Smith, Arthur Hamilton (1860–1941), museum curator

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Smith, Arthur Hamilton (1860–1941), museum curator

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Dates of existence

1860–1941

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.

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Related entity

Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

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associative

Dates of relationship

1928-1932

Description of relationship

Chairman of Faculty of Archæology, History, and Letters, British School at Rome, 1922–28 Director, 1928-1930 and 1932

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Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies (founded 1879)

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Category of relationship

associative

Dates of relationship

1887-1941

Description of relationship

Member of council, 1887 onwards: joint editor of the journal, 1892-1898; librarian, 1896-1908, 1912 -1924; vice-president, 1907-1924, 1929-1941, president (1924-1929).

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British Museum (Founded in 1753)

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Category of relationship

associative

Dates of relationship

1886-1925

Description of relationship

Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities: Assistant, 1886-1904; Assistant Keeper, 1904-1908; Keeper, 1909-1925

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Cambridge Conversazione Society (founded 1820)

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associative

Dates of relationship

1882-1941

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Smith, Archibald (1813–1872) mathematician

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family

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Smith, Archibald (1813–1872) mathematician

is the parent of

Smith, Arthur Hamilton (1860–1941), museum curator

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Smith, Sir Henry Babington (1863–1923), knight, civil servant and financier (1863–1923)

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family

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Smith, Sir Henry Babington (1863–1923), knight, civil servant and financier

is the sibling of

Smith, Arthur Hamilton (1860–1941), museum curator

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Smith, James Parker (1854-1929) MP (1854-1929)

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family

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Smith, James Parker (1854-1929) MP

is the sibling of

Smith, Arthur Hamilton (1860–1941), museum curator

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Sources

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
F. G. Kenyon, ‘Arthur Hamilton Smith, 1860–1941’, Proceedings of the British Academy, xxvii (1941), 393–404

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