I have always been rather surprised by the number of famous and inspirational men and women whose roots can be found on the Clarence River in Northern New South Wales.
One of these was Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, the eminent Egyptologist, and Anthropologist.
The local newspaper in 1924 had this to say:-
BRILLIANT AUSTRALIAN PROF. GRAFTON ELLIOT SMITH.
ONE OF THE WORLD’S FOREMOST SCIENTISTS.
Professor Grafton Elliot Smith, who has just returned to Australia on a brief visit, is a native of Grafton. He is a son of Mr. S. S. Smith, of Killara, who for many years was a school teacher at Grafton, and afterwards at Sydney, and who retired from active duty about 30 years ago. One of his brothers, is Mr.S. H. Smith, the New South Wales Director of Education, and another is Dr. S.A. Smith, of Macquarie Street, Sydney. After leaving Grafton he received much of his early education in an old building in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, which at that time— 37 years ago- accommodated the Sydney High School. Popular among his class-fellows, he was held in favour more for his personal qualities than any idea that at a future day he would prove to be the most brilliant and distinguished student the school had ever produced, writes T. W. Spencer, in the “Daily Telegraph.”
For his intellectual powers were quite unsuspected by the majority, even if they were known to any. Thin, pale, and studious, somewhat shy in manner, but always courteous and friendly when
approached, he stuck closely to his work and to his own affairs, and, as far as many of those who were at school with him can now remember, was suspected of no special proficiency, except that he was clever at physiology, and that his drawings were always unusually neat.
Grafton Elliot Smith passed his Senior University examination and matriculated in 1897, and surprised his schoolmates by winning the medals for physiology and for plain geometrical drawing and perspective. He was to continue to surprise them by the brilliance of his achievements for many years, but not even Professor Anderson Stuart, who early singled him out his the possessor of a remarkable scientific brain, and advised him to follow science rather than to engage in ordinary medical practice, could have foreseen that within a very few years the young Sydney student would have proved to be a direct link between his Alma Mater and the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the secrets of whose lives and times he would be extracting and even whose ailments he would be diagnosing, from examination of their mummified remains.
For today Grafton Elliot Smith, who is a Professor of Anatomy at the University of London, Doctor of Medicine, Master of Surgery, Master of Arts, Doctor of Letters, Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal College of Physicians, takes rank as one of the foremost scientific men of the world. The Royal Medal, given only for the very highest distinction in science, has been conferred upon him, and France has given him the Prix Fauvelle for Anthropology. It would require the whole of the space of this article merely to enumerate the honours which his work has caused to be showered upon him. Yet those who have met him in his later life have found him still the same in manner as when he was a student in the basement room of the old Sydney High School; still pale, studious-looking, shy-mannered, and courteous, and, despite his now silvered hair, still youthful in demeanour and appearance. After graduating with honours as the first M.D. who had been wholly trained at the University of Sydney, Dr. Smith was granted the James King of Irrawang Scholarship and went to Cambridge. He had already done fine research work in the morphology of the brain, and his thesis on the subject had been described by Professor Anderson Stuart as being the ablest scientific treatise ever produced in Australia by a man of his years. Entering Cambridge as a student, he had not been there long before he was asked to take the position of Demonstrator of Anatomy in that university; was given the M.A. research degree, and the research scholarship of the British Medical Association, and was elected to a Fellowship of St. John’s College. Probably the most wonderful tribute that was ever paid to a scientist was when, as a young student at Cambridge, he was asked by the Royal College of Surgeons to classify the collection of brains in their Museum-which is the biggest collection in existence. The monograph which he wrote about the collection is still one of the greatest of anatomical treatises and will be forever a monument of his professional fame.
