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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.

Robert and Joanna Barr SmithThomas 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.

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. 0.5 cm
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 1 cm.

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
  • 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 (missing from 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

Series 3: Manuscript 1 cm.

'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 0.5 cm.

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 0.5 cm.

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


Revised by Robin Secomb 2011


Rare Books & Special Collections

The University of Adelaide
Rare Books & Special Collections
Level 1, Barr Smith Library
South Australia 5005


Phone: +61 8 8313 5224