The Archbishop of Sydney

Ever since it appeared in the Londoner’s Diary (wrongly) that my grandfather was Archbishop of Sydney (in fact, it was my great-grandfather), I am doomed to be asked about my Australian ancestry.   Here is what little I know or have been able to find out about him from the Australian Dictionary of Biography:-

William Saumarez Smith

His father was called Richard Snowden Smith, who served in the rifle brigade and fell in love with a girl who could not decide whether to marry him or his best friend.   They agreed between themselves (she does not seem to have had any say in the matter) that whichever of them should swim fastest across Guernsey Bay would marry her.  Richard won and his oldest son, William, assumed as a middle name the surname of his father’s best friend, which was Saumarez.   It’s a Guernsey name.   William was sent to school at Marlborough in Wiltshire, a church foundation, was a classical scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, became a fellow and, after serving as chaplain to the Bishop of Madras, became vicar of Trumpington.  For a long time, he was Principal of St. Aidan’s, a theological college near Liverpool.   Appointed Archbishop of Sydney in 1890, he set sail for the colonies with his seven daughters and my grandfather, Hubert.    He must have been strongly evangelical because I once met a very high church Australian who said that it was my great grandfather who had ruined the church in Australia.  

He lived at Bishopscourt in the suburbs of Sydney, was a good committee man, liked cricket and botany, wrote poetry (I own a slim volume of poems entitled Capernaum and other poems), led the parade at Federation alongside the Roman Catholic archbishop) and was buried in a grand mausoleum in Waverley Cemetery above Bondi Beach, where I sometimes think maybe I could be buried too.   My grandfather, Hubert, was educated at Sydney Grammar School, then at Trinity College, Cambridge, became a clergyman like his father, married a Hanbury cousin, and returned to Sydney, where my father was born in 1911, so he could have taken Australian nationality, as could my two brothers.    But my father left Australia left aged two on a boat which sunk and oddly never returned, although he used to correspond every Christmas with his Australian cousins, of whom I assume there must still be quite a number.


Right Reverend Saumarez Smith, Archbishop of Sydney


23 thoughts on “The Archbishop of Sydney

  1. I’m currently researching my Great Grandfather, Rev, Richard Griffiths, who married your Great Aunt, Margaret S-S (he was your Great Grandfather’s secretary in Sydney from 1897, and married Margaret in 1903, and moved back to England asfter serving in the 2nd Boer War. He attended St Aidan’s while your Great Grandfather was Warden, so we suppose the invitation came from there). We have all his diaries and letters from France and Northern Ireland 1914-19. The letters are all, of course, to your Great Aunt, but he mentions Hubert too. If you have any family material on Margaret, I’d love to take a look. I wonder what kind of cousin we are?!

    • Dear Ben, I’m interested to hear this. I had assumed that there would be descendants and/or historians who would know much more than I do about my great grandfather. Unfortunately it was my father who was the guardian of family memory and he died in 1994. Occasionally I have had emails from distant cousins in Australia, but I haven’t kept their contact details. Charles

      • Happy to pass on anything more about Hubert that we find out.

        Like a lot of these family correspondences unfortunately we only have my Great Grandfather’s letters home (kept by his wife), not her replies, which would have had more about the WW1 home front and the S-S side of the family – certainly by 1916-17 Hubert and Margaret were living in London; there is quite a bit of talk about the Zeppelin raids.

      • Dear Ben, I’ve consulted my older brother. Most of Hubert’s sisters, including Rosalind and Ursula, remained in Australia. He remembered that Margaret settled in Britain. Did they have a daughter who was a ballerina and lived in Crowborough ? Charles

      • Margaret and my Great Grandfather had three children; Eric, Joyce (Joy), and Agatha (Faith; my Grandmother); while my GG was first, Chaplain to the Mission to Seaman on the Medway, and then, Vicar of All Saints, West Farleigh in Sussex. Joy died in the 30’s, I’m not sure what she did, but dancer seems possible. My Grandmother was an architect (studied in Liverpool) while Eric became an electrical engineer.

        After the War, when my GG left Northern Ireland (he was posted as a Chaplain to Larne Naval Base in 1916), he was granted a living as the Rector of Darley Dale, Derbyshire. I have a brief biography for him (that will, of course, match Margaret’s quite closely). There is also a very extensive family tree assembled by my Great Uncle (d. 1996) that traces us all back to the Deedes in the 1600s (all this material comes from what Eric kept; he was a bit of a hoarder and amateur archivist).

      • Hmm. Can’t work this out. One of the Saumarez Smith daughters supported the composer Ivor Gurney in the 1920s. The Deedes connection is correct because my father was always very pleased to be related to Bill Deedes, a distant cousin.

      • Yes, my mother always enjoys talking about that relationship too! I’m based in the US, but I will take a look at the family tree when I’m next home (June); I’d be happy to send you a copy. I will ask my Mum about Joy and any Gurney connection.

