Hamilton Lee-Smith (1829-1889) M Insr C E
1890 Obituary 
HAMILTON LEE-SNITH was born on Christmas Day, 1829, at Edinburgh, where his father, the Rev. George Smith, was a leading minister of the Established Church of Scotland.
About the year 1846 Mr. Lee-Smith was articled to George Turnbull, who was then engineer of the London end of the Great Northern Railway, at that time under construction. The subject of this notice was engaged on the works of the Copenhagen Tunnel, and is said to have been equal to any amount of long continued hard work, and was very careful and exact in what he had to do.
On the completion of his pupilage he became an Assistant Engineer on the same line, and held the post for two years.
In 1851 Mr. Turnbull was appointed Chief Engineer of the East Indian Railway, and proceeded to organize his staff. He offered Lee-Smith a position as Assistant, and on the 20th of April, 1852, the latter sailed for India in company with his chief. On his arrival he was sent to the Raneegunge branch to assist Edward Purser, a former fellow-assistant on Mr. Turnbull’s Great Northern Railway staff.
Two years later Mr. Purser was posted as Chief to the North Western Provinces, and gave Mr. Lee-Smith the Agra district, of the railway of which he became the Resident Engineer, and so remained till the end of 1864.
In 1865 Mr. Lee-Smith entered the service of the Government of India, and was appointed to lay out the Lahore and Peshawur Railway. This line, subsequently known as the Punjab Northern State Railway, was destined to become the subject of much bitter controversy. When the Government first proposed its construction, the late Mr. Samuel Power, who had succeeded Mr. Turnbull as Chief Engineer in Bengal of the East Indian Line, was asked to reconnoitre the suggested alignment. This he had only time to do cursorily, and at his recommendation Mr. Lee-Smith was nominated to make the survey and prepare the plans, being subsequently made Engineer-in-Chief by the Secretary of State for India.
Mr. Lee-Smith joined the staff (which had preceded him) at Lahore in December, 1868, and was immediately engaged in preparing the surveys and sections for the line between Jhelum and Rawal Pindi. It was decided by the Government that the line between Lahore and Jhelum, with the exception of a short distance out of the Lahore station of the then “Delhi Railway” down to the crossing of the River Ravee, and a short deviation through the Kharian Gap, should be constructed on one half of the Grand Trunk Road.
On the completion of their field-work Mr. Lee-Smith removed his staff to Murree for the hot season, and there had plans, sections, and estimates worked out, and prepared three designs for the Ravee Bridge; but the Government were undecided in selecting from these plans, and in February, 1869, Mr. Lee-Smith returned to England, and on arrival was employed at the India Office perfecting the design which was eventually adopted, and in inspecting the manufacture of the bridge by Messrs. Westwood and Baillie.
The railway was originally intended to be constructed on the standard Indian gauge of 5 feet 6 inches. The proposed substitution of the metre gauge met with Mr. Lee-Smith‘s determined opposition, and led to his resignation in 1872. An indirect consequence of this was the memorable controversy within the walls of the Institution, recorded in vol. xxxv. of the Minutes of Proceedings. In the course of a discussion, which occupied seven meetings, Mr. Lee-Smith defended the standard gauge so effectually that it was eventually adopted. The high principle which had induced Mr. Lee-Smith to take up this position and, regardless of his own interests, maintain it successfully in the face of the most vehement antagonism of the officials of the Indian Government, was typical of his character, which was most fearless and independent.
Early in the year 1878 Mr. Lee-Smith was appointed Chief Engineer of the Egyptian railways with headquarters at Cairo. Here he had entire control of a network of lines aggregating 1,200 miles in length. During his tenure of office he did much to improve the general condition of the way and works, and his services were recognized by the Khedive, who conferred upon him the 3rd Class of the Medjidieh, himself investing the recipient with the insignia of the order.
Mr. Lee-Smith resigned this appointment in 1881. He had become deeply interested in the fortunes of the country, and, after the conclusion of the war in 1882, associated himself with others in the attempt to form a company for the construction of a railway from Suakim to Berber. In this he had almost succeeded when the outbreak of the Soudan Rebellion put a stop to the operations. This railway, had it been made at the time, would probably have saved double its cost in the futile expedition to Khartoum, and the almost periodical reliefs of Suakim.
In June, 1888, Mr. Lee-Smith was sent out by the Honduras Company, in command of an expedition, to make a verification survey of certain parts of the old route, located by Trautwine and others, for an interoceanic railway. Here, as elsewhere, Mr. Lee-Smith made a very good impression, as was evinced by the President of Honduras presenting him with a handsome gold watch and chain. He spared no pains in endeavouring to fulfil what he considered to be his duty to the Honduras Company, although the work was of the most arduous nature, the whole route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast being over rough ground, covered with tropical vegetation, interspersed with stretches of swamp reeking with miasmatic exhalations. However, Mr. Lee-Smith managed to get through with his party, returning to London about six months after leaving it. But the work killed him. He reached home in an exhausted state, though by dint of exerting the most determined will-power he managed to write his report, and, helped by his devoted assistant, Mr. J. Robins, prepared an approximate estimate of the cost of constructing a railway from Port Cortez on the Atlantic to Amapola on the Pacific.
Then, after some months of intense sufferings uncomplainingly borne, he took to his bed, dying of heart disease on the 3rd of September, 1889, in his sixtieth year.
Mr. Lee-Smith was elected a member of the Institution on the 3rd of December, 1861.
In his varied career he had not infrequent occasion to differ from others connected with the works in hand. This arose in no way from any over-estimate of his own ability, nor from any incapacity of working smoothly with those around him, for few men were more heartily genial and sympathetic, and ready to take suggestions into fair consideration; but he was eminently an enthusiast, and would struggle to the last in favour of what he had arrived at as the fit thing: witness his action in the question of changing the gauge of the Punjab Northern State Railway. His pleasant, manly bearing and genial temper made him extremely popular all around, whether in business or socially.
Sources of Information
- Obituary of George James Hervey Glinn
- 1890 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries