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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Sir Tom Elder Barr (1904–1968)

by Martin Shanahan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Sir Tom Elder Barr Smith (1904-1968), pastoralist and company director, was born on 28 April 1904 at Glen Osmond, Adelaide, fifth of six children of Tom Elder Barr Smith, a South Australian-born pastoralist, and his wife Mary Isobel, née Mitchell, who came from Scotland. His grandfather was Robert Barr Smith; his great-uncle was Sir Thomas Elder. The dynasty into which young Tom was born shaped both his education and subsequent career. He was sent to Queen's School, Adelaide, then to Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Victoria, and in 1924 to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He did not graduate. Having undertaken a business course in the United States of America, he returned to South Australia and became involved in the family's pastoral and financial concerns.

Commissioned lieutenant, Australian Field Artillery, Militia, in 1930, Barr Smith (as he styled his surname) was made honorary captain while serving (1931-33) as aide-de-camp to Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven, governor of South Australia. On 3 March 1936 at St John's Church of England, Toorak, Melbourne, he married Nancy Leland Greene (d.1960). They lived in the family mansion, Birksgate, at Glen Osmond and were to have four children. Following his father's death in 1941, he became chairman of several family firms, among them the Mutooroo, Beltana and Milo pastoral companies, Lake Victoria Proprietors, Auchendarroch Pty Ltd and Mundabullangana Ltd.

Barr Smith was a board-member (from 1941) of Elder, Smith & Co. Ltd. After it merged (1962) with Goldsbrough Mort & Co. Ltd, he continued as a director until 1968. At various stages he chaired Cellulose Australia Ltd, Elder's Trustee & Executor Co. Ltd and the Stockowners' Cooperative Shearing Co. Ltd, and sat on the Adelaide board of the Commercial Union Assurance Co. of Australasia Ltd. He was also deputy-chairman (1960-68) of the Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd and a director (1960-68) of Lensworth Finance Ltd.

A member (1944-49) of the Adelaide City Council, Barr Smith served (1945-56) on the committee of the South Australian division of the Australian Red Cross Society, presided over Toc H and chaired the livestock section of the Food for Britain appeal. He was a member (from 1922) and benefactor of the Adelaide Club, and sometime president of the Queen's School Old Boys' Association. Keen on sport, he sat (1942-54) on the committee of the South Australian Jockey Club, belonged to the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron, and enjoyed playing golf. A friendly and generous man, he was noted for his philanthropy, much of which went undisclosed. He endowed the University of Adelaide with a scholarship (1953), in memory of his father, to study agriculture at the University of Cambridge, and with a cancer-research scholarship (1962), named after his wife. In 1959 he was knighted.

From 1948 Barr Smith had been consul for Sweden in South Australia. In 1960 he was appointed to the Royal Order of Vasa. Suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, he died of emphysema on 5 March 1968 at Victor Harbor and was cremated. Sir Tom's son and three daughters survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at $1,410,560.

Select Bibliography

  • M. I. Legoe, A Family Affair (Adel, 1982)
  • Pastoral Review, 18 Apr 1968
  • Bulletin, 6 Mar 1979.

Citation details

Martin Shanahan, 'Smith, Sir Tom Elder Barr (1904–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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