Ref NoMS/305
TitleCollection of Diplomas - Sir James Edward Smith
AdminHistorySir James Edward Smith (1759-1828), MD, FRS, PLS, was one of the preeminent British botanists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the principal founding member and first President of the Linnean Society of London. Smith was a prolific author who helped introduce and popularise botany with new audiences.

Smith was born on 2 December 1759 at Norwich, Norfolk, to James Smith (1727-1795) and Frances (1731-1820). A sickly child, he began his botanical studies reportedly on the day of Carl Linnaeus' (1707-1778) death, 10 January 1778. In 1781 Smith enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to study medicine, the only way to study botany at university at the time. Smith moved to London in 1783 to continue his medical studies, without taking a degree. Following the death of Carl Linnaeus the younger (1741-1783), and with the assistance of Sir Joseph Banks' (1743-1820) connections and his father's finances Smith purchased the collections of Carl Linnaeus for 1,000 guineas. This brought Smith instant regard within the scientific community and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1785. In 1786 Smith embarked on a tour of Europe, gaining a medical degree at Leyden, Holland, before travelling through France, Switzerland, and Italy, where he met many of the greatest botanists and scientists of the period.

In 1788 Smith founded the Linnean Society of London with Samuel Goodenough (1743-1827) and Thomas Marsham (1748-1819), and became its first President, a position he held for life. His first major serial publication, "English Botany", a collaboration with illustrator James Sowerby (1757-1822), appeared in 1790, which with subsequent works "Flora Britannica" (1800-1804) and "English Flora" (1824-1828) proved to be among the most popular, accessible, and accurate records of the British flora to date. Again in collaboration with Sowerby, "A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland" (1793-1795), was the first published book on the flora of Australia. He also edited and translated several works by Linnaeus, and edited John Sibthorp's "Flora Graeca" (1806-1837). Smith contributed many papers to "Transactions of the Linnean Society of London" and other journals.

Smith held regular lectures in Liverpool and at the Royal Institution in London, and also took on private pupils, including Queen Charlotte and the Princesses. His works "An Introduction to Physiological and Systematical Botany" (1807) and "A grammar of botany" (1821) helped introduce botany to new audiences and were reprinted several times. His status as keeper of Linnaeus' scientific reputation gave Smith a privileged position amongst Europe’s botanists, and he was regularly sent new plant specimens from around the world to identify and classify.

Smith married Pleasance Reeve (1773-1877) on 1 March 1796 and they moved to Norwich in 1797; there were no children. Smith was knighted in 1814, and from 1813 to 1819 was involved in an ill-fated campaign to become Professor of Botany at Cambridge University. Smith was a nonconformist and supported causes including the abolition of slavery and Greek independence, and his criticism of the French monarchy ended his professional relationship with Queen Charlotte.

A prolific correspondent, Smith communicated with many important botanists and scientists, including Sir Joseph Banks, Robert Brown (1773-1858), Thomas Pennant (1726-1798), and William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865).

Smith built up an extensive library and herbarium to complement the Linnaean collections, all of which were purchased by the Linnean Society after his death on 17 March 1828.
DescriptionCollection of diplomas of Sir James Edward Smith. The diplomas (except number 17) were presented in 1927 by the Reverend A.J. Fellowes. It is not complete, the diploma of the Royal Society, for instance, being missing.

1) Leiden University, Doctor of Medicine, 15 July 1786. Vellum. Handwritten. Wax seal in metal case, appended.
2) Société Royal d'Agriculture de Paris, Corresponding member, 11 January 1787. Vellum. Printed. Wax seal affixed.
3) Regia Scientarium Taurensis Academia, Turin, Corresponding member, 4 June 1789. Paper. Printed. Wax seal affixed.
4) Académie Delphinale, Grenoble, 15 March 1790. Paper. Printed. Wax seal affixed.
5) Société d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris, Associate, 24 September 1790. Paper. Printed. Wax seal, affixed.
6) Regia Scientiarum Taurensis Academia, Turin, Honorary Member. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, affixed.
7) Academia Regia Scientarium Stockholmensis, Member, 2 May 1792. Vellum. Hand-written. Wafer seal, affixed.
8) Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Honorary Member, 11 March 1794. Paper. Printed. No seal.
9) Societas Physiographica Lundensis, Lund, Honorary Member, 26 July 1794. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, affixed.
10) American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, Honorary Member, 15 January 1796. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, appended.
11) Imperialis Academia Naturae Curiosorum, Erlangae, Honorary Member, 10 October 1797. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, affixed.
12) Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde, Berlin, Member, 9 July 1798. Paper. Printed. Wax seal, affixed.
13) Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, Honorary Member, 27 December 1799. [Signed by John Dalton]. Vellum. Printed. Wafer seal, appended.
14) Societas Physica Gottingensis, Honorary Member, 20 March 1800. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, appended.
15) Societas Physica Gottingensis, 14 February 1802. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, affixed.
16) Société des Naturalistes de Moscou, Honorary Member, 31 January 1806. Paper. Printed. Wax seal, affixed.
17) Literary and Philosophical Society of Preston, Honorary Member, 20 April 1810. Parchment, engraved. Wax seal appended, in metal cylinder. This diploma was not in the Fellowes collection, but was received by the Society in 1829.
18) Societas Phytgraphica Gornkensis, Member, 26 March 1811. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, affixed. Printed rules enclosed.
19) New York Literary and Philosophical Society, Honorary Member, 15 July 1815. Paper. Letter, hand-written, no seal.
20) Societas Caesarea Naturae Curiosorum Mosquensis, Honorary Member, 20 August 1815. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, affixed.
21) Gessellschaft zur Beförderung der gesammten Naturwissenschafen in Marburg, 13 September 1817. Paper. Printed. Wafer seal, affixed. Statutes of the Society enclosed, and covering letter.
22) Institut de France: Academie pour les Sciences naturelles, Corresponding Member, 23 November 1818. Paper. Printed. Embossed seal. Two documents, both signed by Cuvier.
23) Oeconomische Gesselschaft zu Potsdam. [Royal Prussian Economic Society], 24 May 1821. Paper. Printed. Wax seal, affixed. With covering letter.
24) Société Linnéenne de Paris, Honorary Member, 15 October 1821. Paper. Hand written on headed paper. No seal. Rules of the Society enclosed.
25) Naturforschende Gesellschaft zu Leipzig, Honorary Member, 19 August 1822. Paper. Printed. Embossed seal.
26) Société Linnéenne de Lyon, Corresponding Member, 6 September 1824. Paper. Printed. Wax seal, affixed.
27) Warrington Institution, Honorary Member, no date. Hand written letter. No seal. Book of rules, etc. enclosed.
Extent27 folders
NotesW.Dawson Cat.of ms.Pt.1 27.1-27.1
Creator NameSmith, James Edward
GB/110/1/11Smith; Sir; James Edward (1759-1828); Knight; botanist1759-1828
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