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Henry Osborne Smeathman (c. 1820–1864)

from Sydney Mail

Yesterday we mentioned the killing by Indians in Nevada Territory of Henry O. G. Smeathman, an old and valued 'occasional correspondent' of the Bulletin. Mrs Smeathman, who resides in San Francisco, has received the following letter from her daughter, Mrs. H. A. Perry, at present at Virginia city, written by C. L. Perkins of Star City, N. T., to Mrs. Perry, giving an account of the circumstances attending the death of Mr. Smeathman–

'Star City, Humboldt River. N.T., March 8. 1664.
'Dear Mrs. Perry,— Dr. Smeathman left here on an excursion to the northeast country about three weeks ago in company with Samuel Thompson and Fred White. [Some interesting particulars of the excursion were told in a letter by Mr. Smeathman to the Bulletin, published in our issue of the 18th February.— Ed. Bulletin.] After visiting Surprise Valley, 100 miles distant, they pushed to the north, sixty miles further. This section of Nevada has seldom if ever been visited by whites. The Indians are very dangerous. So soon as the party became aware of this they concluded to return, being poorly armed, having but one dragoon revolver among the three. This was entirely the Doctor's fault, as they could have had any number of good fire-arms. He always laboured under the erroneous impression that in case of trouble with Indians he could do more by Masonic signs and moral suasion than bullets.

'On the morning after concluding to come in they were attacked, but managed to elude the Indians for that day and night. The next morning they halted at sunrise to prepare breakfast. After packing up they had gone but a few hundred yards when they were again fired upon by a large number of Indians. The foremost man, Thompson, received a shot in the abdomen, knocking him down hill about twenty feet, but doing him no particular damage further than breaking the skin. Bullets and arrows were flying thick and fast, and a bullet from a rifle struck the Doctor, knocking him from his horse and wounding him mortally. Poor Dr. Smeathman, he is no more! It is some little consolation to his friends to know that he acted coolly and died like a brave man. The other men were forced to fly for life — they had no time to carry him away. Thompson, as brave and discreet a man as I ever knew, did all in his power to save the Doctor, but it was of no use. They were hotly pursued for two days and nights, having during all of this time but one drink of water, and nothing to eat but the heart of the animal Thompson rode, which he was forced to kill to sustain life. On Saturday White became crazy from exhaustion, and Thompson was forced to leave him and push ahead to Rabbit Hole Station, on the Honey Lake Road. When he arrived he was in a helpless condition. Two men immediately went back and found White just on the point of taking his own life, he having given up all hopes of ever again seeing home. They reached him just in season to bring him in alive. He has not yet recovered. Sam Thompson, whom I have known for three years, is so brave and noble a fellow as I have ever met. He tells me this sorrowful tale. During all this trying trouble the Doctor was collected, cool and brave. His time had come, and he died like a brave man. His last words were to White, an instant before the fatal shot. Admonishing him not to get excited, said he, 'Act as you would were you going into church.'

'The revenge for this act will be terrible. Many a brave man has sworn it, and many a stout arm will do it. Woe to the Indians! They shall meet death at every turn. Extermination is the cry. The people are preparing to go out and perform the last act of humanity, inter the body and revenge his death. My horses and arms shall do good service this time. The doctor was shot on the 4th instant, at sunrise.

'It is useless for me to attempt to express my grief. A friend and companion has been barbarously killed by savages. Woe to them hereafter! I intended to notify your mother of this express; but Mr. Case, who has the doctor's business in charge, will do it. Anything that lies within my power to do, in rendering assistance to your mother in business or other matters, will heartily be done. I trust you will take this terrible news as calmly as possible, and accept the sympathy of a friend, who will deeply mourn with you the loss of so honourable a friend.
'Yours truly,
'C. L. Perkins,'

We may add here that Mr. Smeathman was a native of England. He was forty-seven years of age, although in appearance he did not look much over thirty-five or forty. His father was a Major in the British army, who many years ago settled in Australia, where he died. His widow married Dr. Bland, widely known in New South Wales as a physician, and one of the oldest settlers in the colony. Young Smeathman studied medicine under his stepfather, and acted as his assistant. In 1856 he made his way to California, where he has passed through many trials. In early days he was a carrier of the Bulletin. He next studied for the ministry in the Episcopal Church, and received Deacon's orders at the hands of Bishop Kip in 1858, and Priest's orders in 1860. He was appointed to parochial charges successively in Gross Valley, Petaluma, and Marysville. He afterwords officiated, during the illness of Mr. Thrall, for a few weeks at Trinity Church in this city. During the alarm here, a few years ago, about smallpox, Dr. Smeathman resumed for a short time the practice of physic, and made himself known to the public by opening an establishment for the gratuitous vaccination of poor persons. This did not last long; and he then turned his attention to the mining regions of Nevada Territory—principally in the Humboldt river quarter. During one session of the Legislature he acted as Clerk to the Assembly, at Carson City. Since that period, readers of the Bulletin have been enabled to trace his fortunes in the frequent correspondence which he contributed to our Columns.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Smeathman, Henry Osborne (c. 1820–1864)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


c. 1820


4 May, 1864 (aged ~ 44)
Nevada, California, United States of America

Cause of Death


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