Henry John Stephen SMITH (1826–1883)
His sister Eleanor Elizabeth SMITH (1822–1896)
St Paul section: Row 11, Grave A9 [St Paul ref G7]

Smith's grave


[Better things are waiting]








This gravestone is made of Shap granite.

See also the Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography
entry for
Henry John Stephen Smith,
mathematician and Fellow of
Balliol College, Oxford
(which includes a section
on his sister Eleanor)

Henry John Stephen Smith
Bust of Henry John Stephen Smith in the University Museum

Eleanor Elizabeth Smith was born in Dublin on 30 September 1822 and her brother Henry John Stephen Smith on 2 November 1826. They were two of the children of John Smith and Mary Murphy.

Their father was an Irish barrister, but he died in 1828 when they were aged only four and two. Their widowed mother moved with the family several times, settling for a while in 1831 at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and later going abroad.

On 30 November 1844 Henry John Smith was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Balliol College at the age of 18. He obtained his BA in 1850, and was immediately appointed a Fellow.

Smith never married, and on the death of his mother in 1857 his sister Eleanor moved to Oxford to keep house for him. They first lived at 64 St Giles’s Street (the southernmost of the three houses later demolished to make way for Blackfriars). Eleanor (38) was there alone with two servants at the time of the 1861 census, and considered herself the head of the household.

Smith was Savilian Professor of Geometry from 1861 until his death.

At the time of the 1871 census Eleanor (48) was again alone at 64 St Giles’s Street with one servant: she now described herself as a “Member of the School Board”. Henry (44) was paying a visit on census night to Theodora Price (70) in Tunbridge Wells.

In 1874 Smith took up the position of Keeper of the University Museum, a post he was to hold until his death, and he and his sister moved into the Keeper’s House at the Museum. This meant that he lost his Fellowship at Balliol, but the college immediately appointed him an Honorary Fellow.

The 1881 census shows Smith at home at Museum (or Keeper's) House, which was in Holywell parish, with three servants. This time it was Eleanor’s turn to be away: she was visiting the family of James Stephen, a Lincolnshire County Court Judge, at Newport House, Lincoln.

Henry Smith was reappointed a Fellow of Balliol in 1882, but he died a year later:

† Henry John Stephen Smith died at the Keeper's House at the University Museum, Oxford at the age of 56 on 9 February 1883 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 13 February (burial recorded in the register of St Paul’s Church).

The following description of the funeral appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 17 February 1883:

Funeral of the late Professor Smith

The funeral of the Savilian Professor of Geometry, Mr. H. J. S. Smith, the Keeper of the University Museum, whose rather sudden decease we recorded last week, took place on Tuesday last, the remains being followed to the grave by a very large number of gentlemen connected with the University. Those comprising the procession assembled in the Museum in the Parks at twelve o’clock, shortly after which time the cortege left the residence of the deceased, and the order was as follows:— The Marshal and Bellman; the Museum Servants; the Undergraduates of Corpus Christi (of which College he was a Fellow); the Pro-Vice-Chancellor; the Proctors; the Delegates of the Museum; the Professors of the Museum; the President of the Royal Society; Heads of Houses, including Doctors, Professors, and friends; Masters of Arts, &c. The procession, which consisted of fully 300 persons, on leaving the Museum Grounds walked along Park-street, Broad-street, St. Giles’s, Little Clarendon-street, and Walton-street to St. Paul’s Church, where the first portion of the Burial Service was performed. The chancel was draped in black, as also was the pulpit, and lighted candles were placed on the altar and in the chancel. The service was choral, and that portion which was read was very impressively conducted by the Vice-Chancellor (the Master of Balliol), the coffin meanwhile resting on a wheeled bier, on which it was placed on its removal from the hearse. Among the Clergy who took part in the service were the Rev. W. B. Duggan (Vicar of St. Paul’s), the Rev. M. H. Noel (Vicar of St. Barnabas), and the Rev. G. Lewes (Curate of St. Paul’s). The hymn, No. 56, “Come let us join our friends above,” taken from the University Hymn Book was sung.

The procession was then re-formed, and proceeded to St Sepulchre’s Cemetery, the coffin being wheeled on the bier, and on arriving there the remainder of the service was read by the Vice-Chancellor with great impressiveness, and many present were visibly affected. The coffin, when it was lowered into the grave, was covered with beautiful wreaths and other floral tributes of respect. The choir having sung Hymn 96, also from the University Hymn Book, the mournful ceremony terminated, but it was a long time before the last of those who had attended the funeral quitted the cemetery. The coffin, which was of polished oak, with brass handles, bore the following inscription:—

Savilian Professor / of Geometry / in the University of Oxford.
Born / 2nd November, 1826. Died / 9th February, 1883.

