Sir Antony Reardon Smith, Bt, scion of a Welsh ship-owning and philanthropic dynasty – obituary

By the time Reardon Smith succeeded as chairman of the group in the 1980s the fortunes of British merchant ships were waning

Antony Reardon Smith

Sir Antony Reardon Smith, 4th Bt, who has died aged 84, was the scion of a famous Welsh shipping company and a philanthropist.

William Antony John Reardon Smith, the fourth baronet of Appledore, Devon, was born in Cardiff on June 20 1937. The baronetcy was created in 1920 for William Reardon Smith (1856-1935) – who had started his career at sea as a ship’s cook in the trading smack Unity and risen to master and then shipowner – in recognition of his contribution to the war effort 1914-18.

His companies (they had many incarnations and different names) had started the war with nine tramp steamers, and acquired 12 more, but 10 were lost, several while in the coal trade from South Wales.

Young Antony Reardon Smith was educated at Wycliffe College, Gloucestershire, before National Service on the lower deck in the Royal Navy (1956-57), when he served as an Able Seaman in the fleet aircraft carrier Eagle during the Suez Crisis.

Reardon Smith: enjoyed the challenge of running a livery company (as Clerk of the the Fuellers’), and the social life

Having joined the family firm, then known under the name of Sir William Reardon Smith & Sons, he became a director in 1959. In the cyclical business of shipping, it was a time of bust, but the Reardon Smith companies survived and remained profitable through a vigorous programme of disposing of elderly ships and building a class of motor ships which were regarded as the best looking tramp ships to enter postwar service.

The companies rode out other downturns in the shipping industry by continuous, relentless disposals, by replacing tramp ships with bulk carriers, and, in the 1970s, by building a fleet of oil-drilling vessels. Gradually the Reardon Smith companies also moved into chartering ships and into ship management for others, for example in Canada, Mexico and Hong Kong.

The company also survived the 1976 case of Reardon Smith v Hansen Tangen, when, during a collapse of the oil market, it sought to refuse to accept a charter vessel, the tanker Diana Prosperity, whose build in Japan had been subcontracted to another yard. The House of Lords’ rejection of Reardon Smith’s claim is held to be a landmark case in English contract law.

Although the Reardon Smith companies strongly identified with South Wales, and Antony was a proud Welshman, the family originated across the Bristol Channel in North Devon, had purposely recruited people from around Barnstaple and, whenever possible, had placed orders there.

Reardon Smith: his Christian faith found expression through the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem

In 1985 Antony Reardon Smith succeeded as chairman of the group. But the 1980s was once more a period of bust and the tonnage of British flag merchant ships was falling rapidly. The number of ships in the direct ownership of the Reardon Smith Line fell to just four, and this time the business collapsed.

Subsequently Reardon Smith held a number of appointments in the City, and in 2002 he began another career, as Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Fuellers, one of the more recent livery companies. He was saddened never to have returned to mainstream shipping, but the Fuellers provided him with the challenge of running a livery company, combined with the social life which he relished.

As clerk for 14 years, he helped to implement the Fuellers’ generous charitable policy, giving two-thirds of its income to education and research, its military affiliates, the RNLI, and causes linked to the energy industry. He also continued the tradition started by his great grandfather, who had benefited many institutions in Wales over the years, including the Reardon Smith Nautical College.

His Christian faith found expression through the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, of which he became a knight in 1997, a knight commander in 2002, and bailiff (2002-08).

Antony Reardon Smith married, in 1962, Sue Wight, who survives him with their three sons and a daughter; his son Nicolas “Nic” Reardon Smith, born in 1963, succeeds in the baronetcy.

Sir Antony Reardon Smith, Bt, born June 20 1937, died June 8 2022