Augustus Smith (1804-1872) – local benefactor and benevolent despot?

“Berkhamsted ought to have a monument to Augustus Smith”. For about 20 years of last century, Augustus Smith enjoyed prominence since his name was given to Berkhamsted’s first Middle School. Many parents would know of the part he played in the “Battle of Berkhamsted Common”, resisting Earl Brownlow’s attempts at enclosure. George Loosley, a well-known Berkhamsted stationer wrote: “Possibly no-one ever connected with the town more merits such a recognition than the illustrious educationalist and public-spirited man commemorated by the Augustus Smith prizes to the scholars in the elementary schools of Berkhamsted… Augustus Smith who restarted Berkhamsted School and was the leading founder of the first elementary school in the locality.” (West Herts and Watford Observer, 1908).

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Augustus Smith

Further evidence of the philanthropic ideas of Augustus Smith can be seen on the Isles of Scilly, where Augustus “ruled” almost as a European styled “Benevolent Despot.” He tackled many problems arising from the increase in population, lack of reforms, absentee proprietors, dishonest and extortionate agents and land tenure. He built a new church and quay, along with roads and schools. He also built himself a house on Tresco; his garden was famous as somewhere where temperate plants thrived outdoors and he welcomed visitors. After his death, Augustus’ nephew Thomas Algernon Smith-Dorrien agreed to take on the Proprietorship of the Scilly Isles and the family has played a huge part in the economy and society of Scilly ever since.

Jenny Sherwood, Chronicle, Vol IX, pp.22-27 and Vol X, pp.6-11