Born in Scotland on 17 April 1874, Helen Macpherson Smith, aged six months, moved to Melbourne with her family. The Smiths and Macphersons, two branches of Helen’s extended family, were successful Australian graziers and timber merchants.
In 1901, at the age of 27, Helen married William John Schutt, a successful barrister, who was appointed to the bench of the Victorian Supreme Court in 1919. While Helen left Australia for Europe in 1923, William remained in Melbourne, making several trips to Europe over the following decade to travel with Helen. On a return sea voyage in 1933 he suffered a fatal fall and was given a ship’s burial in the Red Sea.
After William’s death Helen divided her time between Switzerland and the south of France. She died from pneumonia on 19 April 1951 at the Hotel Majestic in Cannes, aged 77. Despite being a woman of means, she was buried in a pauper’s grave in Marseilles. Her body was later cremated and her ashes scattered to the winds of the Mediterranean coast, as was her wish. In 2001 an obelisk was erected in the family plot at the Melbourne General Cemetery as a permanent memorial.
On her passing Helen left the majority of her wealth, £275,000, to establish a perpetual philanthropic trust to benefit Victoria and Victorians. Launched as the Helen M. Schutt Trust, the name was changed to the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust in 2001 to acknowledge the Macpherson and Smith families as the source of her legacy.
In 2022, just over 71 years after Helen’s death, the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust has granted $137 million to Victorian charitable causes. Though she lived a private life, the legacy of Helen Macpherson Smith’s generosity now publicly and in perpetuity improves the lives of many Victorians.