Skip to content

Sir Keith Smith and Sir Ross Smith
Certificates, pamphlets, photographs and miscellanea 1916-1956

MSS 92 S653

Biographical Notes

Sir Ross Macpherson Smith (1892–1922). Ross Macpherson Smith was born on 4 December 1892 at Semaphore, Adelaide, son of Scottish-born Andrew Bell Smith, station manager, and his wife Jessie, née Macpherson, born in Western Australia. In 1897 Andrew Smith became the manager of the Mutooroo Pastoral Co. and Mutooroo station, a property of some 3000 sq. miles (7700 km²). Both Ross and his brother Keith were educated at Queen's School, Adelaide (as boarders), and for two years at Warriston School, Moffat, Scotland, their father's birthplace.

On returning to Australia, Ross joined the Australian Mounted Cadets and was selected in 1910 to tour Britain and the United States of America as a South Australian representative. He then joined the 10th Australian Regiment, the Adelaide Rifles.

Ross Smith had served in the cadets and the militia before he left Australia as a sergeant in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment in October 1914; he went to Gallipoli the following year. He was later commissioned and was at the battle of Romani (in the Sinai) in August 1916. The next year he volunteered for the Australian Flying Corps. Flying with No. 1 Squadron AFC, Smith took part in attacks, aerial photography missions, and bombing raids on Turkish forces. On one occasion he landed in the face of the enemy to rescue a downed comrade. During his extensive war service he was twice awarded the Military Cross, received the Distinguished Flying Cross three times, as well as the Air Force Cross.

A gifted flyer, Smith became experienced in flying his squadron’s twin-engined Handley Page 0/400 bomber; on occasion Lawrence of Arabia was his passenger. While still with the flying corps, he made pioneering flights from Cairo to Calcutta, and from Calcutta to Timor.

On 12 November 1919, assisted by his brother Keith and two mechanics, Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, he set out to fly from England to Australia in a large Vickers Vimy bomber. It was an epic 28-day flight, completed at an average speed of 137 kilometres per hour, but not without mishap. On their arrival, the pioneering flyers were welcomed home as national heroes; their £10,000 prize money was shared equally. The two brothers were knighted. In April 1922, while preparing for a record-breaking around the world flight, Smith and Bennett were killed in a crash. Keith Smith witnessed the death of his brother, who was not yet 30.

(Adapted from the Australian War Memorial)

Sir Keith Macpherson Smith (1890–1955). Keith Macpherson Smith was born on 20 December 1890 in Adelaide. He was an Australian aviator, who, along with his brother, Sir Ross Macpherson Smith and two other men, became the first people to fly from England to Australia.

Keith’s earlier career began with employment at Elder Smith & Co. in Adelaide on the outbreak of war. His career was very different to his brother's, yet both were to become aviators within weeks of each other. Keith was initially rejected for service with the A.I.F. on medical grounds.  He does not therefore appear on the AIF Embarkation Roll.  He underwent medical treatment and later paid his own passage to England to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. Keith Smith did not see active service as after completing his training and being posted to with 58 Squadron, he was posted to 75 Squadron, a home defence unit where he was gunnery instructor. On 1 April he was promoted Lieutenant and spent the rest of the war in Britain with training establishments. He was placed on the unemployed list, Royal Air Force (R.A.F.), on 5 November 1919.

He joined up with his brother soon after the war and when news of an air race became known they planned to take part. They obtained a Vickers Vimy (another twin engined 'heavy' - for the time - bomber similar to the 0/400 bomber), supplied by the manufacturer.  It was the same type of aircraft used by Alcock and Brown to cross the Atlantic earlier in the year. With Keith as assistant pilot and navigator and accompanied by two mechanics, Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, they left Hounslow, England, on 12 November 1919. The distance covered in this epic flight was 11,340 miles (18,250 km). It took just under 28 days with an actual flying time of 135 hours at an average speed of 85 m.p.h. (137 km.p.h.). Three years later another proposal was being hatched as pioneer aviators began undertaking all sorts of long distance flights.  The next proposal, to fly round the world in a Vickers Viking amphibian, ended in disaster. Ross and his long-serving crew member Jim Bennett were test-flying the aircraft at Weybridge near London, it spun into the ground from 1000 feet (305 m), killing both. The flight was abandoned. The bodies of Sir Ross Smith and Lieutenant Bennett were brought home to Australia and after a state funeral Smith was buried in Adelaide on 15 June 1922.

