Admiral William Henry Smyth KFM DCL FRS FRAS FRGS FSA

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Adm. William Henry Smyth, KFM DCL FRS FRAS FRGS FS

Birthdate: (77)
Birthplace: Westminster, London, Middlesex, England UK
Death: Died in Buckinghamshire, England UK
Immediate Family:

Son of Joseph Brewer Palmer Smyth; Lt. Joseph Smyth; Georgina Caroline Pitt Smyth and Georgina Caroline Pitt Smyth
Husband of Eliza Ann Smyth
Father of Elizabeth Smyth; Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth; Elizabeth Anne Smyth; Charles Piazzi Smyth; Henrietta Grace Powell (Smyth) and 5 others

Occupation: Admiral - English naval officer, hydrographer, astronomer and numismatist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Admiral William Henry Smyth KFM DCL FRS FRAS FRGS FSA

William Henry Smyth (21 January 1788 – 8 September 1865) was an English sailor and astronomer. He was the father of Charles Piazzi Smyth, Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth and General Sir Henry Augustus Smyth. Of his daughters, Henrietta Grace Smyth married Professor Baden Powell and was mother of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, while Georgiana Rosetta Smyth married Sir William Henry Flower.

He was born in Westminster, London. He was the only son of Joseph Smyth and Georgina Caroline Pitt Pilkington, granddaughter of the Irish writer and protégéé of Jonathan Swift, Laetitia Pilkington. His father was a colonial American who lived in East Jersey. He was an English loyalist, however, and after the American Revolution emigrated to England where his son was born.

Smyth joined the Royal Navy and during the Napoleonic wars he served in the Mediterranean, eventually achieving the rank of Admiral. He married Eliza Anne "Annarella" Warington in 1815. During a hydrographic survey in 1817 he met the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi in Palermo, Sicily, and visited his observatory; this sparked his interest in astronomy and in 1825 he retired from the Navy to establish a private observatory in Bedford, England, equipped with a 5.9-inch refractor telescope. He used this instrument to observe a variety of deep sky objects over the course of the 1830s, including double stars, star clusters and nebulae. He published his observations in 1844 in the Cycle of Celestial Objects, which earned him the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1845 and also the presidency of the society. The first volume of this work was on general astronomy, but the second volume became known as the Bedford Catalogue and contained Smyth's observations of 1,604 double stars and nebulae. It served as a standard reference work for many years afterward; no astronomer had previously made as extensive a catalogue of dim objects such as this.

Having completed his observations, Smyth retired to Cardiff in 1839. His observatory was dismantled and the telescope was sold to Dr. John Lee and re-erected in a new observatory of his own design at Hartwell House. Smyth still had the opportunity to use it since his residence at St. John's Lodge in Stone was not far from its new location, and did a large number of additional astronomical observations from 1839 to 1859. The telescope is presently in the Science Museum, London.

Smyth suffered a heart attack in early September, 1865, and at first seemed to recover. On 8 September he showed the planet Jupiter to his young grandson, Arthur Smyth Flower, through a telescope. A few hours later in the early morning of 9 September, at age 78, he died. He was buried in the churchyard at Stone near Aylesbury.

A lunar mare was named Mare Smythii in his honour.


Admiral William Henry Smyth KFM DCL FRS FRAS FRGS FSA (21 January 1788 – 8 September 1865) was an English naval officer, hydrographer, astronomer and numismatist. He is noted for his involvement in the early history of a number of learned societies, for his hydrographic charts, for his astronomical work, and for a wide range of publications and translations.

Family William Smyth was born at 42 Great Peter Street, Westminster, London. He was the only son of Joseph Smyth and Georgina Caroline Pitt Pilkington, granddaughter of the Irish writer Laetitia Pilkington and her husband Matthew Pilkington, both protégés of Jonathan Swift.

