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Sharp Hutchinson Lewis (1830-1921)

Sharp Hutchinson Lewis (1830-1921), Glover and an early Secretary of the YMCA Sydney

Sharp (Sharpe) Hutchinson Lewis was born in 1830[1] at Ramsgate, Kent, England, the son of John Lewis and Ann Hutchinson and died September 6, 1921, at Petersham, Sydney, Australia. In 1858, he married Mary Morshead Gypson[2] and together they had five children: Mary Ann (1859-1937), William Arthur (1861-1955), Mortimer Kent (1866-1867), Agnes Fanny (1868-1941) and Lillian Eleanor (1870-1932). Before his marriage, Sharp was employed as a Clerk with the London house of the Sydney firm of David Jones and Co in Fenchurch Street when it was decided he should go to NSW to join the company’s staff in Sydney.[3]

Lewis arrived in Sydney in 1854 and went to work with David Jones and Co as planned. In January 1857, Jules Pillet, a highly successful glover at 10 Hunter Street, advertised that he wished to retire and was willing to dispose of his business, The French Glove Depot, with a lease of his premises for six years.[4] On January 1, 1858, Sharp took over the business which, despite some early financial difficulties,[5] he ran successfully for some 16 years. The shop was considered ‘a very fashionable place’ and was just opposite where Henry Parkes had his shop.  Sharp said of Parkes that ‘many a chat I used to enjoy with him in those days. He was a clever fellow’.[6] In 1861, Sharp opened a

Sharp Hutchinson Lewis

Sharp Hutchinson Lewis

branch in Brisbane advising his customers that he had made arrangements with his predecessor, Jules Pillet, to select the stock which covered a wide range of quality goods from gloves and umbrellas to haberdashery in Paris and London, ensuring thereby that ‘nothing would be lacking in taste and quality’.[7] He finally disposed of the business to his sister Frances Johnson (nee Lewis) and his assistant Edward Carroll in March 1874.[8]

Lewis later accepted an invitation from James Woodward[9] to return to the firm of David Jones, but he did not remain long with his old employer for in 1879 he sold the family home ‘Kentville’ in Petersham for £1,100[10] and went, it was said, on an extended trip to England.[11] But this information is incorrect as he, his wife and three of his children, went to live in Dunedin, New Zealand,[12] where he worked for Hallenstein Bros and Co at the New Zealand Clothing Factory[13] as an Inspector of Branches.[14] During his time in Dunedin, he involved himself in the local YMCA as a committee member[15] and also became the secretary of a company to set up a Coffee Palace which sought to ‘combine all the advantages of the Restaurant and Hotel, WITHOUT SUPPLYINIG ANY INTOXICATING DRINKS’.[16] By July 1881, the Coffee Palace Company in Dunedin was indicating that all its shares had been taken up, the hotel was full and that the daily takings were increasing. But it also noted with regret that ‘the energetic secretary of the Company, Mr S H Lewis, has received an appointment in Sydney which has necessitated his resignation’.[17] After his return to Sydney in 1881,[18] he became the manager of the newly formed Sydney & Suburban Mutual Permanent Building & Land Investment Association Limited. This mutual society sought to take the financial opportunity afforded by the land and building boom of the early 1880s and advertised a suggested return to investors of 8% on their money.[19] In 1883, Sharp had accepted the position as Secretary of the Independent Cemetery,[20] an office he held for some seven or eight years.[21] By March 1893, with the onset of difficult economic times, the Sydney & Suburban Mutual Permanent Building & Land Investment Association Limited was clearly in financial difficulty and by mid-1895 its troubles had increased and Sharp, after 13 years, was no longer the manager.[22] This seems to have brought his business career to a close.

Sharp had other interests beyond his business activities and these were philanthropic in nature. He was not a financial philanthropist to any significant degree, but he gave of his time to assist various organisations in achieving their objectives. While he did serve various organisations over the years, such commitments were usually of a short duration. He was a founding member of the committee of the Soup Kitchen and Night Refuge in 1868 and remained on the committee until 1874,[23] and he was also a member of the Committee of the Sydney City Mission (1885-1886).[24] His abiding interest, however, appears to have been the YMCA.

While in London and before coming to Australia, Sharp had been secretary of the Bloomsbury branch of the YMCA. He was a close friend of George Williams, the founder of the Association and later to be known as Sir George Williams and had, he said, ‘the honor of kneeling side by side with him in prayer’. Upon arriving in Sydney, and on the day of his disembarkation, he found the YMCA group meeting in Samuel Goold’s Book Shop at the corner of Pitt and King Streets and enrolled himself as a member.[25] Sharp was disappointed that it was a weak and struggling concern. Its then secretary was John Joseph Davies ,[26] the father-in-law of John Robinson, later to be known as

John Joseph Davies

John Joseph Davies

Sir John, Robinson. Sharp had observed that Davies had

been asked to take up the work without any reference to the time that he would be able to devote in it, or knowledge of the lines on which the association would be organised. The first time that I meet Mr Davies was at a meeting and when he just put several books on the table  with the remark that ‘I thought I would bring these along before I went home’. I concluded that somebody with more time to spare was needed.[27]

The ‘somebody’ who had the time and the knowledge, and as importantly the youthful enthusiasm,[28] was Sharp Lewis who soon became Secretary. Lewis’ first-hand knowledge of what was being done ‘at home’ led them to get new premises and to seek to interest prominent people in the work.[29] New premises were opened in George Street, John Fairfax was approached and became president. Social activities were commenced as well as classes in languages and commercial subjects and the YMCA public lectures became part of the intellectual life of the Sydney community. In less than three years the Association had grown to 300 members.[30]

