Authorised form of nameSmeathman; Henry (1750-1787)
ActivitySmeathman was a business man, but his interests spread to the study of termites, on which topic he presented a paper to the Royal Society in 1781. He had also spent three years in the 1770's in the Banana Islands off the coast of Sierra Leone, collecting botanical samples for Sir Joseph Banks's collection at Kew. Smeathman had witnessed the Parisian balloon ascents in 1783 and - critical of the Montgolfier brothers wayward flights - had set down in a letter to Banks in February 1784 a radical change in design, from a globular balloon shape to an elongated horizontal form with wings. In Smeathmans' words 'a dirigible aerostatic machine' capable of alighting on both land and water. A letter from George Cumberland dated 4 March 1784 was sent to Joseph Banks which included illustrations (see Archived Papers) Banks however was unconvinced by Smeathman's designs. In his reply to Cumberland, dated 6 March 1784, Banks stated that any attempt to guide the aerostat by its wings would be hazardous. Furthermore, Smeathman's letter to February 1784 - with its plea to Banks to request British government help to aid the construction - went unanswered. Smeathman's designs never left the page, far less the ground, and he died in 1787.
Royal Society activityNot FRS.
Virtual International Authority File
Royal Society codeNA9426
Archives associated with this Fellow
Reference numberTitleDate
IM/004224Smeathman, Henry2001
L&P/7/188/1Letter, 'Some account of termites' from Henry Smeathman to Joseph Banks23 January 1781
L&P/7/188Paper, 'Some account of termites' by Henry Smeathman1781
L&P/7/188/4Plate, 'Two studies of termite nurseries with one microscope view of mould grown within the termite colony' by Henry Smeathman1781
L&P/7/188/6Plate, 'Figures illustrating different species of termite, identified by Smeathman as: Termes bellicosus; Termes mordax; Termes atrox; and Termes destructor' by Henry Smeathman1781
L&P/7/188/5Plate, 'View of "turret nests" of termites (identified as Termes mordax and Termes atrox) in grassland' by Henry Smeathman1781
L&P/7/188/3Plate, 'Sectional views of the royal chamber within a termite hill and its entrance, together with studies of a broken-open chamber with Queen and retinue' by Henry Smeathman1781
AP/5/12Unpublished letter and drawings, on Henry Smeathman's designs for a flying vessel by [George] Cumberland4 March 1784
AP/5/12/1Unpublished letter, on Henry Smeathman's designs for a flying vessel from [George] Cumberland to Sir Jos [Joseph] Banks4 March 1784
AP/5/12/2Unpublished drawings, sectional, elevated, and profile view of Smeathman's flying vessel by [George Cumberland][1784]
AP/5/12/3Unpublished drawing, 'Design of a Montgolfier in part foreshortened and seen underneath, according to Smeathman' by [George Cumberland][1784]
AP/5/12/4Unpublished drawing, 'A Montgolfier in front according to Smeathman' by [George Cumberland][1784]
AP/5/12/5Unpublished drawing, 'A Montgolfier seen partly in front according to Mr Smeathman' by [George Cumberland][1784]
AP/5/12/6Unpublished drawing, 'A Montgolfier seen from above according to Smeathman' by [George Cumberland][1784]
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