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Henry Smeathman, the FlycatcherNatural History, Slavery, and Empire in the Late Eighteenth Century$
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Deirdre Coleman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940537

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786940537.001.0001

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Prodigal Returns

Prodigal Returns

(p.209) Chapter Eight Prodigal Returns
Henry Smeathman, the Flycatcher

Deirdre Coleman

Liverpool University Press

After nearly nine years’ absence Smeathman returns to London in late 1779. Since he sent his subscribers mainly insects from West Africa, they are unhappy with him, and he argues with Banks, now President of the Royal Society. Nevertheless Banks supports Smeathman in publishing his landmark essay on the West African termite in the Transactions of the Royal Society (1781). Smeathman also provides Drury with life histories of the African insects featured in volume 3 of his Illustrations of Natural History (1782). Other roles include working as an elocutionist, public lecturer, and British Museum guide. In 1783 he travels to Paris where he moves in Benjamin Franklin’s circle and participates in the craze for ballooning. Since he is finding it difficult to get sponsors to finance a return trip to West Africa, he hopes to make enough money for that purpose from his aeronautical experiments. He publishes his ideas for a mixed-race society of free planters entitled Plan of a Settlement to be made near Sierra Leona (1786), secures funding from the British Government and the Committee for the Black Poor, but dies on the eve of setting out.

Keywords:   Royal Society, Quarrel with Banks, Celebrated termite essay, Insect life histories, Drury’s Illustrations, Benjamin Franklin, Montgolfier balloons, Settlement plan for Sierra Leone

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