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Barr Smith Family
Papers 1891-1982

MSS 0170

Biographical Note

Robert Barr Smith (1824-1915) was born in Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire, Scotland, and emigrated to Victoria in 1854. By 1855 he had relocated to Adelaide, South Australia, and became a partner in the business Elder & Co. In 1856 Robert Barr Smith married Thomas Elder's sister Joanna and by 1863 he and Thomas Elder were the only two partners in Elder Smith and Co., a highly successful business that included mining, pastoral leases and steamships in its portfolio.

Thomas Elder (1818-1897) emigrated from Scotland to South Australia in 1854 to jointly manage with his brother George the family firm founded in1840 by their elder brother Alexander.

Robert Barr Smith and Sir Thomas Elder were renowned for their philanthropy, donating generous sums to a wide array of organisations. The University of Adelaide was particularly well-served, receiving amongst other donations £9000 toward the establishment of its library. His son, Thomas Elder Barr Smith (1863-1941), together with other family members, donated £11,000 towards the endowment of the Barr Smith Library. An additional donation of £20,000 in 1928 was made to enable the erection of the new library building which is now known as the Barr Smith Reading Room.

Sir Thomas Elder's initial gift of £20,000 in 1874 was used to endow Chairs of Mathematics and Natural Science, while further gift in 1883 established the Elder Professorship of Music. The University of Adelaide was the largest beneficiary of Elder's estate, enabling the building of Elder Hall and the establishment of the Elder Conservatorium of Music .

Upholding the tradition, Christine MacGregor, Robert Barr Smith’s granddaughter, bequeathed over four and a half thousand books to the Barr Smith Library, around five hundred of which are now housed in Rare Books & Special Collections.

This collection includes photographs, family correspondence, and letters relating to the donation of money for the construction of the Reading Room. Miscellaneous items include a handwritten copy of a short story written by [Marjorie] Erlistoun Mitchell, the daughter of Robert and Joanna.

Robert Barr Smith’s Letterbooks and Commonplace books (labelled 0, I and III), and the silver trowel used by Mary Isabel Barr Smith to lay the foundation stone of The Barr Smith Library were donated to the Library by Tom Elder in June 2012.

Commonplace book, labelled II on the cover, was acquired with Friends of the Library assistance from Michael Treloar Antiquarian Booksellers in 2017.

An Australian Birthday Book, printed privately for the daughters of Robert and Joanna Barr Smith (1883) and Illustrated with photographs of the daughters of Robert Barr Smith as the seasons, the Barr Smith family homes, and views of Adelaide, has been catalogued separately at Strong Room 929.2099423 B268a

Part of this collection was formerly catalogued at MSS 929.2099423 B268p


Contents Listing

Series 1. Letters, etc.

1.1 Group of 10 letters from Mrs Joanna Hawker to her niece, Joanna Thomson (later Simpson), affectionately written as being from a cat. With an unsigned accompanying note from Mr. Ira Raymond, University of Adelaide Librarian, 1964-1982

1.2 Poem ‘Love of Ram Busti and Damayanti’: written in two parts as ‘Lament of Ram Busti’ (Joanna Barr Smith) and ‘Damayanti’s Reply’ (Erlistoun Barr Smith). With an accompanying note from Mr. Raymond: Gift of Mrs. J R Thomson (Erlistoun’s daughter, Joanna) is thought to have been transcribed by Mrs. Mollie Legoe. Ram Busti was Joanna Hawker (nee Barr Smith), and Damayanti was her sister, [Marjorie] Erlistoun Barr Smith

1.3 Letter from Erlistoun Barr Smith to Joanna Hawker (nee Barr Smith) which includes a mention of Erlistoun’s engagement to William Mitchell [ca 1897: see accompanying note from Mr. Raymond]

1.4 Four line fragment of a letter from Robert Barr Smith which mentions Erlistoun and her two children, Mark and Nan (Joanna Thomson), with an explanatory note by Ira Raymond

1.5 Carbon copy of a typescript letter from Ira Raymond to Mrs. J. R. Thomson acknowledging receipt of the above items, 9th March, 1982

1.6 Letters regarding the gift of £20,000 by Tom Elder Barr Smith, son of Robert Barr Smith, in 1927

  • letter 13th January 1927 from T.E. Barr Smith to the Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, Sir George Murray, donating £20,000 for ‘... the erection of a building to house the University Library established by my late father...’ (photocopy)
  • letter of thanks from the Chancellor, 14th January 1927 (photocopy)
  • letter from the Chancellor to T.E. Barr Smith regarding the acceptance ‘... and most grateful thanks of the council....’ for the gift of £20,000, 24th January 1927 (photocopy)
  • extract from University letter books on receipt of T.E. Barr Smith’s offer, 13 January 1927 (photocopy)

