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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lucas, Sir Edward (1857–1950)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Sir Edward Lucas (1857-1950), draper and politician, was born, one of twin brothers, on 14 February 1857 at Galonetra, Cavan, Ireland, son of Adams Lucas, a small farmer, and his wife Eliza, née Martin. After schooling at Ballieboro, Lucas was apprenticed to a draper and worked for Switzer, Ferguson & Co. in Grafton Street, Dublin, before migrating to South Australia in 1878.

He found employment with the Rundle Street store, John Martin & Co., but by 1882 had his own drapery at North Adelaide. Next year, with Frederick M. Edwards, he set up shop in Hindley and Rundle streets and they soon opened branches. In 1886 Lucas moved to Gawler where he established Edward Lucas & Co. He thrived and stayed fifteen years, becoming active in community affairs. He was president of the Gawler Institute and a member of the school of mines council, the school board of advice and the committee that successfully advocated the Barossa water scheme. Mayor in 1893 and 1899, he became vice-president of the Municipal Association of South Australia and of the Australasian Federation League. He invested in mining.

On 15 April 1885 Lucas married Frances Louisa Johnson; she died following the death of their first child in 1887. On 21 March 1890 he married Mabel Florence Brock, a schoolteacher.

In 1900 Lucas won the North-eastern (later Midland) seat in the Legislative Council; he returned to Adelaide and bought a large tailoring business. Early parliamentary speeches covered the need for custom, precedent and 'old traditional reverence'. Lucas feared that 'the ruthless hand of a vandalic socialism' might extend the political representation of the non-propertied classes. Genial but somewhat cocksure, and fond of embellishing his rhetoric with poetry, he was once described as 'the glibbest gasser' in the council. Colleagues spoke of 'his immense fighting capacity' and the press noted his 'bull terrier reputation'.

Lucas was interested in prison reform and commercial and industrial matters. Responding to newspaper controversy, in 1904 he proposed an inquiry into 'the alleged sweating evil' and chaired the resulting select committee, which concentrated on the clothing industry. The committee was unsympathetic about the work's severity—sewing forty-eight pairs of trousers in a week—but found large-scale sweating did exist. It recommended the creation of two wages boards for the clothing trade (established by an Act of 1904) for women and juveniles; creation of a court of industrial appeal; amendments to the Factories Amendment Act; and a system of indentured apprenticeship. In 1909 Lucas sat on a committee which recommended further wages boards, for blacksmiths, boilermakers and the confectionery trade.

Lucas was a member of the committee that in 1910 had formed the Liberal Union by amalgamating the Liberal and Democratic Union, the Australasian National League and the Farmers' and Producers' Political Union. In 1913 he became the leader of his party in the Legislative Council. He worked on the State War Council in 1914-18 and was vice-chairman of the State Recruiting Committee.

In 1918, under a new policy to harness commercial acumen, Lucas became South Australia's agent-general in London. After a second term he returned to South Australia in 1925, having been knighted in 1921. The ex-draper was a small, dapper man with a trim goatee. A Methodist and rather autocratic, he was a lay preacher and philanthropist, a strict teetotaller and temperance advocate who yet raced his own horses. In retirement he was a director of several companies and institutions, notably the District Trained Nursing Society and the South Australian Navy League. He unsuccessfully contested the 1928 Senate election as a Nationalist. Since his youth he had written verse.

Predeceased by his wife, Lucas died on 4 July 1950 and, survived by two daughters, was buried in Payneham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • Quiz and the Lantern (Adelaide), 18 Sept 1903
  • Critic (Adelaide), 22 Nov 1905
  • Mail (Adelaide), 13 Feb 1915
  • Observer (Adelaide), 8 Jan, 2 Apr 1921, 16, 23 May 1925
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 8 Aug 1929
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 5 July 1950
  • private information.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Lucas, Sir Edward (1857–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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