The story behind the historic C. H. Smith precinct
The imminent opening of the redeveloped C. H. Smith and Company site in Charles Street, Launceston, will perpetuate the name of a prominent and successful businessman.
When the business name Chas. H. Smith and Company appeared in Launceston in July 1889 it was the start of a new era for an enterprise that had its origins going back nearly 200 years.
Charles Henry Smith was an accountant who had come to Launceston in 1854 with the shipping and pastoral company Dalgety and Blackwood which became Dalgety, Du Croz and Company in 1866.
By 1868 Charles Smith had become the managing partner of the firm but it was some time before his name was officially added to the title.
He was elected president of the Launceston Chamber of Commerce in 1876, a position he held until 1881, and was a member of the Launceston Marine Board from 1876 to 1878, and again in 1882.
In 1884 The Examiner reported that the Launceston branch of the Dalgety company had separated from the parent to become Du Croz, Smith and Company.
Announcing the takeover of the business by Charles Smith from July 1, 1889, The Examiner said the business was one of Launceston’s oldest and most popular commercial firms:
“It is interesting to note that the house of Du Croz and Co. is about the only commercial firm in Northern Tasmania that has continued uninterruptedly for the last fifty years without having in some way to yield to the financial strains that have repeatedly occurred during that long period.”
Born in Watton, Herefordshire, in 1827, Charles Smith was only two years old when his father died.
His mother remarried and Charles was educated at a private school in Twickenham before joining the family shipping business.
At the age of 25 he left England for business opportunities in Australia no doubt encouraged by news of the great prosperity generated by the Victorian gold rush.
He arrived in Melbourne in 1852 where he worked for Dalgety, Blackwood and Company and was later sent to manage the Launceston branch of the business.
He married Miriam Dowle in Melbourne in 1856 and the couple had seven children between 1857 and 1869 and in 1874 made their home at the well-known High Street residence Beulah.
His business partner was Frederick Augustus Du Croz who had arrived in Launceston in 1840 to manage Willis, Keogh and Company, a firm that bought land and wool and acted as import and export agents for pastoralists, and had been operating since 1837.
After establishing his own company in Launceston Frederick Du Croz returned to England in 1854 to manage the London end of the business leaving his brother Gervase Du Croz as his representative.
Du Croz, Smith and Company had its offices at 41 - 43 St John Streets (now occupied by Buckby Motors) and had wool stores in Charles Street. The partnership between Charles Smith and the Du Croz family legally expired in 1889.
By the turn of the 20th century, Chas. H. Smith and Company was a large diversified business describing themselves as importers and general shipping agents.
They sold a wide range of farm supplies, from barbed wire to sheep dip, and general merchandise for grocers and retail shops, as well as offering shipping and insurance services.
Their role as pastoral agents remained a major part of the business as they stated in their advertising.
“We advance upon purchase wool, grain, sheep and rabbit skins, and Colonial Produce for sale in London or Colonial markets.”
Charles Smith’s son Percy Smith took over as managing director of Chas. H. Smith and Company in 1900.
When Charles Smith died in 1904, at the age of 77, his obituary in The Examiner said he had worked almost up until his death.
“For the past two years his health had been impaired, but he was able to attend fairly regularly at his office until a few weeks ago when he was compelled to take to his bed.
“Although the deceased never took any active part in politics or municipal matters, he displayed a keen interest in mercantile affairs."
Charles Smith was the Italian Consul for 25 years, a director of the Union Bank and the Cornwall Coal Company and when the Tasmanian Permanent Executors and Trustees Association was formed he became a director and was its chairman for 15 years.
In 1919 C. H. Smith and Company moved its entire operation to lower Charles Street and by 1936 the company had acquired all five lots between 16 and 24 Charles Street.
Buildings on the northern end of the site date from the 1820s and the area was home to many storehouses and offices up to the 1920s due to its close proximity to the busy wharves that lined the North Esk River.
Redevelopment documents note that 24 Charles Street was built in the 1850s as a town house on three levels and later converted to commercial use and 22 Charles Street was built in 1860s as a warehouse on three levels.
The building at 20 Charles Street was built in the 1938 as a wool store and has an impressive concrete facade with a ornate parapet and the words C. H. Smith & Co Pty Ltd. The words Woolbrokers and General Merchants run across the facade.
The offices at 18 to 16 Charles Street date from the company’s move from St John Street in 1919 but the warehouse behind it in Canal Street is said to date from the 1830s.
The sale of marine chandlery and commercial fishing equipment became a significant part of the C. H. Smith business in the second half of the 20th century and in the 1960s a shop was opened in Melbourne where it continues to trade.
C. H. Smith and Company operated from its extensive premises in Charles Street until 1986 after which the marine chandlery division became a separate business and moved to Wellington Street.
(First published in The Examiner on 23 and 24 April 2019)