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Thomas Hyland Smeaton (1857–1927)

by B. K. Hyams

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Thomas Hyland Smeaton (1857-1927), by unknown photographer, c1905

Thomas Hyland Smeaton (1857-1927), by unknown photographer, c1905

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11247

Thomas Hyland Smeaton (1857-1927), architect and politician, was born on 8 July 1857 in Glasgow, Scotland, son of Thomas Smeaton, soldier, and his wife Margaret, née Brown. He was educated at the Free Church Normal Seminary, Glasgow, later studying science in evening classes at Anderson's College and art at the School of Design. Smeaton found work as an apprentice stonecutter before being articled to a classical architect. At 20 he spent a year in London as foreman for a large building firm. In 1879 he arrived in Adelaide where he became government clerk of works and later worked with a private firm for two years. On 8 July 1884 he married Jessie Saxby; they had no children.

The previous year Smeaton had opened his own architectural practice. His first important job was the design of the Young Men's Christian Association building; he also designed the Adelaide Fire Brigade Station. About 1886-91 he worked at Christchurch, New Zealand, as secretary of the Y.M.C.A.

In 1892 Smeaton joined the United Labor Party and was elected to the Adelaide City Council for four years. After two failures he won the House of Assembly seat of Torrens in 1905; nine years later, following an electoral redistribution, he changed to Sturt which he held until 1921. An opponent of militant unionism and Labor's stand against conscription, he joined the National Party in 1917 and the Liberal Party shortly before his defeat.

Smeaton was committed to military training and helped to develop, and eventually as lieutenant-colonel commanded, the South Australian Scottish Infantry, Commonwealth Military Forces. He was also a staff officer for the military service engineers, a member of the South Australian Committee of Defence and, from 1916, a 'discreet and able' assistant military censor for South Australia.

Committee work was Smeaton's forte: among his other offices he was a chairman (1898) of the Fire Brigades Board of South Australia, a council-member of the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, a founder of the South Australian Literary Societies' Union and editor of its journal, a member of the Y.M.C.A. board of management and a president of the Tramway Employees' Union. An athlete in his youth, he was patron of various sporting clubs. He was active in the Stow Memorial Congregational Church and ran one of Adelaide's largest men's Bible-classes. Most significantly, he was president of the South Australian Temperance Alliance and promoted its cause in parliament. He chaired the 1906 royal commission which led to a 1908 Act to facilitate the control and care of drunkards, fought for amendments to the liquor-licensing laws, and pushed through a 1915 referendum for the 6 p.m. closing of public houses. He failed to secure a referendum on prohibition.

In 1920 damage to one eye in an accident ended his architectural practice which he had pursued sporadically. From 1921 until his death he was secretary of the South Australian Public School Teachers' Union. As a union officer without a government salary he could negotiate for the union with the authorities with unprecedented vigour.

Smeaton's writing activities were remarkable for so busy a man. He won many prizes for stories, essays and verse, much of which was published, as were his books, The People in Politics (1914), From Stone Cutter to Premier and Minister of Education (1924) (a biography of Premier Tom Price), and Education in South Australia from 1836 to 1927 (1927). Survived by his wife, he died at Millswood on 17 October 1927 and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £1650.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • Universal Publicity Co, The Official Civic Record of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • South Australian Teachers' Journal, 28 Oct 1921
  • Observer (Adelaide), 10 Dec 1898, 22 Oct 1927
  • Mail (Adelaide), 12 Dec 1914
  • Register (Adelaide), 18 Oct 1927
  • Smeaton papers (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

B. K. Hyams, 'Smeaton, Thomas Hyland (1857–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Thomas Hyland Smeaton (1857-1927), by unknown photographer, c1905

Thomas Hyland Smeaton (1857-1927), by unknown photographer, c1905

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11247

Life Summary [details]


8 July, 1857
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


17 October, 1927 (aged 70)
Millswood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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