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Essington Lewis CH

1881 – 1961

Essington Lewis CH (1881-1961) was chairman of BHP from 1950 to 1952, having been the company's chief general manager from 1938 to 1950. Born in Burra Burra, South Australia, he attended St Peter's College, Adelaide and worked on his father's properties before enrolling at the South Australian School of Mines in 1901. He began working for BHP in 1904 and made steady progress. He became general manager in 1921, just before nearly 5000 men were dismissed because of competition from overseas steel. However, by 1934 the Newcastle works was far ahead of most of its European rivals, thanks largely to reforms Lewis had introduced. Following an alarming pre-war tour of Japan he recommended the stockpiling of raw materials and armaments, and in 1940 he was appointed director of munitions, a post which carried enormous power. After the war, beside his work for BHP he was chairman of the Industrial Design Council of Australia and of the Australian Administrative Staff College, and was involved with General Motors Holden and the long range weapons project at Woomera, SA. The blunt industrialist hated publicity and refused recommendation for a knighthood, but John Curtin initiated his appointment in 1943 as Companion of Honour. He was also awarded many mining industry related honours and medals. Always a fine athlete and horseman, he died as he had wished to, on horseback, at the age of 81. Among the papers he left was a personal document whose bald title captured Lewis's essence. It was 'I AM WORK'.

Updated 2018