      • I’ve discovered (from Iain Burnside) that it was Mabel Saumarez Smith who supported Ivor Gurney. Presumably she was another of my unmarried great aunts. She was apparently a student at the Royal College of Music just before the first world war and a founder of the Society of Women Musicians. Formidable, no doubt.

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  3. Gina Meyers says:

    Hello, Ben and Charles.
    I am fascinated to stumble across your conversation here. I can fill in a few gaps for you, and hope perhaps you may be able to fill in a few of mine.
    Katharine and Ursula Saumarez Smith both married and raised families in Australlia (my husband is one of Ursula’s grandsons). Rosalind, who had been married and widowed in England and had no children, also moved to Australia when Ursula’s husband died.
    I’ve also heard the story about the acquisition of the Saumarez name after the great swimming race, but I can’t find anything to substantiate it – I’d love to know if you have any more details.
    Joyce Griffiths took a degree in science from Reading University and travelled to Australia where she worked as a bacteriologist in the dairy industry – which must have been quote something in the 1930’s. She died unexpectedly on a visit home to England in 1946.
    I have quite a lot of other bits and pieces, including some old letters and diaries which I’d be very happy to share if you were interested.

    • I’m pleased to hear this as I had assumed that there were direct descendants living in Australia. My father kept in touch every Christmas with his aunt Rosalind, but I hadn’t known that she had been married and in England. Charles

    • Amanda Eggers says:

      Hi, Gina – Ben’s wife here. If you see this, we would love to learn more about the letters and diaries you have. I’ve been doing some family research for Ben’s mother on her grandparents, Richard Griffiths and Margaret Saumarez Smith Griffiths, daughter of the Archbishop. Please feel free to contact me here or via Facebook. Thank you!

      • Dear Amanda, I wish I could help more than I can. My father left Australia when he was two and (in retrospect, oddly) never went back, so only kept in touch with his aunts and cousins by corresponding with them. I never met them, apart from Dorothy Romsey, an ex-ballet dancer who lived in Crowborough. I don’t think my grandfather, Hubert, kept family correspondence and I assume that my great grandfather’s papers are in the National Library in Australia. I would be very interested in anything you find out. Charles

  4. Gina Meyers says:

    Rosalind married Richard Steele, who had been in the army in India and was himself a widower with two grown sons. After their marriage in 1925, he and Ros lived in Ditchling, Sussex, and were apparently devoted to each other, but sadly Dick died in 1928. There’s a brief biography for him at
    The Australian descendants are not so very numerous, but are well into the 3rd generation now. It is lovely to come across connections to other branches of the family and the people who feature in the old stories and diaries.

  5. That’s fascinating, Gina! We have a family tree that my great uncle Eric (son of Margaret S-S and Rev. Richard Griffiths) produced. I can certainly share that with you if you wish. I’s be interested in any other S-S material that you have , but also anything Griffiths related: it’s too common a surname for the internet toi be much use…! Feel free to e-mail me!

    • Timothy Griffiths says:

      I am the grandson of Eric (and Hazel) Griffiths and would love to get a copy of the Family tree he produced. Do you have a digital copy? I talked to my father about the family tree before he passed away last year, so I knew about it’s existence but not it’s whereabouts


  6. Linda Banks says:

    Hi,I’m currently writing a biography of the life of Margaret’s friend,Amy Oxley or Wilkinson,an Australian missionary in China. There are several letters from Amy to Margaret during the period 1903-1913 for your interest.

  7. DeadlyPlayz 01 says:

    My grandfather Thomas Dunhill, composer and professor at the RCM kept very comprehensive diaries, in which ‘Miss’ Saumarez Smith appears as a contributor to the Society of Women Musicians – to which Dunhill was invited to be an associate member. This, I think, would be Mabel.
    She would have been a close friend of Marion Scott, who gave much support to the unfortunate poet and composer Ivor Gurney. Scott supported the RCM in many ways after completing her studies there, including editing the RCM Magazine and setting up the RCM Union to keep alumni in touch with each other, arranging many a social and musical event at her home in Westbourne Terrace, at Paddington.
    Paul Vincent
    Crediton, Devon

      • garryph says:

        Charles, You may be interested to know that in a letter written by the composer Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) from Australia when he was there examining for the Associated Board of the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music in 1900, in a letter to his wife from Camden Park, Menangle, where he was staying withe the Onslow family, he says of his arrival: ‘I caught the train back to Menangle and was met by Mrs Onslow, and an old College pupil who is daughter of the Archbishop of Sydney. We went wandering in the woods, and got home about 5.30’. Thanks to your blog, leading to further research, I should say that this is Mabel. Her dates incidentally are 1873-1931, so I guess she would have been at the RCM in the early 1890s – well before the First World War! – Best wishes, Garry Humphreys.

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