Stanley Smith (1883-1955)

Internationally-renowned expert on fossil corals who collaborated widely and had an international standing.

Stanley Smith was born in Middlesborough in 1883, and educated at Darlington Grammar School. He then entered Armstrong College, Newcastle upon Tyne in 1904, graduating with a BSc in 1907, followed by an MSc in 1909 and DSc in 1915. By the time he joined the staff of University of Bristol in 1922, he had worked in the universities of Cambridge, Aberystwyth, London and Toronto and had already established his reputation as an authority on Palaeozoic corals.

Throughout his time at Bristol, and even after his retirement  in 1948, he made a substantial contribution to the field of Palaeozoic coral research in over 100 publications that were regarded by his peers as “marked by careful observation, honest interpretation, and polished presentation” (Thomas 1955). Because of the pressures of teaching a broad range of courses, Smith did his research largely during the summer vacations at the British Museum (Natural History), working with William D. Lang (1878-1966) and Henry Dighton Thomas (1900-1966). He collaborated with both of them on the ‘Index of Palaeozoic Coral Genera’ published in 1940, the key reference for many years. His studies ranged from numerous papers about Palaeozoic corals of the UK (e.g. Smith 1916) to his classic monograph on the Upper Devonian corals from northern Canada (Smith 1945).

Having taught at the Bedford College for Women from 1920-1921, Smith has to his credit at least two successful female PhD students. First was Dorothy Hill (1907-1997), who completed her PhD in Cambridge in the 1930s, supervised by Smith and Lang, and became a world famous expert on Palaeozoic corals, the first female professor at an Australian university, and the first female president of the Australian Academy of Science.

Smith was well known internationally, supervising several overseas students at a time when this was not common. These included the first Chinese citizen to be awarded a PhD by the University of Bristol, Juanzhang Yu, in 1935. Later, his second female student was the first woman to receive a PhD from the Department of Geology at the University of Bristol, Cahide (Ünsalaner) Kırağlı from the Turkish Geological Survey, in 1949.

Smith had a wide field of other interests in addition to his specialisation on corals. He also published on lead and zinc mineralization in Northumberland, and made two major contributions to the geology and stratigraphy of the Bristol area with his work on the Tremadoc of the Tortworth Inlier and on the Tanhouse Beds (Viséan) of Yate.

He was also interested in Greek and Roman antiquities and, at the time of his death, was working on an interpretation of Theophrastus’s writings on minerals. He played an active part in local scientific societies, including the Bristol Naturalists Society and the South-Western Naturalists Union. In 1947, the Geological Society of London awarded Stanley Smith the Lyell Medal, for his palaeontological and stratigraphical researches. Smith retired from the University of Bristol in 1948.

In his obituaries, he was remembered for his courtesy, his unassuming manner and his willingness to share his knowledge. The Stanley Smith Prize, named in his honour, is awarded each year to the best Level 3 student in palaeontology at the University of Bristol.

Read more

Lang, W.D., Smith, S., and Thomas, H.D. 1940. Index of Palaeozoic Coral Genera. British Museum (Natural History), London, 231 pp. Read this monograph here.

Smith, S. 1916. The genus Lonsdaleia and Dibunophyllum rugosum (McCoy).

Smith, S. 1945. Upper Devonian corals of the Mackenzie River Region, Canada. Geological Society of North America, Special Publication 59, 1-127. Read parts of the paper here.

Thomas, H.D. 1955. Dr Stanley Smith: obituary. Nature 176, 377. Read this obituary here.