Vincent Arthur Smith (1848–1920), Indian civil servant, historian, and writer.

He was born in Dublin, and educated at TCD; he was awarded a scholarship in classics and graduated BA as a senior moderator in 1868 in classics, history, and English literature. He later graduated MA from Trinity and Cambridge. He took up a temporary lecturing appointment as substitute professor of Latin in Queen’s College Galway and passed the entrance examination for the Indian civil service. After two years studying law and oriental languages, he successfully completed the final ICS exams in July 1871, coming second in a class of fifty students. Due to his high grade he was allowed to choose where he wanted to serve in India, and he took an appointment with the government of the North-West Provinces and Oudh, later renamed as the United Provinces.

Arriving in India, Smith was appointed as an assistant magistrate and collector at Ghazipur. He was transferred to the land settlement department in 1874 and wrote a guidebook for the staff of that section, The settlement officer's manual. He undertook studies of the history and archaeology of the districts where he was stationed and he published articles in the Journal of the Bengal Asiatic Society. He collected manuscripts and studied monuments and archaeological remains with the intention of writing a multi-volume history of India. He was promoted to district magistrate and collector, and in 1892 he travelled to London to read a paper at the International Congress of Orientalists. He managed to continue with his historical researches despite a heavy workload with the ICS, and was appointed as a district judge in 1895. In 1896 he published a major historical treatise, The remains near Kasia in the Gorakhpur district (Allahabad, 1896). Appointed as a commissioner of division (1898), he finished his ICS career as chief secretary to the government of the United Provinces.

Smith retired early 1900 to devote himself to historical research and, initially living in Cheltenham, began to publish a series of historical works based on his researches in India. His publications included The early history of India and Oxford student's history of India. This latter work had run to seven editions by 1920. For a short time he was reader in Hindustani and Indian history in TCD, and in 1910 moved to St John's College, Oxford, where he was appointed as reader in Indian history and curator of the Indian Institute. During his time in Oxford he acquired an international reputation as an Indian scholar and expert on Sanskrit, while continuing to publish at a prodigious rate. His later publications included History of fine art in India and Ceylon, the first comprehensive study of this subject, Oxford history of England for Indian students (1912), Akbar, the Mogul and the Oxford history of India. He also contributed to the Oxford survey of the British Empire.


During the course of his career he also published numerous articles in academic journals. He was a pioneer of Indian history in his day and collected vast amounts of material on Indian history, antiquities and coins.

Active in the Royal Asiatic Society, he was made a member of council (1915) and awarded the society's gold medal (1918). In 1919 he was elected as vice-president of the society, awarded an honorary D.Litt. (Dublin) and a CIE from the government of India. He was also elected a fellow of the University of Allahabad. In December 1919 his health began to fail and he died, at Oxford, 6 February 1920.

Sources: Dictionary of Irish Biography; F. E. Pargiter, ‘Vincent Arthur Smith’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, new ser., lv (1920), 391–4.

Vincent Arthur Smith: A history of fine art in India and Ceylon, from the earliest times to the present day

Picture: Jahangir as Prince Salim, Mughal School, Mid-17th. Century. From: Vincent Arthur Smith: A history of fine art in India and Ceylon, from the earliest times to the present day.