Page 1: Biography
Smith, Edward Metcalf
Armourer, ironsands entrepreneur, politician
This biography, written by Ron Lambert, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Edward Metcalf Smith was born probably on 10 January 1839 at Bradley, Staffordshire, England, the son of Charles Smith, a monumental sculptor, and his wife, Maria Joiner. He began work in the local iron industry and several years later became apprentice gunsmith at the Royal Small Arms factories of London and Enfield and then at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
On qualifying, Edward Smith was appointed garrison armourer to the New Zealand field forces. He arrived in Auckland on the African in 1861. There, on 24 December that year, he married 16-year-old Mary Ann Golding, the daughter of Nicholas Golding, an army officer.
Smith went to England in 1864 but returned soon after to live in Taranaki with his wife and her family. He established a gunsmithing business in Devon Street, New Plymouth, and also accepted the position of armourer to the Taranaki Militia and Taranaki Rifle Volunteers. After several years he took up a similar post in the Defence Department at Wellington.
Edward Smith's association with the steel industry in his early years stimulated his long-term quest to found a viable iron industry using Taranaki ironsand; he was nicknamed 'Ironsand' as a consequence. In 1868 he and his partners, Decimus Atkinson and John Perry, announced an experimental process for smelting ironsand. Smith continued refining the process during his years with the Defence Department in Wellington, but in 1873 he resigned his position to return to Taranaki. There he founded his major venture, the Titanic Iron and Steel Company; the company's smelter was built at Te Henui, New Plymouth, in the mid 1870s. However, the translation from experimentation to commercial viability was never fully achieved – the process was too costly for there to be a profit – and the company was wound up in 1881.
Nevertheless, Smith continued his boosting of the industry and became involved as a consultant in a smelting venture at Onehunga, Auckland, in 1892. In 1896 and again in 1901 he went to Britain in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain support for further research and development.
Smith entered politics in the 1880s. He unsuccessfully contested the New Plymouth electorate for the Liberals in 1884 and in 1887, and was finally returned as MHR for Taranaki in 1890. He held this seat, except for the 1896–99 term, until his death in 1907. Smith was remembered for his unconventional attire – frock-coat, wide waistcoat, large buttonhole and tam-o'-shanter (when out of doors) – and his habit of concluding speeches with comic lines of verse, sometimes of his own composition.
Edward Smith died on 19 April 1907 as the result of injuries received after he fell from a railway carriage in New Plymouth. He was survived by seven sons and three daughters. His wife Mary Ann died in New Plymouth on 31 August 1923. Their son, Sydney George Smith, had by then become MP for Taranaki.