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Sir Thomas Elder (1818–1897)

By the death of Sir Thomas Elder, G.C.M.G., of South Australia, at the age of eighty years, which took place on Saturday, 6th March, at Mt. Loft, near Adelaide, South Australia loses a most valuable colonist. After a thorough grounding in a Scotch mercantile house, the deceased gentleman took up his residence in South Australia early in the fifties, being taken into the firm of Messrs. A. L. Elder and Co., which subsequently merged into Elder, Stirling and Co., and afterwards Elder, Smith and Co. Sir Thomas was in many respects the pioneer pastoralist of the interior country of South Australia, and by means of exploring parties, the leasing and improving of vast tracts of unknown lands, he did great service to the colony. The name of Sir Thomas Elder is very closely associated with exploration work in Australia. He spent large sums of money in equipping parties for the purpose of filling up blanks in the map and adding to the scientific knowledge respecting the continent of Australia.

But it is as a pastoral king that the name of Sir Thomas Elder will ever be remembered with respect and admiration. Whilst steadily expanding the mercantile business of his firm the deceased gentlemen took up large blocks of Crown lands, and laid the foundation of his immense interests in wool-growing and horse and cattle-breeding, and the large stock and station business now carried on by Elder, Smith and Co. Limited. He was the first to introduce the camel in Australia, and Paraboo, Beltana, Umberatana, Mount Lyndhurst, Mubooroo, and Blanchewater need only to be mentioned to connect the name of Sir Thomas Elder with the pastoral industry of South Australia. Then, as a breeder of horses on a large scale, and as the owner of a high-class stud of thoroughbreds, his name was known throughout Australia, and it would be all the better for horse-racing if more of those who support it could show the same clean record as the late Sir Thomas Elder. There was never a vestige of suspicion about the wearers of the tartan jacket and yellow cap, and the public always knew that the horses in his name were sent out to do their best, and to win if possible. The late gentleman also did a great deal towards developing the mineral resources of South Australia, whilst his munificence in regard to educational and philanthropic institutions has made his name a household word throughout Australia. As early as 1874 he gave £20,000 towards the endowment and building of the Adelaide University, and supplemented this ten years later by presenting £10,000 towards founding a medical school. In numerous other directions his liberality was proverbial. By his will he has made a bequest of £155,000 to various institutions in Adelaide, £20,000 to the Medical School, £20,000 to the Chair of Music, and £25,000 for general purposes of the Adelaide University. This brings the total of his gift to the University in the sister colony to £95,000. The Adelaide Art Gallery will benefit to the extent of £25,000, and a like sum is to be expended in the building of workmen's homes.

Some years ago the late Sir Thomas Elder retired from business, and although retaining his interests to a large extent took no active part in the control of his business affairs. None the less his loss will be severely felt in the sister colony, where he was held in very high esteem by all those whose privilege it was to know him personally or to have business transactions with him. His brother-in-law, Mr. Robert Barr Smith, and Mr. A. Martin, are the executors under the will. The funeral took place on Monday, 8th March.

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Citation details

'Elder, Sir Thomas (1818–1897)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Sir Thomas Elder, 1896

Sir Thomas Elder, 1896

State Library of South Australia, PRG 280/1/5/326

Life Summary [details]


5 August, 1818
Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland


6 March, 1897 (aged 78)
Mount Lofty, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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