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JAMES "PHILOSOPHER" SMITH (1827 - 1897) MOURNING COVER

I was intrigued by a mourning cover addressed to the Hon. James Smith M.L.C., "Westwood", Hamilton-on-Forth which has a copy of the green 2d 'side-face' stamp, postmarked with a HOBART/ 3S/ FE 23/ 88 duplex. The Forth arrival back stamp was just barely legible (Figures 1 & 2).

The seller had provided the following information; "1888 Mourning envelope used from Hamilton-on-Forth (early name for Forth) addressed to James Smith M.L.C. He discovered the iron ore body on Mount Bischoff. At this time he was a Member of the Legislative Council and as such was entitled to receive mail free, but only during parliamentary sessions."

My interest was piqued, and the initial aim was to find who had died in the family, and to learn more about the man. The former aim was not achieved, but much has been learned about James. He was born in George Town in 1827, and he married relatively late in life in 1874 (at 47 years) in Launceston to Mary Jane Love, a 32 year old widow (maiden name Pleas). She bore him 3 sons and 3 daughters and when James died on 15 June 1897, she and all 6 children had survived him. The Westwood estate on the River Forth had been the family home from around the time of their marriage and for many years after James' death.

The term "Philosopher" associated with his name was thought to be due to James Smith's idealism and his strong faith, his poems on religious and moral themes, and partly due to his wide reading, his knowledge on many subjects and from his kindly eyes and full beard. He was described as a peaceful man, 6 feet tall and of slender build.

Smith was the eldest son of John Smith and his wife Mary Ann, nee Grant. His father was shot when James was 5, and his mother remarried. His early education was in Launceston and in 1836 John Guillan, a ship owner and flour miller became his guardian. For a time James managed a flour mill, and in 1851-53 he prospected on the Victorian goldfields, particularly at Castlemaine. He returned to Tasmania and took up a square mile of forest, between Forth and the Leven rivers, which he cleared and farmed. On an expedition to the Forth River in 1859 he discovered gold.

He was a determined explorer of dense forests and difficult country of Tasmania's north west. On the 4th December 1871 he located an immensely rich deposit of tin oxide near the summit of Mount Bischoff, 2k north of the town of Waratah, and he acquired two crown leases of 80 acre mining sections. This area was to become the richest tin mine in the world. Smith received a public testimonial of 250 sovereigns and a silver salver, and the Tasmanian parliament voted him an annual pension of £200.

Smith returned to farming at "Westwood" at Forth and increased his land to about 1500 acres, but still continued prospecting as well. Over his prospecting career, he found not only gold and tin, but also copper, silver-lead and iron, the latter 3 ores not in commercial quantities. He became the MLC for Mersey in 1886, but resigned on account of ill health in 1888. He died of heart disease at Launceston in 1897 and was buried in the Congregational cemetery in Forth. His second oldest son, Major Ronald Edgar Smith bequeathed his father's papers to the Tasmanian Archives. A full and active life for the "philosopher"!  A picture of James Smith is seen in Figure 3.

I wish to acknowledge the research assistance of Randolph Askeland of Launceston and Tony Marshall, Senior Librarian (Heritage Collections), State Library of Tasmania, Hobart.

Parts of this paper were published in The Courier, December 2003, Number 36, pages 11-13.


 
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