Lives of the fellows

Andrew (Sir) Smith

b.1797 d.12 August 1872
KCB(1858) MD Hon LLD Edin Hon MD Dubl FRS FRCP(1860) Hon FRCS Edin Hon FFPS Glasg

Andrew Smith was the son of T. P. Smith, of Heron Hall, Roxburgh. He served a three years’ apprenticeship with a local surgeon before studying medicine at Edinburgh University. After qualifying, he joined the army as a hospital assistant in the year of Waterloo. His subsequent career was distinguished. For seventeen years he served in South Africa. Four years after his arrival he took part in a mission to the Kaffir tribes and, in 1828, he visited the Orange River bushmen, his observations being afterwards embodied in Origin and History of the Bushmen, which was translated into French and German. His representations, as the result of another expedition in 1830 to Natal and Zululand, led to the foundation of the Colony of Natal. He himself declined the office of Lieutenant-Governor. In 1834 he was leader of a party of exploration sent to Matabeleland and the Limpopo River. Smith, on his travels, made large collections of natural history specimens, which added greatly to current knowledge of South Africa’s zoology and ethnography. He acted as honorary director of the government civil museum at Cape Town for many years. After his return to England, he published Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa in five volumes.

His first appointment in England was that of principal medical officer at Fort Pitt, Chatham, which he held until 1846, when he was transferred to London as professional assistant to Sir James McGrigor. On the latter’s retirement in 1851, Smith was chosen by Wellington to be his successor as inspector-general and superintendent of the Army Medical Department. Created director-general of the Army and Ordnance Medical Departments in 1853, he was censured by the Press for gross mismanagement during the Crimean War and, although he successfully vindicated himself before committees of enquiry, he must be held partly responsible for the medical maladministration. When he retired in 1858, he was created a K.C.B. He was a man of forceful character and irascible and pugnacious temper. To Florence Nightingale, both during and after the War, he was plainly an enemy of reform. " Poor Andrew Smith," wrote Sidney Herbert during a sitting of the Royal Commission of 1857, " swallowed some bitter pills to-day, including Pavilions."

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1872; B.M.J., 1872; Sir E. T. Cook, Life of Florence Nightingale, 1913, i, passim; C. Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale, 1950, 153, 281, 309; D.N.B., liii, 15; Roll of Army Medical Service, 3998]

(Volume IV, page 131)

<< Back to List