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Sir Edwin Thomas Smith (1830–1919)

by Helen R. Pearce

This article was published:

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Edwin Thomas Smith (1830-1919), by Weste & Co.

Edwin Thomas Smith (1830-1919), by Weste & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5564

Sir Edwin Thomas Smith (1830-1919), brewer, philanthropist and politician, was born on 6 April 1830 at Walsall, Staffordshire, England, son of Edwin Smith. Educated at Queen Mary's School, Walsall, his early training was with an uncle who had business connexions with Australia. In 1853 he migrated to South Australia in the California, and on 25 June 1857 married Florence (d.1862), daughter of Robert Stock of Clifton, England. After a few years in Adelaide as an importer, in 1860 he went into partnership with Edward Logue of the Old Kent Brewery. When Logue died in 1862 Smith successfully continued the business.

He was mayor of Kensington and Norwood in 1867-70 and 1871-73. In this time the roads were metalled, bridges were built, gas and water-mains laid and new streets formed. Later Smith gave £2000 to secure the freehold of the Norwood Oval for the municipality and also donated the clock for the Norwood Town Hall. On 11 November 1869 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Spicer, a well-to-do Adelaide merchant.

In 1875 Smith moved his business to the Kent Town Brewery, built at a cost of £17,000. In 1879-81 and 1886-87 as mayor of Adelaide he worked energetically to bring the city up to the best modern standards. The squares were enclosed with iron railings in place of dilapidated wooden fences; Victoria Square was beautified and in 1894 received his gift of the bronze statue of Queen Victoria. The Torrens River was converted into a lake, while Rotunda Lawn (Elder Park) and Victoria Drive were formed. City streets were asphalted, gas-lighting replaced kerosene lamps, deep drainage was laid and public baths were opened. He had trees planted in the Park Lands and also actively promoted the horse-drawn tramway system. As vice-president of the organizing committee and by raising large personal guarantees after the government had abandoned the project, he was mainly responsible for the success of the Jubilee International Exhibition of 1887-88. For this and his other services to the colony he was made K.C.M.G. in 1888.

In 1871-93 Smith represented East Torrens in the House of Assembly. Believing he could best serve his electors as an independent member, he served only one short term in the ministry, as minister of education in 1884. Popular because of his efficient interest in people and Adelaide, he never lost an election. His down-to-earth common sense, application, zeal and reliability were the basis of his parliamentary career rather than great erudition and oratory. In 1888 he retired from business and in 1894-1902 was a member of the Legislative Council for the Southern Districts. He made several visits to England, the last in 1913.

Smith was a trustee of the Savings Bank of South Australia, a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and a patron of the Commercial Travellers' and Warehousemen's Association. He was also vice-president of the South Australian Horticultural and Floricultural Society and chairman of the National Park Commission. Once a crack rifle shot, he was closely associated with many recreational organizations, including the cricket, football and chess associations, and the League of South Australian Wheelmen.

Smith was a prominent Freemason and in 1917 the Faith Lodge presented him with an illuminated address to congratulate him on attaining his Masonic jubilee. A Congregationalist, his main association was with Clayton Church, Norwood, which he supported and where he was a devout worshipper. A freeman of his native Walsall, he had donated generously to its hospital, school and other institutions. After some years of poor health the 'Grand Old Man' of South Australia died of a cerebral haemorrhage on Christmas Day 1919 at his home in Marryatville, Adelaide, survived by a son and a daughter of his first marriage. He was buried in the grounds of the Clayton Church. His estate was sworn for probate at £183,000 and £45,834 in Victoria. In his will he left £18,000 to nearly forty South Australian institutions and charities, including the Blind and Deaf and Dumb Institution, of which he had been president, and Adelaide Children's Hospital. There are portraits of Smith in the Adelaide Town Hall, the Norwood Town Hall and the Commercial Travellers' Association. The Sir Edwin Smith grandstand at Adelaide Oval was named in his honour in 1922. The name was retained when a new stand was built as part of the oval’s extensive redevelopment in 2011-2014.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1864, 2 (213)
  • Australian Brewers' Journal, 20 Jan 1893
  • Bulletin, 9 Sept 1882, 5 Nov 1903
  • Observer (Adelaide), 17 Jan 1903
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 Dec 1919
  • Mail (Adelaide), 27 Dec 1919
  • Register (Adelaide), 27 Dec 1919
  • H. R. Pearce, Economic Development of Brewing in South Australia in the Nineteenth Century (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Adelaide, 1957).

Citation details

Helen R. Pearce, 'Smith, Sir Edwin Thomas (1830–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edwin Thomas Smith (1830-1919), by Weste & Co.

Edwin Thomas Smith (1830-1919), by Weste & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5564

Life Summary [details]


6 April, 1830
Walsall, Staffordshire, England


25 December, 1919 (aged 89)
Marryatville, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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