Lewis, David Henry

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Lewis, David Henry

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  • Lewis, David

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  • David Lewis

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Dates of existence

1917 - October 2002


David Henry Lewis was sailor, navigator, mountaineer, anthropologist, scientist, doctor, political activist, academic and author. 'The Australian Geographic' magazine named him as their Adventurer of the Year in 1998, when he was 80 years of age, and in 2012 he was described by a colleague as 'perhaps the most colourful seafaring adventurer of the second half of the last century' (Stephan Quentin, 2012).

Born into an Irish-Welsh family in Plymouth, the family emigrated to New Zealand when he was 2 years old, and an only child. He attended medical school at the University of Dunedin in 1934, but moved to Leeds in 1938 to finish his medical training. He attended the Titekaveka village school at Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, rather than a European school, where he heard about the sagas of ancient Polynesian navigators. Growing up in New Zealand and the Cook Islands influenced his life significantly, especially in relation to sailing and navigation. This shaped his character and lifelong passion for Maori and Polynesian seafaring traditions and navigational methods using the stars.

In 1960 he sailed in the first trans-Atlantic sailing race and came third after Francis Chichester. Lewis wrote about his experiences in the book, ‘The ship would not sail due west’, the first of many books about navigation. His knowledge about Pacific path-finding improved after a four year fellowship at ANU to study traditional methods of navigation in the Pacific and Indonesia, with master navigators the Prahu Captains of Indonesia. The Institute of Aboriginal Affairs also funded his research into the route-finding techniques of Australian Aborigines in the Western Desert in 1979.

The best known of David Lewis’s exploits was the voyage made in 1972 – 1974 in the steel sloop ‘Ice Bird’, the first single-handed voyage to Antarctica. In 1975 he set up the Oceanic Research Foundation with the objective of funding scientific expeditions to the Antarctic. Fellow adventurer, Dick Smith, supported the enterprise and helped to raise finance for a voyage to Bellamy and Macquarie Islands in 1977 – 1978 with seven people, including scientists, on board the ‘Solo’.

He retired to write his autobiography, ‘Shapes in the Wind’ published shortly after his death in 2002.


Oceania ; Australia

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Doctor ; sailor ; author

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Created by Christine Bryan on 28 May 2014




Quentin, Stephan, 'A single-handed GP', British Journal of General Practice, December 2012; Volume 62 (605); 654 - 655 ; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505404
Putt, Colin, 'David Henry Lewis, Adventurer 1917 - 2002', AFLOAT.com.au, December 2002 ;

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