When the British Government decided to form a School of Medicine in Cairo, he was only twenty-eight years of age.It was during the nine years in which he held this position in Egypt that he did the work by which his name will perhaps be always best remembered, and which has placed him in the lead amongst the great authorities upon the world’s most ancient civilization. He founded the famous Museum of Anatomy in Cairo, for the preservation, of the mummies and other specimens that were being unearthed by the labours of the archaeologist who were digging out the buried relics of the peoples whose splendour and greatness were the wonder of the world from 3000- to 5000 years ago; and, having arranged for their preservation, he performed wonderful work in the investigation of the secrets of the past which they revealed. As the result of this work, the world of today knows vastly more of the history of our race in the period 2000 years before the Christian era than was ever previously dreamed of. The young Sydney student has unwrapped, after their having been bandaged for so many centuries, the mummies of more than 50 members of the ancient royal families of Egypt, including that of the great Pharaoh of the oppression of the Children of Israel, who is so renowned in Biblical history. When the late Lord Carnarvon and Mr. Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen, they cabled at once to London for Professor Elliot Smith, as the foremost living authority, to come to Egypt to investigate the contents of the burial place, and the Professor’s comments upon what was there revealed to modern eyes were printed first in a series of articles in the London “Daily Telegraph, ” and afterwards last year in book form, under the title, “Tutankhamen and his Tomb.”
HOW HE READS THE STORY OF THE PAST.
During the nine years that he was at the University of Cairo, from 1899 to 1908, those who were engaged in archaeological investigation in Egypt excavated over 30,000 ancient Egyptians, representing every known period of the history of that country, besides enormous quantities of relics. Many of the latter are inscribed with characters which throw most interesting light upon the events and belief of their times. And as a scientist it is with these events and beliefs that Professor Elliot Smith is interested; to him the intrinsic value of the treasure in Tutankhamen’s tomb is of interest only in that it reveals conditions which existed in that “youthful nonentity’s” court and period. To him, the shape of a carved couch means everything; the jewels with which it is studded, nothing. For from the former he can read the full story of the dead king’s religious beliefs and those of his times, and in turn from these, he can trace the whole course of religion and of civilization as it spread from Egypt to the rest of the world, and from those ancient times down through the intervening centuries. In the preface of his book on Tutankhamen, he says that he has made no attempt to describe the tomb itself, nor its wonderful collection of funerary equipment, but merely “to interpret the deeper meaning of those Egyptian beliefs which found such brilliant expression in the luxuriously extravagant equipment of his tomb.” At the same time, he says that the collection of furniture in the tomb, judged merely by its quantity, is the most wonderful ever found, and that in beauty of design and perfection of craftsmanship it was, indeed, a new revelation of the ancient Egyptian’s artistic feeling and technical skill, far surpassing anything known before. And, he adds:-” A thousand years before Christ, the desolate Valley of the Tombs of the Kings must have had buried in its recesses the vastest collection of gold and precious furniture that, perhaps, was ever collected in one spot in the history of the world.” On leaving Egypt Professor Elliot Smith took up the Chair of Anatomy in the University of Manchester, and was decorated by the Khedive for his service
to Egypt, with the Osmanieh Order. Shortly afterwards he became Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Manchester University, president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and vice-president of the Royal Society. Five years ago he was appointed Professor of Anatomy in the University of London ,and to-day he is one of the world’s leading authorities on anthropology, and particularly on the brain. His published works include: “The Ancient Egyptians,” “The Evolution of the Dragon,” “Shell Shock,” “Elephants and Ethnologists,” “The Diffusion of Culture” (explaining its method of transition from Egypt over many parts of the world in ancient times),/ “The Psychology of Myths” (an account of the states of mind of ancient peoples, and the myths which resulted from them), and “The Royal Mummies.” Mrs. Elliot Smith was formerly Miss Kate Macredie, of Sydney, a talented amateur violinist, and, with their children, she accompanied her distinguished husband when he last visited Sydney, in 1914, at the time of the British Science Congress.
When he died his obituary in the Daily Examiner read:-
DEATH IN LONDON
SIR GRAFTON ELLIOT SMITH
Noted Anatomist was a Native of Grafton
The death has occurred of Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, Professor of Anatomy in the University of London, at the age of 65 years. He was a native of Grafton (N.S.W.), and had a brilliant career, not only as an anatomist but as an Egyptologist and anthropologist.
