James Leonard Brierley Smith
James Leonard Brierley Smith, known as J.L.B. Smith (26 October 18977 January 1968) was a South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

n ichthyologist
Ichthyology is the branch of zoology devoted to the study of fish. This includes skeletal fish , cartilaginous fish , and jawless fish...

, organic chemist and university professor. He was the first to identify a taxidermied fish as a coelacanth
Coelacanths are members of an order of fish that includes the oldest living lineage of Sarcopterygii known to date....

, at the time thought long extinct.

Early life

Born in Graaff Reinet
Graaff Reinet
Graaff-Reinet is a town in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. It is the fourth oldest town in South Africa, after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam.-History:...

, Smith was the elder of two sons of Joseph Smith and his wife, Emily Ann Beck. Educated at country schools at Noupoort
Noupoort is a town in the eastern Karoo region of South Africa which revolved principally around the railways and is still used as traction change-over facility from diesel to electric locomotives on the Noupoort-Bloemfontein line. It was serviced by Midlandia, a locomotive complex a few kilometers...

, De Aar, and Aliwal North
Aliwal North
Aliwal North is a town in central South Africa on the Orange River, Eastern Cape Province. Aliwal North is the seat of the Maletswai Local Municipality which falls within the Ukhahlamba District Municipality....

, he finally matriculated
Matriculation in South Africa
In South Africa, matriculation is a term commonly used to refer to the final year of high school and the qualification received on graduating from high school, although strictly speaking, it refers to the minimum university entrance requirements. The first formal examination was conducted in...

 in 1914 from the Diocesan College
Diocesan College
The Diocesan College, or Bishops as it is more commonly known, is an independent, all-boys school situated in the suburb of Rondebosch in Cape Town, South Africa...

, Rondebosch
Rondebosch is one of the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. It is primarily a residential suburb, with a medium-size shopping area, a small business district as well as the main campus of the University of Cape Town.-History:...

. He obtained a BA
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 degree in Chemistry from the University of the Cape of Good Hope
University of the Cape of Good Hope
The University of the Cape of Good Hope, renamed the University of South Africa in 1916, was created by Act 16 of 1873 of the Cape of Good Hope Parliament. Modelled on the University of London, it offered examinations but not tuition, and had the power to confer degrees upon successful examination...

 in 1916 and an MSc
Master of Science
A Master of Science is a postgraduate academic master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The degree is typically studied for in the sciences including the social sciences.-Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay:...

 degree in Chemistry at Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch University is a public research university situated in the town of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Other nearby universities are the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape....

 in 1918. Smith went to the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, were he received his Ph.D
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 at Cambridge University in 1922. After returning to South Africa, he became Senior Lecturer and later on an Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry at Rhodes University
Rhodes University
Rhodes University is a public research university located in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, established in 1904. It is the province’s oldest university, and is one of the four universities in the province...

 in Grahamstown
Grahamstown is a city in the Eastern Cape Province of the Republic of South Africa and is the seat of the Makana municipality. The population of greater Grahamstown, as of 2003, was 124,758. The population of the surrounding areas, including the actual city was 41,799 of which 77.4% were black,...


From 1922 to 1937 he was married to Henrietta Cecile Pienaar, who was a descendant of Andrew Murray
Andrew Murray
Andrew or Andy Murray may refer to: * Andrew Murray, often spelt Andrew Moray, leader of the Scots during the Scottish Wars of Independence...

, and whose father was a minister of the NG Kerk
Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk
The Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk is a Reformed Christian denomination in South Africa. It also has a presence in neighboring countries, such as Namibia, Swaziland, and parts of Botswana and Zimbabwe...

 at Somerset West. There were three children of that marriage.

In Grahamstown he met Margaret Mary Macdonald, born at Indwe in the Eastern Cape
Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape is a province of South Africa. Its capital is Bhisho, but its two largest cities are Port Elizabeth and East London. It was formed in 1994 out of the "independent" Xhosa homelands of Transkei and Ciskei, together with the eastern portion of the Cape Province...

 on 26 September 1916. After her school education she studied at Rhodes University where she obtained a B.Sc.
Bachelor of Science
A Bachelor of Science is an undergraduate academic degree awarded for completed courses that generally last three to five years .-Australia:In Australia, the BSc is a 3 year degree, offered from 1st year on...

 degree in Physics and Chemistry. She had intended studying medicine, but in 1938 married Smith and became his assistant in the department of ichthyology at the university.

His interest in ichthyology was sparked in childhood during a vacation in Knysna
Knysna is a town with 76,431 inhabitants in the Western Cape Province of South Africa and is part of the Garden Route. It lies 34 degrees south of the equator, and is 72 kilometres east from the town of George on the N2 highway, and 25 kilometres west of Plettenberg Bay on the same road.-History:A...


Discovery of the coelacanth

In 1938 Smith was informed of the discovery of an unusual and unidentified fish by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer
Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer
Marjorie faree Doris Courtenay-Latimer was the South African museum official who in 1938 brought to the attention of the world the existence of the coelacanth, a fish thought to have been extinct for sixty-five million years....

, curator of the East London Museum. When he arrived in East London in February 1939, he was able to identify it immediately as a coelacanth
Coelacanths are members of an order of fish that includes the oldest living lineage of Sarcopterygii known to date....

, which was then thought to have been extinct for over 65 million years, and he named the species Latimeria after her. He was instrumental in organising the search which provided science with the second specimen of the species 14 years later.

Smith and his wife Margaret worked jointly on the popular Sea Fishes of South Africa, which was first published in 1949, followed by other writings until 1968. Among these were over 500 papers on fish and the naming of some 370 new fish species.

Death and legacy

Smith took his own life in 1968 by cyanide
A cyanide is a chemical compound that contains the cyano group, -C≡N, which consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. Cyanides most commonly refer to salts of the anion CN−. Most cyanides are highly toxic....

 poisoning, following a long illness. His widow Margaret founded the Institute of Ichthyology
South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity
The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity , is involved in research, education and in applications of its knowledge and research to African fish fauna, for either economic or conservation benefit...

 in Grahamstown. His son is the renowned South African television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 science and mathematics teacher William Smith
William Smith (South African)
William Smith is South Africa's best-known and most popular television science and mathematics teacher.-Early life and education:Smith was born in Grahamstown and attended St. Andrew's Prep before matriculating at Union High School in Graaff-Reinet...


External links

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