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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Thomas (1829–1882)

by Ruth Teale

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

Thomas Smith (1829-1882), Anglican clergyman, was born on 21 December 1829 at Leominster, Herefordshire, England, son of William Smith, wool-buyer, and his wife Ann, née Cartwright. About 1854, after little education and a drunken and dissolute youth, he underwent a religious conversion and became a missioner of the Colonial and Continental Church Society. Recommended to Bishop Barker he arrived in Sydney on the Shaftesbury in November 1857. In December 1857 Barker licensed him as catechist at Providence Chapel, a rented shack at Blackwattle Swamp, one of the roughest areas of Sydney. On 19 December 1858 he was made deacon and was priested in June 1861. He built St Barnabas's Church, a parsonage known as 'Parson Smith's farm', and schoolrooms for a thriving denominational day school. In 1869 he claimed a congregation of 1200 and a Sunday school of 1000 pupils with 73 teachers. After preaching in England and Ireland in 1869-70, he lifted the parish debt and in 1872 was elected a canon of St Andrew's Cathedral.

Smith ignored 'the barriers which always encompass ministers of the Church of England' and preached 'like a man burning with iconoclastic zeal for the welfare of his fellow men'. In 1875 he claimed to have inspired twelve men to enter Anglican orders; but many clergy scorned this untrained 'interloper'. He supported the Sydney Female Refuge Society, the Sydney Ragged schools, the local Young Men's Christian Association and the Working Men's Book Society.

In February 1873, at the invitation of Bishop Marsden, Smith became incumbent and canon of All Saints' Cathedral, Bathurst, and soon founded All Saints' College for boys. Next year he began extensions to the cathedral and in August 1875 opened St Barnabas's Church for the railwaymen in South Bathurst. As secretary of the diocesan Church Society, in five years he doubled its income and travelled widely.

In July 1879 Archbishop Vaughan's anti-public schools pastoral prompted Smith to close the Anglican school, already decimated by the opening of a public school, and to preach before his bishop and an overflow congregation a bitter anti-Catholic sermon that was repeated many times and published in Sydney. At the provincial synod in October the Bathurst delegates opposed the denominational system. Consequent accusations from outside Bathurst that Smith had ruined the Church Society and misappropriated funds, caused him to leave in December for England. After commending New South Wales to British emigrants, he returned in February 1882. Barker debarred him from the Sydney diocese, and a meeting of the Bathurst clergy in Grenfell backed Marsden's repudiation of him. James Rutherford accused Marsden of provoking a schism, but Smith accepted a testimonial and retired to Sydney where he died on 12 August of cirrhosis and was buried in Balmain cemetery. He was survived by his wife Maria Sarah, née Spooner, whom he had married in Worcester in 1851, four sons and five daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £3266. An obelisk to his memory was erected at St Barnabas's Church, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • W. H. Mitchell, Sketch of the Life & Ministry of the Rev. Thomas Smith (Syd, 1873)
  • G. S. Oakes, Jubilee of the Diocese of Bathurst 1870-1920 (Bathurst, 1920)
  • W. A. Steel and C. W. Sloman, The History of All Saints' College, Bathurst 1873-1934 (Syd, 1936)
  • Australian Churchman (Sydney), 17 July 1861
  • Town and Country Journal, 13 Aug 1870
  • Bathurst Times, 28 Aug 1875, 30 July 1879, 4, 9 Feb, 6 Mar 1882
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Aug 1882
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 2 Sept 1882
  • Bishop Barker journals (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Smith, Thomas (1829–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 1 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

View the front pages for Volume 6

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