William Smyth's father, Joseph Brewer Palmer Smyth, was born in 1737 in New Jersey, the son of Benjamin Smyth (born 1700 in Woolpack, New Jersey, died 1769, in Knowlton, N.J.), himself the son of Benjamin Smyth (died 1720). Joseph was a colonial American and a merchant and land owner in Knowlton, Sussex, New Jersey. He was a British loyalist and in January 1777 he was commissioned as Lt in the King's Royal Regiment of New York. However, he escaped to Niagara at the start of the American Revolution. In November 1778 he sailed for New York, but was captured. He eventually reached Falmouth, Cornwall, in January, 1779 "in a most forlorn condition", destitute and suffering from fever and smallpox. In 1780 he married Georgina Pilkington in England. He was in Niagara in 1788.

William Smyth, his son, was born on 21 January 1788, shortly before Joseph died in Quebec between February and July 1788. William's half brother was the famous painter and traveller Augustus Earle.

William Smyth married Eliza Anne "Annarella" Warington in Messina on 7 October 1815, when they were 27. Smyth and Annarella had eleven children between 1816 and 1835. Their three sons were Charles Piazzi Smyth, Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth and General Sir Henry Augustus Smyth. Of their eight daughters, two died young (their first-born, Elizabeth, aged 4 and fourth-born Elizabeth Ann aged 2), a third (Jane Phoebe) "married and died" aged 20, another (Josephine) also died at 20, unmarried, and another (Caroline Mary) at 25, of diphtheria, less than a month before her wedding day. Their other three daughters were Henrietta Grace, who married Rev. Professor Baden Powell and was mother of nine, including Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell; while Georgiana Rosetta married Sir William Henry Flower and had seven children; and Ellen Philadelphia, who married Capt. Henry Toynbee and sailed out to Australia as a bride in 1855. She died childless in 1881 aged 52 after a long illness.

Smyth suffered a heart attack at his home near Aylesbury in early September 1865, and at first seemed to recover. On 8 September he showed the planet Jupiter to his young grandson, Arthur Smyth Flower, through a telescope. He died a few hours later, in the early morning of the 9 September 1865, aged 78. He was buried in the churchyard at Stone near Aylesbury.

Royal Navy At the age of 14 Smyth ran away to join the merchant marine. In 1804 he was in the East India Company's ship Marquis Cornwallis, which the government chartered for an expedition against the Seychelles. In the following March Cornwallis was bought into the navy and established as a 50-gun ship under the command of Captain Charles James Johnston, with whom Smyth remained, seeing much active service in Indian, Chinese, and Australian waters. In February 1808 he followed Johnston to the Powerful, which, on returning to England, was part of the force in the expedition to the Scheldt, and was paid off in October 1809. Smyth afterwards served in the 74-gun Milford on the coast of France and Spain, and was lent from her to command the Spanish gunboat Mors aut Gloria for several months at the defence of Cadiz (September 1810 to April 1811). In July 1811 he joined Rodney off Toulon, and through 1812 served on the coast of Spain.

On 25 March 1813 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and appointed for duty with the Sicilian flotilla, in which he combined service against the French from Naples with a good deal of unofficial hydrographic surveying and antiquarian research. For his services in defending Sicily Smyth was subsequently awarded the Order of Saint Ferdinand and of Merit by King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, and received permission from the Prince Regent to wear it on 16 March 1816.

On 18 September 1815 he was made commander, and without any appointment to command a ship he continued surveying the coast of Sicily, the adjacent coasts of Italy, and the opposite shores of Africa.

With his military commitments coming to an end with the fall of Napoleon, Smyth devoted himself to the survey of Sicily, in command of the brig Scylla, and he produced a number of maps and drawings that roused the Admiralty's unconditional admiration for their beauty and accuracy.

He was subsequently engaged in hydrographic operations in the Adriatic, collaborating with the Austrian and Neapolitan authorities in the production of loose charts and of the Carta di Cabottaggio del Mare Adriatico ("Cabotage map of the Adriatic Sea"), published in 1822–24.

During this period (1815–1817), Smyth's 22-year-old half-brother, Augustus Earle, visited Sicily, Malta, Gibraltar and North Africa. Smyth had sought and was given permission by Lord Exmouth to allow Augustus passage through the Mediterranean aboard the Scylla that he commanded and which was part of Admiral Lord Exmouth's Royal Navy fleet.

