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Smeaton, John (1724-1792)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 JS
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Smeaton, John (1724-1792)
Date(s): 1741-1792
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 11 volumes, all bound in two parts (with the exception of the first), all the contents foliated, 995 folios in all.
Name of creator(s): Smeaton | John | 1724-1792 | civil engineer


Administrative/Biographical history:

After a sound elementary education Smeaton was encouraged to follow a legal career and entered his father's legal practice, then was sent to London for further training in the courts. His inclination to mechanical arts prevailed, and with his father's consent he became a maker of scientific instruments, thereby providing scope for both his scientific interests and his mechanical ingenuity. In the 1750's he produced several technical innovations, including a novel pyrometer with which he studied the expansion of various materials. However, the pace of industrial and and commercial progress directed his attention to large scale engineering works. From 1756-1759 Smeaton was occupied with his best known achievement, the rebuilding of the Eddystone lighthouse, which confirmed his reputation as an engineer. He subsequently became a consultant in the more profitable structural engineering and river harbour works, and adopted the term 'civil engineer' to distinguish civilian consultants from the military engineers graduating from the Military Academy at Woolwich. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1753, and in 1759 he published a paper on water wheels and windmills, for which he received the Copley Medal of the Royal Society. He was a member of the Royal Society Club, an occasional guest at meetings of the Lunar Society, and a charter member of the first professional engineering society, the Society of Civil Engineers founded in 1771; after his death it became known as the Smeatonian Society. Its founding reflected the growing sense of professionalism among British civilian engineers during the eighteenth century.


Scope and content/abstract:

The working drawings of John Smeaton, civil engineer. They illustrate his researches on waterwheels and applied mechanics, and the relative efficiency of overshot as opposed to undershot wheels. With supplementary engravings and manuscript notes.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Classified by John Farey from 1821 under six headings: Windmills and Watermills for Grinding Corn; Mills for various purposes and Machines for Raising Water; Fire Engines for Raising Water; Bridges and Buildings; Canal Works, Sluices, and Harbours; Canals and River Navigations.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Printed catalogue edited by HW Dickinson and AA Gomme (1950) available. Includes preface and index. The printed catalogue includes the location of the original engineering project, type of drawing (plan, elevation), scale, date, and text of any inscriptions. The location in the printed 'Reports' is cited.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Purchased by Sir Joseph Banks after Smeaton's death.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Whole collection bequeathed to the Royal Society by Edward Farey on his death in 1912.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Papers of John Smeaton are held at British Library, Manuscript Collections; Institution of Civil Engineers; Royal Institute of British Architects Library; Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Record Service; Birmingham City Archives; West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds and Calderdale; Glasgow City Archives; California State Library, Sutro Branch. For further details see the National Register of Archives.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description produced by the Royal Society and revised by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project. Source: National Register of Archives.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Created 5/11/2001, modified 25/03/2002, revised Sep 2002

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