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Chimney is a legacy to a giant of our wool industry

More than 70 years after his death, Leslie William Smith's name still towers over Launceston on the 30-metre chimney at his former wool scouring plant at 98 Gleadow Street.

The chimney was actually built as part of the huge Rapson Tyre and Rubber Company's factory behind Kings Wharf in 1928, at a cost of more than 400,000 pounds.

The British manufacturer, which promoted their tyres as the best in the world and advertised that members of the Royal family used them, was lured to the state by an aggressive marketing campaign.

The big flood of 1929 and the Great Depression killed this ambitious enterprise before it really even started, but the Rapson name remained on the chimney, until the empty buildings were bought by L.W. Smith Pty Ltd in 1938.

Tasmania was riding on the sheep's back with 47,000 bales of wool cut from an estimated three million sheep in 1936-37.

Mr Smith told The Examiner his wool scouring business was growing so rapidly that additional premises were urgently needed.

He said that in recent years his firm has been doing an increasing amount of business for overseas customers and much of the wool handled in the new factory would be exported.

In 1940 all production was taken by the federal government for the war effort, but there was a major setback in 1942 when fire destroyed much of the factory.

The factory was rebuilt and by the late 1940s, L.W. Smith Pty Ltd was the biggest wool scouring operation in the Southern Hemisphere with a workforce of 200.

L.W. Smith was regarded as one of Tasmania's leading businessmen with major interests in several other industries.

In 1949, L.W. Smith Pty Ltd took delivery of a new Scottish-built 549-ton cargo ship they christened MV Merino to carry their wool and general cargo across Bass Strait.

Leslie William Smith, known simply as "L.W." to most, was born in 1898 in Ireland where his English mariner father was stationed with Her Majesty's Coastguard.

He was only 13 when a position was secured for him on the staff of the newly-appointed Governor of South Australia.

His brother Frederick was an equerry in the Royal Household and later a personal assistant to the Prince of Wales.

In Australia, L.W. Smith enlisted for service in World War I in 1916 and was wounded in France.

He returned to Australia in 1919 and came to Launceston in 1922 to work for Wilcox, Mofflin Ltd as a clerk.

It was said he did so to learn the skin and wool trade.

By 1923 he had left to start a wool and skins business with G.W. Martin, a well-known Tasmanian cricketer.

Four years later he was in business on his own at 63 The Esplanade and in July 1937 he and his wife Ethel established the company L.W. Smith Pty Ltd.

From 1938 to the 1960s L.W. Smith Pty Ltd operated from Gleadow Street and the chimney is now on the Tasmanian Heritage Register.

(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 11 April 2021)

Top image: The L. W. Smith chimney today, J. Burgess photo. Middle image: Mr Leslie William Smith, Smith Family Collection. Bottom image: The vast L. W. Smith Pty Ltd site in the 1940s, Smith Family Collection.


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