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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Colechin, Lawrence Dickens (1895–1951)

by H. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Lawrence Dickens Colechin (1895-1951), optician, was born on 23 November 1895 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, eighth and youngest child of English-born parents William Henry Colechin, tea merchant, and his wife Annie Maria, née Howson (d.1898). William was a Collingwood city councillor (1895-1904) and a Labor member of the Legislative Assembly (1904-07). He remarried in 1901. After attending Cambridge Street State School, Collingwood, Lawrence trained with an optician, E. Wood, in Melbourne.

On 19 August 1914 Colechin enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was then 5 ft 8¾ ins (175 cm) tall, with blue eyes and fair hair. Posted as lance corporal to the 6th Battalion, he embarked on 19 December. At the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915 he was wounded in the leg. Invalided to England, he returned to Melbourne where he was discharged on 20 February 1916. He was appointed temporary lieutenant in the Australian Military Forces on 1 September and served with the cadets until 15 March 1920 when he resigned his commission. On 3 April 1917 at the Richmond Congregational Church he had married Florence Isabel Freeman.

On leaving the army, Colechin joined an optical business established by his brother Albert, but rivalries led Lawrence to found the Victorian Optical Co. Pty Ltd in 1921. His business skill was such that by 1928 it had a staff of seventy, with branches in Sydney and at Newcastle. In 1928 he formed the Australian Optical Co. Ltd which absorbed the assets of the V.O.C. He was chairman and managing director. Branches were established in Perth (1928), Brisbane (1931), Adelaide (1933) and at Townsville (1935). Bifocal blanks were made in Sydney and in 1933 a factory was opened in Melbourne to manufacture spectacle cases. In 1949 the A.O.C. took over the Precision Optical Co. Ltd of Wellington, New Zealand.

During World War II the Directorate of Ordnance Production, advised by T. H. Laby and his Optical Munitions Panel, asked Colechin to work on optical munitions (especially telescope lenses) when the supply from Britain ceased following the fall of Dunkirk. The A.O.C. made more than one-quarter of the 27,000 instruments produced in Australia in the war. With the return of peace, the Australian Universities Commission called for tenders for microscopes, then in short supply due to the high number of ex-service students. Colechin submitted a design which was not successful, sold it in Ceylon and then reverted to optometry.

President of the Association of Optical Manufacturers of Australia, he had a strong—if not dominant—personality and a single-minded desire to promote a well-developed optical industry. He was a fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, and a member of the Navy, Army and Air Force, the Victoria Racing, the Victoria Golf and the Royal South Yarra Tennis clubs. Colechin died of a coronary occlusion on 2 April 1951 at Wahroonga, Sydney, and was buried with Anglican rites in Warrandyte cemetery, Victoria. He was survived by his wife, from whom he was estranged; there were no children. His estate, sworn for probate at £148,407, included large bequests to longstanding employees of his company. In 1952 his widow unsuccessfully contested his will.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Rogers, History of the Scientific Instrument and Optical Panel Initially Optical Munitions Panel July 1940 to December 1946 (Melb, 1946)
  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • Australian Optical Co. Ltd, Prospectus, Sept 1937
  • Journal of the Opticians and Optometrists Association of N.S.W., 1 May 1951
  • Australian Physicist, 27, 1990, p 31
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 Apr, 20 Sept 1951, 27 Nov 1952
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 22 Sept 1951
  • private information.

Citation details

H. C. Bolton, 'Colechin, Lawrence Dickens (1895–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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