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Smith, Sydney (1856–1934)

by Martha Rutledge and G. P. Walsh

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

This is a shared entry with Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith (1856-1934), by unknown photographer, 1900s

Sydney Smith (1856-1934), by unknown photographer, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23378452

Sydney Smith (1856-1934), politician and auctioneer, and Sydney (1880-1972), public servant and cricket administrator, were father and son. Smith senior was born on 11 April 1856 at Colyton near Penrith, New South Wales, seventh child of English parents Thomas Smith (d.1896), publican and later orchardist, and his wife Jane, née Laimbeer. Educated at National and public schools, he joined the railways branch of the Department of Public Works in March 1870 and by next February was junior clerk at Penrith. He worked as a porter, learned telegraphy and by 1877 was a stationmaster. When he resigned in 1880 he was chief clerk and assistant traffic manager.

At St Stephen's Anglican Church, Penrith, Smith married Sarah Jane Hockey (d.1907) on 25 January 1879. Next year he joined his brother Thomas Richard (Protectionist member of the Legislative Assembly for Nepean in 1877-87, 1895-98, 1901-04), in a Sydney-based auctioneering and land agency business. From 1888 he conducted his own business, Sydney Smith & Co., auctioneer and land agent, and also acquired grazing interests.

Elected to the assembly as a free trader in 1882 for East Macquarie, Smith held the seat until 1894 when he won Bathurst. He was also an alderman on Leichhardt Municipal Council (1886-92) and mayor in 1888-89. He served in Parkes's last ministry as secretary for mines from 8 March 1889 to 22 October 1891. He carried the Mining Act of 1889 and took great interest in agricultural training and experiment farms and from 28 February 1890 was also first secretary for agriculture. He chose H. C. L. Anderson to run his new department, and helped to establish Hawkesbury Agricultural College and an experiment farm at Wagga Wagga.

Resuming his former portfolios from June 1894 under (Sir) George Reid, Smith introduced the Coal Mines Regulation (1896), Mining Laws Amendment (1896), Water Rights (1896) and Artesian Wells (1897) Acts and also originated the miners' provident fund. Although proclaiming himself in favour of Federation, he followed Reid in objecting to the Constitution bill itself and was defeated in the elections of July 1898. In September he challenged (Sir) Edmund Barton in the by-election for the Hastings and Macleay. In an abusive but unsuccessful campaign he was assisted by the secretary for lands J. H. Young, who was cleared by a royal commission of Barton's allegations that he had bought votes for Smith. Gazetted 'Honourable' in 1899, Smith returned to the assembly for Canterbury in 1900, but was unseated.

Tall, spare and bearded, he was elected to the House of Representatives for Macquarie in March 1901. He was Opposition whip in the first parliament. According to R. A. Crouch, Smith helped to engineer the Reid-McLean coalition of 1904-05—he was rewarded with the postmaster-generalship. Although Smith was an able administrator, loyal to his public servants, he was 'inclined to be fussy' and 'to surround trivialities with a veil of secrecy'. He served on royal commissions on old-age pensions (1905-06) and the ocean shipping service (1906).

Defeated in 1906, Smith retired to his inherited estate, Thornton Hall, at Penrith. During World War I he lived in Sydney. His youngest son was killed at Gallipoli: Smith was president of the Sailors' and Soldiers' Fathers' Association (1923-28). A teetotaller and non-smoker, he was genial, earnest and energetic, with 'good judgement and a tenacious memory'.

Smith died at Croydon on 21 February 1934 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. His second wife Annie Marion, née Shand, a nurse whom he had married at Stanmore on 13 January 1930, and three sons and two daughters of his first marriage survived him. One of that first generation of native-born which contributed much to colonial New South Wales, he had a 'deep vein of hero-worship': neither Parkes nor Reid 'had a more consistently faithful henchman'.

His eldest son Sydney was born on 1 March 1880 at Surry Hills and was educated at Annandale and Bathurst Public schools and at Hawkesbury Agricultural College. He worked as a bookkeeper on J. S. Horsfall's Widgiewa station in the Riverina and after being rejected as medically unfit for service in the South African War, joined the New South Wales public service in February 1902. In June 1912 he was promoted clerk in the stock and brands branch of the Department of Agriculture at a salary of £300 and on 30 December next year at St Philip's, Church Hill, married Minnie Violet Crossman (d.1969), a nurse. Chief clerk from 1919, he was secretary of the stock and brands branch, registrar of brands and of the board of veterinary surgeons in 1921-34, then chairman of the Local Land Boards under the Western Lands Act of 1901. He retired in 1944.

Smith played grade cricket for Petersham and Gordon from 1901 to 1926, but he is best remembered as a dedicated cricket administrator. He was honorary secretary of the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket in the formative years 1911-26, and honorary treasurer in 1911-22. He managed the highly successful Australian tour of England and South Africa in 1921, and the tour of England in 1926; on both occasions he represented Australia at the Imperial Cricket Conference. He published With the 15th Australian XI (1922). A member of the executive from 1907, Smith was president of the New South Wales Cricket Association from 1935 to 1966, during which years New South Wales won the Sheffield Shield sixteen times out of twenty-five. In 1946 he published History of the Tests. However, some critics regretted that he 'had become identified with a somewhat repressive period in cricket control'.

Of Smith's numerous honorary jobs, about twenty concerned cricket and tennis. At various times he was on the executive committee of the Citizens' War Chest Fund, alderman (1917-20) and deputy mayor (1918) of Willoughby Municipal Council, in World War II honorary secretary of the Sailors', Soldiers' & Airmen's Fathers' Association and the Australian Prisoners of War Relatives' Association (his only son Lieutenant Sydney Smith was a prisoner in Germany), president of the Cricketers' Club of New South Wales and of the New South Wales Public Service Cricket Association, and a trustee of Sydney Cricket Ground. Appointed O.B.E. in 1937 and C.B.E. in 1956, he was an honorary life member of the Australian Board of Cricket Control and of several other cricketing bodies.

A teetotaller and non-smoker like his father, Smith was a good mixer and highly efficient organizer. He revered Victor Trumper as the greatest batsman he had seen, and regarded the atmosphere generated by a Sydney crowd at a Test match as unmatched anywhere in the world.

Syd Smith, doyen of cricket administrators for sixty years, died on 11 April 1972 in Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, survived by his son and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Our Present Parliament (Syd, 1886?)
  • J. Pollard, Australian Cricket (Syd, 1982)
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1898, 1, 2S, p 617
  • Town and Country Journal, 16 Mar 1889, 19 July 1890
  • Punch (Melbourne), 19 Jan 1905, 7 Jan 1914, 15 Jan 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Oct 1918, 28 May 1921, 26 Sept 1923, 7 Jan, 4, 5 Feb, 16, 17, 31 July 1926, 8 Jan 1927, 22 Mar 1928, 27 June, 11, 25 July, 2, 16 Aug 1930, 22, 23 Feb, 18, 23 Aug 1934, 11 May 1937, 5 July 1966, 13 Apr 1972, 9 Apr 1978
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 25 Sept 1943
  • Edmund Barton papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Crouch memoirs (State Library of Victoria)
  • Henry Parkes correspondence (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Smith papers, 1915-42 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge and G. P. Walsh, 'Smith, Sydney (1856–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-sydney-8484/text14923, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 28 November 2014.

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

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