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Amram Lewis (1856–1953)

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Mr. Amran Lewis, a former Treasurer of the Northern District of the Miners' Federation, died in Wallsend Hospital last night.

Mr. Lewis was taken to hospital the previous day from his home in Hill-street, Wallsend.

He was 96 last December, and only recently had suffered from failing memory and eyesight.

Mr. Lewis was born in Wales and came to Australia as a child with his parents in the ship Legion of Honour, arriving in Brisbane after a passage of 3½ months.

His father and two of Mr. Lewis's brothers started in a small colliery named Redbank, a few miles from Brisbane.

"We landed in the historic town of Minmi in 1868," Mr. Lewis told an interviewer at his home in Hill-street, Wallsend, in a reminiscent talk 70 years later. "It was old Minmi, surrounded by scrub. The owners or lessees—I'm not sure which—were the Browns. We were at Minmi about 18 months when a subsidence took place. The consequence was that a number of the men had to leave. I, with my parents, removed to Wallsend. My father was employed in what was known as the Cooperative colliery. The manager was James Fletcher, so well and favourably known in the district, as was his son, James, who succeeded him. The senior Fletcher was for many years in the New South Wales Parliament, and held rank in the Cabinet formed by Sir Patrick Jennings as his Minister for Mines, and later Minister for Works. His memorial stands in the park at Newcastle overlooking the Pacific."

The principle of cooperation was uppermost in the minds of the miners in those days. Mr. Lewis found it so in Wallsend, but, as he said, the limited payment for coal as between Wallsend, Minmi, and other collieries began a system of competition that destroyed the hopes of the cooperators and prevented them from being successful. The colliery was taken over by the Sydney merchants, Laidley and Company.

"When I started work as a trapper boy in the Co-operative colliery I received 2/ a day for 12 hours work," Mr. Lewis recalled "After some little time, I was taken on the coal by my father, and for 11 years worked there as a miner. Ventilation conditions generally were unfavourable, to put it that way. What is known as regulating the furnace in the shaft, and the later means of a fan, were entirely unknown at that period. The usual method was to place an iron crock at the bottom, fill it with coal and allow it to burn, under the supervision of an employee until it was well alight. He would then go away to other work. As the fire became low and was not replenished, the ventilation became bad; consequently smoke and mist arising from the want of ventilation were very perceptible in the working places of the mine.

"In those days buyers wanted large coal. Instructions were, 'Large coal; fill large coal.' When frequently two men worked together, they would lift these lumps, and place them on the skip. Competition was keen, and the price low. In 1872, it was 8/ or 9/ a ton. An agreement was formed between the proprietors and the miners. It contained a clause for the selling price and the hewing rate, so that for every 1/ rise in the price of coal, the hewing rate would be advanced 4d a ton. In 1874 the working hours were reduced to 10. The price of coal was raised to 14/ a ton. The man chiefly responsible for this was Mr. Fletcher, who had fought vigorously for it in the paper established at Wallsend, known as 'The Miners' Advocate.'"

It was about this time that the foreign trade came into existence. Wallsend received a large share of it. As the sliding scale was placed in all agreements, conditions in the industry were better for all concerned for many a day. It was abolished in 1917-18.

Mention of the paper revived memories. Mr. Lewis invited the interviewer to accompany him to Devon-street Wallsend, and, at no great distance from his own cottage, pointed to the site of the building—in which the "Advocate" was first published.

"I had the first copy, and kept it for so long that it frayed away," he said. "That issue came out on February 21, 1873. It is something in one's life to be able to say that one has read every issue of the paper, as I can say."

Mr. Lewis humorously added: "I except, of course, the period of about eight months that I was the guest of His Majesty the King at Goulburn. After what has been euphemistically termed the 'Peter Bowling strike' the officials were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. We got no 'Advocates' while there, but I applied myself, as did Mark Twain, to scientific farming. As one who had devoted all his life to coal, l believe I made a fairly good 'fist' at it. I showed, by applying the science of coal-mining to vegetable-culture, that potatoes might be grown without being hilled. That, I feel, placed the farming community everlastingly in my debt."

Mr. Lewis joined the Miners Federation as a youth. He became a lodge official and check inspector, and was a member of the Miners' Delegate Board. In 1905 he was elected District Treasurer, and held that office uninterruptedly until 1926, when he was appointed a Conciliation Commissioner. He filled this post for 5½ years. He then retired and lived at Wallsend.

Mr. Lewis has left one son, Archibald, who lives at Warner's Bay, and four daughters, Mesdames Beatrice Adams, Mary Ann Craig, Grace Llewellyn, and Miss Alice Lewis, each of whom resides in the Wallsend district. —W.B.M.

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Citation details

'Lewis, Amram (1856–1953)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


29 December, 1856
Aberdare, Glamorgan, Wales


15 April, 1953 (aged 96)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

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