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Lort Smith, Louisa Eleanor (1875–1956)

by Heather B. Ronald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Louisa Lort Smith, n.d.

Louisa Lort Smith, n.d.

Louisa Eleanor Lort Smith (1875-1956), animal-welfare advocate and administrator, was born on 12 March 1875 at Sale, Victoria, tenth of eleven children of William Montgomery, a grazier who came from Ireland, and his Australian-born wife Elizabeth Wilhelmina, née Du Moulin. Louisa was educated at Sale at Miss Jane Geoghegan's school and Madame Beausire's Ladies' High School. Her father's reversal of fortune in the 1880s forced the family to leave their property for suburban Caulfield.

In the early 1900s Louisa and her younger sister Marion (d.1940) began to teach ballroom dancing to students of some of Melbourne's private schools. They continued for over twenty-five years, thus gaining financial security. By the early 1920s they had a spacious home in Toorak and the wherewithal to devote much of their time to the care and welfare of animals.

These two women and others interested in such work met in May 1928 to form the Animal Welfare League of Victoria. An executive-committee, mainly comprising socially prominent women from South Yarra and Toorak, managed the administration and called on others to assist with fund-raising activities. On 19 December 1925 at St George's Anglican Church, Malvern, Louisa had married Charles Lort Smith; he was 69 years old and a respected Melbourne solicitor. Charles incorporated many of her ideas in a constitution for the league. With the closure of the veterinary school at the University of Melbourne in 1929, its free clinic was transferred in the following year to the Animal Welfare League on the initiative of Mrs Lort Smith. Dr E. F. J. Bordeaux, president of the Veterinary Association of Victoria, was appointed to take charge. Louisa became honorary secretary to the league and (Dame) Mabel Brookes was president. In the first year 2150 animals were treated, including 188 horses. Widowed in 1931, Lort Smith worked almost full time at the clinic, where volunteers were a vital part of its operation. The title of honorary director gave her complete authority over the league's activities from 1933.

Believing that there was sufficient demand for a public animal-hospital, Mrs Lort Smith and Frances Lyle (wife of Sir Thomas Lyle)—who had joined the executive-committee in 1930—secured land in Villiers Street, North Melbourne. Lady Lyle, a passionate animal lover, donated £5000, and the Lort Smith-Lyle Hospital for Sick and Injured Animals was opened in April 1936. Later, after a difference of opinion, Lady Lyle asked for her name to be removed, but she continued her financial support and bequeathed a trust fund to help the hospital. She died in 1949.

Although Lort Smith was often criticized for being over-sentimental in her devotion to animals, she showed a hard-headed business ability in ensuring the stability of the league's finances and the management of the hospital. Appointed a justice of the peace in the 1940s, when manpower and material shortages were making the work of the league difficult, she became a well-known figure in Melbourne, associated with almost every animal-welfare deputation to successive Victorian governments. She persistently advocated improved means of transporting livestock and better methods at abattoirs—in particular, use of the 'captive-bolt' pistol instead of the poleaxe. Years of pressure finally brought legislation in 1949 permitting such a device; by 1952 its use in Victoria was mandatory. That year Lort Smith took over the presidency of the Animal Welfare League. No important decisions had been made without her approval and she had exercised full powers in running the hospital.

Petite and impeccably groomed, Lort Smith was a woman of courage and determination, with the ability to win the interest and support of influential people. Her clear blue eyes missed nothing. She had style and an air of authority: even when she was 80 there was some apprehension felt while 'Mrs Lort' was on the hospital premises. In 1953 she was awarded Queen Elizabeth II's coronation medal. Lort Smith retired as president of the league six weeks before her death. She died on 15 July 1956 in East Melbourne and was cremated. The bulk of her estate, sworn for probate at £61,382, was used to set up 'The Lort Smith Trust for Animals'. Her portrait by Violet Teague is held by the Lort Smith hospital.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • People (Sydney), 19 Dec 1951, p 14
  • Parade, June 1974, p 12
  • Herald (Melbourne), 28 Sept 1936, 19 Aug 1954, 15 Oct 1955, 26 May, 16, 18 July 1956
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 July 1956
  • Animal Welfare League minute books, 1925-1957
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Heather B. Ronald, 'Lort Smith, Louisa Eleanor (1875–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lort-smith-louisa-eleanor-10861/text19279, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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