Methuen, Matilda - I7

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First Class Passenger 
Matilda Methuen
Died 1922
Matilda Waite with two sons David and James, ca1875
Matilda Waite with two sons David (a few months) and James (8) ca1875; Source SLSA: B29467, Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia
Nationality  Scottish
Died 1922
Genealogy Data
Person ID I7
Marriage Family/Families
Waite Family - F26
Spouse Peter Waite 
(9 May 1834 – 4 Apr 1922)
Nationality  Scottish
Married 21 Nov 1864

Agnes Waite (1866 – Abt 1879)
James Waite (1867 – 1954)
John Waite (1869 – 1869)
Elizabeth Waite (1870 – 5 Apr 1931)
David Waite (b. 1875)
Maude Waite (1877 – 1877)
Eva Waite (4 Sep 1880 – 30 Jul 1971)
Lily Waite (9 Feb 1873 – 9 Jun 1953)
Voyage Data
Voyage to Adelaide in 1864
Personal role First Class Passenger
Name on list Miss Matilda Methuen
Joined place London
Left place Adelaide

Matilda Methuen arrived at Port Adelaide on Monday 7th November 1864 on the maiden voyage of the City of Adelaide. She had travelled to South Australia expressly to marry her cousin Peter Waite. Exactly two weeks later, on the 21st November, the couple were married at the Woodville home of their fellow Scotsman, pastoralist Robert Barr Smith.

Matilda was a daughter of James Methuen of Leith near Edinburgh, Scotland.

Peter Waite, the son of farmer James Waite and his wife Elizabeth Stocks, was born at Pitcairn, Glenrothes near Kirkcaldy in Fifeshire, and just over the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh. He was left fatherless at an early age. After leaving school, Waite trained and worked as an ironmonger in Edinburgh and Aberdeen until 1859, when he sailed to Melbourne on the British Trident, and went on to South Australia.

He joined his brother James on Pandappa station near Terowie, worked there for some years, and acquired a thorough knowledge of the pastoral industry. Then in conjunction with Thomas Elder, who was also born in Kirkcaldy, he bought Paratoo station, took over Pandappa after his brother’s death, and gradually obtained interests in other stations. His innovative management of pastoral properties made him a fabulously wealthy man by the 1870s.

Matilda and Peter in South Australia

Peter Waite with three daughters Agnes (9), Elizabeth (5) and Lily (2) ca1875; Source SLSA: B29466, Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Peter and Matilda Waite had eight children : Agnes 1866 (died at 13 years), James 1867, John 1869 (died in infancy), Elizabeth 1870-1931, Lily 1873, David 1875, Maude 1877 (died in infancy) and Eva 1880.

The family lived at Paratoo on the “Eastern Plains” in the mid-north of the State until they bought Urrbrae, near Adelaide, in 1874.

The Waites subsequently demolished the original home to build the existing Urrbrae House, which was completed in 1891. His interest in innovation resulted in Urrbrae House becoming the first private house in South Australia to have electricity and its own domestic refrigeration plant, complete with ammonia compressor and fan. The wall and ceiling papers are the work of the same interior decorator responsible for the stateroom on the Titanic. (This heritage building is regularly open for inspection.)

Waite retired in 1921 and died of heart failure in April 1922 at Victor Harbor, SA; he was survived by Matilda (who also died in 1922), a son and three daughters. His family continued the tradition of generous gifts to the university and to the institute.

Urrbrae ca 1890; Source SLSA: B14454, Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Scottish Philanthropists

Peter Waite

Peter Waite (1834-1922) thoroughly understood the needs of pastoralists. He entered into business partnership with Thomas Elder and Robert Barr Smith, and in 1883 became chairman of Elder’s Wool and Produce, a subsidiary of Elder Smith and Co, to arrange for their supplies and to manage the disposal of their wool and sheep. When the two companies amalgamated in 1888, Waite was elected chairman of directors, a position he held until 1921. With his business acumen, Elder Smith and Co diversified into pastoral concerns, becoming one of the world's largest wool selling companies. It also had interests in Adelaide Steamtug and Adelaide Steamship companies. Waite held several other directorships including the Mutooroo, Beltana and Moomba Pastoral companies and British Broken Hill Mining.

