Invitation to a Public Lecture on The Old Man and the Fish: The Extraordinary Story of Professor JLB Smith and the Coelacanth

The Royal Society of South Africa and the Academy of Science of South Africa cordially invite you to a public lecture by Professor Mike Bruton, Honorary Research Associate, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Grahamstown.

 The Old Man and the Fish: The Extraordinary Story of Professor JLB Smith and the Coelacanth

“Talks to the Royal Society usually focus on the science, rather than the people behind the science. I will focus on the man behind one of the greatest biological finds of the 20th century, JLB Smith, based on my recent books, ‘The Annotated Old Fourlegs. The Updated Story of the Coelacanth’, ‘The Amazing Coelacanth’ and ‘The Fishy Smiths – A Biography of JLB and Margaret Smith’. JLB Smith led an unhappy childhood in the Karoo, brightened only by a holiday to Knysna where he caught his first fish. After completing his schooling at Diocesan College in Cape Town, he studied chemistry at Victoria College (now Stellenbosch University) and then completed a PhD at Cambridge on mustard gases. In 1923 he accepted a Lectureship in Chemistry at Rhodes but soon his interest in fishes competed with his chemistry teaching and research. He was nevertheless an inspiring teacher and did pioneering studies in organic chemistry, won the first Marloth Medal for his work on buchu, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa for his research in chemistry. His role in identifying and describing the first coelacanth in 1939 led to a career change and a series of epic expeditions to remote parts of East Africa to collect marine fishes and find a second coelacanth. His subsequent career, in partnership with his second wife, Margaret, which was hampered by ill health, impeded by severe setbacks but ultimately triumphant despite a tragic end, made him world famous and put South African biology on the world map.”

Date:     Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Time:    17h00 (Tea will be served from 16h30)

Place:    South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) Auditorium, Observatory Road, Observatory*

About the Speaker: Mike Bruton was born in East London, where the first living coelacanth was caught, and has had a lifelong interest in the enigmatic fish. He obtained his MSc and PhD in Ichthyology from Rhodes University and spent his post-doctoral year at the Natural History Museum in London. He returned to Rhodes University as Senior Lecturer in Ichthyology and then founded the Department of Ichthyology & Fisheries Science when the JLB Smith Institute became a Declared Cultural Institution. He subsequently took over from Margaret Smith as Director of the Ichthyology Institute and initiated a series of expeditions to the Comoros and South Africa to find coelacanths, although his main research interest was in freshwater fishes. He subsequently joined the Two Oceans Aquarium as Director of Education and then started the MTN ScienCentre, an interactive science centre in Cape Town. After contributing to the design of science museums in Dubai, he served as the Founding Director of the Bahrain Science Centre for three years and then as advisor to the Director of the Museum of Science & Technology in Islam at the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Saudi Arabia. On retiring in 2015 he wrote the first half of his autobiography, ‘When I was a Fish. Tales of an Ichthyologist’, and now divides his time between writing popular science books, giving talks, designing interactive science centres and making compost. 



1.      Announcements

         New Members.

2.      Address (co-hosted with the Academy of Science of South Africa) by Prof Mike Bruton

*Directions to SAAO Auditorium : From the N2, turn off to the M57 – Liesbeek Parkway; turning in the direction of Cape Town and continue until the traffic lights with Hartleyvale (hockey and football) on your left. Turn right at traffic lights into Observatory Road, pass the River Club; the SA Astronomical Observatory is next on the left. Once through the security gates bear left following the SALT signs to the auditorium i.e. last building on the left (white with stoep & ramp).