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date: 18 August 2019

Smithson, Jameslocked

(1765–27 June 1829)
  • Pamela M. Henson


Smithson, James (1765–27 June 1829), scientist and philanthropist, was born James Lewis Macie, probably in France, the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson, later the first Duke of Northumberland, and Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie, a wealthy widow from Weston, England. Little is known of Macie's childhood in France. In 1782 he enrolled in Pembroke College, Oxford, where he excelled in chemistry and mineralogy. Two years later, he embarked on his first geological collecting tour, in Scotland and the Hebrides, with a group of distinguished scientists. In 1786 he received an M.A.from Pembroke College and a year later was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London, its youngest member. He presented his first paper to the society on 7 July 1791, “An Account of Some Chemical Experiments on Tabasheer,” recounting his chemical analyses of this substance found in the hollow of bamboo canes. Thus began a career of scientific research, exacting experimentation, and specimen collecting. In 1800 he was elected to the new Royal Institution of Great Britain, an organization devoted to “diffusing the knowledge and … the application of science to the common purposes of life.”...

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