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Helen Macpherson Schutt (1874–1951)

by Jane Sandilands

This article was published:

Helen Macpherson Schutt (1874–1951), philanthropist, was born on 17 April 1874 at Darnick, Melrose, Roxburgh, Scotland, only child of Robert Smith, a Scottish-born timber merchant from Melbourne, and his Australian-born wife Jane Priscilla, née Macpherson. Jane's father, the Scottish-born pastoralist John, father of J. A. MacPherson, was an early landholder in Limestone Plains (Canberra) with large holdings in Victoria's Western District. Helen's paternal grandfather John Smith was an architect, sculptor and builder at Darnick, best known for his work on the writer Sir Walter Scott's home, Abbotsford. Her father and six of his brothers came to Australia in the 1850s, establishing themselves in timber businesses in Melbourne and at Ballarat, as well as in Hobart and Sydney, and in property dealing.

Brought to Melbourne in September 1874, Helen lived at Fitzroy with her parents until she was 7, when she accompanied them on their travels in Australia, Britain and Europe. Educated partly at boarding schools in Scotland, and for two years in Hanover, Germany, in 1889 she returned to Melbourne, where she attended Presbyterian Ladies' College as a day girl for one year, taking 'Music from the best master, German, Elocution and Dancing'.

On 11 December 1901 at Toorak Presbyterian Church Helen married William John Schutt, a barrister. A glittering occasion, the wedding was widely reported in the press. The couple lived at Toorak in a villa that was a wedding gift from Helen's parents. William became a Supreme Court judge in 1919. Beautiful and elegant—a passport photograph showed a fine-boned, slender woman with a direct gaze—Helen supported a number of charitable causes, including the missions to seamen, the Royal District Nursing Service and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. On 24 December 1923 the Schutts left Melbourne. William disembarked in Colombo while Helen went on to London. She never returned to Australia. Although he lived in Melbourne, from 1924 to his death (at sea) in 1933, William occasionally travelled with Helen in England and Europe, their presence noted in the social pages of the British Australasian.

After 1933 Helen sent, from Europe, occasional postcards, paid the school fees of young family members in Australia and apparently divided her time between the south of France and Switzerland. On 19 April 1951, while staying at the Hotel Majestic at Cannes, France, she died of pneumonia. She was childless. For reasons so far unexplained, she was buried in a pauper's grave at Marseilles. Her body was later exhumed and her remains cremated.

From an estate sworn for probate at £406,121, Helen Schutt left some £275,000 to establish a perpetual charitable trust for the benefit of Victorians, originally known as the Helen M. Schutt Trust. In 2001, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of her benefaction and the contribution made by both the Macphersons and the Smiths, the name was changed to the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and an obelisk was erected at the Melbourne general cemetery to honour her memory. By June 2004, $50 million had been given to Victorian charitable institutions.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Sandilands, Helen Macpherson Schutt, Philanthropist, 17 April 1874-19 April 1951 (Melb, 2001)
  • Helen Macpherson Smith Trust records (Melbourne).

Citation details

Jane Sandilands, 'Schutt, Helen Macpherson (1874–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Smith, Helen

17 April, 1874
Melrose, Scottish Borders, Scotland


19 April, 1951 (aged 77)
Cannes, France

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