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Edmund James Smith

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Edmund James Smith (c1816-1880)

1880 Obituary [1]

MR. EDMUND JAMES SMITH commenced his active career as an articled pupil in the office of Mr. James Alexander, of Doncaster, afterwards occupying for five years a position as paid assistant to the late Mr. Richard Hall, Assoc. Inst. C.E.

He began business on his own account in Parliament Street; but in the year 1845 went into partnership with Mr. John Pickering, one of the surveyors to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. After the retirement of Mr. Pickering, Mr. Smith took the late Mr. Watkins into the business. Upon Mr. Watkins' death Mr. Smith associated his son and son-in-law in the firm, which was thenceforward, till the time of his death, carried on under the style of Smiths and Gore.

Ever ready to advance the interests of the profession, Mr. Smith was among the active promoters of the movement which resulted in the establishment of the Institution of Surveyors. He was a member of the first Council of the Institution, afterwards a Vice- President, and ultimately its President for the years 1876-77 and 1877-78, and remained one of its most energetic 'supporters up to the time of his death. The "Transactions" of the Institution contain valuable contributions from his pen, which, both in respect of matter and style, will remain a monument of his powers of mind.

Mr. Smith was a Fellow of the Geological Society, a Member of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, and an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers. As Crown Receiver and Surveyor to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the Northern Counties of England, Mr. Smith had long occupied a position of eminence in the profession; and his business sagacity and skill as a negotiator in matters of great importance marked him as specially fitted for employment in connection with the contemplated purchase of the existing interests of the London Water Companies. That the task was confided to his unaided hands is a sufficient proof of the estimate formed of his abilities.

With characteristic courage he accepted the undivided burden of responsibility involved in the negotiation, and within the space of five months completed the task which was to constitute the closing episode of his life. Eloquent testimony has been borne to the skill he displayed before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Metropolitan Water Supply, in defending the provisional agreements which he negotiated. The excessive strain of the Parliamentary inquiry, following upon nine months of arduous preliminary labour (often prolonged far into the night), told upon Mr. Smith with fatal though unobserved effect, and acting on a physique lowered by overwork, developed a latent and wholly unsuspected internal malady-an abscess at the base of the spine.

He expired, after two days’ illness, on the 21st of July, 1880, aged 64.

In Mr. Smith were found, in rare combination, faculties which could not fail to mark their possessor for eminence - ready sympathies dominated by a judgment, clear, calm, and singularly rapid, which separated, by a species of intuition, substantial issues from mere passing considerations; a cultivated and many-sided mind, unfortunately impeded as regards vocal expression by a physical infirmity (often utilized with singular effect), but admirably served by the compensating gift of a literary perception of remarkable delicacy, displayed in even the most trivial and unstudied productions of his pen; a tenacious memory stored with a varied knowledge of 'affairs;' rare tact and self-control; a keen sense of opportuneness; an affability of manner which rarely forsook him, and an effective vein of semi-caustic raillery-more often used to warn than to wound-were qualities sufficient to account for the early development and rapid success of the career so suddenly and so prematurely closed.

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