Saturday, August 22, 2015

BOAT RACE: 76th NYC Dinner 2009 - Lord Selkirk of Douglas

Lord Selkirk of Douglas, at
the 2009 dinner.
The Toast to the Universities was given by Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Balliol, Oxford), formerly Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, a Scottish MP before taking his place in the House of Lords. He was introduced by Matthew Nimetz, another Balliol man and U.N. Special Representative, and former partner at the law firm of Paul, Weiss.

Lord Selkirk gave the best Board Race Dinner speech I have ever heard (and I have heard many of them), and in it he revealed that his gggg-uncle was James Smithson (Pembroke, Oxford), FRS (c. 1765-June 27, 1829), English chemist and mineralogist.

Smithson gave the money and initial collection of artifacts that established the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., even though Smithson had never been to the United States.

James Smithson (Pembroke,
Oxford), founder of
the Smithsonian.
Smithson was the natural child of the 1st Duke of Northumberland, born in Paris, it is said in Pentemont Abbey. He had the given name of Jacques-Louis Macie, later anglicized to James Louis Macie.

He became an English citizen and went up to Oxford, studying chemicals and rocks. At  22, he changed his surname from Macie to Smithson, his father's pre-marriage surname, living from inheritances from his mother and other relatives.

Smithson traveled extensively throughout Europe publishing papers about his findings. In 1802, he proved that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, and one such zinc carbonate was later named smithsonite in his honor.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Balliol, Oxford), gggg-nephew of
James Smithson MA (Pembroke, Oxford), donor of the
Smithsonian Institution.
Smithson never married and was childless. He left his estate to his nephew Henry James Hungerford, or his estate. If his nephew was to die without heirs, however, Smithson's will stipulated that his estate be donated to the founding of "an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” in Washington, D.C. In 1835, his nephew died and so could not claim to be the recipient of his estate.

After a decade of debate about how best to spend the money, President James K. Polk signed the Smithsonian Institution Act.

President Andrew Jackson sent diplomat Richard Rush to England to negotiate for transfer of the funds, and two years later Rush set sail for home with 11 boxes containing a total of 104,960 gold sovereigns, 8 shillings, and 7 pence, as well as Smithson’s mineral collection,scientific notes, and personal effects.

After the gold was melted down, it added up a fortune, well over $500,000. On August 10, 1846, the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution was signed into law by President Polk. Today, the Smithsonian is composed of 19 museums and galleries including the recently announced National Museum of African American History and Culture, nine research facilities throughout the United States and the world, and the national zoo.

Besides the original Smithsonian Institution Building, popularly known as the “Castle,” visitors to Washington, D.C., tour the National Museum of Natural History, which houses the natural science collections, the National Zoological Park, and the National Portrait Gallery.

The National Museum of American History houses the original Star-Spangled Banner and other artifacts of U.S. history. The National Air and Space Museum has the distinction of being the most visited museum in the world, exhibiting such marvels of aviation and space history as the Wright brothers’ plane and Freedom 7, the space capsule that took the first American into space. John Smithson, the Smithsonian Institution’s great benefactor, is interred in a tomb in the Smithsonian Building.

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