John Smith Flett Sir

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Date Details
1869 Born
1901 Geologist
1903 District Geologist (Petrographer)
1909 Bigsby Medal
1911 Assistant to the Director (Scotland)
1912-1913 President, Edinburgh Geological Society
1913 Fellow Royal Society
1916 President, Edinburgh Geological Society
1917 Bolitho Medal
1918 Order of the British Empire
1920 Director
1925 Knight of the British Empire
1930-1933 President of the Mineralogical Society
1933-1934 President, Edinburgh Geological Society
1935 Wollaston Medal
1935 Retired
1947 Died

Biographies and obituaries[edit]

VIII. The Geological Survey under Sir John Smith Flett, 1920–1935 From: Flett, J.S. 1937. The History of the Geological Survey of Great Britain. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.

1920 Flett succeeds to Directorship From: Bailey, Sir Edward. Geological Survey of Great Britain. London: Thomas Murby, 1952.

Spencer, L.J. Obituary - Sir John Smith Flett. Born 26th June 1869, died 26th January 1947. Mineralogical Magazine v. 28 (199) 1947.

Macgregor, M. Obituary - Sir John Smith Flett (Director of the Geological Survey and Museum). Proceedings of the Geological Society in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society v. 103 1947.

[Anon.] Obituary - Sir John Smith Flett. Born in 1869, died 26th January 1947. Proceedings of the Geologists' Asociation v. 59 (1) 1948.

John Flett (geologist) — Wikipedia article

Read, H. H. (1948). John Smith Flett, 1869-1947. Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 5 (16): 688–696. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1948.0006.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2004.

Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 Part 1. The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006.


79 works listed in the BGS Library catalogue

BGS archives[edit]

