Montagu Smith was born in Harbourne, Staffordshire in 1860 where his father, the reverend Thomas Smith was the perpetual curate of St John’s. The Reverend Smith was a very wealthy man, and had built the family home – Lordswood House in 1856. Montagu spent the first six years of his life living in this luxurious mansion with its beautiful grounds and many household staff, before the family moved to Weston Super-Mare. In a perfect twist of fate, a later occupant of Lordswood House, was solicitor Hume Pinsent. Hume’s wife, Ellen Pinsent was the first woman to be elected to Birmingham City Council. She was a founder of the National Association for the Care of the Feebleminded, and an active member of the Eugenic Education Society. Her support for eugenic policies was reflected in the provisions of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913. The irony of this connection will become clearer as Montagu’s story unrolls.
Montagu was raised in a religious household. With his eldest brother and father being Church of England vicars, he must have had a strong sense of justice and integrity instilled into him from a young age. As a teenager, he was sent to board at Malvern School where he was a school house foundation scholar between 1875 and 1877. He did well at school, playing for his house at cricket and football, and was appointed as a school prefect. I asked the Malvern archivist whether he would have been accepted by his peers, since his father had been a manual worker in the leather industry before becoming a priest. The archivist thought that Montagu would have been perceived as middle class since his father was a Church of England cleric. Only one in ten boys were appointed as prefects, so that Montagu as a prefect and a sportsman, would have been accorded high status within the school
At 18, he went up to Trinity College Cambridge to read medicine, followed by clinical training at St Bartholomew’s hospital. He took his examinations – MRCS in London and his LRCP in Edinburgh – in 1883, acquiring the double qualification in surgery and medicine which was thought to be necessary for a well-rounded doctor of the time.
Montagu belonged to the the Abernathy Society at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which gave members a chance to present cases, and for students and young doctors to rub shoulders with the clinical elite of St Bartholomew’s hospital. Montagu presented a talk on the ethics of vivisection to the society in December 1883, shortly after qualifying. There is no record of the content of his talk, but the event was noted in the diary section of the British Medical Journal, and it suggests that even as a young man of 23, Montagu held strong views, and was prepared to defend them in public.
According to the the Calendar of the Physicians and Surgeons 1830-1923 (1916), Montagu took up his first post in Cheltenham in 1883. He almost certainly chose Cheltenham because this is where his elder brother, the reverend Percival Smith, was based. Montagu’s medical registration is recorded at his parents house in Weston Super Mare between 1885-1887, but this was, and is still a common thing to do when training and having to move around on a regular basis. By March 1887, he was working as a surgeon in Cheltenham and had been initiated into the Cheltenham Freemasons Grand Lodge with his brother, Percival. The Masonic record shows that he was living at 26 Park Place, Cheltenham.
Ethel Lomax (nee Pickering)
The Pickering family lived at 25 Park Place, directly opposite Montagu’s residence. It has to be assumed that Montagu and the youngest Pickering daughter Ethel would have met socially and probably through church services as well, because on 27th April 1888, Montagu Smith and Ethel Pickering were married in the church of St Philip and St James in Cheltenham, by the rural dean and assisted by Montagu’s brother, the reverend Percival Smith. They seemed well suited. Both sporty, they played golf and tennis to a high standard. They both had vicar fathers, although Ethel’s father had died a few years before their wedding.
On 11th December 1888, a notice appeared in the Times announcing that Montagu Smith of 26, Park Place, Cheltenham and 37 Gloucester Street, South Belgravia had changed his name by deed poll to Montagu Lomax-Smith. By this stage, Ethel was already five months pregnant, so it may be that they chose a grander sounding surname in order to distinguish their family. This is pure speculation, but it is possible that Montagu chose Lomax to honour his great grandmother, Mary Lomax.
Almost exactly a year after Montagu and Ethel were married, their first child, Guy Neville Lomax-Smith was born, They announced the birth in the British Medical Journal as ‘LOMAX-SMITH – on April 5th(1889) at 37 Gloucester Street, Belgravia; the wife of Montagu Lomax-Smith M.R.C.S.; of a son’. (The intriguing puzzle here, is why was he using two addresses? The London address was not part of his father’s property empire, and Montagu was still living and working in Cheltenham at the time).
Montagu and Ethel were young, and as a colonial used to the African sun Ethel must have found Victorian society and the London weather constraining. It is hardly surprising that they decided to try their luck overseas. They set sail for New Zealand in February 1890, with the baby Guy, less than a year old. Montagu took an advance from his inheritance before they left the UK. His father gave him £450, the equivalent of two year’s salary for a medical officer at the time, perhaps worth around £150,000 in today’s money. In exchange, his father re-assigned a portion of land in Lime Street, Birmingham which would have been part of Montagu’s inheritance, to his other beneficiaries. This land would have been close to Lime Street Station and was already producing a significant annual rental income.
On the 2nd of May 1890, Montagu deposited his diplomas as evidence of his medical qualifications with the Registrar of Christchurch District and applied to be registered under the New Zealand Medical Act. Six months later, presumably following a satisfactory probationary period, an advertisement was placed in the local Christchurch paper by Dr H.H.Prins confirming that he had taken Montagu Lomax-Smith on as a partner in general practice.
The New Zealand adventure had begun.