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WILLIAM SMITH (1769-1839)

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Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 270 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WILLIAM SMITH (1769-1839)  ,
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English geologist, appropriately termed " the
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Father of English geology," and known among his acquaintances as " Strata Smith," was born at Churchill in Oxfordshire on the 23rd of March 1767 . Deprived of his father, an ingenious mechanic, before he was eight years old, he depended upon his father's eldest
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brother, a farmer at Over Norton, who was but little pleased with his
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nephew's love of
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collecting " pundibs " (Terebratulae) and " pound-stones " (the large Echinoid Clypeus, then frequently employed as a pound
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weight by dairywomen), and with his propensity for
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carving sundials on soft brown " oven-stone " of his neighbour-hood . The
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uncle was, however, better satisfied when the boy, after studying the rudiments of
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geometry and
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surveying, began to take
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interest in the draining of
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land; and there is no doubt that William Smith profited in after
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life by the
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practical experience he gained with his relative . At the age of eighteen he became assistant to
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Edward Webb, surveyor, of Stow-on-the-Wold, and traversed the Oolitic lands of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, the
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Lias clays and red marls of
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Warwickshire and other districts, studying their varieties of strata and soils . In 1791 his observations at Stowey and High Littleton in
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Somersetshire first impressed him with the regularity of the stra+a . In 1793 he executed the surveys and levellings for the
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line . `f the Somers( t
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Coal.Canal, in the course of which he
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con-firmed a previous supposition, that the strata lying above the coal were not
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horizontal, but inclined in one direction—to the E.—so as to terminate successively at the
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surface . On being appointed engineer to the canal in 1794 he was deputed to make 'a tour of observation with regard to inland navigation . During this tour, which occupied nearly two months, he journeyed to York and Newcastle and returned through Shropshire and Wales to Bath; he carefully examined the
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geological structure of the country, and corroborated his generalization of a settled order of succession in the strata . After residing for two or three years at High Littleton he removed in 1795 to Bath, and three years later
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purchased a small estate at Tucking Mill, Midford, about 3 M. distant from the city, where he engaged in the last duties he performed as
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resident engineer to the Coal Canal (1708-1799) . His numerous journeys had, satisfied him of the practicability of making a map to show the ranges of the different strata across England, and in 1794 he coloured his first geological map—that of the vicinity of Bath . At this time he made acquaintance with the Rev .

Benjamin Richardson (d . 1832), from .1796 rector of Farleigh Hungerford, who possessed a good collection of
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local fossils, but knew nothing of the
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laws of stratification . He had a sound knowledge of natural
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history, and he greatly aided Smith in learning the names and true nature of the fossils, while Smith arranged his specimens in the order of the strata . By this new friend Smith was introduced to the Rev . Joseph Townsend (i738-1816), rector of Pewsey, and on a notable occasion in 1799 Smith dictated his first table of
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British Strata, written by Richardson and now in the possession of the Geological Society of
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London . It was headed Order of the Strata, and their imbedded Organic Remains, in the neighbourhood of Bath; examined and proved prior to 1799 . In 1813 Townsend published, with due acknowledgment, much information on the English strata communicated by William Smith, in a
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work entitled The Character of Moses established for veracity Its an historian, recording events from the Creation to the Deluge . Meanwhile Smith was completing and arranging the data for his large Geological Map of England and Wales, with
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part of Scotland, which appeared in 1815, in fifteen sheets, engraved on a scale of 5 m. to in . The map was reduced to smaller form in 1819; and from this date to 1822 twenty-one
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separate county geological maps and several sheets of sections were published in successive years, the whole constituting a Geological
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Atlas of England and Wales . Smith's collection of fossils was purchased in 1816-r818 by the British Museum . In 1817 a portion of the descriptive catalogue was published under the title of a Stratigraphical
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System of Organized Fossils . Prior to this, in 1816, he commenced the publication of Strata Identified by Organized Fossils, with figures printed on paper to correspond in some degree with the natural
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hue of the sirata .

In this work (of which only four parts were published, 1816-1817) is exemplified the

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great principle he established of the identification of strata by their included organic remains . In
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January 1831 the Geological Society of London conferred on Smith the first Wollaston medal; on which occasion Sedgwick in an eloquent address referred to Smith as " the Father of English Geology "; and the government conferred upon him a' life-pension of £loo per annum . The degree of LL.D. he received from
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Dublin, at the meeting of the British Association in that city in 1835 . In 1838 he was appointed one of the commissioners to select
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building-stone for the new Houses of Parliament . The last years of his life were spent at Hackness (of which he made a good geological map), near
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Scarborough, and in the latter
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town . His usually robust
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health failed in 1839, and on 28th August of that
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year he died at Northampton . He was buried at St Peter's church, and a bust by Chantrey was placed in the
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nave . In 1891 the
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earl of Ducie erected a monument to his memory at his native place, Churchill . His
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Memoirs, edited by his nephew, John Phillips, appeared in 1844 .

End of Article: WILLIAM SMITH (1769-1839)
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