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Smith, Richard Bowyer (1837–1919)

by Roger André

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Richard Bowyer Smith (1837-1919), blacksmith and inventor of the stump-jump plough, was born on 2 September 1837 in London, eldest child of Smith Owen Smith, carpenter, and his wife Mary Ann, née Lee. They were to have twelve children, of whom six died in infancy. Accompanying his parents as an infant aboard the Trusty, Richard reached South Australia on 15 May 1838.

Owen Smith set up as a builder in Adelaide, but the family lived for a few years in Victoria; Clarence Herbert (1855-1901), the ninth child, was born on 10 August 1855 at Alma. Back in South Australia, Richard was apprenticed to James Gardner Ramsey, an agricultural implement manufacturer at Mount Barker, then went into trade as a blacksmith and carpenter at Port Wakefield. On 23 May 1863 at Kensington, Adelaide, he married with Wesleyan forms Margaret Smith. They had eight children. In 1872 Clarence was apprenticed to Richard as a blacksmith and machinist.

Following an initial trial, Richard, then in business with Clarence at Kalkabury (Arthurton) on Yorke Peninsula, exhibited two prize-winning versions of a stone- and stump-jumping plough at the agricultural show at Moonta in November 1876. The Farmers' Weekly Messenger accurately forecast that Smith's invention had the potential to 'cause a complete revolution in tilling uncleared land'. The mechanism allowed the shares to glide over stumps which otherwise required grubbing, a laborious and costly process. He failed, however, adequately to secure his rights under the Patents Act of 1877 and prosperity eluded him. Late in 1877 he was granted the first licence of the Arthurton Hotel. Although he and Clarence made design improvements to the plough, Richard was struggling to make a living from his trade until (Sir) Robert Dalrymple Ross took up his cause. In February 1882, as president of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia, Ross led a delegation to the commissioner of crown lands, recommending that Smith be awarded a grant of land. In the face of rival claims, on 5 September 1882 parliament acknowledged Richard Bowyer Smith as the inventor of the stump jumping plough, rewarding him with a bonus of £500 rather than a land grant. In 1884 he moved with his family to Western Australia, where he exhibited the plough in 1885 but was unable to realize a profitable return on sales.

Clarence had married Emma Sarah Beck in the Congregational manse, Maitland, South Australia, on 26 June 1879. That year he briefly held title to a 228-acre (92.3 ha) section, in the Hundred of Tiparra, on which the stump-jump plough had first been demonstrated. In 1880 he established agricultural machinery works at Ardrossan, attractive for its shipping facilities. He died of renal disease on 25 July 1901 at Ardrossan, having prepared his young sons Alma Owen and (Clarence) Glen to take over the thriving business. When the local community proposed a memorial to Clarence senior, Richard took umbrage, perhaps resentful of his brother's success. He denied that Clarence had played any part in the invention or development of the stump-jump plough, despite the earliest drawings and several subsequent patents bearing Clarence's name. The Ardrossan firm Clarence H. Smith Ltd, incorporated in 1913, did not weather the 1930s Depression. Relocated to Port Adelaide (1935) it went into receivership.

In Western Australia Richard managed a hotel at Beverley, was a member of the Beverley Road Board (1893-95), and operated railway refreshment rooms in 1895-99 before taking up a farming lease at Beverley of 181½ acres (73.5 ha), relinquished in 1911. At a foundry there he resumed making agricultural implements, then established a workshop at Highgate, Perth, in 1912. He was remembered as a dapper man who frequently dressed in a 'frock coat and striped trousers, patent leather boots and spats'. Smith died on 4 February 1919 at Subiaco and was buried in Karakatta cemetery with Anglican rites. His wife, three daughters and four sons survived him. The Smith brothers' plough was one of the most important Australian inventions of the nineteenth century; by the mid-twentieth century twenty-four-farrow heavy disc ploughs were in use, essentially working on the same principle. The State Library of South Australia holds, among its treasures, Clarence Smith's hand-drawn sketches of the stump-jump plough.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), The Cyclopedia of South Australia vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • B. E. Neumann, The Smith Brothers and the Stump Jump Plough (1976)
  • G. McLaren and W. Cooper, Beverley: Our Journey Through Time (Beverley, WA, 2002)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia, 1881-82, p 29
  • Farmers’ Weekly Messenger (Kapunda), 17 Nov 1876, p 2
  • Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser, 13 July 1880, p 2, 2 Aug 1901, p 3
  • Observer (Adelaide), 18 Feb 1882, p 27, 1 July 1882, p 9, 10 June 1899, p 3, 3 Aug 1901, p 9, 14 Sept 1901, p 9
  • Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth), 14 Jan 1885, p 9, 2 Sept 1885, p 3, 23 Sept 1885, p 3
  • South Australian Chronicle, 22 Jan 1948, pp 18 & 23
  • Wallaroo Times, 21 June 1882, p 2, 13 Sept 1882, p 2
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 5 Sept 1882, p 843
  • Clarence H. Smith collection, National Trust Museum, Ardrossan, South Australia
  • C. H. Smith papers, PRG 432 (State Library of South Australia)
  • GRS 513/5/P/46/1913 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Roger André, 'Smith, Richard Bowyer (1837–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-richard-bowyer-13201/text23901, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 3 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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