Louisa Lort Smith, née Montgomery, was born in Sale in 1875 and died on 16 July 1956. She was one of twelve children. Her father, William Montgomery, had been a soldier in the 50th Regiment, a career he gave up in 1841 when he was nineteen. He is said to have had a strong pioneering spirit, and settled on an estate named ‘Childhood Heart’ near Sale where he bred cattle. From the age of eight Louisa drove a small goat cart around the paddocks looking for lost and abandoned calves to bring in to the homestead for care. The children were brought up on the estate enjoying the excitement of an active outdoor life.
Growing up on a cattle station made Louisa sensitive to the cruelty perpetrated on animals through branding and slaughtering methods. This influenced her dedication to the prevention of cruelty to animals in all forms.
In 1885 the family business failed and the Montgomerys moved to Caulfield.
A description of Mrs Lort Smith conveys a formidable, determined woman of great presence:
‘Short and stout, she was more like a hansom cab than a fashion plate in build. She had intense blue eyes, and a stare from her could stop any animal beater in his tracks. When she got up to speak everyone listened. (Margaret Hazzard writing in Parade, June 1974).
Louisa’s marriage certificate recorded her profession as pianist, but she was also a dance teacher. She taught many well-known people including the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt and Dame Mabel Brookes. Her marriage in 1925 gave Mrs Lort Smith sufficient financial independence to allow her to devote her time to the welfare of animals. She travelled overseas to England, Scotland and America three times, visiting animal welfare institutions and publicising the work of Melbourne’s Animal Welfare League.
Mrs Lort Smith’s ashes were buried under the grass plot in the Lort Smith Animal Hospital in accordance with her wishes. A bird-bath was erected erected in her memory, and also a memory pool, neither of which still remain. During the rebuilding of the hospital her ashes were dug up and carefully looked after until they could be safely reburied under the grass. In December 2001 her nephew and niece, John Montgomery Dale and Angela Darling, unveiled a plaque which they donated to the hospital in her memory.’
Excerpt from The Kindness of Strangers, by Felicity Jack
More than eighty years on, Louisa’s passion and commitment to caring for animals and people is still at the heart of Lort Smith.