Charitie Lees Smith
21 June 1841–20 January 1923
(Bancroft, De Cheney)
Charitie Lees Smith was born 21 June 1841 at Bloomfield, Merrion, County Dublin, Ireland. She was the daughter of Rev. George Sidney Smith (ca. 1806–1875) and Charlotte Lees (1815–1871), and sister to Ellen Lees Smith, George Sidney Smith III (1839–1921), Henry Lees Smith (1840–1883), Robert Allman Smith (1844–1918), and Thomas Orde Smith (1846–1931). Her father was variously rector of Aghalurcher, County Fermanagh, Ireland; rector of Drumragh, County Tyrone, Ireland; canon of Derry Cathedral, and professor of biblical Greek at Trinity College Dublin. Charitie developed an aptitude for writing religious poetry at a young age and is said to have published her poems in various periodicals. These scattered printings have not been systematically documented.
Frances Ridley Havergal’s collection Specimen-Glasses for the King’s Minstrels (1881), pp. 66-67, includes Smith’s hymn “O for the robes of whiteness,” noting how the text “was written in a flush and fervour of coming ‘out of the darkness into marvellous light,’ during the great awakenings of 1859-1860 in Ireland—the very first chord of a newly-strung harp.” John Julian said this one was first published as a leaflet in 1860. Also in 1860, her hymn “A little while of mingled joy and sorrow” was included in J.C. Ryle’s Hymns for the Church on Earth (being an expanded ed. of his Spiritual Songs, 1849), unattributed.
In Our Own Hymn-Book (1866), three of her hymns (Nos. 567, 653, 869) were dated either 1861 or 1863. In that collection, “Lord, I desire to live as one” was dated 1861; it appeared as early as 1 Dec. 1863 in The Evangelical Witness (Dublin). Her most famous hymn, “Before the throne of God above,” was dated 1863 in OOHB; it had appeared in the William Reid’s Praise of Jesus (London, 1863), without attribution. Her hymn “The King of glory standeth” (titled “Mighty to Save”) was contributed to Lyra Britannica (1867). That same year, she published a small collection, Within the Vail and Other Sacred Poems (London: S.W. Partridge & Co., 1867), including those already listed above plus several others.
In 1869, she married Arthur Edward Bancroft, a naval officer who was born Feb. 1845 in Waterloo, England, son of Peter and Georgina Bancroft. Census records in the United States show Charitie first emigrated there in 1877. She and Arthur were both counted in the 1880 U.S. census living in Battletown, Clark County, Virginia (entered 10 June 1880). In 1881, she and Arthur were counted in the census of England and Wales, living in Holdenhurst, a village near Christchurch, Hampshire, England, possibly signaling a return to be near his family due to deteriorating health. His death was recorded there that same year.
From there, Charitie moved to California to be near her brothers. George had emigrated there in 1879. Charitie became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1887 in Alameda County, California. On 1 June 1891, she married Frank DeCheney (1866–ca. 1946), a man 25 years her junior, in San Francisco. In the 1900 U.S. census, she and Frank were living in San Mateo, California, in the same house as her brother George, his wife Susan, and their son Harry. In 1910, she was listed in San Mateo living by herself (without Frank). In 1920, she was living in Oakland, California, with her brother Thomas, who had emigrated to San Francisco in 1903 from Sydney, Australia.
Her marriage to Frank seems to have been very poor. In his petition for divorce, filed in Reno, Nevada, on 7 April 1915, he claimed it had been a “sympathy marriage.” She reportedly abandoned the marriage in 1901 after he refused to move with her to San Mateo (Moss Beach). Sordid rumors about the divorce were published in the Reno Gazette-Journal on 19 April 1915, and the divorce was granted 28 May 1915. Charitie died in Oakland, California, 20 January 1923, and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery.
It seems her known poetic output was limited to her life in Ireland. She was not twice-widowed as is sometimes reported. The common misspelling of her name as “De Chenez” seems to be repeated from Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology, rev. ed. with new supplement (1907), p. 1627.
by Chris Fenner
for Hymnology Archive
28 May 2019
All census details from FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org/
“Charitie Lees deCheney,” Find-A-Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/179239996/charitie-lees-decheney
Collections of Hymns:
Within the Vail and Other Sacred Poems (1867): PDF
J.C. Ryle, Hymns for the Church on Earth (1860)
J. Denham Smith, Times of Refreshing
1st ed. (1860)
with appendix (1868)
New & enl. ed. (ca. 1874)
New Times of Refreshing (ca. 1885)
The Evangelical Witness (Dublin, 1862–)
William Reid, The Praise of Jesus (1863)
Our Own Hymn-Book (1866)
Lyra Britannica (1867)
Lyra Hibernica Sacra (1878)
Charles Rogers, “Charitie Lees Smith,” Lyra Britannica (1867), pp. 511-512.
Edwin Hatfield, “Charitie Lees (Smith) Bancroft,” The Poets of the Church (NY: Anson D.F. Randolph, 1884), p. 35.
Samuel Duffield, English Hymns: Their Authors and History, 3rd ed., rev. (NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1888), pp. 58, 210.
John Julian, “Charitie Lees Bancroft, née Smith,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), p. 109.
Charles S. Robinson, “Before the throne of God above,” Annotations upon Popular Hymns (NY: Hunt & Eaton, 1893), p. 208.
Charitie Lees deCheney, Find-A-Grave:
Charitie Lees Bancroft, Hymnary.org: