Thomas Elder

Thomas Elder was born in Kircaldy FIF 5 August 1818, the fourth son of George, merchant and shipowner, and his wife Joanna Haddow, née Lang. Thomas followed his elder brother Alexander Lang Elder to South Australia in mid 1854. Alexander had arrived in South Australia in 1840 on his father's schooner, Minerva, to extend the family business to the new province.
Alexander established the business, Elder and Company. He was also elected to the Legislative Council in 1851 but left the colony in 1853. Thomas eventually became the chief partner in Elder and Company which became Elder Smith and Company in 1863 when a fellow Scot from Lochwinnoch AYR, Robert Barr Smith, purchased a partnership. Amongst his other interests Thomas Elder became a pastoralist and his rural landholdings eventually exceeded the area of the whole of Scotland!
In 1862 Elder introduced the camel to Australia and this animal was instrumental in opening up large tracts of the arid inland region of the nation. The first camels were landed at Port Augusta and Beltana Station in the Flinders Ranges was established as the centre of the camel breeding program. The camel's contribution to the development of Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century cannot be over estimated although today the feral descendants of these beasts are proving to be a problem albeit less damaging to the environment than some of the other cloven hoofed animals, rabbits and cane toads.
Elder became an extremely wealthy man and Adelaide benefited from his huge monetary bequests. He gave £25 000 to the Art Gallery of SA and his bequests to the University of Adelaide almost totalled £100 000. His name is remembered in the Elder Conservatorium of Music based at the University of Adelaide and Elder Park on the banks of the River Torrens. His statue can be seen on North Terrace in front of the Elder Conservatorium.
Sir Thomas Elder who never married retired to Mount Lofty where he died 6 March 1897 and was buried in the Mitcham Cemetery.

Other members of the Elder family were also involved in Adelaide commerce for brief periods. Thomas' other brothers William and George also were engaged in the family business but both returned to the UK. His sister, Joanna married Robert Barr Smith in 1858.

With the camels came their handlers, collectively known as Afghans, but also from the Muslim areas adjacent to Afghanistan. The first permanent mosque in Australia was built in Little Gilbert Street Adelaide although many inland settlements had mosques.

The camel in Australia

Some notable achievements as the result of employing camels:
• opening up the arid interior particularly by Burke and Wills, McKinlay, Warburton, Gosse, Giles.
• police outback patrols.
• supplying remote settlements.
• well sinking, dam scraping and raising water in wells.
• carrying out wool and minerals to railheads.
• delivering the mail.
• building the railway to Alice Springs and Perth.
• construction of the overland telegraph to Darwin.
• patrolling parts of the dog and rabbit fences.
• carrying WW1 soldiers into battle in the Middle East as part of the Camel Corps.
• provision of meat, leather and wool (a modern development in Australia).

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