1.7 Notes regarding Mrs. Christine Margaret Macgregor, the second daughter of Tom Elder Barr Smith

Series 2. Photographs

2.1 Robert Barr Smith. Oval portrait, in mount 23 x 30.5 cm

2.2 Christine Margaret Macgregor (nee Barr Smith)

  • 1891, on her 1st Birthday, 7.5 x 11 cm
  • In the garden of Wairoa during World War I, with her dog Sturdee, 13.5 x 10.5 cm. Also the 1983 exchange of letters between Margy Burn and Molly Legoe to confirm that this is a photograph of Christine Macgregor
  • In formal ball gown with shawl ca 1910 19 x 14 cm, on mount 31 x 21 cm. (Donated by Jon Goldney, March 2020)
  • Portrait 20.5 x 24.5 cm, plus copies 9 x 7.5 cm
  • Portrait 23 x 17.5 cm, plus copies 12 x 8 cm. and 7.5 x 5 cm
  • In the garden with her dog, 25.5 cm and copies 23 x 17.5 cm

2.3 Tom Elder Barr Smith 14.5 x 10 cm, on mount 29 x 18 cm

2.4 Group photograph November 1901, 11.5 x 8.5 cm, with identification note from Mrs. Thomson. (* noted as missing 24 April 1998)

2.5 Robert and Joanna Barr Smith at Auchendarroch, Mt. Barker (original in the South Australian Archives)

2.6 George Barr Smith (copy of the original held in private hands)

2.7 Robert Barr Smith in his study

Photographs of Marjorie Erlistoun Mitchell (nee Barr Smith) are held with the Papers of Sir William Mitchel MSS0033 Series 3

Series 3. Manuscript

'Unto the third and fourth generation', 36 p. (holograph manuscript of a story by [Marjorie] Erlistoun Mitchell (nee Barr Smith), with an accompanying note from Mr. Ira Raymond)

Series 4. References

Bibliography of references to the Barr Smith Family in print sources in the Barr Smith Library, compiled in January 1983 by Mary Howie.

Series 5. Articles

5.1 Rait, Noel. 'Grand old theatre stages a comeback', Woman’s Day, 12 October 1982, p. 68, 70, 71

5.2 Rait, Noel. 'Facelift for a century-old theatre', Vogue Living, April-May 1982, p.22, 27, 30

5.3 Martin, Vivienne. ‘Robert Barr Smith’ in Mostly Mount Barker in South Australia: aspects of the early history of the district, including Blakiston. Adelaide, [S. Aust.]: V.S. Martin, 1982, p. 48-50

Series 6. Robert Barr Smith Letterbooks

Letter book titled on spine: R.B.S. (= Robert Barr Smith) private. 29x23 cm
Contains copies of ms letters 19 March 1900 to 25 December 1901. With ms alphabetical index of correspondents. 25 December 1901 -19 March 1904

Letter book. 29x23 cm. (in ms on spine 1899?-1907)
Contains copies of ms letters 4 April 1904 to March 1907. With ms alphabetical index of correspondents.

Letter book 10 March 1907 to 20 May 1915.
Contains copies and typewritten copies of letters. Includes

  • many requests and granting of donations
  • ordering of wine for his own and family use, lists of plants to be ordered or distributed
  • ‘cables’ sent
  • 1914 correspondence concerns pending divorce of Joe and ???
  • later part includes typed instructions re dealing with correspondence

Other letterbooks are held by the State Library of SA

Series 7. Robert Barr Smith Commonplace Books 33x22 cm

Commonplace books labelled 0, I and III were donated to the Library by Tom Elder in June 2012. The previously missing Commonplace book, labelled II on its cover, was acquired with Friends of the Library assistance from Michael Treloar Antiquarian Booksellers in 2017.

Labelled ‘0’ on cover. Ca 1871-1909
Contains newspaper cuttings and ms comments on Barr Smith properties, stock, land leases, property development and maintenance, current events and personages (including wills and obituaries), and financial matters, loosely arranged alphabetically eg.

  • Contents of wine cellar Angas St June 1903
  • Lists of presents and birthdays
  • Comments on Eucla country
  • Gifts of Sir Thomas Elder to Adelaide University and ‘Requests by Sir Thomas Elder for public purposes’
  • 1889 Killiechassie shooting lets
  • Shareholders of Moomba Pastoral Co.
  • Ostrich farming
  • Orange account for Torrens park March 1904
  • Ownership of rams on Barr Smith runs January 1905
  • Salaries paid 1868-1871
  • List of ships and returns
  • Stations highest & lowest wool clips 1888-1895

Labelled ‘I’ on cover. Ca 1874-1906
As above, eg.