Sir Grafton Elliot Smith was born at Grafton, N.S.W., in August, 1871, and
attended the same school there as the Commonwealth Minister for Commerce(Dr. Earle Page). He graduated with first-class honours at Sydney as the first M.D. wholly trained in Sydney. He was created a knight in 1934. His degrees included M.A., Litt.D., D.Sc.M.D., Ch.M., F.R.C.P., F.R.S,. He was Professor of Anatomy in the University of London.
He was- educated at the Universities of Sydney and Cambridge,; and married Kathleen Macredie; There were three sons of the marriage.
Sir Grafton had an exceptionally distinguished career. He was at one time a Fellow of St John’s College; Cambridge, and at the time of his death was an honorary Fellow. He had been Professor of Anatomy at the University of Manchester- and in the Egyptian Government School of Medicine, Cairo; member of the General Medical Council, vice-president of /the /Royal
Society, Fullerian Professor . of Psychology, Royal Institution, president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland’ and the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, lecturer to the Royal College of Surgeons and Royal and College of Physicians, the New York University, Birmingham and Imperial College, president of the ‘ Anthropological section
of the British Association, and a distinguished member of many famous scientific societies in Great -Britain arid Ireland, the United States, France, Belgium, and Holland, and had been awarded many coveted, honours by world-famous institutions for his scientific work.
His published works included such subjects as the ancient Egyptians, the Royal Mummies, migration of early culture, the evolution of the dragon, Tutankhamen, human nature, conversion in science, ethnology, anatomy of the brain etc.
During his career at Sydney University, he began research in the morphology of the brain, a work which ultimately made him famous throughout the scientific world. Later he went to Cambridge, where he took the M A research degree, was appointed a demonstrator, given the research scholarship of the British Medical Association, elected to a Fellowship of St John’s College, and subsequently appointed to examine and catalogue the brains in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons- the largest collection of brains in existence.
Besides being an anatomist of outstanding ability, Sir Grafton Elliot Smith acquired distinction as an Anthropologist and an Egyptologist.
While Professor of Anatomy at Cairo, from 1899 to 1908, he collected an enormous mass of information concerning the physical characteristics of the inhabitants of ancient Egypt, which the labour of archaeologists was making available. During that period more than 30,000 ancient Egyptians were excavated, representing every known period of Egyptian history. Professor Elliot Smith examined all the mummies in the Cairo Museum and unwrapped all the Royal mummies, which had remained unrolled for so many centuries. These included more than 50 members of the ancient Royal Families of Egypt.
To preserve this material for other investigators, he founded the Anatomical Museum of Cairo, which is now the greatest in the world of archaeological anatomy.
This experience led to the publication in 1912 of “The Ancient Egyptians” in which he revealed much which had been hitherto unknown or misunderstood about prehistoric Egypt and its influence on the making of Western Europe. Later he became Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the Manchester University, 1908-1918. In 1919 he became a Professor of Anatomy in the University of London.
ORIGIN OF CIVILISATION
As the result of his researches in Egypt, Sir Grafton Elliot Smith came to the conclusion that civilization had a single origin. He held that it was not possible to believe that its peculiar features had arisen independently at different times and in different parts of the world, although it had at times been lost by many races incapable of retaining it. He expounded that theme in his books and lectures, and showed how ethnology furnished evidence to throw light on the undoubted face of race. He claimed that the culture of the Egypt of Tutankhamen’s day, ad earlier periods still, was diffused to the islands of the Pacific and to Northern Australia.
He specialized in the cultural side of anthropology, and his published works included:- “The Ancient Egyptians”, “The Evolution of the Dragon”, Shell Shock”, “Elephants and Ethnologists”, Tutankhamen’s Tomb”, The Diffusion of Culture,” The Psychology of Myths”, and “The Royal Mummies”.
Justifiably others lay claim to the great man and the University of Sydney website has an extensive biography of him:-
Grafton Elliot Smith. Photo courtesy the University of Sydney Archives, Copyright University of Sydney
“Grafton Elliot Smith, anatomist and anthropologist, was the first student to obtain his MD by examination within the Faculty. He went on to be a world-acclaimed Egyptologist and was the first person to use X-ray to examine a mummy. When the tomb of Tutankhamen was discovered, Grafton was responsible for the examination of his preserved body. He was also a prolific writer able to attract a wide readership for his publications in the fields of Anatomy and Anthropology.
