James Smith of Jordanhill: Scholar and Author

James Smith of Jordanhill’s obituary in The Glasgow Daily Herald, Thursday, January 24, 1867, provides some valuable information about the subject’s life.

“Mr Smith was educated at the Grammar School and University of Glasgow. He was for many years a sleeping partner in the West India House of Leitch and Smith in this city, but never took any active part in business. His tastes directed him to literary and scientific pursuits and the fine arts. He was in early life an enthusiastic book collector, particularly in the department of early voyages and travels, in which he has left a lrge and valuable collection. His love of yachting was one of the most prominent features in his life, and it was lifelong. His first cruise in a yacht of his own was in the year 1806; his last in the year 1866. He was one of the earliest members of the Royal Yacht Club, now the Royal Yacht Squadron; and was ne of the earliest and latest commodores of the Royal Northern Yacht Club.

“Most of Mr Smith’s scientific and literary researches were connected with his love of yachting. His earliest paper in any scientific publication was a notice in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of an undescribed vitrified fort, in the Burnt isles in the Kyles of Bute discovered by him in accidentally landing from his yacht. In Geology, the science which was particularly his, his original researches were principally a minute comparison, conducted by dredging from his yacht and exploring from it the superficial deposits of the existing shells of the Firth of Clyde, with those of the latest geological formations. In this investigation he found that a large proportion of the shells in these deposits, which do not now exist in the Clyde, are still to be found in the Arctic Seas. This led him to the conclusion announced to the Geological Society in 1836, of the existence, before the present state of things, of a colder climate than the present – a conclusion which, though opposed to what geologists had previously believed, is now universally accepted. In continuing his investigations, Mr Smith found reason to distinguish the deposits in question into two, in the older of which a considerable proportion of shells are now extinct, but in the later of which – and which therefore belongs to what is called the recent period – every one of the shells has been found now existing, though many of them only in the Arctic Seas. This is the period of long repose of the land, at a depression of about 40 feet below the present sea level, which has left the modern shores on the West of Scotland fringed, at an elevation of 40 feet, with that old sea cliff which is so marked a feature of its scenery.

“From 1839 to 1846 the health of members of his family caused Mr Smith to reside successively at Madeira, Gibraltar, Lisbon, and Malta, and valuable geological papers on each of these localities attest the zeal with which he pursued his favourite science.

“His residence at Malta was the occasion of the remarkable series of investigations by which he is best known in literature and theology. Those were first published in 1848 in “The Voyage and Shipwreck of St Paul, with Dissertations on the Life and Writings of St Luke, and the Ships and Navigation of the Ancients.”

“The part of the volume which relates to the voyage and Shipwreck of St Paul has been accepted by all critics and theologians who have since written as conclusively settling all doubtful and contested question (check if plural) as to the narrative in the Acts. This work is a remarkable instance of originality, ingenuity, and sagacity, and of the application of practical knowledge of seamanship and geology to the elucidation of a point of literary and theological interest.”