Mr. Vivian Lewis
This particularly fine photographic portrait of Vivian Lewis comes to us courtesy of the Unley Museum. It is presumed to have been taken to coincide with Mr Lewis's election as a Councillor for the Corporation of Unley in December 1899, in which case it shows us Mr. Lewis, bicycle importer, age 35 years.

To me, this luminous image is a reminder of the human side of history. Writing this one year in to my Lewis research, it makes me wonder just how far I have really progressed. While I have uncovered quite an amount of material unknown to the present generation, I realise that I haven't yet gained an adequate understanding of the people, like Lewis and O'Grady, who played such key roles in our story.

Hopefully this situation will improve as the research continues. In the mean time, please accept my attempts to record something of the personal history of Vivian Lewis. The obituary below, which first appeared in the South Australian Motor, 24 March 1919, provides a contemporary review of his life. More detail, but possibly less insight, might come from the biographical notes that I am collecting as the project proceeds, and the story of his later life in Karoonda.

As usual, any additional information would be gratefully received.

Vivian Lewis, Councillor for the Unley Corporation, 1899
Unley Museum


Mr. Vivian Lewis, who died at his residence, Commercial Road, Unley, on Sunday, March 3, was born at Bendigo, Victoria, fifty-four years ago. He came to South Australia at the age of twenty-four, and soon gave his whole attention to the bicycle business, which was then booming, opening the premises which have since been continued at Gawler Place. Being a keen and enthusiastic cyclist, and a lover of clean sport, he gave considerable time and assistance in promoting bicycle sports, and encouraged the early visits of intercolonial speed men. Although he never appeared in track racing, he frequently took part in fairly long-distance road contests, and retained to the last vivid recollections of his experiences in those early days, and greatly treasured the trophies won.

While a lover of sport, he never allowed it to interfere with his business, but took a personal interest, and spent long hours in its development, being ably assisted in this respect by his chief mechanic (the late Mr. T. P. O'Grady) and others, of whom several still remain in the service of the company. In addition to the single bicycle, tandem and triplet machines were also built. As the taste for motive power was being felt, attention was turned to motor cycles, and the well-known water cooled engine was developed and patented. In course of time motor cars came into view, and the first motor car built in Australia was turned out from Mr. Lewis's shop, and to-day is prized for the pioneer work it did in the automobile world.

During 1907 the business was floated into a limited company, and under the able management of Mr: Lewis, trade rapidly grew, and to-day the firm occupies freehold premises in Gawler Place, and has branches in seven of the most important country centres. Although a busy man, he found time to take an active part in affairs connected with the welfare of the young in the neighbourhood in which he lived, to whom he gave his best. He faithfully served the City of Unley as councillor and alderman, organised working bees to fence in the Sturt Oval, was an active member of the Sturt Cricket and Bowling Clubs, a foundation member of the Australian Natives' Association and the Unley Boys' Club, and was a supporter of the Manthorpe Memorial Church and Sunday School.

For many years the health of the deceased caused him great suffering, and on that account six years ago he was compelled, without withdrawing all his interests, to relinquish the management to the present managing director (Mr. H. B. Crosby, M.P.). It was thought and expected that a change of occupation would prove beneficial to his health, so he took up new country in the mallee, near Karoonda, and had a nice farm, known as Runnymede Park, and in the short time allotted to him while there he did what he could to make the lot of the early settlers and pioneers happier in the district, formed road-making working bees, and started the Mechanics' Institute, which to-day stands as a monument to his industry and generosity.

Mr. Lewis had a name and. reputation of which any man would be proud. He was straightforward, honest, just, generous, and ever desirous of helping those in need. The world can ill afford to lose such as he, as his magnetic influence always attracted the best in human nature. Mr. Lewis had passed through bitter experiences, having lost his wife eleven years ago, and with seven young children, a growing business, and indifferent health, he had enough trials to try the stoutest heart; yet he was cheerful and optimistic. When the Empire needed men, he willingly permitted his three eldest sons to enlist. One returned to Adelaide from Palestine only last month, but owing to the quarantine restrictions, was not permitted to be with his father when the end came. Two others are still in France or Flanders, but it is hoped that they will he permitted to return early, and assist in caring for the younger members of the family.

Vivian Lewis in Karoonda | Lewis people index | Biographical notes

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