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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Tom Elder Barr (1863–1941)

by R. W. Linn

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

Tom Elder Barr Smith (1863-1941), by unknown photographer, c1914

Tom Elder Barr Smith (1863-1941), by unknown photographer, c1914

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 36432

Tom Elder Barr Smith (1863-1941), pastoralist and financier, was born on 8 December 1863 at Woodville, Adelaide, eldest son of Robert Barr Smith, merchant, and his wife Joanna Lang, née Elder. He was educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter and the University of Cambridge (B.A., 1885), returning to work at Elder, Smith & Co., Adelaide. He stayed in the family firm all his life, succeeded Peter Waite as chairman in 1921, and had interests in several pastoral properties.

Barr Smith was also a director of the Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd, the South Australian Co., the Beltana Pastoral Co. Ltd, Mutooroo Pastoral Co. Ltd, Ned's Corner Proprietors, and Milo and Welford Downs Pastoral Co. Ltd. He was a council-member of the University of Adelaide from 1924, was a member and president (1910-12) of the Adelaide Club (and a member also of the Melbourne and Weld clubs) and of the Australian Round Table (1911-24). His sound business judgement, sympathy for the downtrodden and distaste for ostentation won him high repute in Adelaide, although by comparison with his forbears, 'his work was less spectacular'. Barr Smith loved horses. His dash, fast riding and accurate hitting made him one of Australia's best polo players; he rode to hounds, and was president of the Adelaide Hunt Club; a committee-member of the South Australian Jockey Club, he raced several winning horses. He was also president (c.1908) of the Pastoralists' Association of South Australia.

He continued the philanthropic tradition of his father and his uncle, Sir Thomas Elder. In 1920 he and others of his family gave £11,000 to endow the University of Adelaide's library, following later with £20,000 for the erection of the Barr Smith library—a fine Georgian building designed by Walter Bagot. In 1929 the gift was increased by £10,000. An Anglican, he assisted the founding of St Mark's College at the university.

A handsome, robust man, with a fine waxed moustache, Barr Smith had married Mary (Molly) Isobel Mitchell, from Ayrshire, Scotland, in St Andrews Anglican Church, Walkerville, on 5 May 1886. They established themselves in the family mansion, Birksgate, Glen Osmond, raised four daughters and two sons, and frequently travelled abroad. Molly Barr Smith was appointed C.B.E. in 1918 for war services and was very active in work for charity. She died in 1941, leaving her husband desolate; he died on 26 November and was buried in Mitcham cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £682,684 and the great bulk was left to his descendants. His portrait by W. B. McInnes was presented to the Adelaide Club in 1935. His son (Sir) Tom Elder Barr (1904-68) maintained his family's interests and traditions.

Select Bibliography

  • [A. G. Price and J. H. Hammond] Elder, Smith & Co. Limited. The First Hundred Years (Adel, 1939)
  • E. J. R. Morgan, The Adelaide Club 1863-1963 (Adel, 1963)
  • M. I. Legoe, A Family Affair (Adel, 1982)
  • Pastoralists' Review, 15 Feb 1908
  • PRGSSA, 43, Dec 1942, p 90
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 Nov 1941
  • Bulletin, 6 Mar 1979.

Citation details

R. W. Linn, 'Smith, Tom Elder Barr (1863–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 30 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Tom Elder Barr Smith (1863-1941), by unknown photographer, c1914

Tom Elder Barr Smith (1863-1941), by unknown photographer, c1914

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 36432