Fellows of Senate
Professor John Smith CMG
Professor John Smith CMG was one of the first 3 professors at the University of Sydney from 1852 to 1885, and was a Fellow of Senate from 1861 to 1885.
Professor of Chemistry and Experimental Physics 1852–1882
Professor of Experimental Physics 1882–1885
Fellow of Senate 1861–1885
His early years
John Smith was born on 12 December 1821 at Peterculter, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, son of Roderick Smith, blacksmith, and his wife Margaret, née Shier.
From 1839 he studied at the Marischal College, Aberdeen (MA 1843; MD 1844).
After a voyage as a surgeon to Australia for his health, in 1847 Smith became lecturer in chemistry and agriculture at Marischal where he conducted important water analyses.
As foundation professor of chemistry and experimental physics in the University of Sydney, Smith arrived on 8 September 1852 in the 'Australian' and set up his laboratory at the Sydney College, Hyde Park, the University's initial premises.
On 25 March 1853 he was appointed to the National Board of Education, contributed to the reforms embodied in (Sir) Henry Parkes's Public Schools Act of 1866, was appointed to the new Council of Education, and was president nine times before its demise in 1880.
Smith's chemistry classes offered little practical teaching but gave the current elementary theories of chemical structure and reaction; each other year he taught classes in experimental physics and illustrated his lectures with examples of his own pioneer researches in water analyses and photography.
In July 1874 Smith was appointed to the Legislative Council and spoke often on educational and scientific-medical matters. In 1876 he received an honorary LLD from the University of Aberdeen and in 1878 was appointed CMG.
Smith's commitment to chemistry decreased after the appointment of A M Thomson as assistant in 1866, and later of Liversidge to whom he relinquished the chair of chemistry in 1882, retaining responsibility for experimental physics until 1885. He was Dean of the Faculty of Arts in 1884-85 and of the Faculty of Medicine until 1883.
Survived by his wife and adopted daughter, he died of phthisis on 12 October 1885 and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Waverley cemetery. In his will he provided for the annual Smith Prize in the University of Sydney for the best first-year undergraduate in experimental physics.
Smith was an avid and talented photographer, one of the first in Australia, and his photographs have historical significance in the development of the visual arts in Australia and as a record of the construction of the East Range of the Quadrangle.
View some of his photos of the construction of the Quadrangle 1857-62 - on the Archives website.
View more of his photos - on the Faculty of Medicine's online museum website.
His membership of Senate
Smith was an ex officio member of Senate from 1861 to 1885.