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Smeaton, John

SMEATON, JOHN (1724-1792), English civil engineer, was born at Austhorpe Lodge, near Leeds, on the 8th of June 1724. He received a good education at the grammar school of Leeds. At an early age he showed a liking for the use of mechanical tools, and in his fourteenth or fifteenth year contrived to make a turninglathe. On leaving school in his sixteenth year he was employed in the office of his father, an attorney, but, after attending for some months in 1742 the courts at Westminster Hall, he requested to be allowed to follow some mechanical profession. He became apprentice to a philosophical instrument maker, and in 1750 set up in business on his own account. Besides improving various mathematical instruments used in navigation and astronomy, he carried on experiments in regard to other mechanical appliances, amongst the most important being a series on which he founded a paper for which he received the Copley medal of the Royal Society in 1759 entitled An Experimental Inquiry concerning the Native Powers of Water and Wind to turn Mills and other Machines depending on a Circular Motion. In 1754 he made a tour of the Low Countries to study the great canal works of foreign engineers. Already by his papers read before the Roval Society and his intercourse with scientific men his abilities as an engineer had become well known, and in 1756 application was made to him to reconstruct the Eddystone lighthouse, which had been burnt down in December of the previous year. After the completion of the new tower in 1759, Smeaton's advice was frequently sought in regard to important engineering projects, including the construction of canals (especially the Forth and Clyde canal), the drainage of fens, the designing of harbours and the repair and erection of bridges, though many of the schemes he drew up were not carried out on account of the general lack of capital. He was also employed in designing numerous waterwheels, windmills, pumps, and other mechanical appliances. A considerable portion of his time was devoted to astronomical studies and observations, on which he read various papers before the Royal Society. A year before his death he announced that he wished " to dedicate the chief part of his remaining time to the description of the several works performed under his direction," but he completed nothing more than the Narrative of the Building of the Eddystone Lighthouse, which had already appeared. He died at Austhorpe on the 28th of October 1792, and was buried in the old parish church of Whitkirk.

See John Holmes, A Short Narrative of the Genius, Life and Works of the late Mr John Smeaton (1793); and S. Smiles, Lives of the Engineers.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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