Wreaths were sent by the President of Trinity and Mrs. Percival, Miss Gertrude Rolleston, Miss Haigh, Miss M. Shaw-Lefevre, Miss Seward, Miss Nichols, Miss Shairp, the Misses Johnson, Miss Price, Mrs. Combe, Mrs. Joseph Richardson, &c.

The bells of St. Mary Magdalen and St. Giles’s Churches tolled during the passing of the cortege, and many of the citizens testified their respect by drawing down their blinds.

The chief mourners were Miss Smith (sister of the deceased), Dr. Acland, and the President of Corpus, while the following were in private carriages:— Sir B. Brodie, Miss Brodie, and Miss Mary Brodie (of whom he was guardian), Mrs. Rolleston and her children (of whom he was guardian), Mrs. Glazebrooke, Mrs. Griffith, Miss Acland, Mrs. Percival, the Hon. Mrs. Harcourt, and Mrs. Child. Among those who walked in the procession were — The Right Hon. Sir J. R. Mowbray, M.P., and Mr. J. G. Talbot, M.P. (Burgesses for the University); the Dean of Christ Church, the Dean of Westminster, the Provost of Worcester, the Warden of New College, the Principal of Jesus, the Provost of Queen’s, the Warden of Merton, the Master of University, the Warden of Keble, the Master of Pembroke, the President of Lincoln, the Warden of Wadham, the Principal of Hertford, the Principal of Brasenose, the President of Trinity, Dr. Griffiths (late Warden of Wadham), the Sub-Rector of Exeter (Rev. W. W. Jackson), the Principal of St Edmund Hall, the Principal of St. Mary Hall, the Vice-Principal of St. Mary Hall (Rev. E. Hatch), Sir Frederick Evans (Hydrographer of the Admiralty), Archdeacon Palmer; Professors Bright, Burrows, Ince, Legge, Monier Williams, Bonamy Price, Holland, Burdon Saunderson, Westwood, Max Müller, Moseley, Clifton, Markby, Cayley, Story-Maskelyne, Rawlinson, and Henrici; Mr. E. J. Stone (Radcliffe Observer), Dr. Child, Dr. Gray, Dr. Darbishire; the Revds. E. T. Turner (Registrar of the University), W. W. Merry (Public Orator), R. L. Clarke, H. Furneaux, G. F. Lovell, R. J. Livingstone, R. St. John Tyrwhitt, J. R. King, J. Rigaud, H. B. George, W. A. Spooner, R. Ewing, E. S. Ffoulkes, L. R. Phelps, J. Wordsworth, G. W. Kitchin, J. Dodd, C. W. Boase, R. H. Charsley, and C. H. O. Daniels; Messrs. A. G. V. Harcourt, C. L. Shadwell, W. B. Gamlen, J. E. T. Rogers, M.P., J. C. Wilson, R. F. Horton, T. S. Omond, F. P. Morrell, E. Chapman, A. Robinson, W. L. Morgan, J. O. Sankey, A. Sidgwick, G. E. Baker, C. L. Courtenay (Christ Church), F. H. Peters, Acland (Christ Church), Robertson, R. W. Macan, W. Burnett, A. T. Pollard, F. Galton (London), J. Lockhart, C. Bigg, F. D. Brown, V. H. Veley (University), W. Little, E. B. Elliott, R. W. Buller, I. Bywater, C. N. Jackson, E. H. Hayes, S. J. Owen, G. G. Stokes and A. Cayley (Cambridge), H. F. Pelham, R. H. Scott (Meteorological Office), T. H. Warren, H. Jackson (Cambridge), G. Wood, H. D. Rolleston, W. E. Plummer (University Observatory), H. N. Oxenham, W. H. Jackson, H. T. Gerrans, S. J. Hickson (Downing College, Cambridge), Geo. Parker (Clerk of the Schools), &c.

The whole of the funeral arrangements were ably carried out by Messrs. Elliston, Cavell, and Son.

The following obituary appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 10 February 1883:


Professor Henry Stephen Smith, Savilian Professor of Geometry in the University of Oxford, died yesterday (Friday) morning, after a short illness, at the residence of the Keeper of the University Museum. He had had more than one severe affection disabling him in the last two or three years, but he was comparatively well till Saturday last, when he was seized with the fatal disease, to which he succumbed within a week.

