James Smith of Jordanhill

15th Aug 1782 - 17th Jan 1867

Claimant or beneficiary


Son of Archibald Smith (d. 1821) and Isobel Euing, partner in Leith & Smith (q.v.), and then in James and Archibald Smith and Company (q.v.) with his brother; another brother, William Smith of Carbeth Guthrie (q.v.), was Lord Provost. James smith of Jordanhill has an entry in the ODNB as 'geologist and biblical historian', which says the he 'became a sleeping partner in the firm of Leitch and Smith, West India merchants.'

  1. From Memoirs and portraits of one hundred Glasgow men (1886):

"The son of an old Strathblane family, Smith was born in Glasgow on 15 August 1782. He joined his father's trading company and lived in Rosneath and later Jordanhill, but is best remembered as an enthusiastic yachtsman who came to be regarded as the father of yachting on the Clyde.

"He maintained interests in geology, sea shells and voyages to the Arctic regions, and his knowledge was such that Greenland includes Cape James, Cape Mary and Jordanhill Island, named by pioneers after Smith and his family.

"His book, The Voyage and Shipwreck of St Paul, and Dissertation on the Life and Writings of St Luke, and the Ships and Navigation of the Ancients, was highly regarded and stayed in print for many years. He married Mary Wilson, granddaughter of a distinguished astronomer, in 1809 and died, "with unimpaired faculties" on 17 January 1867.

"IT is perhaps too much to say that Stirlingshire made Glasgow, but few will deny that the Buchanans and the Stirlings, the Grahams and the Burnses, and many more from country parish and county town have done their full share in making the great city what it is to-day: and it may be allowed, too, that the lives of three at least of the one hundred men of this book - James Stirling, William Euing, and James Smith, all of Stirlingshire extraction - have proved that the pursuits of commerce are not incompatible with the higher aims of literature, science, and art.

"In the quiet little parish of Strathblane, in West Stirlingshire, had lived for many generations the Smiths of Craigend, but up to the middle of last century, or rather later, their connection with Glasgow had been but slender - confined, indeed, to receiving from it little more than the necessaries of life and the few luxuries indulged in by a small Scottish laird of those days, and giving the city in return the cattle, sheep, and wool which their rather unproductive acres produced. A small laird's family is often a very big one, and so it was at Craigend, and Archibald Smith, the laird's fourth son, soon found there was no room for him at home.

"With a light pocket, a stout heart, and a sound head, he left his native parish about 1768, and by dint almost solely of energy, perseverance, and high principle he found himself in a few years a well-to-do settler in the colony of Virginia. But America was not to be his home. The War of Independence broke out, and the young Scotsman preferred to sacrifice his property rather than his loyalty, and so returned to Scotland but little richer than he left it.

"His connection with Glasgow now began, and as junior partner in the afterwards great house of Leitch & Smith, he took a leading part in making the West India trade the important industry it became.

"Archibald Smith, while a successful merchant and planter, was no selfish citizen. He did his duty in the Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Merchants' House. In 1779 he was Dean of Guild of the city, and when he died, in 1821, at Jordanhill, which he had bought at the beginning of the century, the city of Glasgow lost a worthy and respected citizen, many a struggling young man lost a generous and unostentatious friend - for it is a curious fact that several loans the existence of which were unknown to his family were repaid after his death by men who had prospered by his timely aid - and his family lost a father alike affectionate and wise. His wife was Isobel Euing, also of a Stirlingshire family. She lived to the great age of one hundred and one, and was equally remarkable for her amiability of disposition and strength of character and intellect. To the very last she took a keen interest in the career of her gifted son, the subject of this sketch, and her no less gifted grandson, his son.

"James Smith, who thus owed much, morally and intellectually, to his parents, was the eldest of five children, and was born in Glasgow on the 15th August, 1782. He was educated at the Grammar School and University of his native city, and early in life was a partner in his father's house.

