James Harcourt Smith was born on 7 Nov 1864, the fifth child of Charles Henry Smith (1827-1904) and his wife Miriam Dowle (c.1828-1911). James attended the Launceston Church Grammar School and gained a Tasmanian Scholarship which enabled him to study at Clare College, Cambridge University. After returning to Tasmania he worked for Central Broken Hill and Western Silver Mines, before being appointed Government Geologist and Inspector of Mines in Mar 1897.
Harcourt married Mabel Willis Salier on 17 Apr 1895 at the Memorial Church, Brisbane Street, Hobart. Their first son Charles Harcourt was born on 4 Apr 1896 in Zeehan and Colin Salier was born on 26 Jun 1898 in Launceston. Harcourt was on a tour of inspection of tin deposits on Clarke Island, Bass Strait, when he died aged 34 from pleurisy and pneumonia on 23 Jun 1899, leaving Mabel a widow with two small boys.