Grafton was born in Grafton, NSW in 1871. His first interest in science was sparked by a small textbook on physiology which his father brought home when he was about 10 years old. In his Fragments of an Autobiography, he writes of attending Professor Anderson Stuart’s course of instruction in physiology held at the School of Technology while he was still at a high school, and of his introduction there to Huxley’s Elementary Lessons In Physiology.
Studying for the senior public examination, he found that it was permissible to take 10 subjects and decided to take physiology and geometrical drawing in addition to his other eight subjects. Rather to the dismay of his teachers, the only medals awarded to students from his school were given to Grafton for the two subjects he had studied by himself. Though his father would have preferred him to enter an insurance office, the boy begged to be allowed to do a trial year at university, at the end of the year, obtaining the prizes for Physics and Natural History and in consequence of his good work, being awarded a bursary which took him through medical school.
On completing his studies in 1892, he spent a year in hospital work and in 1894, was appointed Demonstrator in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Sydney. One of his earliest papers, on The Cerebral Commissures of the Mammalia with special reference to the Monotremata and Marsupialia, was published that year in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. This was a remarkable achievement for a young man of 23, and was soon recognised as the work of a brilliant and original mind. In 1895, he became the first student to pass the MD examination at the University of Sydney, and in the following year was awarded the James King travelling scholarship which took him to Cambridge.
He spent three strenuous years in the Physiological Laboratory at Cambridge, also preparing about a dozen papers for scientific journals which established his reputation as an anatomist. In October 1897, the Journal of Anatomy and Physiology was re-organised and he was asked to take charge of “the central nervous system”.
In mid-1898 the British Medical Association awarded him a scholarship of 150 pounds a year, however, difficulties arose over the conditions attaching to the Grafton was obliged to take up a large amount of demonstrating and coaching. He had already begun his studies on the evolution and development of the brain and was anxious to have time in which to do his research work. Fortunately, in November 1899 he was elected a Fellow of St John’s College, enabling him to go on with the work he loved.
When Professor Macalister offered him the Professorship of Anatomy at Cairo, Grafton immediately accepted. He liked his new surroundings and soon had the School of Anatomy in running order, also finding time to work on his descriptive catalogue of the brains in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons and to examine and reported on a large mass of human remains collected by the archaeologists working in Egypt. This was the basis of his book The Ancient Egyptians, published 10 years later. Anthropology was henceforth to form an important part of his work.
In addition to his other studies, he became interested in the technique of mummification, spending much time researching the subject in the following years, in 1912 publishing The Royal Mummies, in folio with many plates. These studies were not merely archaeological, but belong to the history of medicine, the bodies of these ancient Egyptians revealing much of physical and pathological interest. All the while, Grafton continued teaching at the School of Medicine, also writing a textbook of Anatomy in 1900. He visited England in 1906 and 1907 and spoke at meetings of the Anatomical Society. On his return to Egypt, it had been decided to raise the level of the Aswan Dam, which meant submerging a large area. A systematic examination of the antiquities was necessary and Grafton was appointed Anatomical Advisor. Together with his assistant F Wood Jones, he examined no fewer than 6000 skeletons and mummies. It was not merely a question of recording measurements and anatomical features: Many of the bodies were in such a remarkable state of preservation that it was possible to perform post-mortem examinations after some five thousand years, and cases of gout, rheumatoid arthritis and the adhesions consequent upon appendicitis, were all discovered in one district. Feeling handicapped by not being in Great Britain, Grafton immediately accepted the Chair of Anatomy at the University of Manchester when he was offered the position in 1909.
In Manchester, he began to reorganise his Department. The dissection of dead bodies was as necessary as ever, but he felt much more study of the structure and functions of the living body might be made with the help of X-ray and other appliances. He attracted post-graduate students and encouraged research, the department soon developing a high level of efficiency.
