Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smyth, Warington Wilkinson
SMYTH, Sir WARINGTON WILKINSON (1817–1890), geologist and mineralogist, was born at Naples on 26 Aug. 1817, being the eldest son of Captain (afterwards Admiral) William Henry Smyth [q. v.] and Annarella Warington, whose father, Thomas Warington, was then British consul at Naples. He was educated at Westminster and Bedford schools and at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1839 and M.A. in 1844. As an undergraduate he was noted for his love of athletic exercises, and rowed a winning race with Oxford on the Thames in 1839. About the same time he was appointed to one of the travelling bachelorships on the Worts foundation, and was away from England for more than four years. Before leaving Cambridge he had become interested in mineralogy, and during his stay in Germany and Austria he attended geological lectures, formed friendships with the geologists of those countries, and examined coal-fields, salt-works, silver-mines, and bone-caves. Then he visited Sicily and explored Etna, wintered on the Nile, travelled through Palestine and northern Syria as far as the upper valley of the Tigris, and returned to England, bringing with him as results of his wanderings a good knowledge of foreign languages and much practical experience in mining.
At the end of 1844 he was appointed mining geologist to the geological survey, and in this capacity was engaged on field work in the British Isles. But in 1851, when the school of mines was organised, he was nominated to the lectureship in mining and mineralogy. In 1881 these duties were separated, but he continued teaching the former subject until his death. He was appointed mineral surveyor to the duchy of Cornwall in 1852, and inspector of crown minerals in 1857. He also served on various committees and commissions, and was chairman of the royal commission on accidents in mines (appointed in 1879), in which capacity he drew up the larger part of an elaborate report, embodying the result of inquiries which had lasted over seven years. He was knighted in 1887, and also received the foreign orders of SS. Maurice and Lazare, of Jesus Christ, and of S. Jago da Espada. He was elected F.G.S. in 1845, was one of the honorary secretaries from 1856 to 1866, president from 1866 to 1868, and foreign secretary from 1873 till his death. He was also president of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall from 1871 to 1879, and again from 1883 onwards. He was elected F.R.S. in 1858, and was an honorary member of various foreign societies.
He resided for most of the year in London, but spent his summers, during the later part of his life, in a house belonging to him at Marazion, Cornwall. For the greater part of his life he enjoyed excellent health, but during the last two or three years symptoms of a weakness of the heart appeared, which obliged him to spare himself a little. The end was sudden. He died while sitting in his study, at 5 Inverness Terrace, at work upon his students' examination papers, on the morning of 19 June 1890, and was buried at St. Erth, Cornwall. In 1864 he married Antonia Story-Maskelyne of Basset Down, Wiltshire, a descendant of the astronomer Nevil Maskelyne [q. v.], who, with two sons, survived him.
Smyth was a man of untiring industry, a careful observer, and a cautious reasoner, ever willing to impart the fruits of his experience to students and to fellow-workers. He ‘possessed a knowledge of the mineralogy and geology of Cornwall which was perhaps more profound than that of any of his contemporaries,’ and few men were better acquainted with practical mineralogy. He was able to impart his knowledge to others in a pleasant and interesting manner (‘Report of the Council of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall’ in Trans. xi. 253). His incessant and laborious duties made authorship difficult, but he contributed (on mineralogical subjects) to the ‘Memoirs of the Geological Survey,’ and wrote about a dozen separate papers, chiefly in the ‘Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society’ and the ‘Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall,’ besides presidential addresses. He also published in 1854 a pleasantly written volume entitled ‘A Year with the Turks,’ describing those parts of his travels which fell within the limits of Turkey in Europe and in Asia. Despite the disturbed state of the country at the date of his travels, his experience of the Turk in the rural districts, on the whole, was favourable, and he wrote in the hope of dispelling prevalent misconceptions. In 1866 he published a small ‘Treatise on Coal and Coal-mining,’ which reached a seventh edition in 1890.
A portrait in oils, painted in 1875, is in the possession of Lady Smyth.
[Obituary Notices in Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. xlvii. Proc. vol. li.; Geol. Mag. 1890. p. 383; information from Lady Smyth.]