Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Sir Gerard (1839–1920)

by F. K. Crowley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Sir Gerard Smith (1839-1920), governor, was born on 12 December 1839 at Pimlico, London, third son of Martin Tucker Smith, politician, banker and director of the East India Co., and his wife Louisa, née Ridley. Educated at Eton, an ensign and lieutenant in the Scots Fusilier Regiment of Foot Guards, by purchase, he took part in the expedition to Canada in 1863-64 following the American seizure of territory. On 4 May 1871 he married Isabella Chatelaine Hamilton; they had three daughters and two sons. Retiring from the army as lieutenant-colonel in 1874, he became a partner in the family firm, Samuel Smith, Bros & Co., bankers, of Hull, and was the principal promoter of a local railway company. He was high sheriff of Hull in 1880, and a Liberal member of the House of Commons for High Wycombe in 1883-85. Smith became a Unionist and unsuccessfully contested other seats in 1885 and 1892.

In October 1895 he was appointed governor of Western Australia in succession to Sir William Robinson. Smith was appointed K.C.M.G. and arrived in Western Australia on 23 December at the beginning of the boom which saw the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie goldfield become one of the largest producers in the world. Somewhat bald, he wore an elegantly waxed moustache; his white goatee also contributed to a slight angularity of manner. His duties were mainly social and ceremonial and he was not expected to take an active part in local politics unless an umpire was required. This proved to be unnecessary, as the colony was under Sir John Forrest's firm control. However, Sir Gerard Smith annoyed the Catholic community by holding Masonic functions in Government House and laying foundation stones of public charitable institutions with Masonic rites; he was the first grand master of the Sovereign Grand Lodge in Western Australia.

Unwisely, he also invested in mining and other speculations, and was unfortunate in his choice of business partners. Sir Gerard and his co-directors were successfully sued in the Supreme Court in November 1899, for the recovery of an overdraft due to the Bank of New South Wales from the operations of a Coolgardie hotel which had gone into liquidation. The bank's branch manager had been bribed and a letter from the governor had been used to puff the company's shares. The Colonial Office was scandalized when the proceedings were published in the press and by other information about the governor's puffing of mining companies (which had already been debated in the colonial parliament). Joseph Chamberlain minuted, 'I can't have my governors booming mines'. A Coolgardie caterer had also successfully sued the governor for an unpaid refreshment bill.

Sir Gerard was invited to return home on leave as soon as possible. He left Perth on 22 May 1900, taking with him various prized mementoes, including his red morocco-covered dispatch box and a jarrah-framed photograph of himself on a camel in the garden of Government House. Smith formally resigned on 30 June. His private affairs had so undermined the confidence of the Colonial Office in its representative that he could play no part in the important current negotiations which determined the way in which Western Australia joined the Australian Federation. His advice was not taken seriously, either before or after his return to England. Hence, when Western Australia became a State in the Commonwealth of Australia, there was no vice-regal occupant of Government House, Perth.

Sir Gerard Smith had by then returned to his former commercial pursuits. He was a director of several investment trust companies and of the San Paulo Railway Co., Brazil. Predeceased by his wife, he died in London on 28 October 1920.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. S. L. Leighton-Boyce, Smiths the Bankers (Lond, 1958)
  • Historical Studies, 9, no 34, May 1960.

Citation details

F. K. Crowley, 'Smith, Sir Gerard (1839–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-sir-gerard-8468/text14891, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Birth

12 December 1839
London, England

Death

28 October 1920
London, England

Cultural Heritage
Occupation