One of the interesting characters whose life revolved around Mt Victoria at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth was Alfred Maurice Lewis. Evidence of his life today exists in 19 and 21 Porritt Avenue, both of which houses were built for him in 1900, and the Cambridge Terrace Congregational Church (on the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Lorne Street).
Lewis was one of Wellington’s best-known businessmen in the early 1900s. Born in London in 1862, he was apprenticed to the aerated water trade and came to New Zealand at the age of 17. He arrived in Wellington after a year in Auckland and worked with Strike and Fairlie Ltd in Wellington and Nelson. After a year in Dunedin he returned and was put in charge of Strike and Fairlie’s business here, then known as the Wellington Aerated Water Company. He later bought the business and carried on in partnership with Alec Thomson, acquiring premises in Tory St. In 1903, the journal Freelance described him as having supplied the brains of the business, while Thomson provided the capital and the name. From 1903, he carried on the business himself, expanded its premises and set up provincial branches.
Lewis was one of the founding members of the Courtenay Place Congregational Church in 1887 and on its first management committee. In 1912 the church decided to move to a new location. Lewis owned the land on Cambridge Terrace where the Church now stands and, as it was too large for his purposes, he sold it the corner frontage. He became a Trustee for the church site. When the Church came to be built in 1916, he gave funds to construct a gallery in it. His vision and determination is credited with bringing the plans to change site and erect a new building to fruition.
Following a disagreement over a certain policy which arose between Lewis and a Church meeting in 1922, Lewis and his wife asked for their transfer to the Newtown Congregational Church. By then he had been secretary on three different occasions, totalling 19-20 years. He was described as one of the “strong men” of Wellington Congregationalism and was extremely generous in his gifts to the Church throughout his life. A church historian summed him up in this way: “Although a man of strong and forceful opinion and possibly not always easy to work with, nevertheless the Church owes a great debt to him and his family”.
Lewis was also choirmaster at the Congregational Church for 27 years and successfully led the choir in the Congregational Choir Competitions in 1907. In the Wellington Grand Choir Competitions of 1911, the choir gained third place under his baton. He assisted the Church in obtaining a pipe organ. His interest in music extended beyond the church; he was Honorary Secretary of the Wellington Music Union for many years, including in 1904, the year it provided the inaugural concert for the opening of the Town Hall.
Lewis died in 1945 and was survived by his wife, formerly Lilian Tonks, daughter of William Tonks, one of Wellington’s early settlers.