Artemus Smith

Whilst on the subject of Bramber and archaeology, but just as an aside, I would like you to meet Artemus Smith – and my apologies to any USAS members reading this – I’m just introducing him to the others!

AS THE TALE GOES, a few years ago the, then, vicar of St Nicholas Church in Bramber had been clearing out a dust laden cupboard in the vestry of the church. There he came across an old tin box containing various documents of an archaeological nature. He thought I might like to look through them. Amongst the miscellaneous papers were notebooks of a certain Artemus Smith. I decided to research him.


DR ‘ARTEMUS’ SMITH was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction.  He was born Ambrose William Dermot Smith in 1901, the only son of Brigadier Sir Hartley Archibald Jefferson Smith and Lady Constance Louise Smith (nee Carter-Bazeley). He reluctantly studied the Classics at school and is remembered for his frustration with the ancient languages, “It’s all Greek to me” he had said (this may have been where the expression first came from – or not).


Artemus Smith

He went up to Oxford to study Law but spent most of his time hunting, shooting and fishing. It was as a result of this that he picked up from his colleagues his nickname ‘Artemus’ (male version of Artemis, Goddess of hunting in case you were wondering) and the name has remained with him. Despite these activities he successfully completed his degree but on coming down from Oxford he took a break before professional study and travelled Europe with his cousin, Horatio Smith (see below). It was during these travels that he first became involved with archaeology but was put off it as a career due to the derisory pay (nothing changes). After various trips with his cousin and various ‘dallying’ in archaeology both abroad and in England, he qualified as a barrister and was Called to the Bar to practise law (not to be confused with being called to the public bar to practise drinking – although it is rumoured he did that as well).


This career (the Bar, not drinking) was interrupted by the Second World War and he volunteered to join the Royal Air Force and was soon to be piloting a Wellington bomber. His service was cut short after he flew into a German spotter plane over Germany (“well, strap me, it was dark and I didn’t see him,” he had said, adding, “and anyway, who was supposed to be doing the spotting?”[1]). He ended up in a German prisoner of war camp, Stalag Luft III (better known for ‘The Great Escape’ – in fact, it has been suggested that the character played by Steve McQueen in the film was based on Artemus Smith[2]).


Believed to be Flight Lieutenant ‘Artemus’ Smith at Stalag Luft III (drawing by Henri Picard – sadly one of the 50 shot after ‘The Great Escape’)

His experience as a prisoner of war – digging – gave him a more intent interest in archaeology. After the war, he abandoned the legal profession and went up to Oxford again but this time to study Archaeology (he was now a man of substantial inherited means after the death of his father so ‘derisory pay’ was no longer an issue). He went on to obtain his doctorate and then spent some time supervising and thereafter quelling disruptive and rebellious excavators on the ancient site of Arcadia in Greece – obtaining another nickname, ‘Smith of Arcadia’ [3].

His cousin, Professor Horatio Smith, was an archaeologist and lecturer at Cambridge University and gave Artemus much encouragement in the field. An account of Horatio’s heroic and equally fictitious activities is reflected in the excellent 1941 film Pimpernel” Smith  (click on name for film) wherein Horatio (played admirably by Leslie Howard) helps victims of nazi persecution escape from Germany during the build up to WWII. A ripping yarn highly recommended.


Prof. Horatio ‘Pimpernel’ Smith

When Artemus asked Horatio about working in archaeology, the latter replied, “Well, an archaeologist is a person whose career is in ruins.” He added, “Such a person may be relied upon to make wise, intelligent and coherent analysis – having exhausted all other alternatives”[4].

Interestingly enough, Dr Henry Walton Jones Jnr (better known as ‘Indiana’ Jones) would have been a contemporary of Artemus Smith (certainly copying Smith’s flair). It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that I have not found any mention of Jones in Artemus Smith’s notebooks. I’m sure, because of their similarities, the two would have met up or, at least, been in communication. This makes me query the actual existence of Indiana Jones or whether he is just the figment of someone’s  extravagant imagination (oh me of little faith).

The rest, as they say, is history – well the notebooks at least (see below) – other than to add that Artemus sadly died in 1988, at the age of 87, from a fall from his motorbike whilst dirt-track racing on the Sussex Downs.



[1] Letter to his cousin Horatio Smith

[2] Letter from Sir Dandelion (now Lord) Attenboot to Artemus Smith saying that he knew someone who knew someone else  who had heard this – so it must be true  (Attenboot added, “they got some young American fellow to play the part to disguise the fact that the character was a Brit”)

[3] Sometimes confused with some chap called Lawrence

[4] From his unpublished autobiography entitled: Wot ho! Dig it all up


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

Anyway, if you believe all that then you’ll believe this: as I have been perusing Artemus Smith’s archaeological notebooks, I will bring you extracts from them on each blog hereafter. Here is the first one:

I have just returned from a camping excavation of the city of Troy, with my very agreeable companion, Barratt Holmes, a relative of the famous Sherlock Holmes.  Barratt, too, is a detective of some fame and with similar deductive powers conducive to archaeology.  On the first night we camped outside the romantic ruins and having fortified ourselves with fine wine, we retired to our tent.  Some hours later, I awoke and nudging my colleague, enquired, “Barratt, my dear friend, look up and tell me what you see.”

Barratt replied, “I see hundreds of stars.”

“What do you deduce from that?” I asked.

Barratt thought for a minute, then responded, “Astronomically, I deduce that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.  Astrologically, I deduce Saturn is in Leo.  Horologically, I deduce that the time is three o’clock.  Theologically, I deduce that God is all-powerful and we are but small and insignificant.  Metrologically. I deduce we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.  Why, my good friend, what do YOU deduce?”

“My dear boy,” I replied, “I deduce that some bounder has stolen our tent.”


Next blog (next Friday): St Nicholas’ Church at Bramber Castle – and another extract from Artemus Smith’s notebooks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s