Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Philip Thomas (1800–1880)

by J. B. Ponder

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Philip Thomas Smith (1800-1880), lawyer and landowner, was born in August 1800 at Faversham, Kent, England, the son of a landowner. After education at Rochester Mathematical School, he joined the navy as a midshipman and served in the Channel Fleet. He soon left the sea and became articled to Dawes & Son of Angel Court, Fleet Street, and in due course was admitted to the Bar as a solicitor. Deciding to emigrate, he sent £5000 to Van Diemen's Land, sailed in the Royal Admiral with a letter of introduction to Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur, some valuable horses (lost in stormy weather) and unassembled parts of a steam-boat, and arrived in Hobart Town in April 1832.

Smith was admitted to the rolls of the Supreme Court, but within two months bought some 28,000 acres (11,331 ha) of the government reserves near Ross. After the deposit was paid he sailed for England, having persuaded the government to defer further instalments until he could raise more money. He returned in the Lonach in October 1833 with his brothers Arthur and Lewis. The property was divided. Philip built Syndal on his section where he lived with Lewis, who soon returned to England. In 1838 Philip was joined by his wife and daughter from England; the latter, still alert in mind and body at 103, died in 1931, and her diaries from 1842 to 1900 survive. Arthur took 8000 acres (3238 ha), and at St David's Church, Hobart, in May 1836 married Jane Jeffreys, the youngest daughter of Michael Dobson of Gateshead, Durham; they built Beaufront and lived on the property until they returned to England in the 1850s, when it was sold.

At first Philip Smith continued his legal practice but, with some of the best land in the colony, he soon devoted all his time to Syndal. He resigned from the Commission of the Peace, charging the magistrate at Campbell Town with irregularity in a trial, and publishing his angry letters in two solid pages of the Hobart Town Courier, 24 November 1837. He sent stock to the new settlements at Adelaide and Port Phillip, and was active in founding the Midland Agricultural Association. Unlike many others he survived depression in the early 1840s, although he sometimes talked of selling out and making a fresh start as a lawyer. In 1843 he was appointed a justice of the peace and soon after become an ardent anti-transportationist, writing and speaking fearlessly for the cause. He also contributed to the London Agency of John Alexander Jackson through which the colonists hoped to hasten responsible government. When it came he represented South Esk in the Legislative Council in 1856-57, but his interest in politics dwindled.

In 1861 Smith visited England with his family, but his impatient activity allowed no retirement. Back in Hobart he turned vigorously to social reform and philanthropy. A fervent Anglican, he was a generous donor to the church. A staunch teetotaller he canvassed fearlessly and even attended the licensing court to oppose each new extension. He was also an irascible critic of the honorary Board of Education, believing that its lack of responsibility had saddled Tasmania with inferior and incompetent schoolmasters. With constructive zeal in 1874 he offered parliament £1000 for a teachers' training college, and repeated the offer in 1875. Next year he told a select committee that he wanted paid management of the education board, although his offer was not dependent on it. Parliament demurred at the cost and questioned his advanced views, but his principles did not waver. In 1877 when he left with his family for England, he invested £1000 in a trust for the sole purpose of training teachers. This fund, supplemented by £500 from his daughter, was alienated to the cost of the Philip Smith Training College opened in January 1911 on the Hobart Domain. He died at Nice on 14 March 1880. His portrait, painted in Florence, is in the possession of the college.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1876, no 3
  • G. T. Stilwell, ‘Ross Reserve’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 10 (1962)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 19 Mar 1880
  • Smith papers (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. B. Ponder, 'Smith, Philip Thomas (1800–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-philip-thomas-2672/text3727, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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