Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/157
[Short Memoir, privately printed, Hastings, 1835; Parliamentary History and Hansard's Debates; Wilberforce's Life of William Wilberforce, 1838; Recollections by Samuel Rogers, 2nd ed. 1859; Sir James Stephen's Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography; Dowden's Southey, 1879; Whig Club Rulers List, London, 1799; family papers and information.]
solution in 1847. He was an active supporter of the liberal party and of the repeal of the corn laws. He was a patron of William Hunt, the watercolour-painter. He was painted playing chess with his son William Leigh Smith, at whose house of Crowham, Sussex, the picture is preserved.
SMITH, WILLIAM (1769–1839), geologist and civil engineer, was born on 23 March 1769 at Churchill, Oxfordshire. His father, John Smith, who had some local repute as a mechanician, was descended from a race of small farmers owning their land; his mother was Anne Smith of Longcompton, Gloucestershire. William was the eldest child, two other boys and a sister completing the family. In 1777 his father died; his mother married again and survived till 1807. William received his education at the village school. He was even then a collector of fossils, given to quiet solitary rambles, but of studious habits, and was occasionally helped in getting books by an uncle, also named William. With these he taught himself some geometry, and such elementary knowledge as was required for surveying. He was thus fitted to become assistant, at the age of eighteen, to Edward Webb of Stow-on-the-Wold, in whose house he lived. Webb was a surveyor in good business, self-taught, but ingenious as a mechanician and stimulating as a teacher. Under this master Smith in the course of his employment gained a good knowledge of the soils and underlying rocks in Oxfordshire and the adjoining counties, till in 1793 he was entrusted with the survey of a canal through the Somerset coal-field. There he produced so favourable an impression on his employers that in 1794 he accompanied two of them on a journey undertaken to inquire into the construction and working of canals. This gave him an invaluable opportunity, for he had already begun those investigations into stratigraphy which ultimately brought him fame and poverty. The party went as far north as Newcastle-on-Tyne, going and returning by different routes. Thus Smith not only extended his knowledge of the geology of England, but also was able to verify his ideas as to the succession of the strata. After his return he was continuously employed till 1799 on the works of the Somerset Coal Canal; but as early as 1796 he had sketched in outline a general work on the stratification of Britain. This, on the conclusion of his engagement, assumed a more definite form, so that he announced his intention of publishing, for he was convinced that he had found the key to stratigraphy—viz. the identification of strata by their fossil contents. He lived for a time at High Littleton, but in 1795 he removed to Bath, near to which in 1798 he bought a small property. His geological investigations were greatly encouraged by the Rev. Benjamin Richardson of Farleigh, near Bath, and the Rev. Joseph Townsend [q. v.] of Pewsey; and in 1799 the former, in the house of the latter, wrote at Smith's dictation a list of the strata in order of succession, from the chalk downwards to the coal measures. This document now belongs to the Geological Society of London, to whom it was presented in 1831.
Meanwhile Smith became more widely known as an engineer. His mastery of scientific principles, his success in dealing with difficulties in drainage and all other questions connected with water, led to his being summoned to distant localities, and enabled him to increase his scale of charges. But whatever might be earned was swallowed up by the expenses of the map of the strata in England and Wales, on which he was now definitely engaged. In 1801 he issued a prospectus of a work on the natural order of the various strata in England and Wales, but failed to carry out the project. He was consulted by Francis Russell, fifth duke of Bedford [q. v.], but was almost immediately deprived by premature death of one who would have been a most helpful patron. His name, however, was rapidly becoming known in scientific circles. The next duke was a friend; Arthur Young [q. v.], secretary to the board of agriculture, consulted him; William Crawshay [q. v.], ‘the iron king,’ and Sir Joseph Banks [q. v.] gave substantial help towards the publication of his map, but outward obstacles continued to impede the accomplishment of his design. Still, in 1806 he overcame his reluctance to authorship, and published ‘Observations on the Utility, Form, and Management of Water Meadows,’ Norwich, 8vo; and he received during the previous year a medal from the Society of Arts for his success in draining Prisley Bog. By this time he had almost a monopoly of work for drainage and irrigation, and was constantly engaged in travelling, sometimes covering ten thousand miles in a year, and this before the days of railways. Among other important engineering works, he was en-