In 1924 Keith had married Anita Crawford of Adelaide.  They were to have no children. Sir Keith Smith was appointed Australian agent for Vickers and retained the connection with this British company until his death. Smith advocated in the early 1920s to employ Vickers-built airships on Imperial air routes. Keith remained a leading Australian spokesman on aviation matters and travelled extensively on Vickers' behalf.

During World War II he was vice-chairman of the Royal Australian Air Force Recruiting Drive Committee and strongly supported the idea of an Empire air force. The Empire Air Training Scheme largely achieved this in the context of NW Europe, but Australia's involvement in the Pacific and burgeoning US influence and British indifference to the Australian market on the other side of the world undermined Smith's aspiration for Empire aviation. Notwithstanding, he was to become vice-president of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, a director of Qantas and Tasman Airways and by the end of his career was in control of the many Australian-based Vickers companies.

Sir Keith Smith died of cancer in Sydney on 19 December 1955.

The Vickers Vimy flown by the Smith brothers, Shiers and Bennett in 1919 is displayed at Adelaide airport.

(Adapted from the RSL Virtual War Memorial)

The Smith papers were presented to the Library by Lady Anita Keith Smith in January 1967.

Contents Listing

Series 1: Certificates

C1 - [Appointment to the rank of Lieutenant: Sir Keith Smith] November 1st, 1918. (Stamped temporary) In Map Cabinet

C2 - Air Ministry: Air navigation acts, 1911 to 1919. Certificate of airworthiness: [for Vickers "Vimy"] November 3rd, 1919.

C3 - Air Ministry: Air navigation acts, 1911 to 1919. Licence for pilot of aircraft. .. (Sir Keith Smith) October 23rd, 1919 (7p. portrait hard cover)

C4 - Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood: Grant of the dignity of a Knight Commander of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire to Lieutenant Keith Macpherson Smith and Sir Ross Macpherson Smith [by George the Fifth], 2 pieces with original envelopes and note from the Registrar.

C5 - [Medical certificate: of Sir Ross Smith for scarlet fever] Inscription on back "my ticket when I left Anzac"

C6 - Royal Flying Corps. (Officers) Graduation certificate [for Sir Keith Smith] February 24th, 1918.

C7 - Commonwealth of Australia: War service regulations, 1916. Medical certificate of unfitness (for Sir Keith Smith), 2 certificates, July 5th, 1916 and Oct. 23rd, 1916, in original envelope.

C8 - [Identification card for] Arthur and Jessie Smith. [Stamped] Home and Territories Department. March 25th, 1921.

C9 - King and Empire Alliance Organization. [Illuminated address welcoming Capt. Sir R. M. Smith back to Queensland] (Illustration of bird painted on silk, black leather binding with gold tooling, 36 x 27 cm) In archive box

C10 - Institute of transport [Certificate of membership for Sir Keith Smith] February 14th, 1938. In Map Cabinet

C11 - Clare Caledonian Society [Welcome] to Sir Keith Smith and Sir Ross Smith. May 25th, 1920. Handwritten, illustration. In Map Cabinet

C12 - Cloncurry Shire Council [Welcome to Queensland and Cloncurry for Captain Sir Ross Smith, Lieut. Sir Keith Smith ... and crew December 20th, 1919. (2 copies on satin) In Map Cabinet

Series 2: Miscellanea

M1 - Advance Australia series: no. 29. Sir Ross and Keith Smith's flight 1919. (Single card, illustration)

M2 - Australian Aero Club dinner: Captain C. Kingsford-Smith, M.C., and his companions. 1928.  Menu, signed and illustrated.

M3 - Bedouin dialect, vocabulary of: To be carried in the coat pocket by all pilots and observers on desert reconnaissance. Bound in cloth. Ground signals for pilots of disabled aeroplanes handwritten on back.

M4 - Boy Scouts Association: £10,000 endowment fund. [Letter enclosing two replicas] on silk of the historic [London to Adelaide, 1920] flag. April 7th, 1920.

