James Smithson -Benefactor- Smithsonian Institute

 

 JAMES SMITHSON - BENEFACTOR - SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION 
WASHINGTON D.C   USA 

 

Who would have thought that a man from Tottenham,who had never visited the the USA during his lifetime, should bequeath his wealth to create perhaps one of the best know Museums in the world. This man was James Smithson who had once lived at Percy House, Tottenham which is now the home of the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation.
James Smithson, MA, FRS (c. 1765 – 27 June 1829) was an English chemist and mineralogist. He published numerous scientific papers for the Royal Society during the late 1700s as well as assisted in the development of calamine, which would eventually be renamed after him as "smithsonite".
Born in Paris, France as the illegitimate child of Hugh Percy, the 1st Duke of Northumberland, he was given the French name Jacques-Louis Macie. His birth date was not recorded and the exact location of his birth is unknown; most sources believe it to be in the Pentemont Abbey. Shortly after his birth he naturalized to Britain where his name was anglicized to James Louis Macie. He attended university at Pembroke College, Oxford in 1782 eventually graduating with a B.A. in 1786. As a student he participated in numerous geological expeditions and studied chemistry and mineralogy. At the age of twenty-two, he adopted his father's surname of Smithson and travelled extensively throughout Europe, publishing papers about his findings. Considered a talented amateur in his field, Smithson maintained an inheritance he acquired from his mother and other relatives.

 
James Smithson is known to have lived at Percy House that is located in High Road Tottenham and is situated along the former Roman Road of  'Ermine Street'.

Percy House was built in the early 1740's by Sir Hugh Smithson the Duke of Northumberland. Smithson had inherited the fortune and lands of the Percy family of Northumberland, whose ancestor, Sir Henry Percy, commonly known as ‘Harry Hotspur’, inspired Tottenham Hotspur’s name and its famous emblem of a fighting cockerel.

Sir Hugh Smithson  changed his surname to Percy when he married Lady Elizabeth Seymour (1716-1776).   She was Baroness Percy in her own right, and indirect heiress of the Percy family, which was one of the leading landowning families of England and had previously held the Earldom of Northumberland for several centuries.

PERCY HOUSE - Circa 1949

RECENTLY RESTORED PERCY HOUSE - 2018
HOME OF THE TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FOUNDATION

 

 
 

PORTRAIT HUGH SMITHSON - FATHER OF JAMES SMITHSON
 BUILT PERCY HOUSE TOTTENHAM
 

HUGH PERCY - FIRST DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND

 

James Smithson was never married and had no children; therefore, when he wrote his will, he left his estate to his nephew, or his nephew's family if his nephew died before Smithson. If his nephew were to die without heirs, however, Smithson's will stipulated that his estate be used "to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." In 1835, his nephew died and so could not claim to be the recipient of his estate; therefore, Smithson became the patron of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. despite having never visited the United States. He died in Genoa, Italy on 27 June 1829, aged 64


'THE CASTLE' 1847- THE INSTITUTIONS FIRST BUILDING AND STILL ITS HEADQUARTERS

 

James Smithson died on the 27th June1829 in Genoa Italy and he was buried just outside the city. The United States consul in Genoa was asked to maintain the grave site, with sponsorship for its maintenance coming from the Smithsonian Institution.

The grave site itself was going to be relocated in 1905, and in response, Alexander Graham Bell, who was a regent for the Smithsonian, requested that Smithson's remains be moved to the Smithsonian Institution Building. In 1903, Bell and his wife, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, travelled to Genoa to exhume the body.

On 25 January 1904 a ceremony was held and the body was escorted through Washington, D.C. by the United States Cavalry. When handing over the remains to the Smithsonian, Bell stated:

And now... my mission is ended and I deliver into your hands ... the remains of this great benefactor of the United States

The remains of James Smithson were entombed in the crypt of the Smithsonian Institute on 6 March 1905.

JAMES SMITHSON - TOMB GENOA

JAMES SMITHSON - TOMB
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
 
 
INSCRIPTION UPON JAMES SMITHSON - TOMB  

JAMES SMITHSON - MEMORIAL PLAQUE

 

POSTSCRIPT: Elsewhere on this website we have the story of Henry Hunnings (1842-1886) who was an early pioneer in photography who later turned his hand to telephony. Henry Hunnings was born in Tottenham and also lived in Tottenham High Road which is also the location of Percy House.

Henry Hunnings invented a new form of telephone receiver and was later to be embroiled in a long running patent dispute with both Alexander Graham-Bell and Thomas Edison.

One wonders whether Alexander Graham Bell, when arranging for the exhumation and transfer of James Smithson's remains to America, was aware that both Smithson and Hunnings had close connections with Tottenham.

Article prepared July 2018 - We acknowledge that much of this information has been acquired from the Wikipedia entry for James Smithson

Background Image - Pery House Illustration - Tottenham Hotspur Foundation