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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Thomas Jollie (1858–1927)

by Ian Breward

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Thomas Jollie Smith (1858-1927), Presbyterian minister, was born on 27 March 1858 at Innellan, Argyll, Scotland, son of Rev. Alexander Campbell Smith and his wife Christina, née Jollie. The family came to Queensland in 1863 and then moved to Victoria in 1868. Smith was educated at Scotch College from 1870, matriculating at the University of Melbourne in 1874, although he did not enrol until 1877. His academic career was brilliant; he graduated (B.A., 1881; M.A., 1883) with first-class honours and the scholarship in language and logic. On 24 August 1882 he married Jessie Ochiltree McLennan at Toorak Presbyterian Church. Tutor and lecturer at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, from 1880 to 1890, in 1886 he was the founding principal of Trinity College Hostel for women. He studied at the Theological Hall, Ormond College, University of Melbourne, in 1887-88. In 1890 he was called to the charge of Naracoorte, South Australia, where he had an outstanding ministry until 1903. He wrote and lectured in addition to his pastoral work and in 1893 gained some notoriety for a trenchant critique of teetotalism.

Following the sudden death of his brother A. Campbell Smith, professor of Old Testament studies at Ormond College, Jollie Smith filled in as lecturer in Hebrew during 1904 before becoming minister of Ewing Memorial Church, East Malvern (1905-22). He consolidated his reputation as a pithy and substantial preacher, an energetic member of committees of the Presbyterian General Assembly and an educator. During his ministry a fine new church was erected. His interest in the education of women continued in his role as director of studies and lecturer in apologetics at the Deaconess' Training Institute in 1911-21. In addition he lectured part-time in logic at the university in 1911-21. Contemplating work among the Japanese in Korea he mastered the language to such effect that he pioneered the teaching of Japanese at the university in 1919-21.

A voracious and retentive reader, Smith was an erudite literary critic and plain-speaking leader-writer for the Argus and the Australasian from 1907. He also published several theological books and pamphlets. Professor Rentoul believed that his writing did much to ensure a more serious hearing for the Christian message than in earlier decades.

In 1922 the General Assembly appointed Jollie Smith to the chair of Hebrew and Old Testament studies at the Theological Hall, Ormond College. His inaugural lecture, which was very damaging for its critique of misapplied biblical criticism, pleased the aged Dr W. H. Fitchett and the Bible Union, but, like his friend and mentor Rentoul, he was not so much a fundamentalist as an enemy of modernist assumptions. Independent and incisive, he helped to give the Presbyterian Church its high standing in Victoria. After falling ill in April 1927, he died at Ormond College on 8 September and was buried in Brighton cemetery. His wife and his daughter Christian Jollie Smith survived him. Robert Neil Smith, professor of mining engineering at the University of Tasmania, was a younger brother.

Select Bibliography

  • History of Scotch College, Melbourne, 1851-1925 (Melb, 1926)
  • Presbyterian Messenger, 16 Sept 1927, p 48, 52
  • Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Proceedings of General Assembly, 1927, p 38
  • Theological Students' Society, Minutes, 1924-27 (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Theological Hall papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Ormond College papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Council of University of Melbourne, minute book, vol 15, p 415, vol 18, p 167, 185, 197, 328, 383, 392 (Central Registry, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

Ian Breward, 'Smith, Thomas Jollie (1858–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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