Phillip Island & District Historical Society

Dr L L Smith - entrepeneur, doctor, Parliamentarian.

Last updated on 08-Jul-21

At our May 2016 general meeting, Gillian and Norman Smith spoke about Norm’s grandfather Dr Louis Lawrence Smith, known as “Dr LL”, who was this area’s parliamentarian from 1859-1894. Gillian spent two years working with Professor John Poynter on a biography of Dr LL, who was a collector of arts, chairman of trustees of the Exhibition Buildings for 30 years, and had a great range of interests. The family has an enormous amount of resources about him.


Dr LL arrived in Australia in 1852. In 164 years there have only been three generations of Smith. Dr LL only came for the gold but met with little success. The family archives has a small gold nugget from him. He came out as a ship’s doctor, and since he couldn’t find gold he decided on a career in the colonies as a doctor. He became the biggest physician business in Australia, with 15 people employed filling out prescriptions at 10/- per prescription. In his lifetime he made and lost several fortunes.


Smith had a model farm of 1,000 acres in Upper Beaconsfield. There he had the first pre-fabricated house imported from England. The stables are still on the property. He produced prize-winning wine. It was so good that the French took the wine and put their own labels on it.


Norman’s father also became a trustee of the Exhibition Building and had the casting vote to save the building during the 1960s when the city council wanted to demolish it. He was a councillor for 40 years.


Dr LL won the Adelaide Cup with his horse Lady Manners Sutton. It is a beautiful cup.


Gillian described how Dr LL’s mother was French back to the 16th century. Her father was a French civil servant – a cross between a Lord Mayor and a CEO. Her Great uncle had been a general with Napoleon. She married Edward Tyrell Smith, who was the son of an Admiral, and was an entrepreneur. He left her (first of a number he left) and the family. She was left destitute to bring up two boys. LL was brought up with help from other family members and had quite a good education.


He had medical training in Paris and then at Westminster Hospital, but was forced to go out and make a living before he attended the College of Surgeons. He came to Australia at a time when the medical profession was trying to establish itself as respectable and professional. But unlike many of them, Dr LL believed in advertising his trade and fought with them as a result.


He set up practice in Melbourne and started to make ‘vegetable pills’ to cure all ills. These have been analysed and found to be herbal. He believed in them.


Once or twice a month for 16 years he wrote to his mother, and the family has all of the letters. In them he told of times of trouble, especially with the Freemasons and the medical profession, but he had lots of energy and did many benevolent things which he did not wish to be made public, though the enmities he made were public enough!


He entered parliament in 1859, and in Sep 1861, and again in Oct 1862, some of his constituents asked for Phillip Island to be opened up for closer settlement. As the member for South Burke he moved that Phillip Island be surveyed and offered under the Surveys Act. He kept at this for nine years.


He kept a seaside home at Brighton where he went for Christmas when he was feeling depressed.. He bought the land with sea frontage and was the first in his family to own property. He believed that if Phillip Island was opened up it would allow other people to have that opportunity. There is a possibility he was bipolar. He was given to self-promotion and did very well from that. His enthusiasms and zest for life endeared him to those who liked him and infuriated those who didn’t like him.


His attitude to Australia changed the longer he was here. In his early letters to his mother he told her he would be home as soon as he could be. Then he said he might come home. He claimed he would certainly come home to be buried. Later he wrote how much better a place Australia was than England – he may come to England to visit her, but was going to stay in Australia, so she should come and join him. Which she eventually did. In 1893 he visited London as a representative for industries and products and wrote that it had been great to see England again, but he was looking forward to coming ‘home’.


The Exhibition Building became the place where he would fully utilise his love of the arts. He was also a great supporter of the coal industry and fought for them in parliament. He published the first medical journal in Australia, a copy of which Norm and Gillian have. Norm’s father was a great hoarder, so they have lots of material from the family history, which now needs to be catalogued.


In 1883 Dr LL was pushing for the protection of forests, the importance of trees and of not degrading the land.


He invented a treatment for gout which he wrote a book about and that in 1961 was proven to be correct. The medical fraternity set him up as a deadly abortion doctor. They claimed that he had treated a particular woman, including an abortion, and she had later died from that. But the autopsy showed there was no sign of an abortion and that she had actually died of tuberculosis. 3,000 people attended her funeral to display their abhorrence of how the medical fraternity had just used her to get at Dr LL.


Dr LL supported the sculptor Standish when he was in gaol. The family has a little money book in which Dr LL recorded the amounts he had given to Standish, who, in return, carved Dr LL a knuckle bone.


Dr LL liked speculation, even though he promised his mother he would not do it. The property that has been Beaconsfield tea Rooms in 1890 is still in the family.


He was considered at one time to be the “Father of Victoria’s Parliament”, but he was yesterday’s man by the time he died in 1910 at the age of 80 years from pneumonia which developed from a chill.


Julie Box reported that Dr LL was responsible for her family being on Phillip Island, as Julie’s Richardson forebears had heard Dr LL speak and so came to the island to visit shooting deer. Back in Kyneton he took a petition around and got 10 families to come to Phillip Island through the 1869 ballot.


Q: How many children did Dr LL have?

A: he had 11 in all, five of which survived – 2 sons and 3 daughters. His sons went to Sydney. One of the daughters tripped and dislodged a boulder when the family was visiting Upper Beaconsfield for a picnic. The boulder fell on her and killed her. Dr LL’s reaction was to take all of the children out of school and take them for a trip to England.