"In course of time Leitch & Smith became James and Archibald Smith & Co. - the Archibald Smith of the co-partnery being his younger brother - an excellent man of business, and on whom from a very early date the task of conducting the firm almost entirely fell. It may be mentioned, in passing, that Archibald Smith and his elder brother, William Smith of Carbeth Guthrie, the latter as her Dean of Guild and Lord Provost, and the former as an active promoter of her railway interests, both did their full share of the city's work, which for many years circumstances prevented their elder brother from doing.

"In the early part of this century, when an invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte seemed imminent, every citizen was a soldier, and James Smith was a zealous and efficient officer in the Renfrewshire Militia, and for some years his military duties occupied his whole time, for the Militia was then permanently embodied. Afterwards, and when he retired, he lived in the part of the old Castle of Rosneath which had escaped a recent fire, and when he succeeded his father, Jordanhill became his residence for the remainder of his life, except during the somewhat long visits he paid to milder climates for the benefit of the health of some of his children. But though thus removed from the family business of which he was the head, he was never idle, and even when pursuing his favourite, pastime of yachting - and he was the father of yachting on the Clyde - he was diligently studying Nature, particularly her geological aspect. His habits of accurate and intelligent research, and his life-long love of the sea, led to many valuable discoveries - his earliest being the results of comparisons between shells found in deposits far above the present sea level of the West of Scotland, with those now living in British and Arctic seas. These results he gave from time to time to the scientific world and he has long been recognized as one of the very earliest founders of the now accepted theory of the glacial period in the British Isles.

"During his long life his interest in geology never flagged. He largely contributed by his researches and writings to its progress, and his ever-youthful and receptive mind was never closed against the new theories of a science which may be said to have been born in his early years. Mr. Smith's love of yachting was also life-long. He owned a yacht in 1806, and he was cruising in his own well-known cutter, the "Wave," in 1866, the year before his death. He was a thorough yachtsman too, sailed his own vessel, and did it well, carrying off as prizes in his younger days several of the "Cups" which were not then so plentiful as they are now. He never had a large yacht, but his singular talent for planning and arrangement always made his little ship the most comfortable and roomy of her size afloat.

"Most men yacht either from love of the sea, or of sailing, or of the beauties of Nature. Mr. Smith enjoyed all these, but he did what few yachtsmen do. He made his yacht his study and workshop, and much that he did for science, and even Biblical criticism, can be traced to the accurate observations made during his life on board. Those who have sailed with him can never forget the pleasure of a cruise in his yacht. His freshness of mind and sympathy with youth made him delightful company for his own family, and the many young relatives who went in turn with him; while to his older and scientific friends those "voyages of discovery" - for they were little less - were equally delightful, besides being distinctly valuable. On favourable ground his ever-ready dredge was at work, and the examination of its contents when brought on deck, always interesting and sometimes amusing, often resulted in valuable discoveries; and when coasting, along, the yacht was constantly brought to when objects of geological or historical interest worthy of examination were seen on shore.

"But few of the older men who cruised with him are now alive, and it is not out of place in this record of distinguished and departed Glasgow men to mention one at least who was for many years his constant companion when afloat - Dr. Scouler of the Andersonian University. Dr. Scouler was a most distinguished citizen of Glasgow, and a man whose attainments in geology, natural history and botany, and profound knowledge of general literature, were only equalled by his power of imparting information to others and his wonderful modesty and amiability. The friends were different in many ways, but there was no one in whose society, when yachting, Mr. Smith had greater pleasure.

