Bertram 'Bill' Smythies, the elder brother of John Raymond Smythies, was born in India in 1912. His father E. A. Smythies, was silviculturist of Uttar Pradesh (and, in the 1940s, Chief Conservator of Forest of Nepal), His mother Olive Smythies née Cripps was the author of The Tiger Lady. After school in the UK, Bill read botany and forestry at Balliol College, Oxford.
Bill's grandfather Arthur Smythies (1847- 1934) came to India in 1873 to join the Indian Forest Service and served until 1902 around Dehra Dun. Bill's father Evelyn (Arthur's son) had degrees in forestry and geology from Oxford and served in the Indian Forest Service from 1908 to 1940. Evelyn was based in Nainital, where Bill was born in 1912. He wrote: ... "started hill trekking at the age of six months, camping in tents in the hills of Kumaon... brought up within sight of Nanda Devi and Trisul - who could fail to have a love of mountains and natural history?"
Bill Smythies' father took up a contract post of Forest Advisor to the Maharaja of Nepal and moved to Kathmandu after 1940 and stayed on till 1947. During this time Bill used to visit his father in Nepal and had access to places that were normally out of bounds for foreigners. Bill Smythies joined the Burma Forest Service in 1934. During this time he explored the botany and ornithology of these Burmese regions with his Kachin guide and friend Sumdu Mai. He spoke fluent Burmese, Jingpo, Malay and Iban. He was a great fan of the British botanist and explorer Kingdon-Ward.
In January 1949 Bill was appointed to the Colonial Forest Service in Sarawak where he spent 15 years. At the age of 52, the day he left Sarawak. in 1964 he married Florence Mary (Jill) Rogers a noted botanical artist. The next fifteen years were spent in the Spanish Sierras, the mountains of Britain, the Alps and the Pyrenees before moving to England. In 1986, Bill Smythies endowed the Jill Smythies Award in honour of his wife whose career as a botanical artist had been cut short by an accident to her right hand. It has been given annually since 1988 by the Linnean Society of London "to a botanical artist in recognition of excellence in published illustrations, such as drawings or paintings, in aid of plant identification, with the emphasis on botanical accuracy and the accurate portrayal of diagnostic characteristics". The entry criteria specifies that the award is for botanical art that it 'an aid to identification and a portrayal of diagnostic characteristics' and excludes "flower paintings that are merely artistic" and "illustrations of cultivars of garden origin." Jill Smythies died in 1994. She was survived by Bill who would die in 1999.
Bill Smythies wrote several major books and papers including:
- The Birds of Burma (first published 1940)
- Birds of Borneo
- Common Sarawak Trees
- Flowers of South-West Europe (with Oleg Polunin and Jill Smythies)
- Flowers of Greece
- Flora of Spain and the Balearic Islands. Englera 3: 1 – 88 (1984)
- Gathorne Cranbrook (22 October 2011). "Obituary: Bertram E. Smythies". The Independent.
- Dawkins, Richard (2013). An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist : A Memoir (PDF). London: Bantam Press. pp. 11-12 [and family tree in front matter]. ISBN 9780593070895. OCLC 852806520.
I spoke the eulogy at the funeral of Bill, my godfather and uncle, when he died at the age of 93 in 2009. I tried to convey the idea that, although there was much that was bad in the British Colonial Service, the best was very good indeed; and Bill … was of the best. ... [his] ... grandfather, Arthur Smythies, was Chief Conservator of Forests in his district of India; [whose] son Evelyn became Chief Conservator of Forests in Nepal.... Evelyn was the author of a noted book on India’s Forest Wealth (1925) as well as various standard works on philately. His wife Olive ... was fond of shooting tigers and published a book called Tiger Lady. … Olive and Evelyn’s eldest son, my father’s ... first cousin Bertram (‘Billy’) Smythies, was also in the forest service, in Burma and later Sarawak: he wrote the standard works Birds of Burma and Birds of Borneo. The latter became a kind of bible to the ... travel writer Redmond O’Hanlon, on his hilarious journey Into the Heart of Borneo with the poet James Fenton. Bertram’s younger brother John Smythies departed from family tradition and became a distinguished neuroscientist and authority on schizophrenia and psychedelic drugs, living in California, where he is credited with inspiring Aldous Huxley to take mescaline and cleanse his ‘doors of perception’.
- Fenn, Edward Liveing. "The King's Candlesticks: Pedigrees Arthur SMYTHIES ". www.thekingscandlesticks.com. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
- Eric Pace (2 August 1999). "Bertram Smythies, 86, a Writer On Birds of Burma and Borneo". The New York Times.
- Fenn, Edward Liveing. "The King's Candlesticks: Pedigrees Florence Mary (Jill) ROGERS ". www.thekingscandlesticks.com. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
- "The Jill Smythies Award". The Linnean Society. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
- Davison, G.W.H. (1999). B.E. Smythies. (In: Smythies, B.E.; & Davison, G.W.H. The Birds of Borneo. 4th edition. Natural History Publications (Borneo): Kota Kinabalu). ISBN 983-812-028-6
- Wright, Belinda.(1999). Obituary: Bertram 'Bill' Smythies. OBC Bulletin 30 (Nov 1999): 7-8.
- Birds of Burma (2nd edition)
- B.E. (Bill) Smythies, 1912-1999, E.F. Bruenig, ASSOCIATION NEWS, The International Forestry Review, Vol.1, No.3, SPECIAL ISSUE: PLANTATIONS (1999), pp. 203–204 https://www.jstor.org/stable/42609204 (also in Borneo Research Bulletin (1999) Volume 30, pp. 7–10 Archived Issues from the Borneo Research Council)
- BERTRAM EVELYN SMYTHIES (1912-1999) obituary by S. L. JURY for the (former) BSBI journal Watsonia 23: 370-371 (2000)
- Jill Smythies - An account and history by Dr. Stephen L. Jury, at the University of Reading Herbarium website.
- "The H. H. Bloomer Award Mr Bertram Evelyn Smythies" THE LINNEAN, (1986 pp. 23 – 24)