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.
the business, Elder and Company. He was
also elected to the Legislative Council in 1851
but left the colony in 1853. Thomas eventually
chief partner in Elder and Company which
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.
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
contribution to the development of Australia in
the late nineteenth and early twentieth century
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
Elder became an extremely wealthy man and Adelaide
benefited from his huge monetary bequests. He
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
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,
• police outback patrols.
• supplying remote settlements.
• well sinking, dam scraping and raising
water in wells.
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).