Lady Henrietta Smith

1782 – 1871


The Scotswoman in the Smith of Dunesk story was Lady Henrietta who wished to help the Aborigines of South Australia. This she planned to do by purchasing land in the colony and using funds accrued from the investment to support mission work among the Aborigines. Her efforts, in 1839, resulted in her obtaining six sections of land in the Nurioopa area.

In 1853 she approached the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland asking that it administer the funds according to her wishes. Although this was agreed to, Mrs. Smith was advised that the aborigines were a dying race, and to be so specific in her instructions on how funds were to be spent, would mean that the fund would soon be useless. As a result she eventually signed a deed of gift, drawn up by church lawyers which, in fact, made no mention whatsoever of the Aborigines.

To compensate for this, Mrs. Smith wrote a letter to accompany the deed requesting that it be recorded in the minutes of the Colonial Committee. Various men were given power of attorney over the property and funds. Mrs. Smith meanwhile, learnt more and more of the plight of the Ngarrindjeri people, a lower Murray Lakes tribe struggling to survive at the Point McLeay Mission. They were far from extinct as she had been previously led to believe. With renewed interest and vigour she lambasted the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland. Writing through her companion, Jemima Russell, she threatened that unless the money was channelled as directed, she would redirect it to other sources.

Mrs. Smith died on July 8th, 1871, feeling confident that her wishes would be followed. They were not. Despite tireless efforts by Rev. George Taplin, who was the guiding light behind the continuation of the Point McLeay Mission, not all available money was ever transferred to that establishment. The result was that for another nearly 20 years, funds from Mrs. Smith’s estates began to accumulate.

Despite pleas by Rev. Taplin for increased financial assistance in 1879, none was forthcoming. A dozen years later the Aborigines’ Friends Association was advised that the Smith of Dunesk Fund’s support of the Point McLeay Mission would cease. Appeals to the Colonial Secretary of the Free Church of Scotland to reverse the decision failed. A campaign by the  A.F.A. supported by the Adelaide newspaper, “The Register”, resulted in a phasing out of funds, rather than an immediate withdrawal. Nevertheless, 1896 saw the final payment of £20 to the A.F.A. for work at Point McLeay.

All this makes a mockery of the claims that for some years the Bequest lay forgotten, quietly accumulating funds and faithfully tended by honest attorneys who simply kept accounts. In fact, the accumulated funds totalled over £2,500 when they were “re-discovered”. Even references to the man who made this “re-discovery” are inconsistent.

Fortuitously, however, the accumulated money became available to the Presbyterian Church, following negotiations with the Colonial Committee, at a time when money was desperately needed to establish a different type of mission in a very different locality.

The distasteful misuse of the Smith of Dunesk Funds in establishing the Beltana base is both unfortunate and unacceptable, but in no way detracts from the real success of the mission which was established. This mission later became known as the Smith of Dunesk Mission and was the beginning of 100 years of continuous Presbyterian ministry in the Outback. This work now continues in the Presbyterian Inland Mission and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.


Information taken from “Beltana - the Town that Will Not Die”, by Graham Aird & David Kelly

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