24 May 1816, and was educated at Merchant Taylors' school from November 1826 to 1831. At an early age he studied at the Middlesex Hospital, and in 1838 he became a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries and a member of the College of Surgeons. Late in 1838 he joined his father in practice at Chertsey. On 4 Jan. 1840 he commenced contributing to the ‘Medical Times’ ‘The Confessions of Jasper Buddle, a Dissecting Room Porter,’ a series of articles signed ‘Rocket.’
In 1841 he settled at 14 Percy Street, Tottenham Court Road, London, with a view to medical practice, from which, however, he was soon diverted by his literary preoccupations. As an author he showed exceptional versatility in turning to account his powers of humorous observation. In March 1841 he published in Bentley's ‘Miscellany’ (pp. 357–81) ‘A Rencontre with the Brigands.’ To ‘Punch’ he was an early contributor, sending articles entitled ‘Physiology of the London Medical Student’ (2 Oct. 1841) and the ‘Physiology of London Evening Parties’ (1 Jan. 1842). His first drama, ‘Blanche Heriot,’ was produced at the Surrey Theatre on 26 Sept. 1842. He soon after commenced in ‘Bentley’ (1842, xii. 217 et seq.) the best of his novels, ‘The Adventures of Mr. Ledbury.’ Between 1844 and 1846 he wrote, in conjunction with others, several extravaganzas for the Lyceum Theatre, the series including ‘Aladdin,’ August 1844; ‘Valentine and Orson,’ Christmas 1844; ‘Whittington and his Cat,’ Easter 1845; all of which, owing mainly to the acting of Mr. and Mrs. Keeley, were very successful (Era Almanack, 1875, p. 6). He also adapted for the same house ‘The Cricket on the Hearth,’ December 1845, and the ‘Battle of Life,’ 21 Dec. 1846. For the Adelphi he wrote ‘Esmeralda,’ a burlesque, 3 June 1850, and for the Princess's ‘The Alhambra,’ an extravaganza, 21 April 1851. During the same period he acted as dramatic critic of the ‘Illustrated London News,’ edited ‘Puck’ (1844), wrote many popular songs for John Orlando Parry, and brought out ‘Christopher Tadpole’ as a monthly shilling serial (1848).
In 1847 he proposed to David Bogue, the publisher, to write a series of social natural histories, to be published at a shilling each, after the style of the Paris Physiologies. The series was started with ‘The Natural History of the Gent,’ and the success of this brochure was very great, the edition of two thousand being sold in one day.
In 1847, in conjunction with Angus Bethune Reach [q. v.], Smith brought out a sixpenny monthly called ‘The Man in the Moon,’ with which he was connected until 1849. In the same year he edited ‘Gavarni in London’ (republished as ‘Sketches of London Life and Character,’ 1859). In 1850 he edited from April to August five numbers of the ‘Town and Country Miscellany,’ and from July to December 1851, ‘The Month,’ with Leech's illustrations.
Meanwhile Smith had found a new vocation. In 1849 he went on a tour to Constantinople and the East. On his return in 1850 he published ‘A Month at Constantinople.’ Shortly afterwards he made his first appearance before the public at Willis's Rooms, on 28 May 1850, in an entertainment written by himself, called ‘The Overland Mail’ (Illustrated London News, 1850, xvi. 413). On 12 Aug. 1851 he made an ascent of Mont Blanc, and on 15 March 1852 (ib. 1852, xx. 243–4, 291–2, xxi. 565) produced at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly an entertainment descriptive of the ascent and of Anglo-continental life, which became the most popular exhibition of the kind ever known (Blackwood's Mag. 1852, lxxi. 35–55, 603). From that time until 6 July 1858 he continued at the Egyptian Hall his career of success as a public entertainer, giving various new sketches of character and illustrations by William Beverley, but always keeping Mont Blanc as the central point of attraction. On 24 Aug. 1854 he gave his performance before the queen and the prince consort at Osborne House.
In July 1858 he started for Hong Kong, and on his return published ‘To China and Back,’ 1859. On 22 Dec. 1858 he commenced a new entertainment under the title of ‘China,’ which was also very popular. His last appearance at the Egyptian Hall was on Saturday, 19 May; he died of bronchitis at North End Lodge, Fulham, on 23 May 1860, and was buried in Brompton cemetery on 26 May. He married, on 1 Aug. 1859, Mary Lucy, who had been an actress, and was elder daughter of Robert Keeley, the comedian. She died on 19 March 1870.
A lithograph of Smith at Chamonix, by C. Bougmet, belongs to Mr. Ashby-Sterry.
Smith's novels are still popular. They are: 1. ‘The Wassail Bowl,’ 1843, 2 vols. 2. ‘The Adventures of Mr. Ledbury and his Friend Jack Johnson,’ 1844, 3 vols. 3. ‘The Adventures of Jack Holyday, with something about his Sister,’ 1844. 4. ‘The Fortunes of the Scattergood Family,’ 1845, 3 vols. 5. ‘The Marchioness of Brinvilliers,’ 1846. 6. ‘The Struggles and Adventures of Christopher Tadpole at Home and Abroad,’ 1848. 7. ‘The Pottleton Legacy: a Story of Town and Country Life,’ 1849. 8. ‘Wild Oats and Dead Leaves,’ 1860.