 In 1857, the Association recognised the debt that the YMCA owed to Sharp’s work in the time he had been the Secretary:

since that period the institution has steadily advanced to its present prosperous condition, which we, the undersigned, mainly attribute under the blessing of God, to the energy and self-denying zeal which you have invariably evinced in its behalf, thus giving unmistakeable evidence that you have the best interests of the association treasured up in your heart, and that the eternal and social welfare of the young men of Sydney is ever uppermost in your regard.[31]

Over an eleven year period Lewis gave himself to the work of the YMCA and proved himself to be the ‘indefatigable secretary’ of the Association.[32] In 1866, Sharp had a growing family of three children and they moved to Petersham. Unable to continue to commit the same amount of time to the YMCA he resigned the secretaryship, but always retained a keen interest in the association. Now residing at Petersham, he became a prominent and involved member and office bearer of the Petersham Congregational Church for the rest of his life.[33]

Not long before his death and reflecting on his life, Lewis said:

Often as I think of the growth of this great city thoughts surge through my mind of chances of great wealth that I have let go by. What might have been! Well, well, here are things more precious than wealth, that doth rust – and those things mean much when you get to be 91 years of age.[34]

One of the things ‘more precious than wealth’ was the knowledge that he had played a significant part in the founding of the Sydney YMCA for the benefit of the eternal and social welfare of the young men of Sydney.

Dr Paul F Cooper, Research Fellow, Christ College, Sydney.

The appropriate way to cite this article is as follows:

Paul F Cooper. Sharp Hutchinson Lewis (1830-1921), Glover and an early Secretary of the YMCA Sydney. Philanthropy and Philanthropists in Australian Colonial History, August 1, 2015. Available at

[1] His date of baptism was August 24, 1830.

[2] Mary arrived in Sydney on October 10, 1858 and the marriage took place on November 4, 1858. It was either a whirlwind romance or she came out to marry Sharp. SMH, October 11, 1858; November 5, 1858.

[3] SMH, December 29, 1920.

[4] SMH, January 10, 1857.

[5] NSW Government Gazette, April 10, 1860, page 744.

[6] SMH, December 29, 1920.

[7] Ipswich and General Advertiser, August 23, 1861.

[8] SMH, March 4, 1874.

[9] James Emanuel Woodward was a partner in David Jones & Co from 1868-1887. Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser, April 9, 1887.

[10] SMH, March 5, 1879; May 22, 1879.

[11] SMH, December 29, 1920.

[12] They left Sydney on the Wakatipu May 20, 1879 and arrived at Port Chalmers, New Zealand on May 29, 1879. Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser, May 24, 1879; Otago Daily Times, Issue 5391, May 30, 1879, page 2.

[13] Hallenstein Brothers, or ‘HB’, as almost everyone called the firm, began in 1873 when German-born merchant Bendix Hallenstein (1835-1905) established the New Zealand Clothing Factory in Dunedin to supply his stores.

[14] Otago Daily Times, Issue 5671, April 23, 1880, page 6.

[15] Otago Witness, Issue 1447, August 16, 1879, page 17.

[16] Otago Daily Times, Issue 5860, November 18, 1880, page 1.

[17] Otago Daily Times, Issue 6055, July 7, 1881, page 2.

[18] The family arrived in Sydney aboard the Wakatipu on July 28, 1881. Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser, August 6, 1881.

[19] Evening News, March 15, 1882.

[20] SMH, January 31, 1883.

[21] SMH, December 29, 1920.

[22] SMH, April 29, 1895; September 3, 1895.

[23] Sydney Mail, June 6, 1868; SMH, June 23, 1874.

[24] Evening News, May 13, 1885; SMH, Oct 26, 1886.

[25] SMH, December 29, 1920.See also Sharp Hutchinson Lewis, ‘Notes on involvement with YMCA’ (Mitchell Library, MLMSS 2368). Empire (Sydney, NSW), July 8, 1862 indicates that Goold’s bookshop was on this corner.

[26] Sharp describes John Joseph Davies (1798-1880) as the brother-in-law of John Robinson. He was in fact the father-in-law as Robinson married Davies’ daughter Margaret Emma Davis in 1837. Lewis has confused JJ Davies with his son JH Davies.

[27] SMH, December 29, 1920.

[28] Davies was 56 at the time and Lewis was 24.

[29] SMH, December 29, 1920.

[30] SMH, December 29, 1920.

[31] SMH, December 3, 1857.

[32] SMH, December 7, 1857.

[33] SMH, December 29, 1920.

[34] SMH, December 29, 1920.


  1. […] of one of our greatest leaders and the best of men’.[67] John certainly was, along with men like Sharp Lewis and David Walker and many others, a significant contributor to the development of the life of the […]


  2. […] on October 5, 1853, and with a lecture given by the Rev George King.[6] It was the arrival of Sharp Hutchinson Lewis and his appointment as Secretary that proved to be critical to the survival of the YMCA at this […]


  3. Jenny Tasker says:

    Sharp Hutchinson Lewis was my great great grandfather – and I am proud of him and his legacy, both as a member of society, and (more importantly to me) as a deeply godly man who contributed greatly to the Christian life of Sydney.


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