M5 - Cartoon by Leason: Ross Smith's machine ... [Stamp on back, Published, December 4th, 19--] In Map Cabinet

M6 - Her Majesty’s Theatre Gala performance:  "The Bing Boys on Broadway". 18th February, 1920. In the presence of and under the patronage of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Smith, and their sons ... Program on satin. In Map Cabinet

M7 - Hounslow-aerodrome [Weather bulletin] conditions over France. November 12th, 1919.

M8 - Illustrated London News [Extract] December 10th, 1949, page 887, photographs. In Map Cabinet

M9- Notes by Sir Keith Smith on his travels. Contents: 1899-1939 [9f.]; 1936-1945 [2p]; 1944-1945 [1f.]; 1946-1950 [3f.] foolscap; 1950-1953 [9f.]; 1918 [1f.] letter size.

M10 - Savoy Hotel commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first cross channel flight by Louis Bleriot (July 25th, 1909 - 1934) (Menu, signed)

M11 - Signatures, three. [Two cut from letters] 1. W. M. Hughes also signed the Wentworth menu.

M12 - (The) Wentworth Luncheon in honour of Madame Pavlova's 1926 visit to Australia... April 27th, 1926 (Menu, handwritten, signed)

M13 - Stamps issued by PMG to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the England-Australia Air Race in 1919.

M14 - Souvenir fan to commemorate England-Australia flight 1919.

M15 - South Australia telephone directory. Cover commemorating the 50th Anniversary of England-Australia flight 1919. In Map Cabinet

 

Series 3: Pamphlets (P3-5 in archive box)

P1 - (The) Australasian Photo Review: a journal for camera workers; edited by W. Burke. Volume 27, no. 3, 1920, page 176, illus.

P2 - Official souvenir: The Sir Ross Smith flight [8 pages] illustrated.

P3 - Overseas League Review: Historic first London-Australian flight. Number 15, March, 1956. 8 page, illus.

P4 - Sea, Land and Air: Volume 2, Number 21, December 1919 (2 copies, 662 pages, ill.)

P5 - Sea, Land and Air: Volume 3, Number 25, April, 1920 (68 pages, ill.)

 

Series 4: Photographs  (P1-4, P6 in archive box)

PH1 - Album: 16 pages, 34 x 23cm, 42 Photographs. Ross and Keith Smith in Australia.

PH2 - Album: 8f., 24 x 26cm, 3 full page photographs, 5 cheques (brown hide cover) 2 copies.

PH3 - Album: 24 pages, 26 x 20cm, 92 photographs. War Service England.

PH4 - Arial photograph: unmounted house arrowed (23 x 29cm)

PH5 - Australia launches first British warship in reign of Queen Elizabeth II. (H.M.A.S. Voyager) [Photograph of Lady Smith, Mr. R. G. Menzies ... with typed description taped on back]

PH6 - Framed photograph of Sir Keith Smith and ?

PH7 - Glass plates in box, various sizes, some labelled. [Glass plates in archive box]

PH8 - Kodak folders: 2 glass plates (14cm); 71 photographs (various sizes, 17cm.); 26 photographs (mainly of early years in lives of Sir Keith and Sir Ross Smith) [Glass plates in archive box]

PH9 - Mounted photographs: 12 various sizes: 1-2 Portraits of Sir Keith Smith (2); 3-4 Portraits of Sir Ross Smith (2); 5-8 Portraits of Sir Keith and Sir Ross Smith (4); 9   Sir Ross Smith monument; 10 "London to Australia"; 11 Captain Frank Hurley ...; 12 Crew of Captain F. Hurley?
(PH9 no. 2-4, 7-9, 11-12 in Map Cabinet)

PH10 - Negatives: 13 in envelope, various sizes, pencilled inscription 16 x 14, Sepia, all same size.

PH11 - Negatives: 2 portrait negatives in box.

PH12 - Photographs: 70 various sizes, in large envelope.

PH13 - Portraits: 2 in separate folders, 1. Sir Ross Smith; 2. Sir Keith and Sir Ross Smith. In Map Cabinet

PH14 - Postcards: The Ross Smith Flight. Six unique postcards illustrating the flight.

PH15 - Ross Smith photos, complete set by W.F .C. Inscription to E.E.B. (13 photographs)

PH16 - One negative.

PH17 - 15 photos taken from postcards held by Mr. Tam White, South Cross Hostel, Largs Bay.

Rare Books & Special Collections
Address

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

Contact

Phone: +61 8 8313 5224
library_special@adelaide.edu.au