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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Drew, William Leworthy (1826–1898)

by Robert I. Longhurst

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

William Drew, 1889

William Drew, 1889

State Library of Queensland

William Leworthy Goode Drew (1826–1898), naval officer and public servant, was born on 14 October 1826 at Broadstairs, Kent, England, son of Captain George Drew, R.N., and his wife Caroline Fulford, née Goode. George, who had served during the Napoleonic wars, was later superintendent of the invalid convict station at Impression Bay, Van Diemen's Land. William acquired an interest in figures at the King Charles Mathematical Foundation at Christ's Hospital, London (the Blue Coat School), where he was said to have calculated 'how many hidings went to the week before he'd been there a month'. He joined the Royal Navy at 16, eventually becoming paymaster on the Australian and New Zealand Station, Sydney, in 1853.

On 30 January 1855 at St Thomas's Church, North Sydney, Drew married Gertrude Jane, daughter of Frederick Augustus Hely. Gertrude and William were to have twelve children. Paid off with the rank of fleet paymaster in 1856, Drew was appointed clerk in the Railway Department in February 1857 and within five months became secretary of the Steam Navigation Board. By 1858 he had joined the staff of the Union Bank. In 1862, following a scandal which led to the dismissal of the incumbent Arthur Edward Dodwell, Drew was appointed under-secretary of the Queensland Treasury. For fifteen years he served a succession of ministries, gaining an enviable reputation for efficiency, leadership and tact. He also made determined efforts to weaken the influence of the Audit Office and F. O. Darvall, his successful rival for the post of auditor-general in 1869. Upon Darvall's resignation in 1877, Drew was appointed his successor and surprised many by quickly asserting the independence of the office and by criticizing government financial policy when he saw fit. He also set high standards for his staff at a time when the pressure of work was multiplying and employee numbers remained static. According to R. S. Browne, Drew 'had no use for an audit officer who was not capable, fearless in duty, and absolutely appreciative of his duty to the public'.

His term in office coincided with a massive growth in Queensland's public debt, especially under the first McIlwraith ministry (1879-83). By 1883 the colony's loans had reached £13,125,826 and Drew's growing concern led to his ordering a raid on Treasury books in July. His subsequent report, tabled in the Legislative Assembly, assisted the election of (Sir) Samuel Griffith in November 1883. Some suspected Drew of partisanship, and certainly his relationship with the Griffith ministry proved far more amicable. The government made no efforts to reduce the level of public debt but raised his annual salary to £1000.

Drew retired as auditor-general in 1889, when he was appointed C.M.G. and became chairman of the new Civil Service Board. For many years he was a prominent Anglican layman, particularly involved with St Thomas's Church of England, Toowong, close to his riverside estate, Minto. In later years he served as a diocesan synodsman and treasurer. Photographs show a determined face, clean-shaven but with mutton-chop sidelevers. Drew died on 14 July 1898 at Toowong and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife, four daughters (one of whom married John O'Neill Brenan) and four sons survived him. Obituarists, mindful of the financial collapse of the early 1890s, praised Drew as one of the few not to be 'blinded by the dazzle of boom time . . . he steadily and independently warned the Government that the reckless financing then in vogue must lead to eventual ruin'.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Brown, A Journalist’s Memories (Brisb, 1927)
  • R. B. Joyce, Samuel Walker Griffith (Brisb, 1984)
  • H. Gregory (ed), Arcadian Simplicity (Brisb, 1990)
  • R. Longhurst, The Plain Truth (Brisb, 1995)
  • Queenslander, 19 June 1897, p 1355
  • Brisbane Courier, 15 July 1898, p 6
  • Sydney Mail, 20 Aug 1898, p 455.

Citation details

Robert I. Longhurst, 'Drew, William Leworthy (1826–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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