Skip to main content

Essington Lewis
, 1952

by William Dargie

oil on canvas (frame: 114.0 cm x 87.5 cm, support: 102.0 cm x 76.0 cm)

Essington Lewis CH (1881-1961) was chief general manager of BHP from 1938 to 1950. He became general manager in 1921, just before nearly 5 000 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. The blunt industrialist hated publicity and refused recommendation for a knighthood, but John Curtin initiated his appointment in 1943 as Companion of Honour. He died as he had wished to, on horseback, at the age of eighty. Among the papers he left was a personal document the bald title of which captured Lewis's essence. It was 'I AM WORK'

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of BHP Billiton 2003
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2003.94