He was a person of wholly extraordinary mental powers, which showed themselves early in his career. He was born in Dublin in the year 1826, and having come to the University as a Commoner at Balliol, took a Double First Class in 1849, still in the days when the highest classical and mathematical honours alone were within the reach of men. He had been Ireland Scholar in the previous year, and two years after Senior Mathematical Scholar.

To enumerate the various offices of distinction and honour which he had reached, and filled with credit to himself and with advantage to the public, is not within our power as we go to press.

He became Fellow and Tutor of Balliol, Savilian Professor of Geometry, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Member of the Hebdomadal Council, and Delegate of the University Press, and on the death of Professor Phillips he was appointed Keeper of the University Museum. He was an active and important member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He published an elaborate report on the Theory of Numbers, and other volumes of surpassing excellence. His genius and industry as a Mathematician were alike known and esteemed at home and abroad. He was a member of most of the Scientific Societies connected with Mathematics — as the Royal, the Mathematical, Physical, and the Astronomical Societies — and he was corresponding member of the Academy of Societies at Berlin.

He was, moreover, Chairman of the Meteorological Council, which, under the British Government, guides the course of meteorological work in this country, and furnishes the well-known weather reports, which attract daily so much attention. He has contributed mathematical papers of great value to the transactions of various scientific societies of this country, and other countries in Europe.

He represented science on the Royal Commission which is now wholly recasting the ancient University of Oxford. But he did not represent science only, but the new administration and organization were largely influenced by him. He was, indeed, in many ways a leader of men. The silver tones in which he persuasively addressed a cultivated audience carried men away. His last public utterances, however, were at a meeting in the Oxford Town Hall, where men had gone to hear Joseph Arch. Thither he went, and there he spoke, for he had a deep interest in social questions, not as a partisan, though he was a strong Liberal, but as a political economist, a thinker, and an historian.

In private life it was even so the same. He brought into every company a rare charm of manner and extensive knowledge, stores of literary allusion, and a true scientific grasp. All were wielded with so ready and subtle wit that his sarcasms were attractive and his criticisms genial.

We cannot at the moment write more, but we know full well how great numbers in cultured society will scare believe that they no more will hurry to hear

"The rapt oration flowing free
From point to point, with power and grace,
And music in the bounds of law,"

which now, for this world, has ceased for ever.

His effects totalled £3,216 11s. 11d., and his sister Eleanor was his executor.

Eleanor went to live at 27 Banbury Road (the former home of Thomas Hill Green) and died there in 1896:

† Miss Eleanor Elizabeth Smith died at 27 Banbury Road, Oxford at the age of 73 on 15 September 1896 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 19 September (burial recorded in the register of St Paul’s Church).

Her effects came to £13,306 3s. 4d., and her executor was Professor Albert Venn Dicey.

The following obituary appeared in The Times on 18 September 1896:

Miss ELEANOR E. SMITH, sister of the late distinguished Professor Henry Smith, died at her residence in Oxford on Tuesday afternoon. For some time past Miss Smith had been failing in health, but her indomitable energy enabled her to maintain to the last her active interest in all the many objects, philanthropic and educational, to which she had devoted herself for so long. Miss Smith was born in Dublin on September 30, 1822. In 1849 she settled in Oxford, and on her mother’s death took charge of the house of her brother. She was a good linguist. By her eighth birthday she had taught herself and her sister Hebrew with the help of a grammar and dictionary given to them to play with. In her old age she resumed the study of Greek, and she was a diligent reader of Dante. Miss Smith was for many year a hardworking member of the council of Bedford College, London, a manager of the great girls’ school in Bedford, and an original member of the council of Somerville College. Her active participation in these works was continued to within a few months of the end of her life. She became a valued member of the committee of management of the Radcliffe Infirmary, at a time when the co-operation of women in such works was discouraged and rare. She was an active member of the committee of the Sarah Acland Home for Nurses, a promoter and director of the Provident Dispensary, for many years a district visitor and a member of the Oxford School Board. Though by no means rich, she started and for seven years entirely maintained a district nurse to work gratuitously amongst the poor, a provision then hardly existing elsewhere in England. It was on this beginning that the Sarah Acland Home was founded in 1878. On the very day of her death she expressed the keenest interest in the memorial buildings of this institution now in process of erection.



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