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GEOREF RECORD

William Smith (1769-1839); his struggles as a consultant, in both geology and engineering, to simultaneously earn a living and finance his scientific projects, to 1820

Hugh Torrens
William Smith (1769-1839); his struggles as a consultant, in both geology and engineering, to simultaneously earn a living and finance his scientific projects, to 1820 (in Special issue from the William Smith map bicentenary meeting sponsored by the History of Geology Group and held at the Geological Society London)
Earth Sciences History (April 2016) 35 (1): 1-46

Abstract

This paper deals with Smith's, highly complex, early 'career paths' to 1820. His first employment was as (1) a land surveyor. Then in 1793 he became both (2) canal surveyor, and (3) engineer, to the Somerset Coal Canal Company (SCCC). These now guaranteed him a regular income. But all suddenly changed, when he was successively dismissed, first as surveyor, then as engineer, in 1799. He had now to find other means of supporting himself, and publicising the important geological discoveries, he had made in Somerset. From the mid 1790s, Smith had there done (4) land drainage and irrigation work, for the chairman of the SCCC, and immediately after these dismissals. Smith was able to generate an adequate living from such West Country work, during a period of very high rainfall. This took him to Tytherton in Wiltshire. Here he first encountered a new rock unit (the Kellaways Rock) and here the Norfolk agriculturalist Thomas Coke was able to study Smith's new skills with water. News of his competence quickly passed throughout an agricultural community, then desperate to increase food production, during a long wartime period of crisis. Smith's methods of water drainage and irrigation work were now widely taken up, first by the Dukes of Manchester and Bedford, in Bedfordshire, and then by Coke and his relatives, both in Staffordshire and Norfolk, and then by Coke's many tenants in Norfolk. On top of this, Smith's skills as an engineer meant he was soon in high demand also as (5) a Sea Breach Engineer, in attempts to keep the German Ocean (now North Sea) out of The Broads. But Napoleonic war time conditions were harsh, and bills often not swiftly paid (or paid at all). So Smith tried new careers either as (6) a failed author, whether on Irrigation, or Norfolk or as (7) a consultant mineral surveyor-the field he had pioneered. Throughout much of this period, Smith's obsessive attempts to publish his geological discoveries, which needed considerable support for such a novel publication, were thwarted, by the bankruptcies of others, and proved futile, until 1815. This paper tries to survey, for a first time, Smith's complex, and fluctuating, financial situations, over the period 1793 to 1819 (when he entered a debtors' prison). His 'knight in shining armour' was undoubtedly the cartographer John Cary (1755-1835) who, in 1812, agreed to publish Smith's great 'geological' map. Thus only by "the enterprise of [this] private tradesman..., [what] had been in vain expected from princely patronage, and the sanction of national boards" was accomplished.


ISSN: 0736-623X
EISSN: 1944-6187
Serial Title: Earth Sciences History
Serial Volume: 35
Serial Issue: 1
Title: William Smith (1769-1839); his struggles as a consultant, in both geology and engineering, to simultaneously earn a living and finance his scientific projects, to 1820
Title: Special issue from the William Smith map bicentenary meeting sponsored by the History of Geology Group and held at the Geological Society London
Author(s): Torrens, Hugh
Affiliation: Lower Mill Cottage, Furnace Lane, Crewe, United Kingdom
Affiliation: History of Geology Group
Pages: 1-46
Published: 201604
Text Language: English
Publisher: History of the Earth Sciences Society, Troy, NY, United States
Meeting name: William Smith map bicentenary meeting
Meeting location: London, GBR, United Kingdom
Meeting date: 20150423April 23-24, 2015
References: 123
Accession Number: 2022-058645
Categories: Engineering geology
Document Type: Serial Conference document
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. geol. sketch map
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2022, American Geosciences Institute. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States
Update Code: 2022
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