In 1915, his The Migrations of Early Culture was published by Manchester University Press. Grafton had been interested in the treatment of mental patients and advocating reforms before the war. In 1917, in conjunction with Professor T H Pears, he published Shell Shock and its Lessons, which advocates the use of psychiatric clinics for people in the early stages of mental disorder. Grafton is said to have been one of the most influential in effecting reforms in the treatment of mentally disturbed patients.
In 1919, he accepted the Chair of Anatomy at University College London, which as his previous positions, he obtained by invitation. He visited America in 1920 to collect information on starting an institute of anatomy, and on his return found time to lecture at the universities of Utrecht and Groeningen. Toward the end of the year, he wrote the Anthropology article for the 12th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Grafton was very interested in the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen and is said to have been the one to examine the preserved body of Tutankhamen. His subsequent book Tutankhamen and the Discovery of His Tomb was extremely successful. In 1924 he published Elephants and Ethnologists and his Essay on the Evolution of Man, also giving a course of lectures on Anthropology at the University of California. En -route, he was consulted by the Rockefeller Foundation as to the establishment of a department of anthropology at the University of Sydney, and Grafton agreed to discuss the scheme with the Federal Government. He arrived in Australia in September 1924 and, after a conference with Prime Minister Bruce, the Department was established. In 1925, he gave a course of lectures at the Ecole de Medicine in Paris and became very interested in the problems revolving around the discovery of Australopithecus. In 1927, he gave a course of lectures on the History of Man at Gresham College and published these three years later as one of his most widely read books, Human History. In 1928, he published In The Beginning: the Origin of Civilisation, and in the following year, attended the Pacific Congress in Java. He visited China in 1930 to examine the newly discovered Sinanthropus and on his return, lectured at University College on The Significance of Peking Man. In 1932, he finished another work: The Diffusion of Culture.
Grafton was knighted in 1934. He suffered a stroke at the end of that year but recovered enough to work again, although not at the same capacity. In 1936 he retired from the Chair of Anatomy at University College.
Sir Grafton Elliot Smith died in 1937.”
In the present digital age, we are always aware of the ‘scammer’ and ‘hoaxer’. However, throughout history, they have always been a problem. Some hoaxes have been particularly sophisticated. In 1913 Sir Grafton Elliot Smith was caught up in the Piltdown fraud.
This was a huge paleo-anthropological fraud in which a collection of bone fragments were presented as the fossilized remains of a previously unknown early human. They were reportedly found at Piltdown, East Sussex, by an amateur archaeologist, Charles Dawson.
Although there were doubts, even in the beginning by some, with the support and recognition by such renowned paleo-anthropologists as Arthur Smith Woodward and Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, it remained for many years as a supposed ‘enigma’ in the story of the evolution of humans.
In 1953, some sixteen years after the death of Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, with a re-analyze of the bones, it was proven to be a forgery.
However, a further sixty-three years were to pass before an extensive scientific review was undertaken. In 2016, with the aid of modern technology, it was established that Charles Dawson was responsible for the elaborate and complex forgery of the Piltdown man remains.
“Unravelling Piltdown: the science fraud of the century and its solution”, by John Evangelist Walsh, published by Random House, New York, c1996, is an interesting read about the fraud and Sir Grafton Elliot Smith’s unwitting part in it.
 Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954) Fri 29 Aug 1924 Page 1 BRILLIANT AUSTRALIAN
Accessed From <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/195384535?searchTerm=%27Grafton%20Elliot%20Smith%27 by Nola Mackey 1 June 2022
 Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954) Mon 4 Jan 1937 Page 4
Accessed from <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/194405245?searchTerm=%27Grafton%20Elliot%20Smith%27#> By Nola Mackey, 1 June 2022
Mellor, Lise (2008) Smith, Sir Grafton Elliot. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.
Accessed From <https://www.sydney.edu.au/medicine/museum/mwmuseum/index.php/Smith,_Sir_Grafton_Elliot
By Nola Mackey 2 June 2022