Henry Smith, his wife and seven year old son Charles Henry arrived in Geelong from England in 1852. Henry opened a business as a cabinet maker in Ryrie Street, Geelong, where he lived and prospered until 1882, when both he and his wife passed away. Robin Ward, Henry’s gg granddaughter, told us that he was also well known for creating a prosthetic leg which had springs in the knee and ankle.
Charles Henry, attended St. Paul’s school in West Geelong and early in life displayed evidence of an ability which destined to place him in the forefront of local industry later in life. Charles Henry showed his engineering skills early, he was an engine-driver for Alfred Douglas at his wool scouring works “Barwonside”, where he remained until he was twenty nine.
In 1867 Charles Henry married Mary Danger (Mt. Duneed) who had also come out from the England in 1852 with her parents on the ship “Sir Robert Sale”.
MARY SMTIH (nee DANGER) c. R. War
In 1874 Charles Henry was appointed Manager of the Strachan, Murray and Shannon’s “Clyde” wool scouring and fellmongery works. On November 9th architects were calling for tenders for the proposed pulling shop, sweat rooms and drains, etc. In January three years later they were calling for the erection of a tannery.
Tragically at the works on 2 July 1884, fifteen year old George Bees, had his hand and arm dragged into a fleshing machine. As workers tried to remove his arm, the Manager Charles Henry Smith, rushed in and threw the driving belt off, stopping the machine and sent men into James Munday’s tannery next door to fetch a horse and cart and notify his father who worked there. He was driven to the hospital by his father where it was found that he had sustained compound comminuted fractures to his arm and severe lacerations. George suffered severe shock and died later that night. During the whole ordeal he never complained much and begged his father not to tell his mother. Another accident occurred at the Clyde on 6 December 1898 when a 21 year old man had his clothing caught in a machine and had to have his arm amputated at hospital, where he died of shock fifteen days later.
At the Centennial International Exhibition held at Melbourne in late 1888 and extending into January of the following year, Strachan, Murray and Shannon entered scoured wool in six sections that had been scoured by their Clyde fellmongery using a new patented scouring machine invented by Charles Smith, the Manager. They were awarded 1st prize in all six sections entered.
Charles continued in his role as manager until a disastrous fire broke out at the Clyde Co. on 5 August 1900 that resulted in its complete destruction. Attempts by the fire brigade were frustrated by a very poor water supply and strong winds, but had the water pressure been better the building could probably have been saved. Sheets of red hot iron were hurled through the air by strong winds and the destruction of Munday’s tannery next door was expected any minute because of the extreme heat. It was only a sudden heavy downpour of rain and the dropping of the wind that saved it. Three hours later only the chimney stack of the Clyde Co. remained standing. Over 60 men were thrown out of work as the result of the fire. Rather belatedly, in November of that year, arrangements were made by the Country Fire Brigade to have all prominent industries in the town connected by a fire alarm.
In May 1901 Charles Shannon, one of the owners of the destroyed ‘Clyde’ said the Factory Act had been an important factor which resulted in them not rebuilding, or was there any chance of doing so until the Act was modified, wages had increased up 40%. The following year on 20 March 1902, Broomfield Brown & Co. sold off the grounds of the Clyde, the plant, various buildings, machinery, wool press, boilers, etc. on cash terms. With the equipment sold off to various buyers, Charles Smith who had been the Manager since its inception, bought the land and the standing building and with his four sons rebuilt the Clyde in 1903. The covered over the pits and it became a fellmongery and tannery business with the processed pelts turned into ‘basils’, a light leather mainly used for shoe lining, the other better quality pelts turned into look-a-like crocodile skins etc. all of which were shipped to England until after World War 2 when the firm overseas closed down.
In 1904 he designed and patented an improved version of his wool scouring machine that received high acclaim both in Australia and in London. His patented machine was also used on occasions by the Excelsior Mills in the manufacture of some of their materials.
Charles Henry Smith was one of the 3 original partners in the Excelsior Woollen Mills, the other two were Charles Shannon and Godfrey Hurst, and it was mainly through Smith’s suggestion that the three purchased the old Barwon Mill and changed its name to Excelsior No 1. Smith retained his interest in the firm until his death, when his holdings in the mill were bought out by the other members of the firm.
On Friday May 8th 1908 Charles Henry, husband of Mary Smith died in his 62nd year at ‘Edgecumbe’, Aberdeen Street.
He had purchased it in 1899; previously it had been
the home of the late Silas Harding. At the time of Smith’s death, he left behind 6 daughters and 4 sons.
- Annie Maria
- Mary Catherine
- Edith Elizabeth
- Alice (Gert)
- Charles Henry
- Ernest Edward
- Albert (Bert)
On the death of their father, the four sons carried on the business of the “Clyde” works, but around 1915 Albert Victor was compelled to retire for health reasons, and William
Herbert also retired in 1928, thus leaving the control of business in the hands of the eldest son, Charles Henry Smith and his brother Ernest Edward Smith.
In September 1919 there was a protracted strike at the works because the manger, CH Smith jnr refused to reinstate a worker who had refused direction. The firm was to remain idle until January 1920 when some of the workers decided to go back, breaking the strike.
 The Argus, 1 August 1901
 Geelong Advertiser, 9 May 1908