JAMES SMITHSON Biography - Famous Scientists


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James Smithson                                                                           
Born 1765                                                                               
Paris, France                                                                           
Died June 27, 1829 (aged 64)                                                             
Genoa, Liguria, Italy                                                                   
Nationality British                                                                     
Field Mineralogy and chemistry                                                           
Alma mater Pembroke College, University of Oxford                                       
Known for Proving zinc carbonates are true carbonate minerals and not zinc               
oxides (1802); leaving a bequest in his will to the USA which was used to               
initially fund the Smithsonian Institution                                               
Notable prizes Fellow of the Royal Society (1787)                                       
James Smithson, F.R.S., M.A. (1765 - June 27, 1829) was a British mineralogist           
and chemist noted for having left a bequest in his will to the United States of         
America, which was used to initially fund the Smithsonian Institution.                   
Not much detail is known about the life of James Smithson, as a fire which               
destroyed the Smithsonian Institution Building in 1865 took with it Smithson's           
scientific collections, notebooks, diaries and correspondence. Only the 213             
volumes comprising his personal library and some personal writings survived.             
What is known is that Smithson was an illegitimate and unacknowledged son of the         
English landowner, the highly regarded and accomplished Sir Hugh Smithson, 4th           
Bt. of Stanwick, north Yorkshire, who later changed his name to Hugh Percy, and         
became the 1st Duke of Northumberland, K.G., by a mistress, Elizabeth Hungerford         
Keate. He was born in 1765 in Paris, France.                                             
A portrait of Smithson at the University of Oxford c.1786 by an unknown artist,         
which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.         
Elizabeth Keate was the daughter of John Keate, an uncle of George Keate (1729-1797),   
who was elected to the Royal Society in 1766. Elizabeth was the widow of John           
Macie of Weston, near Bath, Somerset, and so the young Smithson was originally           
known as "Jacques Louis Macie". His mother later married John Marshe Dickinson,         
a troubled son of a former Lord Mayor of London and Member of Parliament. During         
this marriage she had another son; however, the 1st Duke of Northumberland               
rather than Dickinson is also thought to have been the father of this second son.       
Smithson commenced undergraduate studies at Pembroke College, University of             
Oxford, in 1782 and received a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in 1786 (he                 
matriculated as "Jacobus Ludovicus Macie"). French geologist Barthlemy Faujas           
de Saint-Fond described him as a diligent young student, dedicated to scientific         
research, who had even risked drowning to gather geological observations on a           
tour of the Hebrides Islands.                                                           
On 19 April 1787, at the age of just 22 years, he was elected (under the name "James     
Lewis Macie") the youngest fellow of the Royal Society. When his mother died             
in 1800, he and his brother inherited a sizable estate. Around 1802 he changed           
his surname from "Macie" to his father's surname "Smithson".                             
Smithson died on 27 June 1829 in the Italian city of Genoa, and his body was             
interred in the English cemetery of San Benigno there. In 1904, Alexander               
Graham Bell, at that time Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, brought                 
Smithson's remains from Genoa to Washington, D.C., where they were reinterred in         
a tomb at the Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle). His sarcophagus             
incorrectly states his age at his death  it says 75; he was in fact only 64.