of the Department of Munitions. He supported the establishment of the motor industry in Australia in 1948, being rewarded by being able to purchase the first commercially produced Holden 48/215.

Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation defunct aerospace manufacturer in Australia

The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) was an Australian aircraft manufacturer. The CAC was established in 1936, to provide Australia with the capability to produce military aircraft and engines.

Holden Australian automaker

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He was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour on 24 September 1943 for his work as Director - Munitions & Aircraft Production in WW2. [3]

Order of the Companions of Honour Order founded as an award for outstanding achievement

The Order of the Companions of Honour is an order of the Commonwealth realms. It was founded on 4 June 1917 by King George V as a reward for outstanding achievements and is "conferred upon a limited number of persons for whom this special distinction seems to be the most appropriate form of recognition, constituting an honour disassociated either from the acceptance of title or the classification of merit."

Personal life

In 1910, he married Gladys Rosalind Cowan, OBE, the only daughter of James Cowan. Their family consisted of five children – sons James Essington and Robert Brook, and daughters Helen, Mary and Jane. His sons were educated at Geelong Grammar School and the daughters at the Clyde School. The family lived in Malvern, Victoria and owned a country property named "Landscape" near Tallarook in central Victoria. Robert Brook (1918–2009) is notable as being the Master of St Mark's College, University of Adelaide from 1957 to 1968 and the Master of Menzies College, La Trobe University from 1968 to 1970. [1] [4] [5] [6]

James Cowan (South Australian politician) Australian politician

James Cowan, flour miller and investor, had been a member of the South Australian House of Assembly for the Yatala for only 2 months when he was killed in an accident at a railway crossing. Cowan was an early investor in Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd. The property associated with Erindale, Cowan's residence at Burnside, was sub-divided after his death into a new suburb which was also named Erindale.

Geelong Grammar School Independent, co-educational, day and boarding school in Corio, Victoria, Australia

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Clyde School was founded as a private girls' school in 1910 in Alma Road, St Kilda, Victoria, Australia by Isabel Henderson, a leading educationist of her day. It quickly gained a reputation for excellent academic results. The school was relocated to Macedon, near Hanging Rock in 1919.


He died while riding his horse on his property "Landscape" near Tallarook on 2 October 1961, aged 80. Newspapers of the day claimed he suffered a heart attack. [7] St John's Anglican Church, Toorak, was overflowing for his funeral; he was cremated.


His life is the subject of several books, including The Steel-Master: a life of Essington Lewis by historian Geoffrey Blainey, another by Clive Turnbull [8] and the musical play I am Work by John O'Donoghue. [9] The Essington Lewis Memorial Lecture has been presented annually in South Australia since its establishment in 1975. It is funded by BHP and was instituted by the Adelaide Branch of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. [10] One of Whyalla's main streets, Essington-Lewis Avenue, was named in his honour. [11]

Citations and references


  1. 1 2 SLSA, 2012, page 3.
  2. "Out of the Mail Bag". The Mail . Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 12 August 1944. p. 4. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  3. "LEWIS, Essington; The Order of the Companion of Honour". The Australian Government. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  4. 'Births, marriages and deaths', The Register, Thursday 21 April 1910, page 6, , retrieved 18 September 2012.
  5. 'Death of Mrs Essington Lewis', The Advertiser, Wednesday 7 July 1954, page 2, , retrieved 25 September 2012.
  6. SLSA, 2012, page 4.
  7. Canberra Times October 3 3
  8. Turnbull, Clive (1963). Essington Lewis. Oxford University Press.
  9. O'Donoghue, John (1989), Essington Lewis: I am work, ABC Radio, retrieved 25 December 2014
  10. Hegarty, Owen (30 November 2006). "Essington Lewis Memorial Lecture, November 30 2006" (PDF).
  11. "Google Maps" . Retrieved 28 October 2018.

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Government offices
Preceded by
Director-general of the Department of Munitions
Succeeded by
John Jensen
as Secretary of the Department of Supply and Development