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ARTHUR BRUCE SMITH, BUSINESSMAN, BARRISTER & POLITICIAN

Two fronts only became available, both ON PUBLIC SERVICE ONLY for members of Parliament only. The first had a printed red 1d ‘Shield stamp’ of New South Wales canceled with the duplex PARLIAMENT HOUSE/ AU 29/ 1900/ SYDNEY with the numeral obliterator ‘1741'. It was addressed to Bruce Smith Esq, Chambers, 149 Philip St. (Figure 1).

The second front of similar type, had one significant difference for it had the printed blue 2d QV stamp of New South Wales, which was canceled with the identical duplex postmark with the identical date. It was addressed to Bruce Smith Esq, 149 Phillip St. ( Figure 2).

Arthur Bruce Smith was born on 28 June 1851 at Rotherhithe, Surrey, England, fifth of seven sons of William Howard Smith, master mariner and later ship owner, and his wife Agnes Rosa Allen. The family reached Melbourne on 7 July 1854 in William's 186-ton schooner-rigged steamer, Express. Bruce was educated in England (1862-64) and at Wesley College, Melbourne, then engaged in commerce (1867-72).

He studied law at the University of Melbourne before entering Lincoln's Inn, London, in December 1873 and was called to the Bar on 26 January 1877. Returning to Melbourne he was admitted to the Victorian Bar on 14 September the same year. He married Sara Jane Creswell (d.1929) on 15 January 1879. Narrowly defeated for the Legislative Assembly seat of Emerald Hill, Victoria as a 'Constitutionalist' in February 1880, and he moved to Sydney next January, where he practised at the Bar. He won a Legislative Assembly by-election for Gundagai, N.S.W. on 23 November 1882, the day parliament was dissolved, and was re-elected on 13 December.

Smith resigned his seat in April 1884 and returned to Melbourne to become joint managing director of Wm Howard Smith & Sons Ltd (registered in September 1883) at a salary of £1250. Faced with industrial unrest, in March 1885 he founded the Victorian Employers' Union (president 1885-87) and, later, the Victorian Board of Conciliation; he found the Trades Hall leaders were 'on the whole cool-headed, exceedingly amenable to reason'. After quarrelling with his father, in December 1886 Smith sold all his shares in Howard Smith to his brother Edmund Edmonds Smith (1847-1914) and in January 1887 resigned from the board. Disinherited by his father in February, he returned to Sydney and practice at the Bar.

He lost a by-election for Kiama N.S.W. that January, and set out his political philosophy in the massive and anachronistic Liberty and Liberalism (1887), a protest against increasing interference by the state. Returned to the Legislative Assembly for Glebe in February 1889, and Smith joined the committed free traders, and from 8 March served in Parkes's last ministry as secretary for public works, but he frequently clashed with Parkes. One of Sir Edmond Barton’s most able lieutenants, Smith was philosophical about his defeat for the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention

In March 1901 he was elected to the House of Representatives for Parkes and held the seat until defeated in 1919. Like his fellow free traders, Smith had nowhere to go in Federal politics. He twice declined the Speakership. Black-haired with a beautifully waxed moustache as a young man, he was later described as 'white-haired & moustached, tall, stout, double-chinned, good-looking' and a 'fine speaker and debater'. Although on most occasions urbane, Smith was inclined to fuss over trifles. As well as attending somewhat casually to his parliamentary duties, in Sydney he lived at Point Piper, became a leader at the Bar and took silk in 1904. He was a director of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd and the Sydney & Suburban Hydraulic Power Co. Ltd, State president of the British Empire League in Australia and the Association for the Protection of Native Races, and a member of the Union Club from 1915.

About 1925 he retired to his house at Bowral where he had always enjoyed fishing and outdoor pursuits. He died there on 14 August 1937 and was buried beside his wife in the Church of England cemetery. Two daughters and a son survived him; his three eldest sons had died in infancy and his eldest daughter aged 15. His estate was valued for probate at over £42,000.

A young man of parts, Bruce Smith never lived up to his promise. In Opposition most of his eighteen years in Federal parliament, he was too doctrinaire and too quixotic, and perhaps too aware of his own intellect, to adapt to twentieth-century party politics. A picture of the young Arthur Bruce Smith is seen in Figure 3.

This paper was extracted from the entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 

 

 

 
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