Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Mica (Macaiah) Smith (1844–1926)

by Austin Dowling

This article was published:

Alfred Mica (Macaiah) Smith (1844-1926), chemist and teacher, was born on 21 September 1844 at Perth, Scotland, son of John Smith (1800-1871) and his wife Jane, née Napier. Educated at Perth Academy where his father was master, he was admitted to Owens College, Manchester, in 1861-62 and also studied at the universities of Heidelberg and London (B.Sc., 1867); as an associate of Owens College (1867) he was granted the B.Sc. degree of the Victoria University, Manchester, in 1882. He later became a fellow of the Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland. Of high ability, he was accepted as a student by H. E. Roscoe, C. Schorlemmer and R. W. von Bunsen, and was later laboratory and research assistant to his uncle R. A. Smith (1817-1884) and (Lord) Lyon Playfair of the University of Edinburgh.

Early in the 1870s Smith contracted a lung infection and in 1873 decided to migrate to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on 13 December in the Ben Cruachan. He worked at mint assaying for some time and in 1876 joined the Bendigo School of Mines as registrar and head of the chemical section. Consulted on matriculation requirements, he gave sound advice on the role of natural science in the syllabus. In October 1881 he became superintendent of the laboratories and lecturer on chemistry, metallurgy, natural philosophy and botany at the Ballarat School of Mines. He also acted as a public analyst. In 1886 he applied for the chair of chemistry at the University of Melbourne but was not short listed. Nevertheless, he was head of the school's science section in the period of its affiliation with the university in 1887-93.

Smith gave information in 1889 and 1891 on the Ballarat School of Mines to the royal commission on gold-mining. He published Report on the Foul Air in the Allendale Mines (Melbourne, 1892) and in 1898 was appointed to a board dealing with applications for a bonus for the best method of ventilating mines. From 1900 he was more active on general science matters than on research; as president in 1902 of the chemistry section of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, he spoke in Hobart on the 'Study of the Chemistry of the Air and whither it has led', but said nothing new. He was a non-resident fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute from 1891, an associate of both the American and the Australasian institutes of Mining Engineers and an honorary life member of the Mine Managers Association of Australia. He was an active and constructive member of the Science Faculty of the University of Melbourne in 1903-05. Smith read papers to a number of societies including the Royal Society of Victoria and the Society of Chemical Industry of Victoria. He retired in 1922 and the mutual regard between him and his students was expressed in a school scholarship in chemistry, mining and metallurgy, funded by the Past Students' Association and established in 1924.

On 23 October 1875 at St Peter's Church, Melbourne, Smith had married a widow, 30-year-old Maria Louise Laura Weinritter, née Horne, daughter of a Shropshire gentleman and mother of three children. Predeceased by her in 1884, Smith died of cancer on 14 May 1926 at the home of a friend in Webster Street, Ballarat. He was cremated at Springvale, Melbourne. Shortly before his death Smith had presented the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery with his collection of paintings and art porcelain ware. His estate was valued for probate at £6354. With no children of his own he left much of his estate to his step-daughter; among his legacies was a bequest of £300 to be shared between the past and present students' associations at the School of Mines. He also left money to the University of Manchester for a scholarship in sanitary science in the name of his uncle R. A. Smith; it was set up in 1928. A portrait commissioned by the school and painted by Max Meldrum in 1923 was rejected as 'too modern', and a sculptured bust was commissioned in its place; the portrait was purchased by the Ballarat gallery in 1934.

Select Bibliography

  • Ballarat School of Mines, Annual Report, 1882, and Students' Mag, 1925-26
  • Age (Melbourne), 17 May 1926
  • Argus (Melbourne), 17 May 1926
  • Ballarat Courier, 17 May 1926
  • private information.

Citation details

Austin Dowling, 'Smith, Alfred Mica (Macaiah) (1844–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 September, 1844
Perth, Perthshire, Scotland


14 May, 1926 (aged 81)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

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