Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Shepherd (1835–1886)

by R. F. Holder

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Shepherd Smith (1835-1886), banker, was born in Durham, England, son of Thomas Smith and his wife Isabella, née Thompson. Educated in Durham, he became a choir-boy at the cathedral. He worked briefly in a London private bank, migrated to Sydney in 1853 and joined the Bank of New South Wales as a junior clerk. In 1856 he opened the bank's gold-buying agency at Rocky River, also a branch at Tamworth and early in 1858 one at Deniliquin. The next year he became manager in Brisbane and in 1860 was acting colonial auditor-general for Queensland. In 1864 he went to New Zealand as inspector for the bank but was recalled at the end of the year to Sydney and appointed general manager.

Under Smith's guidance the bank became the largest in the colonies in terms of deposits and advances and won repute for stability, leadership and independence. An administrator rather than innovator, he stressed the necessity of large reserves, especially after some early losses in 1870. Hard-working, with fine attention to detail he maintained a firm central control in a competitive era over the expanding network of branches and all aspects of the bank's activities. In principle Smith favoured loose agreements regulating interest rates with other banks, provided they were observed in all colonies; but, too much of an individualist to tolerate breaches, he was prepared to play a lone but powerful hand. In tangled negotiations in the 1870s he was at odds with most of his fellow bankers, particularly the Associated Banks of Victoria, and his strong personality earned him a reputation for being uncompromising and arrogant.

Smith developed efficient machinery for the New South Wales government's banking operations, but the size and fluctuations of the business created problems for the bank which sought exclusive rights while the treasury wanted the best terms for its funds. He failed to resolve the ensuing difficulties with successive treasurers and in 1875 clashed with William Forster. Smith's political ineptitude helped to make each renewal of the agreement increasingly acrimonious, until in 1885 the treasurer, G. R. Dibbs made other arrangements. Both the government and the bank published their correspondence and a protracted lawsuit followed; after the government's technical victory in the Privy Council in 1887, the bank paid over £25,000 to the treasury.

In Queensland Smith had been a director of the Cabulture Cotton Co. and in 1866 joined John Richardson in three runs on the Darling Downs and nine in the Maranoa District. In 1872 they sold four runs to John Watt and W. Gilchrist, and gradually disposed of the remainder but retained Gideon Land in the Darling Downs until 1883.

A formidable High Churchman, Smith was a lay member of the first Sydney diocesan synod of the Church of England in 1866, and of the first provincial and general synods of 1869 and 1872. He devoted much time to the financial affairs and the management of the property and charities of the Church, but became embroiled in political and liturgical issues. As a leading member of the Church of England Defence Association he, with (Sir) Alexander Stuart, opposed the abolition of state aid to denominational schools. After the introduction of the 1880 Public Instruction Act he resisted the supply of religious teachers to public schools and reaffirmed that the Church should support its own schools. He withdrew from the general synod in 1881 after censure by senior clergy for outspoken criticism of some of the forms of the prayer book and for his advocacy of revision. A founder and trustee of the Clergy Widows' and Orphans' Fund, he was a committee man of the Sydney Female Refuge Society and, in 1879, a founder of the Industrial Blind Institution. He supported the establishment of volunteer fire brigades and used the bank's services to import the latest equipment.

Beneath his uncompromising exterior Smith retained a sense of compassion and a respect for the dignity of the individual. Aged 51, he died on 13 September 1886 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife Emily, née Phillips, whom he had married at Parramatta on 11 January 1859, and by two sons and seven daughters. His estate was valued for probate at over £20,000.

Select Bibliography

  • R. F. Holder, Bank of New South Wales: A History, vol 1 (Syd, 1970), and for bibliography
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1860, 425, 1864, 1311
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1875, 2, 739.

Citation details

R. F. Holder, 'Smith, Shepherd (1835–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-shepherd-4616/text7599, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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