Lives of the fellows

Grafton Elliot (Sir) Smith

b.15 August 1871 d.1 January 1937
MB ChM Sydney(1893) MD MA Cantab LittD Manch DSc Liverp Hon MD Adelaide Hon DSc Belf Bristol FRS FRCP(1915) Hon FRFPS Glasg Hon FRS Edin

Grafton Elliot Smith was born at Grafton, New South Wales, the son of the headmaster of a school in Sydney, which he himself attended as a boy. He went on to study medicine at the University, and, after graduating as M.B, Ch.M,in 1893, acted as a demonstrator of anatomy there and as a resident at the Prince Alfred Hospital. In 1896, he won a travelling fellowship and gained admittance to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he continued noteworthy researches on cerebral morphology which he had begun at Sydney. He was appointed a demonstrator of anatomy and in 1899 elected a fellow of St. John’s. A year later, however, he left Cambridge to become the first professor of anatomy in the new Government School of Medicine at Cairo. Here, almost inevitably, a new interest enveloped him, and, in addition to setting his department on its feet and pursuing his neurological and anatomical researches, he became a student of anthropology. He supervised the anthropological survey of Nubia and, having examined several thousand bodies dating from various ages, was able to describe the life-history of the inhabitants of the Nile Valley 6000 years ago. Many of his observations were published during his tenure of his next appointment, the chair of anatomy at Manchester, from 1909 to 1919. In the war years he worked on shell-shock and other disorders of the nervous system, and from 1913 to 1919 he represented Manchester University on the General Medical Council. In 1909,1911 and 1920, he delivered the Arris and Gale lectures before the Royal College of Surgeons, and in 1919 the Croonian Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians. He received the Royal Society’s Royal Medal in 1912.

Elliot Smith’s last post was at University College, London, where, as professor of anatomy from 1919 to 1936, he threw himself into the work of the new Institute of Anatomy endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation. He stimulated research in many fields, not only at the Institute but also in foreign centres of learning. His own views in their maturity were set forth in such books as Elephants and Ethnologists (1924), Essays in Evolution (1927), and Human History (1930). Generally, he favoured the ethnological doctrine of the "diffusion of culture" — that culture had spread throughout the world from one original locality, in Central Asia. Personally, Elliot Smith, who was knighted in 1934, was a man of high ability, adventurous spirit, and dynamic personality. He married in 1900 Katherine Macredie, by whom he had three sons. He died at Broadstairs.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1937; B.M.J., 1937; Nature, 9, 30 Jan. 1937; Times, 2 Jan. 1937; W. R. Dawson, ed., Sir G. Elliot Smith, [1938]]

(Volume IV, page 545)

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