SMITH, John Thomas (1816-1879)


SMITH, John Thomas (1816-1879)
politician, seven times mayor of Melbourne
was born at Sydney in 1816 and educated under W. Cape (q.v.). He was for a time in the service of the recently established Bank of Australasia, but in September 1837 obtained the appointment of schoolmaster at the aboriginal mission station in Victoria at a salary of £40 a year. Shortly afterwards he went into business as a grocer, and was in the timber trade in 1840, In the following year he became a hotel-keeper and was so successful that in a comparatively short period he obtained a competency. At the first election for the Melbourne city council, held on 1 December 1842, he was elected a councillor for the Bourke ward, and except for a short interval, he was on the council for the remainder of his life. In 1851 he was elected mayor of Melbourne and was subsequently elected to that position no fewer than six times, his last year of office being 1864. In November 1854, at the time of the Eureka stockade rebellion, he took an active part in raising special constables, as there were rumours that attacks on the treasury and banks were contemplated. He was especially thanked by the governor, Sir Charles Hotham (q.v.), who said there was "no person in the country to whom he was more indebted". Smith had been elected to the legislative council in 1851, and in 1856, when responsible government came in, he was elected a member of the legislative assembly as one of the representatives of Melbourne. At subsequent elections he was returned for Creswick, and West Bourke, retaining his seat until his death on 30 January 1879, when he was the "father of the house". His wife and children survived him.
Smith took great interest in various charities moving, for instance, the motion that was carried in 1848 for the establishment of a benevolent asylum. He advocated reductions in the hours of labour and generally was an active and useful member of council and parliament, though he only once attained cabinet rank—he was minister of mines in the J. A. Macpherson (q.v.) government from September 1869 until April 1870.
Men of the Time in Australia, 1878; R. D. Boys, First Years in Port Phillip; Letter from Town Clerk, Melbourne, 1939; Kenyon manuscripts, Public Library, Melbourne; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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