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Lindsay Stuart Smith (1917–1970)

by S. L. Everist

Australian botany suffered a grievous loss on 12th September 1970 when Lindsay Smith collapsed and died on the slopes of Mount Barney, a mountain mass he knew and loved.

Lindsay Stuart Smith was born in Bundaberg on 27th November 1917 and educated at the Bundaberg South State School and the Bundaberg State High School. In 1932 he passed the Junior public examination, gaining second place in the Public Service Examination and he took up duty as a clerk in the Department of Agriculture and Stock on 4th March, 1933. He served as a clerk in several branches of the Department and in July, 1935, was appointed cadet in the Agricultural Chemical Laboratory, soon transferring to the Botany Section. Except for a period on active service with the A.I.F., he remained with the Botany Section until his death, successively occupying the positions of Assistant to Botanist, Assistant Botanist Botanist, Research Botanist and Senior Botanist.

Like some other young men in the department at that time, he obtained his academic qualifications by evening study, completing requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science in November, 1940. Continuing his studies after the war, he was awarded first class honours in Botany in May, 1948.

Lindsay Smith was a naturalist as well as a first class botanist. He was interested in all aspects of natural history and became a member of the Queensland Naturalists' Club very early in his professional career. Members will remember his vast knowledge of plants and his patient courtesy in answering the many questions put to him by fellow naturalists at meetings and excursions. He served as Honorary Treasurer to the Club for many years and was President in 1955.

His botanical interests were wide but he is probably best known for his work on rainforest trees, an interest kindled by his early association with C. T. White and W. D. Francis and fostered by his work on New Guinea plants during his army service. The New Guinea collections made by him during the war formed the nucleus from which grew the modern herbarium at Lae. In Queensland, he was closely associated with officers of the Forestry Department and C.S.I.R.O. in studies of the ecology of rainforest. His other interests included the mangroves of eastern Australia and some groups of plants from inland Australia, particularly the family Myoporaceae. In 1965 he was assigned to a study of the different kinds of lantana naturalised in Australia. After making extensive collecting trips in eastern Australia, and studying specimens in Australian herbaria, he spent 12 months abroad, mainly in North and South America, looking at lantanas and searching particularly for those that have become pests in Australia. At the time of his death, he had amassed a great deal of information about these plants but unfortunately he did not live to complete the task.

Those who were acquainted with his work knew that he was a perfectionist and that every last detail had to be accounted for before he was satisfied. This perfectionism restricted his output of professional papers and many fine papers have remained unpublished because he considered them to be "not quite good enough for publication". Colleagues who have tested these papers in the field and in the herbarium appreciate their quality and know that they are much better than many which have been published.

This perfectionism probably contributed in some measure towards his untimely death. He had been asked to prepare a list of the plants on Mount Barney. Not satisfied with the information he had available to him and not having been on Mount Barney for many years, he to go and have another look at the mountain himself. The effort proved too great a strain for his heart and he collapsed and died after having climbed for about 7 hours. He leaves a wife, Doris, also a member of the Club, and a son, Donald. Doris was with him on the fatal climb. Herself an experienced mountaineer, bushwalker and naturalist, she was able to find her way back to the base camp to bring out the equipment which Lindsay had taken in and to mark a trail for the rescue party to follow. To Doris, we express our very profound and heart-filled sympathy and our great admiration for her skill, courage and endurance.

For my own part, I have lost not only a respected colleague and a reliable right-hand man, but also a friend and bushwalking companion of long standing. It will be impossible to fill the gap left by Lindsay's death and the world is much the poorer for his passing.

Original publication

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Citation details

S. L. Everist, 'Smith, Lindsay Stuart (1917–1970)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

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