  • Adelaide Racing Club balance sheet 1901
  • G.F. Angas’ will
  • RG Burnett payments for theatre (at Torrens Park?)
  • Champagne orders for Torrens Park
  • Effects of drought on station
  • Foals bred by Robert Barr Smith
  • Fowlers Bay stock & assets etc
  • Fowlers Bay Yalata station rainfall over 20 years
  • Photographs of Lochwerin(?) ‘my native village’ including the house in which R.B.S. was born and the house his mother died in 1881
  • Horses owned 1882
  • Hunt Club attendees
  • Insurances 1902
  • His ascent of Mt Kosciusko
  • Luggage for trip to England 1885
  • Ned’s Corner fencing
  • Rainfall figures for Charleville 1881-1900
  • Servants 1884
  • Torrens Park theatre costs
  • Vines ordered for Torrens Park
  • Voyage to England 1883, with list of glass wares bought at Venice
  • Water closets at Torrens Park

Labelled ‘II’ on cover. Ca 1874 - 1909

Comprised of loose inserts, mounted letters, notes and newspaper cuttings, as above, arranged alphabetically eg.

  • Cultivation instructions on apples and pears  
  • Sheep, cattle, horse inventory and sales
  • Division of Aldgate Land
  • Discusses Sir Henry Ayers’ Will and division of estates and effects
  • Government bonds held by Robert Barr Smith
  • Value of mines, 1890-1892
  • Memo for the Directors of the Beltana Pastoral Co. Ltd. Leases, and correspondence on the Beltana and Mutooroo companies’ holdings
  • Contents of the Torrens Park cellar in 1888
  • List of cattle to sell and keep in 1891
  • Chinese imports of cotton, opium, silver, tea, silk, bamboos, china porcelain, wool, beeswax, etc., from 1880-1892
  • Birth and death dates of Robert and Joanna Barr Smith’s 13 children. 
  • Bank deposits to Bank of Adelaide, Bank of NSW and Bank of Australia. Including deposits for his surviving children 
  • Diamond washing instructions
  • Obituary of Sir Charles Duffy, the late John Darling, Mr W. H. Duncan
  • List of game killed from 11 August- 28th October, 1903
  • Balance sheet of Duffield & Co, 1882-1887
  • Details of George Elder’s Will, 1897, including legacies, residuary legacy and trustees.
  • A letter from Thomas Elder about the exceptional service of Piez Mohamed and his charge of the Afghans and camels
  • Instructions and schematic on how to distribute gas through the house
  • Hunt Club attendees, June 6th 1891
  • List of shareholders of John Hill & Co Limited
  • A letter to Mr Ingleby discussing the change of name of Mt Kosciusko
  • Mutooroo station balance sheet, 1896-97
  • Torrens Park orange sales, 1900-1901
  • Instructions for polishing parquet floors
  • List of marriages
  • A letter about the children of the late Hon. W.S. Peter
  • Statement of W.L. Reid’s liabilities
  • Staff salaries, 1893
  • The South Australian company deed
  • Temperature at Mt Barker
  • Account for theatre, Torrens Park
  • Voting qualifications in England and Australia
  • Vines at Torrens Park
  • Water supply at Mt Barker
  • Wool clip, 1899

Labelled ‘III’ on cover.
Comprised of an index to books 1-2, with newspaper and magazine clippings (texts and portraits/photographs) and other addenda and interesting facts, arranged alphabetically by subject eg.

  • Drains at Torrens Park
  • Elder bequests
  • Heights of SA hills
  • Short kings
  • Ownership of runs/stations 1906
  • Robin Patrick’s hunter (photograph)
  • Hunter of Gov Tennyson, exported to England (photograph)
  • ‘How to Vote’ card for LCL candidates for Mitcham electorate 29 April [n.d.]

Series 8: Silver trowel

Engraved silver presentation trowel with wood handle, presented to Mary Isabel Barr Smith 29/9/1930 on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the Barr Smith Library of the University of Adelaide, made in Birmingham, England, ca 1903, retailed by F. Basse of Adelaide.
In leather case 37.7 x 13.7 cm x 7.3 cm, lined with royal blue velvet, and inside the lid with royal blue silk with worn gold stamp ‘F. Basse, Adelaide’ with two small brass hinges and clasps.

A silk embroidered tablecloth embroidered by a member of the Barr Smith family is held in University Collections

Series 9: Other

Large leather trunk or suitcase handle, stamped 'BARR SMITH' for strapping onto case (transferred from the National Motor Museum July 2019)

Revised Robin Secomb 2011
Revised Cheryl Hoskin 2019

University Library

Barr Smith Library
South Australia 5005


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