Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The Society of Smeatonian Civil Engineers


AMONG the least known engineering societies is that of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers, which to-day exists mainly for social intercourse and has a small but select membership. When it was founded in 1771 it had as its aim the furtherance of professional knowledge. Its history has never been written fully, but on January 20, at a meeting of the Newcomen Society held at the Institution of Civil Engineers, Mr. S. B. Donkin gave an interesting account of its early fortunes. From the technical point of view, the most lasting result of the Society was the publication in 1812 of the four volumes of the “Reports of the late John Smeaton”. In the preface to this and in two minute books are contained what is known of the Society in its early days. It was the increasing demands being made on canal, harbour and bridge builders which led to the formation of the Society, it being felt that good results would accrue from members of the civil engineering profession meeting together to discuss their various projects. That they did so in a friendly manner can be seen from the minute of a meeting in 1778 which “was spent canallically, hydraulically, mathematically, philosophically, mechanically, naturally and socially”. The original society founded in 1771 came to an end in May 1792, but was almost immediately revived when, as the minute records, “The first meeting of this new institution The Society of Civil Engineers was held on the 15th of April 1793 by Mr. Jessop, Mr. Mylne, Mr. Rennie and Mr. Whitworth”. Smeaton had been a leading figure of the old Society but he had died in October 1792. Soon after the revival of the Society, it learnt that Sir Joseph Banks had purchased all Smeaton's manuscripts and drawings, and it was with his concurrence the Society undertook the publication of Smeaton's “Reports”. At the dinners, later on, five toasts were instituted, one of which was to “The memory of our late worthy brothers?Mr. Smeaton, Mr. Mylne, Mr. Watt and Mr. Rennie”, and these toasts are still the order of the day at dinners of the Society. The Society, it may be added, had little, if anything at all, to do with the formation of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which arose from the efforts of half a dozen young engineers with their fortunes still to make.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

The Society of Smeatonian Civil Engineers. Nature 139, 187 (1937).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing