Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Miles Staniforth Cater Smith (1869–1934)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

Miles Staniforth Cater Smith (1869-1934), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co. and Falk Studios, 1906

Miles Staniforth Cater Smith (1869-1934), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co. and Falk Studios, 1906

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23358184

Miles Staniforth Cater Smith (1869-1934), politician and administrator, was born on 25 February 1869 at Kingston, Victoria, son of William John Smith, farmer, and his wife Margaret Gomersall, née Charlesworth, both English born. For much of his life he was known publicly as Staniforth Smith. Educated at St Arnaud Grammar School, he was employed in the Melbourne office of Goldsbrough Mort & Co. Ltd and went to Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, in 1896 to open an office for Reuter's Telegram Co. Elected as a municipal councillor in 1898, he was mayor of Kalgoorlie in 1900-01. Large, handsome, sociable and confident, he was active in the Federation movement. He nominated for the first Federal Senate election in 1901 and was elected at the top of the State poll. In the Senate he sat in opposition to the Barton and Deakin governments in a bloc with his fellow Western Australians, a strong free trader and ardent advocate of the prohibition of 'coloured' immigrants. He supported J. C. Watson's Labor government in 1904.

Seeking a special niche Staniforth Smith took up the study of tropical agriculture and, after visiting New Guinea, the Federated Malay States and Java, made such a good impression in debates on the Papua Act (1906) that he was favoured by Atlee Hunt, (Sir) Joseph Cook and Watson for the position of lieutenant-governor of Papua (formerly British New Guinea), for which he advocated a 'strenuous developmental policy'. Prime Minister Deakin, who had initially hoped for the return of Sir William MacGregor, gave some encouragement to Smith's aspirations but eventually gave acting administrator (Sir) Hubert Murray the office instead. Smith, appointed in January 1907 commissioner for lands and director of mines, agriculture and works, became his deputy with a dormant commission as administrator during Murray's absence. He intrigued constantly against Murray for the next seven years and, when deputizing during his absence in 1910-11, led a grandiose expedition into the interior. Lost for some weeks and believed dead, his party was rescued at great expense and with wide publicity. He was censured for bumbling management and the loss of eleven carriers but on a visit to Britain in 1912 was fêted as an explorer. In 1923 he was awarded the patron's medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

Staniforth Smith enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in January 1916, failed to pass a short course for a commission at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and sailed in June as warrant officer with the 44th Battalion. He was commissioned in September and served as battalion intelligence officer. Wounded in June 1917, he spent the rest of the war on staff duties in Britain. In 1919 he was appointed M.B.E. and after demobilization in September was invited to act temporarily as administrator to pacify the Northern Territory after the 'Darwin Rebellion' against J. A. Gilruth. He succeeded in his mission, acting as conciliator and as defender of the powerful North Australian Industrial Union. He also implemented recommendations made by Sir Baldwin Spencer seven years earlier as a solution to Aboriginal problems, gazetting extensive reserves and increasing expenditure. He resigned in 1921 when his proposals for Northern Territory representation in the Federal parliament were rejected.

Returning to Papua in 1921 as commissioner for crown lands, mines and agriculture, Smith devoted himself entirely to his duties and was as successful as the circumstances of the Territory allowed; increasing years cooled his hostility to Murray. He retired in 1930 and settled to farming at Kulikup in the south-west of Western Australia. On 4 April 1928 at St George's Cathedral, Perth, he had married Marjorie Mary Bremer Mitchell, a niece of Sir James Mitchell; they had four children. He published several ephemeral books, declined an invitation to stand for the State parliament as a Nationalist candidate and died in Perth on 14 January 1934 of chronic nephritis, uraemia and myocarditis. He was buried with Anglican rites in the cemetery at Boyup Brook, near his home.

Select Bibliography

  • P. W. H. Thiel & Co., Twentieth Century Impressions of Western Australia (Perth, 1901)
  • J. A. La Nauze, Alfred Deakin (Melb, 1965)
  • F. West, Hubert Murray (Melb, 1968)
  • A. Powell, Far Country (Melb, 1982)
  • D. J. Mulvaney and J. H. Calaby, So Much That is New (Melb, 1985)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Apr 1934
  • Western Argus, 27 Nov 1900, 25 Apr 1905, 8 Mar 1921
  • West Australian, 15 Jan 1934
  • M. S. C. Smith papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Smith, Miles Staniforth Cater (1869–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Miles Staniforth Cater Smith (1869-1934), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co. and Falk Studios, 1906

Miles Staniforth Cater Smith (1869-1934), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co. and Falk Studios, 1906

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23358184

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Staniforth Smith, Miles

25 February, 1869
Kingston, Victoria, Australia


14 January, 1934 (aged 64)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.