In 1817 Smyth's survey work was put on a more formal footing by his appointment to Aid (renamed in 1821 as Adventure). This ship was later to be accompanied by Beagle on the first "voyage of the Beagle" (1826–30). Charles Darwin was on the second voyage, 1831–36, on which voyage, Smyth's half-brother Augustus Earle was appointed 'ship's artist' by naturalist Charles Darwin. In this capacity he acted as both a recorder of biological specimens and as topographical artist.

In Aid, Smyth carried on the hydrographic survey of the Italian, Sicilian, Greek, and African coasts, and constructed a very large number of charts, used by the British Royal Navy until the mid 20th century. As a result, he became known as "Mediterranean Smyth".

In 1817 he met the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi in Palermo, Sicily, and visited his observatory; this sparked his interest in astronomy. Smyth's first son was given Piazzi's surname as his middle name.

On 7 February 1824, Smyth was promoted to post rank, and in the following November, aged 37, he paid off the Adventure. As a result of the inevitable cuts following the defeat of Napoleon, this was the end of Smyth's service at sea, his tastes then leading him to a life of literary and scientific industry.

In 1846 Smyth accepted retirement from the Navy, receiving half-pay of 18 shillings per day, though in due course he was advanced, on the retired list, to rear-admiral ("without increase of pay") on 28 May 1853,[8] then to vice-admiral on 17 May 1858 (with seniority from 13 February),[9] and finally to admiral on 14 November 1863.[10][11]

He was awarded the Royal Geographic Society's Founder's Medal in 1854 for his survey work in the Mediterranean.

Astronomical and other work In 1825 Smyth established a private observatory in Bedford, England, equipped with a 5.9-inch refractor telescope. He used this instrument to observe a variety of deep sky objects over the course of the 1830s, including double stars, star clusters and nebulae. He published his observations in 1844 in the Cycle of Celestial Objects, which earned him the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1845 and also the presidency of the society. The first volume of this work was on general astronomy, but the second volume became known as the Bedford Catalogue and contained Smyth's observations of 1,604 double stars and nebulae. It served as a standard reference work for many years afterward; no astronomer had previously made as extensive a catalogue of dim objects such as this. Having completed his observations, Smyth moved to Cardiff in 1839 to supervise the construction of the Bute Dock which he had designed. His observatory was dismantled and the telescope was sold to Dr John Lee and re-erected in a new observatory of Smyth's own design at Hartwell House nearby.

Smyth moved to Stone near Aylesbury in 1842, and still had the opportunity to use the telescope since his residence at St. John's Lodge was not far from its new location, and he performed a large number of additional astronomical observations from 1839 to 1859. The telescope is presently in the Science Museum, London.

Smyth was a numismatist of note. He was a founding member of the Royal Numismatic Society in 1836. He maintained a lifelong interest in coins and was author of a number of interesting treatises on the subject. The history of the Society, Part 1: 1836–1874, describes the founding of the Society including the role of Admiral Smyth:

The first meetings, held on 26 June 1836 ... proposed that ... the friends of Numismatic Science should ... be formed into ... the Numismatic Society, that Capt. William Henry Smyth be requested to act as President.[16] In the event, he became instead one of the first Members of Council.

Smyth latterly also had a house at 3 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where he stayed while attending the various learned societies, and where he entertained his like-minded friends, of whom Rev. Professor Baden Powell was one, and who, on the 10 March 1846, when he was 50, became Smyth's son-in-law, although only eight years younger, by marrying Smyth's daughter Henrietta Grace, then aged 22.

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Admiral William Henry Smyth KFM DCL FRS FRAS FRGS FSA's Timeline

1788
January 21, 1788
London, Middlesex, England UK
1816
1816
Age 27
1817
August 26, 1817
Age 29
Naples, Campania, Italy
1819
January 3, 1819
Age 30
January 3, 1819
Age 30
Napoli, Campania, Repubblica Italiana
1819
Age 30
1824
September 3, 1824
Age 36
Westminster, Middlesex County, England, United Kingdom
1825
November 25, 1825
Age 37
London, UK
November 25, 1825
Age 37
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
1828
1828
Age 39