Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

James Smith


Journalist, art critic, theatre critic, Parliamentary Librarian, early settler

Personal Photo 1

Born in Kent, Smith arrived in Melbourne in 1854 and took a post with The Age as leader-writer and dramatic critic, and before long also took up a similar position with The Argus, adding the roles of art and theatre critic. He was very well-read, a prolific writer, and in great demand as a popular lecturer; from 1863-69 he was also employed as the Parliamentary Librarian. His personal library was extensive and valuable. In 1859 he moved to Yarra Grange in Abbotsford where he was to live for thirteen years.

Smith bought Yarra Grange from young farmer Eardley Blois Norton. It was originally the 25–acre residence of James Simpson, and later farmed by Robert and Maria Fennell, before Norton sub-divided the landholding. Smith’s purchase consisted of the house and three acres.  He built up what was left of the orchard, carefully noting in his diary of 14 June 1863 this list of trees planted: 6 Spanish chestnuts, 14 pears, 5 apples, 6 plums, 2 walnuts, 2 orange trees, 3 peach trees, 6 greengages, 2 apricots.

Despite his busy schedule he was also active in the local community. In 1860 he gave a lecture - ‘England and Australia contrasted and compared’ - in aid of the building fund of Collingwood Free Library; he was regularly sent requests from the Mayor of Collingwood to make up lists of books suitable for purchase. It is a measure of his status in the community that he was invited to give the opening address on the occasion of the opening of the new Collingwood Free Library and Mechanics Institute in July 1868. While it was predictable that Smith included many literary and historical references and quotes in his speech, the following thoughts on an ancillary value of the Institute seem a little unexpected:

One advantage which this institute will confer upon the district I am disposed to lay particular stress upon. It will be a place of union, and a point of contact for the inhabitants of this municipality generally, and will help, I hope, in some degree to break down that class feeling and those sectional animosities which have always struck me as one of the most extraordinary and mischievous anomalies of colonial society. [That] class antipathies and hostilities … exist in Victoria is both a reproach to our intelligence and a bar to our progress. (Applause.)  … Certainly class dissensions and prejudices ought not to prevail here … and it is only by bringing the dissentients into conversation and intercourse with each other that you can expect to remove those misapprehensions of personal character or social conduct upon which such dissensions are based.

The Argus 29 July 1868 p. 2

The following year Smith decided to move house. Stubbs, Oxtoby and Co excelled themselves in their fulsome description of the property and the cultivated taste of its owner:

With the River flowing at the Foot, dividing it from the Romantic Amphitheatre of hills known as Studley-park … a stone-built family residence … blending … characteristics of the Tudor mansion with the coolness and repose of the Pompeian villa … atrium paved with variegated encaustic tiles representing classical figures, specially imported for the proprietor … 30 feet long, and is hedged by an ample suite of apartments opening onto a pleasing ambulatory.  … superb library with a gorgeously-stained glass window, diningroom, 6 bedrooms and nurseries, 2 bathrooms … picturesque porch … underground dairy and cellar.  Orchard, vineyard, fernery, shrubbery and lawns on about 3 acres. For … rural seclusion and domestic comfort … a real prize in the marche des maisons.

The Argus, 13 March 1869 p. 2

Despite these advantages the house did not sell and was again on the market in 1872. Smith lived for the later years of his life in Hawthorn in a house purchased by his wife with an inheritance. He lost his savings in the 1890s and continued writing for The Age until his death, having retired from the Argus in 1898. Perhaps his most important work was editing the Cyclopedia of Victoria which was published in 1903-05. Unfortunately, despite his extensive erudition and broad areas of interest, he has gone down in art history as the conservative art critic who wrote scathing reviews of Impressionism in the 1880s.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
1830 Kent, England
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Annie Fieldwick Notcutt, c. 1821-1849 1844, Newington, Surrey Two sons
Eliza Julia Kelly , c. 1840-1927 11 April 1857, St Mark's Anglican, Fitzroy Tennyson 1858, Charles Lamb 1859, Edith 1861, Emily 1864, Kate 1868, Marie Therese 1873
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
Southampton Crescent Abbotsford Demolished
Church Lodge
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
19 March 1910 Hawthorn Boroondara

The Age; The Argus; Smith, Diary 1863 SLV MS MSM 79; Stuart, James Smith: the making of a colonial culture. 

ADB Smith

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