Lewis Cycle and Motor Works, Mt Gambier

Nineteen hundred and six was a busy year for the Lewis Cycle and Motor works.

In September of that year, Vivian Lewis returned from a five-month trip to England and the continent with news that he had been able to secure his existing motor agencies and gather several more. Presumably he also received good news about the performance of his own business at home: during his absence the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works, under the guiding hand of Robert Morton as acting as manager, had opened a branch in Port Pirie (July 1906) to add to its existing regional branches in in Broken Hill (1897) and Kadina (1905).

In late December 1906 Robert Morton "manager for the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works, Adelaide" travelled to the regional centre of Mount Gambier and installed himself at Mac's Hotel where he was "prepared to treat with enquirers for motor cars, motor bicycles, &c., of the very newest type". We don't know whether Dave McNamara, proprietor of a cycle business carrying his name on Commercial-street, responded to Mr Morton's newspaper advertisements and called on him at Mac's, or whether he was sought out by Mr Morton but it is clear the two men "did business". On January 9, 1907 a display advertisement appeared in the Border Watch notifying the public that the cycle business of Dave McNamara had been purchased by the Lewis Cycle and Motor works, and would in future be conducted as a "branch of their city establishment".

The new branch would offer "Cycles, Motor Cycles, Motor Cars, and all Sundries pertaining thereto" as well as repairs which would be carried our by "an expert from our Adelaide Works". This expert, who would take on the role of workshop manager, was Mr. Garnet Gilbert "who has served us for eight years through all Mechanical Departments". Mr McNamara was engaged to stay on as Manager of the branch.

Just what change occurred at the Lewis take-over is not clear. Earlier in 1906, trading as Jewell & McNamara, the business offered Massey Harris bicycles, as well as stating "We are the South Eastern House for Motor Cycles Built to Order. Motor Cars, Motor Repairs, Motor Requisites, Reliable Workmanship". Later in the year the name of Jewell had disappeared and the business was styled as "D.J. NcNamara, Proprietor", still offering Massey Harris bicycles, but complemented by an agency for Edison's Phonographs and Records. Certainly the phonograph agency was carried on by Lewis for a number of years.

When Vivian Lewis Limited was established later in 1907, the Mt Gambier branch passed to the new company.

The following entry was spotted by Mal Grant on page 37 of the "South Eastern Star" Almanac and Directory for 1914:

Vivian Lewis Ltd.
MOTOR GARAGE and
CYCLE WORKS

Commercial Street, Mount Gambier

All accessories stocked. Repairs to all makes promptly done by skilled workmen at reasonable prices.

Inspect the famous "LEWIS"
Motor Cycles

Perambulator tyres fitted by a new method. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Phone 159

The Mount Gambier branch was active in Commercial Street Mount Gambier into the 1920s. In October 1922 a series of advertisements ran in the Border Watch with the heading "Introducing a Better Motor Service", promising improved service under a new head mechanic (E. H. Wege), but this was a last gasp for the business. By early December the closure of the branch was announced, together with an "extraordinary clearance sale" of the freehold (modern shop and garage, and two shops adjoining), stock and plant. The business closed on December 20, 1922.

Throughout its sixteen-year existence in Mt Gambier, the Lewis business remained on Commercial Street, the main thoroughfare through town. However its exact location - or even whether the business occupied the same premises throughout - is not known.

The best clue we have to the location is from a property sale detailed in January 1910, when Elders, Smith & Co. offered for sale "under instructions from the executors of the late Mr. William Tolmie, the property in Commercial-street occupied by Messrs. Mallet, tobacconists; the Vivian Lewis cycle works, and the shop occupied until recently by Mr. Glover, also a six-roomed house fronting Commercial-street, with a frontage of 172 ft. to Gray-street. The whole of the property was sold to Mr. Vockins, a nephew of Mr. Tolmie, for the sum of 4,000." This places the Lewis business (at least in early 1910) close to the corner of Gray St, but with no indication of which of the four corners.

Another chance reference suggests that the business either relocated or remodelled in 1915, perhaps related to the acquistion of the freehold. From an article in the Advertiser for 24 August of that year, under the heading "Fall from a Scaffold", we learn that Mr. B. Chester, jun., sustained serious injuries in an accident which occurred while "plastering the new motor garage being erected in Commercial-street for Vivian Lewis".

One location or two? Can you help? An address, an old photo, a faded sign on a surviving building, a recollection... please e-mail me if you can add to the Lewis story in Mount Gambier.

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