Fonds SMIA - Papers of Arthur Hamilton Smith

Identity area

Reference code



Papers of Arthur Hamilton Smith


  • 1872-1962 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

Three boxes: paper (correspondence, printed material, photographs); lock of hair; leather bound notebooks and leather wallet for award of patent.

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Arthur Hamilton Smith was born on 2 October 1860 and was the fourth son of the mathematician Archibald Smith (1813-1872) and his wife Susan (1835/6-1913), daughter of Sir James Parker; his five brothers included Sir James Parker Smith and Sir Henry Babington Smith. After attending Dr Spyer's school at Weybridge, he was a scholar at Winchester College (1874-1879); renouncing a nomination to the Indian Civil Service, he then went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, obtaining a second class in part one of the classical tripos (1881) and a first class in part two (1883) with special distinction in archaeology. In 1882 he became a member of the Apostles Society.

He travelled in Greece, Italy and Sicily in 1884 before joining an expedition, in Asia Minor with the archaeologist William Mitchell Ramsay; he was however forced to leave early due to ill health. In 1885 he travelled to Egypt; afterwards he entered the department of Greek and Roman antiquities in the British Museum in April 1886, under Sir Charles Newton and then Alexander Stuart Murray. With Murray, he produced the "Catalogue of Engraved Gems" (1888) and "White Athenian Vases" (1896); the latter included reproductions by the 'cyclograph' he designed himself for the photographing of cylindrical surfaces, which earned him a gold medal at the Berlin photographic exhibition in 1896. The "Catalogue of Sculpture" (3 vols., 1892–1904), and the "Guide" to the department (first edition 1899) were his sole work. In 1893-1894 and 1896 he joined excavations in Cyprus under Murray's direction, undertaken thanks to a bequest from Emma Tournour Turner; these were written up by Murray, Smith, and Henry Beauchamp Walters (1900). He also published catalogues of classical items in the Lansdowne (1889), Yarborough (1897), and Woburn Abbey (1900) collections. Smith became assistant keeper of the department in 1904, and keeper from the beginning of 1909; he was therefore responsible for the successful safeguarding of the collections during the First World War; his further publications include an article on the Parthenon Sculptures ("Lord Elgin and his collection", Journal of Hellenic Studies, 36, 1916, p163–372), published to mark the centenary of their acquisition, and seeking to defend Elgin from the criticisms of Byron and others.

His main professional activities outside the Museum were in connection for the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, being a member of the council from 1887 onwards, and successively serving as joint editor of the journal, librarian, vice-president and, from 1924-1929, president He was also vice-president of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, and was associated with the Byzantine Research Fund. He retired from the British Museum in October 1925, serving as director of the British School at Rome, for which he had been chairman of the faculty of Archæology, History, and Letters from 1922, between 1928-1930 and again in 1932. He was elected fellow of the Society of Antiquities in 1893 and of the British Academy in 1924, and an honorary associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1925; he was also corresponding member of the German and Austrian archaeological institutes. He was an honorary member of the Art-Workers' Guild and of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. In 1926 he was appointed CB.

Smith married Gertrude Prudence Blomfield (1870–1961), daughter of Rev. Blomfield Jackson, on 28 April 1897; they had one daughter, Elizabeth (1899-1987). They lived in Bloomsbury, from 1912 in an official residence in the British Museum; they moved to Weybridge, Surrey in 1932 and Smith died there on 28 September 1941.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The papers were given to the library in 1984 by Bernard Babington Smith.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The collection comprises: letters to Arthur Hamilton Smith, including one from John Forsdyke, April 1939, on the controversial British Museum cleaning of the Parthenon sculptures, c. 27 items, 1903-1939; Smith's 'Statement of Services' and testimonials in application for the position of Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, 1908; notebooks kept on archaeological expeditions in Asia Minor, 1884 (includes two photographs) and Cyprus, 1890s; 'Letts Oblong Diary, 1909' containing an account of travels in Greece, Egypt and Italy.

Personal material of Arthur Hamilton Smith includes a notebook labelled ""Annals of the C[ambridge University Fencing Club, founded 1882"; diary, 1883-1890 (with gaps); [Apostles Society dinner] menus, 1885-1888; notebook kept by Smith recording outgoings on his 'Cash Account', 1897-1936; photograph of Smith as a young man and another of his house in Rome; material relating to his being appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1926.

There are also letters and postcards from Arthur Hamilton Smith to his wife Gertrude (59 items, 1897-1922), sister Daisy /Margaret (1881), and mother Susan (74 items, 1881-1912); these often include accounts of his work and travels, and sometimes sketches; occasional items are written in shorthand. Letters to Susan Smith from schoolmasters about her son Arthur (1872, 1879) and his reports from Winchester College (1874-1877), Herbert Kitchener about her son Charlie (1883?), and letters from Gertrude and Blomfield Jackson written on Gertrude's engagement to Arthur (1897); letters to Gertrude on her engagement from Margaret Smith (1897), and on the death of her husband (1941).

Fifteen letters to Elizabeth Hamilton Smith from her parents (1903-1932) and one from 'Archie' (1962); this last appears to relate to a letter of the same date about the Shell Periphery Camera sent to A[rchibald?] Parker Smith and asking for further details about Arthur Hamilton Smith's patent 'Cyclograph', regarding which there is further correspondence of Elizabeth Hamilton Smith, as well as the original award of the patent in 1895.

Legal and financial material, much to do with family trusts and property (c 15 items, 1896-1921), as well as printed material such as the obituary of Arthur Hamilton Smith by F. G. Kenyon in the "Proceedings of the British Academy", 1941.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


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Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

NOTE. These papers have not yet been catalogued, but it might be possible to make them available for consultation provided at least a fortnight's notice is given. It may be that some items, owing to their contents or condition, cannot yet be produced. Please contact the Library for further details.

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • Ancient Greek
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Latin

Script of material

    Language and script notes

    Some items in shorthand

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    Finding aids

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    Related units of description

    British Museum, department of Greek and Roman antiquities: field notebooks from excavations in Cyprus

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    Level of detail

    Dates of creation revision deletion




        Archivist's note

        Collection level record created by Rebecca Hughes in June 2019.

        Accession area