|Description||Smith was born in Roxburgh, New Zealand on 4 August 1883. He was educated at Roxburgh public school, became assistant to the local pharmacist, then went to Dunedin as an assistant where he qualified as a pharmacist at the age of twenty-three. He at once began to study medicine and as a part-time student in the faculty of science at Victoria College, Wellington, took his first-year chemistry and physics examinations while holding the post of dispensing chemist in Wellington Hospital.|
Smith went next to Edinburgh University where he won a Vans Dunlop scholarship in botany and zoology. He graduated MB ChB with first-class honours and a research scholarship in 1912. After a short period in general practice he rejected this as a career and became an assistant in the Edinburgh department of forensic medicine at the suggestion of Professor Harvey Littlejohn. He obtained his MD in 1914. He had already had his first big medico-legal case in the prosecution in 1913 of Patrick Higgins for the murder of his two young sons.
Nevertheless, having already obtained his DPH (1913), Smith returned to New Zealand where he became medical officer of health for Otago at Dunedin. After the outbreak of the First World War his department would not release him, but on transfer to Wellington he combined civil health work with duties in various camps with the rank of major in the New Zealand army corps. In 1917 he was appointed principal medico-legal expert to the Egyptian government with a lectureship in forensic medicine at the School of Medicine in Qasr al-Aini, Cairo. The next period of eleven years was probably the most formative in his life for he made original contributions to forensic medicine in ballistics and firearms, and among other things he was responsible for the successful investigation of the murder of Sir Lee Stack in 1924.
In 1928 Smith succeeded his old chief in the regius chair of forensic medicine in Edinburgh, which he held until 1953, becoming dean of the medical faculty in 1931. In these years his name was associated as an expert witness with many cases, both for the crown and for the defence. So great was Smith's reputation that his cases on occasion took him as far afield as Ceylon and New Zealand.
During the Second World War Smith continued in his old expertise and devoted time to investigating the ballistic properties of various types of official ammunition. He also acted as consultant in medico-legal cases to the army, and he made possible the founding of the Polish medical school attached to Edinburgh University. He was a member of the General Medical Council from 1931 to 1956 and after retiring from his chair became consultant in forensic medicine to the World Health Organization. In 1954-7 he was rector of Edinburgh University which conferred an honorary LLD [Legum Doctor] upon him in 1955; and in the following year he was elected an honorary member of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He was also FRSE and FRCP Edin. He was appointed CBE [Commander of the British Empire] in 1944 and knighted in 1949, and he was appointed also to the order of the Nile, third class, and to the Polonia Restituta, third class.
He is perhaps best remembered for his writing. His textbook, Forensic Medicine, was first published in 1925 and with John Glaister he wrote Recent Advances in Forensic Medicine (1931). Between 1928 and 1956 he edited four editions of Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence by A. S. Taylor. Smith's reminiscences, Mostly Murder, were published in 1959. He died at his home, Rhycullen, 10 Oswald Road, Edinburgh, on 8 May 1969.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
This collection was originally catalogued in the 1990s into alphabetical correspondence and subject files. According to notes left by the original archivist, this reflects how Smith himself kept his papers, although the ordering of material within sections and the section headings are those of the archivist. The only major change during re-cataloguing has been to create a chronological arrangement for the correspondence and to separate Littlejohn's correspondence from Smith's. This previous catalogue is available for consultation. Because of the nature of the material a number of the files are closed (see access conditions) and a lot of the content could be upsetting.
Contents: correspondence, 1909-1962; subject files, 1906-1963; British and European case files, 1849-1960; Egyptian case files 1901-1939; photographs, 1920s; biographical subject files, 1912-1958; writing by Sydney Smith, 1905-1966; writing sent to or collected by Sydney Smith, 1813-1968.
The object collection with Sydney Smith's collection of weapons and glass negatives can be found under catalogue reference OBJ/OBJ/18.