"Geology and conchology were not Mr. Smith's only studies; he early took a deep interest in voyages and travels, particularly in Arctic regions, and the valuable library of the works of discoverers by sea and land which he formed at Jordanhill was in more than one instance of signal service to the Arctic voyagers of the early part of the century. Far away in Greenland waters are to be found a "Cape James," a "Cape Mary," and a "Jordanhill Island," named by distinguished and grateful Arctic discoverers after their hospitable and congenial friend and his wife. But though his valuable contributions to the science of geology fully entitle James Smith to much scientific and literary fame, his most enduring monument is his great work, "The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, and Dissertation on the Life and Writings of St. Luke, and the Ships and Navigation of the Ancients," a book which has gone through many editions and has received an amount of unanimous approval, not only in this country but on the Continent of Europe and in the United States, which has rarely fallen to the lot of the work of any Biblical scholar. It is now thirty-six years since it was published, and it is still the recognized authority on the subjects of which it treats. From the very first its value was unhesitatingly acknowledged by the critics of the day. The "Edinburgh Review" said of it - "The book is full of solid proof and valuable suggestion, and we may safely say that a more valuable original contribution to Biblical knowledge has not been made by any countryman of ours during the present century." The "Quarterly," and other leading Reviews, not only in Great Britain but in America and Germany, wrote in the same strain. Dr. Whewell affirmed that no "finer piece of demonstrative writing has appeared since the time of Paley," and Professor Sedgewick, after his first perusal of it, wrote to Sir Charles Lyell - "It is one of the most remarkable critical works that ever was written . . . . It is as clear as crystal and as demonstrative as Euclid."

"Mr. Smith's last work, "A Dissertation on the Origin and Connection of the Gospels," was published in 1853, and is a learned and valuable contribution to an interesting and important subject. As the study of geology never palled on him, so he never wearied of his task of proving his favourite theory of the connection of the Gospels. The discovery by the Rev. Dr. Cureton of portions of a Syriac version of the Gospels supposed to be more ancient than any before known, and the bringing to light of the Codex Sinaiticus, the second oldest MS. of the New Testament, gave him new material for it, and in his very old age and almost to the day of his death he was engaged with all the enthusiasm of youth in preparing another work on the subject he understood so well.

"We have spoken particularly of Mr. Smith's pursuits and attainments in geology and Biblical criticism, but we might have said much of his love for general literature and art, his talents for archaeology and architecture - of which the late Parish Church of Govan and more than one country seat round Glasgow are proof - of his knowledge of numismatics, and, in addition, of his services to the learned societies of Glasgow, and more particularly to the Andersonian University. We might also have referred in greater detail to his contributions to the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, the Geological Society and the Royal Geographical Society, of all of which he was a Fellow, but space warns us to draw to a close. We cannot, however, conclude this imperfect sketch of a distinguished and useful life without pointing out to a younger generation of merchants, often too wholly absorbed in the heat and fury of modern competition, that literature and science need not be altogether divorced from commerce. Scientific and literary pursuits had certainly occupied Mr. Smith's mind for many years greatly to the exclusion of practical commerce, still his interest in Glasgow and its prosperity never failed, and an incident towards the close of his life gave proof that a man, however literary and scientific, may both practically and theoretically be a good merchant, for at a meeting held at Glasgow during the commercial crisis of the Western Bank era, for the purpose of restoring confidence and allaying panic, no one spoke sounder sense or showed a clearer insight into commercial probabilities than James Smith, the Geologist, Antiquarian, and Biblical Critic.

"Mr. Smith always took a keen interest in matters of Church and State. He was an elder of the Church of Scotland, and a Conservative in politics, and as such contested unsuccessfully the burgh of Greenock in 1837; but gentle and tolerant, he never made an enemy, and those who knew him will not soon forget his courtly yet genial manners, and his charming conversation and delicate humour, his constant good nature and kindliness, and his unaffected piety.

"Mr. Smith married in 1809 Mary Wilson, grand-daughter of Professor Alexander Wilson of Glasgow, the distinguished astronomer, by whom he had a large family - his only son who grew up being the late Archibald Smith of Jordanhill, M.A., F.R.S., LL.D., &c., one of the best mathematicians of his day, and the first Scotsman who was ever Senior Wrangler at Cambridge. He was the author of many valuable papers in the "Cambridge Mathematical Journal" and "Transactions of the Royal Society," whose gold medal he held, and his unwearied and remarkable investigations and discoveries in ships' magnetism and the deviation of the compass are preserved to the world in the Compass Manual of the British Admiralty, of which he was joint editor, a work which is now in use not only in the navy of this country, but also in those of the United States, France, Germany, Russia, and Portugal.

