Former Pupil Biographies
John Campbell Smith (1828 - 1914)
John Campbell Smith was a Scottish writer,
advocate and Sheriff-substitute of Forfarshire. He was a typical 'lad o' pairts' – a talented Scots boy of the 19th century who raised himself from
extremely humble beginnings.
Campbell Smith was born at Wellfield, near Leuchars in Fife on 12 December
1828. His father, John Smith was a weaver and farmer, and his mother was
Anne Campbell. He was educated at the village subscription school till the
age of twelve when he became an apprentice mason. He worked at that trade
until he earned what he thought was enough to obtain a university
education. After saving about £25, he left his work on a Saturday
afternoon in St. Andrews where he was working. On the Monday morning he
went to Madras College in St. Andrews and, after receiving ten-month's
teaching, he gained a bursary through public competition to enter St.
Andrews University. The bursary enabled him to pay his fees and he
supported himself by private teaching.
Graduating M.A. in 1852, he was advised by Sir David
Brewster and others to go on to Cambridge University but a teaching
vacancy arose at Dundee Academy where he was appointed and held the post
of second master for two years. After studying for the Bar, he practised
as a successful advocate in Edinburgh. Besides working in the Court of
Session, he also defended ministers in the General Assembly of the Church
Becoming the Sheriff-substitute at Dundee in 1885,
he distinguished himself as judge and was publicly presented with his
portrait. His best known work is Writings by the Way (1885), which
consists of sketches and biographies of famous Scotsmen previous published
as articles in The Scotsman. According to his Obituary: "He believed he
could have climbed higher if he had dodged like as a fox, or crawled like
an adder" but he valued his own soul too much "to gain the world" or "the
applause of multitudes."
He married Hannah Spence Thomson on 21 March 1871 at
Edinburgh and they had two sons and two daughters. He died in Dundee on 3
- 1852 – School teacher at Dundee Academy;
- 1856 – Called to the Bar as an advocate;
- 1885 – Appointed Sheriff-substitute of Forfarshire at
- 1912 – Retired from the legal profession.
- Testimonials to J. C. Smith ... now a candidate for the
Chair of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh. (Edinburgh, 1861);
- The Marriage Laws of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Being a
paper read at the meeting of the Social Science Association at Edinburgh
on 13 October 1863. Edinburgh, 1864;
- Writings by the Way. Edinburgh: Blackwood & Co., 1885;
- George Buchanan, by Robert Wallace, completed by J. Campbell
Smith. Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, 1900, ("Famous Scots
- Robert Wallace: Life and Last Leaves. Edited by J. Campbell
Smith and William Wallace. London: Sands & Co., 1903. (William Wallace
was the brother of Robert Wallace).
In 'The Madras College' Dr Thompson wrote:
"Law attracted many, among them one whose career is an
example of what self-help and industry can achieve. Campbell Smith, after
a rudimentary education in Balmullo, was apprenticed as a stone-mason. He
saved money from his scanty earnings as a journeyman and in 1849, at the
age of twenty, came to school, paid his fees and acquired sufficient
learning to enter university. He taught for a while after university,
accumulated enough money to study law, became an advocate and ended his
days as an unorthodox sheriff in Forfarshire."