Commemorated by Smail St Ultimo, John Moore Smail was chief engineer for the Water Board and for 20 years in charge of both Sydney’s water supply and its sewerage system. In the years 1898 to 1902 he lived at Winster on the corner of Boyce St and Bell St. When he moved to his permanent home at Neutral Bay, Winster’s next occupier was wool buyer Alfred Herchuez.
John Moore Smail was born in 1850 at Millers Point, where his father, Alexander Smail (1816-1867), owned a bakery previously operating in Bathurst St, having survived bankruptcy in 1848. Alexander and his first wife Violet née McLeod had arrived in Sydney from Scotland on 10 January 1844 aboard the Herald with five-year-old Violet jnr and three-year-old Robert. The little girl died a month later and Alexander jnr was born the same year. In 1847 their mother died at the age of 23 and Alexander wed Irish-born Margaret Moore (1826-1870). John Moore was the second child born of this marriage. His siblings were James (1848-1901), William (1853-1889), Isabella (1854-1945), George Edward (1856-1908), Fanny Jane (1858-1920) and Charles Adam (1859-1874). Their half-brother Alexander jnr was in 1873 (at the time of the death of his wife Louisa Ann) living on the corner of Derwent St and Harden St Glebe. The Smail family were Presbyterian.
John Moore Smail was educated at Fort Street and Sydney Grammar. Through the influence of his father, a City of Sydney alderman 1864-1867, he was apprenticed to the City Engineer whose department controlled Sydney’s water supply. In 1879 he was appointed the first engineer of the newly created Sewerage Board; later he also became engineer-in-chief for the Water Board. John Smail was the first president of the Institute of Local Government Engineers of Australasia and its first Life Member, a member of the Association of Municipal and County Engineers of Great Britain, and a member of the Royal Society of Australia. He conducted routine biological testing of the Sydney sewerage network and inspected similar systems in Europe and America. He was also an officer in the army reserve and a magistrate.
At the time of his death on 17 June 1920, Smail was engineer-in-chief to the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage. He was buried at Rookwood with his wife Margaret Jane née Wright, a daughter of the principal of the Teachers’ Training College, who had died aged 51 on 3 May 1901. Offspring of the couple, who married in 1874, were: Herbert Stuart Inglis (1875-1928), Ruby Margaret (1877-1959), Muriel Isabel (1879-1944), John Alexander Moore (1881-1934) and Olive (1885-1963).
Both sons graduated B.E. (Civil) from Sydney University. Herbert worked in Malaya as an irrigation engineer. As a sectional engineer with the Postmaster-General’s Department, John jnr was in charge of placing Sydney city’s telephone lines underground. John jnr’s only child, John Moore Smail (‘Jock’) was the anti-fascist president of the Sydney University Labor Club before graduating in law in 1935. A solicitor, he served postwar in the Army Legal Corps in Malaya, Thailand, Japan and Korea. Admitted to the Bar in 1959, Jock Smail was the author of several law books.
Sources: City of Sydney aldermen website; Evening News 17.6.1920; NSW cemetery records; NSW online registry of births, deaths, marriages; Roy-Royes family links website; Sands Directories; State Records NSW; Sydney Morning Herald 5.10.1893, 7.7.1898, 18.6.1920, 21.6.1920; Sydney Wool and Stock Journal 23.9.1910.