Granny Smith was a Fluke

The most popular all-purpose apple in Australia is the Granny Smith – a variety which originated by chance more that 100 years ago in the garden of “Granny” Smith near Sydney.

Maria Ann Smith was baptised on 5th January 1800 in the rural parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Peasmarsh, Sussex, England, daughter of John Sherwood, farm labourer, and his wife Hannah, nee Wright. Maria followed her parents into farm service. On 8th August 1819 in the parish church at Ebony, Kent, she married Thomas Smith (1799-1876), a farm labourer from Beckley. Both bride and groom signed with a “mark”. The Smiths lived at Beckley for the next nineteen years, during which time Maria bore eight children, three of whom died in infancy. With several other families from Peasmarsh, Beckley and surrounding villages in eastern Sussex  and western Kent , the family migrated to New South Wales under the government  bounty scheme. They arrived in Sydney aboard the “Lady Nugent” on 27th November 1838.


On one occasion, after taking a load of her produce to Paddy’s Market in Sydney, she chose to buy a small barrel of crab apples to make apple tarts. On bringing them home she found she could only use half the barrel – the rest had unfortunately gone bad. Deciding to keep the barrel for other uses, she emptied the bad apples on a bit of a garbage pile she had near a creek at the end of the property. Some months later, she returned to discover a small tree pushing its way through the rubbish and noticed by the shape of the leaf  that it was an apple tree. She then transplanted the tree and nurtured it. In time it grew strong and produced a batch of green apples, with a previously unknown, but quite appealing, taste. They became particularly popular around Eastwood, where they were affectionately called “Granny Smith’s Apples”, and that green Aussie apple has now been accepted throughout the world.


An article that appeared in the June edition of the “Farmer and Settler” in 1924 by the Dundas orchardist and local historian Herbert Rumsey talks about the time he interviewed two fruit-growers who had known Maria. One remembered that in 1868 he and his father had been invited by her to examine a seedling apple growing on her property and that she had explained that the seedling had developed from the remains of some crab-apples. According to this recollection , Mrs. Smith, herself then began to work a few of these seedling trees and soon afterwards Edward Gallard, a local orchardist, planted out a large number of them, from which he marketed a crop annually until his death in 1914.

Mr. James Spurway, an experienced nurseryman, used buds from the original “Granny Smith” tree for propagation purposes and this now world-famous variety was started on its career.
The Granny Smith apple tree produces vigorous growth and large crops and is grown in a big numbers throughout the Commonwealth and in other countries.

Maria Ann Smith, died on the 9th March 1870 at Ryde and lies buried in St. Anne’s Anglican Church, Ryde, Sydney. Her husband, three sons and two daughters survived her. She was the midwife for the township of Eastwood. Present at the birth of so many young Australians in that region, she developed a special place in their affections, hence her name “Granny” Smith. Maria Smith was a battling Aussie Pioneer woman. Her husband’s illness meant she had the tackle, not only of caring for her family and being a midwife, but also of running a small farm and orchard.

The apple was not a commercial variety in her lifetime but its cultivation was sustained by local orchardists, including Gallard – who purchased part of the Smith farm after Thomas’s death in 18765. By 1891-92 “Granny Smith’s seedlings” had begun to win prizes in the cooking-apple class and several local growers were exhibiting the apples. In 1895 Granny Smith’s seedlings were planted on a large scale at the Government Experimental Station at Bathurst. That year the variety was included in the Department of Agriculture’s list of fruits suitable for export and began its long and successful commercial life.


The Granny Smith was first brought to Western Australia just after World War One and is now our principal variety. Because of the ideal climatic and soil conditions, this State grows the world’s best Granny Smiths.
Each season there is an abundant crop of choice Granny Smith apples grown in Western Australia. The apples reach their peak of perfection and full maturity when the skin starts to show yellow. The flavour is then at its best, being fully mature, crisp and sweet.

Reference: Article: Pickering Brook Heritage Group
Australian Dictionary of Biography

Images: “Us Aussies” by Mal Garvia