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SMITH, George William

Born: 1838 11 25
Died: 1931 09 18


The eldest son of W Smith, a chemist of Glasgow, Scotland, GW Smith was articled to William Robertson, civil and mining engineer, Glasgow, for five years from 1853. For the last three years of his articles he worked as an assistant engineer with the Caledonian Railway, Hamilton branch. Smith came to South Africa in 1858 in order, according to his obituary in the Port Elizabeth Advertiser (23 Sep 1931, quoted in Looking Back (no. 16 (1) Mar 1976:7-8) 'to fill an appointment on the Cape Town - Wellington Railway, under T Merchant and latterly Marcus Smith, as assistant engineer'. In 1860 he won the competition for the Dutch Reformed Church building at Colesberg. His Latin Cross plan was rejected by the committee, in favour of the central plan design by the second prize-winners, WELCHMAN & READ. Smith's address at the time of the competition was in Port Elizabeth. In 1862 Smith received his licence as a land surveyor and it seems that he then assisted in laying out areas of Port Elizabeth in the 1862 expansion of the town. At the time he was in partnership with R PINCHIN (cf PINCHIN & SMITH), seemingly from when he received his surveyor's licence. He also acted as a land surveyor in Natal, qualifying as a land surveyor of Natal Colony. He served as town engineer and municipal surveyor, Port Elizabeth, until 1868 when the Cape Colony suffered a depression and jobs were scarce.

Smith left for Australia in 1868 where he worked as 'Professional Assistant in the Surveyor-General's office in Melbourne, incidentally obtaining his certificate to practice in the Colony of Victoria' (Looking Back Mar 1976:7-8). He remained two years in Australia before he returned to Britain where he was made colliery manager to the Shotts Iron Company in Glasgow and entered into partnership with W Robertson to whom he had formerly been articled; the firm flourished and Smith worked on railway construction in Britain, Canada, the United States, Spain, Italy and India. He married in London in 1876, his two sons being born within the next three years.

In 1880 Pinchin invited Smith to rejoin him in Port Elizabeth where there was now more than enough work, to which Smith agreed, returning to Port Elizabeth in 1881, practising as Pinchin & Smith until Pinchin's death in 1883, or 1888. In 1882 Smith submitted a design in the competition for Durban's first town hall under the pseudonym Ex non commodum (Martin 1980:137). Shortly after his return to Port Elizabeth he was involved in preparing geological reports for entrepreneurs interested in a gold strike at Millwood, near Knysna, and was also connected with surveying Rand gold mines. In 1904 he entered into partnership with W DEWAR (cf SMITH & DEWAR). Smith's sons, GO SMITH and HB SMITH, joined their father's practice in Port Elizabeth around 1904 (cf. SMITH, SONS & DEWAR) Smith lived in Pearson St, Port Elizabeth and died in the city. The well-known architect WJ McWILLIAMS trained in SMITH's office in 1890s.

(Afr Archt May 1912:214; De Waal 1978; Greig 1971; Heroldt 1988; Martin 1980; Trehaeven 1984; Smith 1984; Langham-Carter unpubl MS,UCT Libr; Looking Back No 16 (1) Mar 1976; Modus vol 2 no 1 1987; Picton-Seymour 1977; Uitenhage P & P 1904)

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Athenaeum: 1896 : 1901. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Hillside House: c1878. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect (attributed)
Humewood Hotel: 1893. Humewood, Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Match Factory: 1898. North End, Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Municipal Baths near Harbour: 1898. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Opera House: 1892 : 1926 : 1985. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect 1892
Port Elizabeth Assurance Building: 1892. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Port Elizabeth Tramway & Co's power station and car house: 1895. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Selwyn House: 1883. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
St Cuthbert's Church: 1884 : 1898-1899 : 1932-1933. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect 1898
St Joseph's Catholic Church: 1898. Kariega (Uitenhage), Eastern Cape - Architect
St Katherine's Anglican Church: 1875, 1896. Kariega (Uitenhage), Eastern Cape - Architect

Books citing SMITH

Herholdt, AD. 1994. Eight beautiful Gothic revival churches of Port Elizabeth. Port Elizabeth: Ad Hoc Publishers. pp 71, 157

HSRC. 1987. Dictionary of South African Biography Volume V. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pp 718-719

Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1977. Victorian Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pp 185, 193

Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pp 106