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Professor James Leonard Brierley Smith (26 October 1897 – 7 January 1968) was a South African ichthyologist.

Born in Graaff Reinet, he was the first to identify, in 1938, a taxidermied fish in a museum in East London, South Africa, as a coelacanth, at the time thought long extinct.

He obtained an MSc in Chemistry at Stellenbosch and his PhD at Cambridge. Here after he lectured Chemistry at Rhodes University where he met his second wife Margaret Mary McDonald. His interest in Ichthyology was sparked during a seaside vacation to convalesce from poor health.

In 1938 he was informed of the discovery of the first Coelacanth by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, curator of the East London Museum. When he arrived in East London in February 1939 he was able to identify it as such, and named the species, Latimeria after her. He was instrumental in organising the search which provided science with the second specimen of the species 14 years later.

Dr Smith and his wife Margaret worked jointly on the Sea Fishes of South Africa, which was first published in 1949, followed by other writings until 1968. Among these were over 500 papers on fish and the naming of some 370 new fish species.

Following a long illness he took his own life in 1968[1] by cyanide poisoning. His widow Margaret founded the Institute of Ichthyology in Grahamstown. His son is the renowned South African television science and mathematics teacher William Smith.


  1. ^ Weinberg, Samantha (19 December 2008). "Curse of the fish that time forgot: Believed to be extinct for 65million years - it returned with chilling consequences". Retrieved 2 May 2009.  

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

South African ichthyologist (1897-1968)


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