Thomas Smith (engineer)

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Kinnaird Head
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Mull of Kintyre
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North Ronaldsay
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Eilean Glas
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Pentland Skerries
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Cloch Point
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Start Point, Sanday
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Little Cumbrae
The grave of Thomas Smith, Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh The grave of Thomas Smith, Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh.jpg
The grave of Thomas Smith, Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh

Thomas Smith (1752–1814) was a Scottish businessman and early lighthouse engineer.

Scotland country in Northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.



He was born in Broughty Ferry near Dundee on 6 December 1752. His father drowned in Dundee harbour when he was young. His mother encouraged him into a career away from the sea, leading him into working in ironmongery. In 1790 he was working at 1 Blair Street off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh's Old Town. [1]

Broughty Ferry Suburb of Dundee, Britain

Broughty Ferry is a suburb in Dundee, Scotland. It is situated four miles east of the city centre on the north bank of the Firth of Tay. The area was a separate burgh from 1864 until 1913, when it was incorporated into Dundee.

Dundee City and council area

Dundee is Scotland's fourth-largest city and the 51st-most-populous built-up area in the United Kingdom. The mid-year population estimate for 2016 was 148,270, giving Dundee a population density of 2,478/km2 or 6,420/sq mi, the second-highest in Scotland. It lies within the eastern central Lowlands on the north bank of the Firth of Tay, which feeds into the North Sea. Under the name of Dundee City, it forms one of the 32 council areas used for local government in Scotland.

Royal Mile succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland

The Royal Mile is a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. The term was first used descriptively in W M Gilbert's Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century (1901), "...with its Castle and Palace and the royal mile between", and was further popularised as the title of a guidebook, published in 1920.

By his late 30s, he was running his own business making lamps and designing street lighting for the burgeoning New Town, Edinburgh. His success with innovative reflectors on lights led him to search for new business by contacting the newly formed Northern Lighthouse Trust (now Northern Lighthouse Board). He was appointed the first engineer to the Trust contracted to build the first four lighthouses (Kinnaird Head, Mull of Kintyre, Eilean Glas, and North Ronaldsay).

Edinburgh City and council area in Scotland

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore.

Northern Lighthouse Board non-departmental public body responsible for marine navigation aids

The Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) is the General Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is a non-departmental public body responsible for marine navigation aids around coastal areas.

Kinnaird Head

Kinnaird Head is a headland projecting into the North Sea, within the town of Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire on the east coast of Scotland. The 16th-century Kinnaird Castle was converted in 1787 for use as the Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, the first lighthouse in Scotland to be lit by the Commissioners of Northern Lights. Kinnaird Castle and the nearby Winetower were described by W. Douglas Simpson as two of the nine castles of the Knuckle, referring to the rocky headland of north-east Aberdeenshire. The lighthouse is a category A listed building. and the Winetower is a scheduled monument.

He used the newly invented Argand lamp with its circular wick and glass chimney which gave a much brighter light than traditional wick lamps. But behind this he fixed parabolic reflectors which concentrated the light. He experimented with several designs to make the lights unique and it was one of the last he designed on Start Point, Sanday that used a revolving light that was to become universal.

Argand lamp

The Argand lamp, a kind of oil lamp, was invented and patented in 1780 by Aimé Argand. Its output is 6 to 10 candelas, brighter than that of earlier lamps. Its more complete combustion of the candle wick and oil than in other lamps required much less frequent trimming of the wick.

He died at 2 Baxters Place [2] at the top of Leith Walk in Edinburgh on 21 June 1815.

Leith Walk

Leith Walk is one of the longest streets in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is the main road connecting the port area of Leith to the centre of the city. Forming the majority of the A900 road, it slopes upward from 'the Foot of the Walk' at the north-eastern end of the street, where Great Junction, Duke and Constitution streets meet, to the Picardy Place roundabout at the south-western end.

He is buried in the north-east section of Old Calton Burial Ground in Edinburgh.

Old Calton Burial Ground

The Old Calton Burial Ground is a graveyard at Calton Hill, in Edinburgh, Scotland, to the north-east of the city centre. The burial ground was opened in 1718, and is the resting place of several notable Scots, including philosopher David Hume, scientist John Playfair, rival publishers William Blackwood and Archibald Constable, and clergyman Dr Robert Candlish. It is also the site of the Political Martyrs' Monument, an obelisk erected to the memory of a number of political reformers, and Scotland's American Civil War Memorial.


In 1787, he had been twice widowed and had three young children when he met and married Jean Lillie Stevenson, a widow whose young son was Robert Stevenson. Robert became Smith's apprentice, business partner, son-in-law and eventual inheritor of the lighthouse building business. Stevenson married Smith's daughter, Jane, his step-sister.

His daughter Janet was mother to William Swan.

Lighthouses of Thomas Smith

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Eilean Glas Lighthouse lighthouse on the island of Scalpay, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

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Events from the year 1786 in Scotland.


  1. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1790
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1815