Robert Barr Smith's Commonplace Books
Commonplace books, particularly popular in the nineteenth century, were used to compile knowledge. Unlike a diary, in which the creator might record daily activities, the commonplace book housed more significant information and interests which could be easily referred back to at a later date. Content often included recipes, quotes, letters and pictures or articles cut out from other sources.
Robert Barr Smith, prominent South Australian philanthropist and business owner, had his own set of commonplace books, in which he compiled information about his businesses, properties, purchases, interests and general happenings around Adelaide. Each book contains handwritten notes, newspaper clippings and letters. Common themes across the four volumes include:
- records of purchases for his homes, particularly Torrens Park
- information on the various sheep and cattle stations around South Australia including the land, agriculture, livestock, financials and staffing
- notes regarding his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Elders' donations, shares and bequests
- articles about other prominent South Australians, including Sir Samuel Way
- horse racing and studs
The set comprises 4 numbered volumes, labelled 0-3, with volume 3 serving as an index to the others. An analysis of the volumes suggests that volume 0 was created after volumes 1-3, and labelled '0' to prevent a gap in numbering of the volumes. Content within the books is ordered by subject or individual names, but its date can vary and overlap multiple volumes.
Volume 0 (c1880-1903)
The content in volume 0 dates from approximately 1880-1903 and focuses on Robert Barr Smith's lands and estates, particularly his home in Torrens Park. Of note are several handwritten pages, pasted in, regarding orange trees and the price of oranges, plus extensive notes on the various sheep and cattle stations around South Australia. Also included in this volume are references to Robert's brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Elder. The first quarter of the book contains articles related to Elder's charitable donations, including those to the University of Adelaide, as well as his bequests for public purposes.
Volume 1 (c1883-1901)
The largest of the four volumes, this book covers a date range of approximately 1883-1901. It contains information about the various livestock stations around the state, plus multiple lists of business shareholders. Robert has also documented the attendees for several hunt club luncheons, noting in particular the names of those who attended; those who said they would attend but did not come and apologised; and those who said they would attend but did not come and did not apologise. We suspect the last category were not invited again!
Volume 2 (c1874-1912)
The "missing" book of the set, volume 2 was not included in the original donation from the Barr Smith Family, but purchased at a later date from a bookseller who discovered it at an auction. Content in this volume dates from approximately 1874 to 1912. Items of significance include financial notes on W. Duffield and Co. and other Adelaide businesses; records of Thomas Elder's public bequests and payment of Elder Scholarships in Music (1897); articles related to the death and will of Sir Henry Ayers, and an 1884 letter from Peter Waite regarding a reference for one of the men in his employ (signed by Elder as a witness).
Volume 3 - Index
This book contains an alphabetical index of the content in volumes 0-2, as well as portraits and pictures of individuals (cut from newspapers and magazines) and pasted in.
Barr Smith, R. (c1874-1909) Commonplace book, Volume 2. Held at: Adelaide: University of Adelaide. Rare Books and Manuscripts, MSS 0170, Series 7
Compiled by Rebecca Lewis in fulfillment of the University of South Australia Graduate Diploma in Information Management internship program, 14 May 2021