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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Smith, Hon. John Thomas

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Smith, Hon. John Thomas, was born in Sydney, N.S.W., in 1816, and was educated at Cape's School in that city. At the age of twenty he went to Melbourne, in what was then the Port Phillip district, as assistant teacher at the Church of England Aboriginal Station. Subsequently he became a publican, and built the Queen's Theatre, which was practically the first erected in Melbourne. In 1842 Melbourne was incorporated a city, and Mr. Smith was one of the first members of the Council, in which he continued to hold a seat till his death. He was seven times Mayor of Melbourne, and in this capacity took an active part in providing against the assault on the banks and Treasury in Melbourne which was supposed to be meditated by the Ballarat rioters in 1854. For the latter service he received the thanks of the Governor, Sir Charles Hotham. When Mayor in 1858 he was delegated by the City Council to go to England for the purpose of presenting an address of congratulation to the Queen on the occasion of the marriage of the Princess Royal to the late Emperor Frederick of Germany, then Crown Prince of Prussia. From the establishment of constitutional government in Victoria, he was a member of the Legislature, being elected to the Legislative Council, then the only chamber, for North Bourke in 1851. Two years later he resigned his seat and contested the vacancy in the representation of Melbourne caused by Mr. Westgarth's departure for Europe. His opponent was the late Mr. Lauchlan Mackinnon, one of the proprietors of the Argus, whom he defeated. When responsible government was conceded, Mr. Smith was elected to the first Legislative Assembly as one of the members for Melbourne in 1856. In 1859 he was returned for Creswick, and subsequently for West Bourke, which he represented till his death, when he was "father of the House." He was Minister of Mines in the Macpherson Government from Sept. 1869 to April 1870. He was the first Freemason initiated in Victoria, and was appointed Provincial Grand Master under the Irish constitution. Mr. Smith took an active part in the establishment of the principal charities, such as the Melbourne Hospital, the Benevolent and Orphan Asylums, and others. He was an advocate for reducing the hours of labour, and contributed to the adoption of the eight hours system. Mr. Smith died in 1878.