"Mr. Smith's only surviving daughters are Mrs. Gore Booth, from whose beautiful bust of her father the picture in this book is taken, and Mrs. Paisley.

"The end of a long and useful life was peaceful and happy, and in his eighty-fifth year, at Jordanhill, on the 17th January, 1867, with unimpaired faculties, and with many of his family around him, James Smith passed away."


T71/880 Grenada claim nos. 341, 444 (Mount Moritz Estate), 450 (Morne Delice Estate), 452 (Mount Hardman Estate), 453 (Grand Ance Estate) and 519; Smith, G. (2004, September 23). Smith, James, of Jordanhill (1782–1867), geologist and biblical historian. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 12 Apr. 2020, from https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-25823. An account of the James Smith's activities in the slave-economy is included in Stephen Mullen, 'The Glasgow West India interest: integration, collaboration and exploitation in the British Atlantic World, 1776-1846. (University of Glasgow, PhD thesis 2015) Chapter 6 'The Glasgow West India Merchant house of Archibald Smith of Jordanhill' pp. 147-170.

  1. James MacLehose, Memoirs and portraits of one hundred Glasgow men who have died during the last thirty years and in their lives did much to make the city what it now is (Glasgow, James MacLehose & Sons, 1886), 83. James Smith, pp. 285-288.

Further Information

Mary Wilson (1809)
Glasgow Grammar School
University of Glasgow
West India merchant
Oxford DNB Entry

Associated Claims (6)

£165 2s 7d
£2,017 13s 9d
Awardee (Assignee)
£3,306 0s 11d
Awardee (Assignee)
£3,247 11s 4d
£3,727 9s 5d
£111 16s 1d

Associated Estates (9)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1809 [EA] - 1811 [LA] → Mortgagee-in-Possession

Inferred position as a partner in Leitch & Smith.

1829 [EA] - → Mortgage Holder
1839 [EA] - 1839 [LA] → Mortgagee-in-Possession
1832 [EA] - → Mortgage Holder

Stephen Mullen showed George Paterson transferring [from John Ryburn and Andrew Ranken] a large mortgage to J&A Smith in 1832 and making them his consignees, Mullen, Stephen Scott (2015) The ‘Glasgow West India interest: integration, collaboration and exploitation in the British Atlantic World, 1776-1846.' PhD thesis, Glasgow 2015 pp. 161-2, and 163, Paterson claimed and was awarded the slave compensation for his estates, implying he had kept his mortgage current.

1810 [EA] - 1811 [LA] → Not known

Millennium Hall was shown against Leitch & Smith for 1810-11 (Jamaica Almanacs 1811 and 1812). The Glasgow merchant firm had a branch in Kingston Jamaica.

1829 [EA] - → Mortgage Holder
1829 [EA] - → Mortgage Holder
1832 [EA] - → Mortgage Holder

Stephen Mullen showed George Paterson transferring a large mortgage to J&A Smith in 1832 and making them his consignees, Mullen, Stephen Scott (2015) The ‘Glasgow West India interest: integration, collaboration and exploitation in the British Atlantic World, 1776-1846. PhD thesis, Glasgow 2015 pp. 161-2. Paterson claimed and was awarded the slave compensation for his estates, implying he had kept his mortgage current.

1829 [EA] - 1833 [LA] → Mortgage Holder

Legacies Summary

Commercial (1)

Name partner

Cultural (1)

Andersons Institution or Andersons University...... 
notes →
James Smith was a trustee, manager and from 1830 to 1839 President of Anderson's University, the precursor of the University of Strathclyde. 'One of his most notable achievements as president was the...

Relationships (3)

Notes →
The two men were also business...
First Cousins

Addresses (1)

Jordanhill, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Central Scotland, Scotland