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See also Sidney Smith for a list of individuals by that name.

Sir Sydney Alfred Smith CBE (August 4, 1883 in Roxburgh, New Zealand – May 8, 1969 in Edinburgh, Scotland), was a renowned forensic scientist and pathologist.[1][2][3] From 1928 to 1953, Smith was Chair of Forensic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, a well-known forensic department of that time. Smith's popular 1959 autobiography, Mostly Murder, has run through many British and American editions, the latest in 1988.[4]


Early life

Smith was born at Roxburgh, Otago, in New Zealand and was educated at Roxburgh public school, and Victoria College, Wellington. He later won a Vans Dunlop scholarship at Edinburgh University in botany and zoology. He graduated in 1912, M.B. Ch.B., with first-class honours and a research scholarship.


Following a short period in general practice, Smith became an assistant in the Edinburgh department of forensic medicine at the suggestion of Professor Harvey Littlejohn. He obtained his M.D. in 1914 with a gold medal and the Alison prize.

Smith's first important forensic case was the 1913 trial of Patrick Higgins for the murder of his two sons in Winchburg, Scotland. Due to the effect on the bodies of immersion in a cold flooded quarry, Littlejohn and Smith were able to provide important evidence in the trial, leading to the conviction and execution of Higgins.[2] The two scientists' famous work gained notoriety 94 years later, when a relative of the boys asked for the return of their remains from Edinburgh University, for a proper burial. Research revealed that after their work on the case, Littlejohn and Smith had removed the bodies from police custody to use as scientific specimens, as described in Smith's autobiography,[4] according to Chris Paton in The Scotsman.[5] In January 2008, the university agreed to return the remains, if established relatives all agreed.[6][7]

Smith returned to New Zealand in 1914 and took up a post as Medical Officer of Health for Otago at Dunedin. During World War I, Smith served as a Major in the New Zealand Army Corps. In 1917, Smith took up a post as medico-legal advisor to the Government of Egypt and senior lecturer in forensic medicine at the School of Medicine in Cairo. Smith went on to establish himself as an authority in the field of ballistics and firearms in forensic medicine.

In 1928, Smith was appointed to the regius chair of forensic medicine at Edinburgh University, a post he held until 1953. Smith was rector of Edinburgh University from 1954 to 1957. He died in 1969 in Edinburgh.

Smith was awarded a CBE in 1944, followed by a Knighthood in 1949.



Academic offices
Preceded by
Alexander Fleming
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
James Robertson Justice


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