Stephenson Percy SMITH New Zealand Surveyor (1840-1922) :: Genealogy
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Stephenson Percy SMITH New Zealand Surveyor (1840-1922)

Journal by ngairedith

From the SMITH database
- FAMOUS (or INFAMOUS) SMITHs in New Zealand

Stephenson Percy SMITH Percy Smith (as he was known) was born in 11 June 1840 at Beccles, Suffolk, the eldest son of Hannah HURSTHOUSE and John Stephenson Smith, a merchant and later a civil servant.

Smith emigrated to New Zealand with his family in February 1850. Percy Smith

He attended school at New Plymouth and later Omata, leaving to help on the family farm in 1854. Interested in the natural world and the landscape of the Taranaki region, Smith took lessons in painting from John GULLY, a landscape artist.

In 1855, aged 14, he joined the provincial survey department, helping to survey the land around New Plymouth, spending long periods in the bush and coming into frequent contact with Maori. Following two years of training, he was made assistant surveyor.

While still in his teens he began a series of expeditions in his spare time, joining a party to scale Mount Taranaki in 1857, for example and undertaking a journey in 1858 up the Mokau River to Taupo, Lakes Rotomahana and Tarawera, the Tongariro-Ruapehu area, returning via Rangitikei and Wanganui.
This expedition was over 1000 kilometres on foot, horse, and canoe.

During his service in the local militia, Percy also witnessed at first hand the conflict leading up to the Taranaki wars. In March 1858 he saw the fighting at Waitara, where he was employed to make sketches of the stockades.

In 1859 he was transferred to the Auckland district where he worked with the Land Purchase Department, surveying newly acquired government land in the Kaipara and Northern Wairoa.
In April 1860 he was instructed to return at once to Kaipara, where he acted as an interpreter and intermediary to persuade Ngati Whatua to help in the defence of Auckland against a rumoured attack from the Waikato tribes. Smith was then employed in laying out the boundaries of blocks at Coromandel and in the survey of military settlements in the Waikato.

Percy Smith married Mary Anne CROMPTON on 23 April 1863. They remained in Auckland until 1865 when he was transferred back to Taranaki as district surveyor. There his main duties were the survey of lands confiscated from the Maori.
In the following decade, he surveyed territories in various parts of New Zealand. In 1868 he was undertaking a survey of Pitt Islands in the Chathams at the time when Te Kooti escaped on the Rifleman to Poverty Bay.

He was appointed the first geodesical surveyor and chief surveyor of the provincial district of Auckland in the department of the surveyor general in 1877 and assistant surveyor-general in 1882.

Immediately after the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886 he made visits to the region and reported his findings in The Eruption of Tarawera (1886).

In 1887 he joined an expedition to the Kermadec Islands to confirm New Zealand possession and to report on the group, which he did in The Kermadec Islands: Their Capabilities and Extent (1887). His career as a surveyor reached its peak when he was appointed as surveyor-general in January 1889.

Percy Smith died on 19 April 1922 at his home, Mataimoana, in New Plymouth, 11 years after the death of his wife. They were survived by four children

Smith's biography (first published in 1993) in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography is more forthright, stating that ?In some areas, particularly his account of the origins of the Maori and their arrival in New Zealand, Smith's interpretation has not survived the light cast on it by later historical and archaeological research.

Scholars have criticised Smith's use of his source materials and his editing of Maori traditions for publication....
Smith's careers in surveying and ethnology were characterised by hard work and dedication, and he received recognition for both in his lifetime. Although it is now generally accepted that much of his work on the Maori is unreliable, his research nevertheless provided a basis for the development of professional ethnology in New Zealand.
As a successful civil servant and respected scholar he was perhaps one of New Zealand's most prolific intellectuals of the late nineteenth century, and was a major contributor to the scientific debate over the origins and nature of the Maori" (G.M. Byrnes 2006).

see also the biography from the
New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 7 (October 1, 1935)

Forum at RootsChar for Stephenson Percy Smith

Surveyor Extrodinaire Explorer and adventurer (with photos)

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on 2011-04-15 12:35:09

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