In the 1870s Waite was a patron of the arts and later became a benefactor to the pastoral and agricultural industry. In 1913 he presented to the University of Adelaide his valuable Urrbrae Estate of 134 acres and the house, subject to life tenancy for himself and his wife. In 1915 he added the adjoining Claremont and Netherby estates of 165 acres, and in 1923 there was established on the site the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, home to world-renowned research and education in agriculture and oenology. A further 114-acre site nearby was given to the South Australian government for Urrbrae Agricultural High School, followed in 1918 by 5880 shares in Elder Smith and Co. to enable the land to be used as intended. Waite's bequest remains one of the largest public benefactions in South Australia's history.

Robert Barr Smith ca 1885; (source SLSA: B45739, Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia)

Robert Barr Smith

Robert Barr Smith (1824-1915) graduated from Glasgow University in 1842 and embarked on a business career as a commission and supply merchant to the colonies of Australia. In 1854 he moved to Melbourne, and two years later to Adelaide, where he married Joanna Elder, sister of his business partner, Thomas Elder. In 1863 he and Thomas Elder became sole partners in Elder Smith and Co, and their interests quickly grew and diversified to include farming, pastoralism, trading, and copper mining. The Company opened large areas of outback South Australia, and had property interests in South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales. By 1890 the partners owned an area greater than their native Scotland. When he died in 1915, Robert was survived by his wife, three of his seven daughters and one of his six sons.

Although the Waites, the Barr Smiths and the Elders accumulated great wealth, they were also noted philanthropists. Among many gifts to various institutions, Robert Barr Smith, followed by his son Tom, donated to the University of Adelaide more than £50,000 much of which was used to construct the Barr Smith Library. It is said that Robert Barr Smith declined a knighthood.

George Elder

George Elder, merchant and shipowner, and his wife Joanna had four sons : William 1813, Alexander 1815, George 1816 and Sir Thomas Elder (1818-1897), all born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. When the family decided to extend its business to the new province of South Australia in 1839, each of the boys in turn sailed to help establish Elders Ltd in the colony. All were markedly successful, but by 1855 each of the first three had returned to live in Scotland or London.

(Sir) Thomas Elder ca 1870, Portrait of Sir Thomas Elder from Lake Hope from the S.A. Northern Pioneers' composite (source SLSA: B6912-F7, Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia)

Thomas Elder

(Sir) Thomas Elder migrated to Adelaide in 1854 and worked for a year with George. Thomas then formed partnerships with others, and they financed the Wallaroo and Moonta Copper Mines which, after initial risks, brought them great wealth. After the others retired, he and Robert Barr Smith, his only remaining partner formed Elder Smith and Co.

Elder was an enthusiastic and practical supporter of exploration, and saw the camel as the answer to the transport problems of the outback. He imported breeding camels and Afghans to manage the beasts. His camels were used in building the overland telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin in 1872, and they were indispensable to the explorer Warburton and to Ernest Giles. Thomas was a member of the SA Legislative Council in 1863-69 and 1871-78. In 1878 he was appointed K.C.M.G. and in 1887 G.C.M.G. Although his sister Mrs Joanna Barr Smith was a prominent hostess in Adelaide’s social circle, Thomas always lived quietly and never married. For ten years from 1873 he raced horses with varying success. He bought Birksgate at Glen Osmond, then in 1885 he built a house on Mount Lofty in Scottish baronial style, where he died in March 1897.

His philanthropy is evident in South Australia, particularly at the University of Adelaide, where his name is commemorated in the Elder Hall and the Elder Conservatorium. He gave £20,000 to endow chairs in mathematics and general science, £31,000 to the Medical School, £21,000 to the School of Music and £26,000 for general university purposes. He also included in his will bequests of £10,000 to Presbyterians, £4000 to Anglicans for their cathedral, and £4000 to Methodists for their Prince Alfred College. He left £25,000 for the foundation of Working Men's Homes and £16,000 to hospitals. There is a statue of him on North Terrace, Adelaide.


Researched by Ron Roberts, Adelaide, South Australia