Ref No Title Description
GSM/DR/By Edward B.Bailey Bailey joined the Survey in 1902 and was immediately sent to Scotland.He became District...
GSM/DR/By/S/1 Correspondence to range of geologists on various issues inc fossils from Mull. Letters from and to E.B.Bailey inc: Flett, Kitchin, Gibson, B.N.Peach, T.Robertson, H.H.Thomas...
GSM/DR/Ft John Smith Flett Flett had joined the Survey in 1901 as Petrographer and had been Assistant Director in Scotland...
GSM/DR/Ft/A/2 Correspondence on range of issues: letters to Bromehead, C.Davidson, H.Dewey, Fairley, A.Geikie...
GSM/DR/Ft/A/6 Notes and papers re obituary notice of Sir John Flett
GSM/DR/Ft/S/3 Flett's notes on sliced rocks collected by B.N.Peach in the NW Highlands.
GSM/DR/Ft/S/4 Report on "The Sandlodge Copper Mine, Shetland" by J. Flett dated 25th June 1921.
GSM/DR/Ft/S/8 Volcanic dust samples from Soufriere, St Vincent Collected by [?P W March]. With letter to Flett
GSM/DR/Ft/S/9 Volcanic dust sample from Soufriere, St Vincent Collected by C H Knowles. With letter to Flett
GSM/DR/Ml W.F.P.McLintock William Francis Porter McLintock joined the Survey in 1907 as Assistant Curator and transferred...
GSM/DR/Ml/A/1 Correspondence including letters to Flett, Kitchin, Phemister, and H.H.Thomas. Also large... 3 files numbered i, ii and iii
GSM/DR/Sm Bernard Smith Bernard Smith was born in Grantham on 13 February 1881. In 1900 he went to Sidney Sussex College...
GSM/DR/Te J.J.H. Teall Jethro Justinian Harris Teall joined the Survey in 1888 as Petrographer, having just published...
GSM/GL/An/1 Correspondence with Flett, Peach, Phemister, H.H. Thomas and others.
GSM/GL/Bm/1 Correspondence: letters to H.A.Allen, R.Crookall, J.S.Flett, J.A.Howe, F.L.Kitchin, W.F.P...
GSM/GL/Br/5 Correspondence from Barrow to: Clough, Flett, Peach, Howell, S.V.Wood and others. Letters about geological succession in Scotland and about boulder clay of Yorkshire.
GSM/GL/Cc/5 Correspondence: letters to Flett and Teall
GSM/GL/Cl/9 Correspondence from Clough to other geologists: letters to Flett, Kitchin, E.T.Newton, B.N.Peach...
GSM/GL/Cn/1 Correspondence with other geologists; letters to H.A.Allen, C.H.Dinham, Flett, Kitchin, J.Pringle...
GSM/GL/Gb W Gibson Walcot Gibson joined the Survey in 1893 folowing early geological work in Africa. He was closely...
GSM/GL/Gn/1 Correspondence with other geologists inc. C.T.Clough, Flett, B.N.Peach and J.J.H.Teall.
GSM/GL/Ho/8 Papers relating to his application for the Chair of Geology, Sheffield University. Letters from W...
GSM/GL/Pc/3 Correspondence with Horne, Flett, Geikie, Phemister, Rudler and Teall
GSM/GL/Ta/3 Correspondence; letters to Flett, Howe, Kitchin, McLintock and H.H.Thomas
GSM/GL/Th H.H.Thomas Herbert Henry Thomas joined the Survey in 1901 and followed Flett as Petrographer in 1911.
GSM/GL/Th/1 Minutes re petrographic work in Scotland sent to J.S.Flett.
GSM/GL/Us/2 Correspondence with other geologists inc. J.S.Flett, F.H.Hatch, Teall, W.Whitaker and H.B...
GSM/GL/Wl/1 Letters to Flett, Phemister, Kitchin and Buchan
GSM/GL/Wr/2 Letters From W B Wright Letters to J S Flett 1911 (1)
Letters to F L Kitchin 1921-1933 (108.
Letters to J Pringle 1936...
GSM/GL/Wr/22 Letters Of Correspondence Between J S Flett and W B Wright 1 letter from J S Flett to W B Wright
1 letter from W B Wright to J S Flett
GSM/GL/Wt/2 Correspondence: letters to T.Eastwood, J.S.Flett, E.M.Guppy, G.H.Mitchell, J.Pringle, C.J...
GSM/GX/Ad/1 Photograph Album "Views Taken in West Indies in 1902" Includes photographs of volcanoes La Soufrière, St Vincent and Montagne Pelée, Martinique...
GSM/GX/Bn/1 Correspondence to other geologists inc. Flett and Sollas.
GSM/MG/A/R/3 Royal Commission on Museums - misc papers inc evidence given by J.S. Flett re the Geological Museum
GSM/MG/A/R/4 Comments by F.L. Kitchin on the evidence of J.S.Flett and C.Tate Regan given before the Royal...
GSM/XG/X/1/6 Correspondence and songs with suggestions for a brighter 'Summary of Progress' by J.S.Flett re...

Other archives[edit]

Papers of Sir John Smith Flett (1869-1947) Archives Hub

John Smith Flett as director of the Survey[edit]

Extract from: From: Wilson, H.E. Down to earth - one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. Edinburgh:Scottish Academic Press, 1985. [In all directions: developments under Sir Henry's fourteen successors In all directions: developments under Sir Henry's fourteen successors]

Strahan retired in 1920 and was succeeded by a very different character — John Smith Flett (1869-1947), known to his staff as 'Black John'. Flett had been Petrographer since 1901 when he was 'recruited' from Edinburgh University, and had been Assistant to the Director, in charge of the Edinburgh Office, since 1911. He was a larger-than-life character who had graduated in medicine but because he was congenitally deaf, had switched to geology. He had taught petrology at Edinburgh University before he joined the Survey. His daughter remembers him as a domestic tyrant whose deafness cut him off from his family.

In 1920-22, after the transfer, in 1919, of the Survey to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research arid the report of the Coal Conservation Committee, there was a major increase of staff, with sixteen new scientific staff and twelve posts of District Geologist rank — six in England,three in Scotland, plus the Petrographer, Palaeontologist and the 'Curator and Librarian', a new post for McLintock, the ex-Assistant Curator who had been in the Royal Scottish Museum since 1911. This organisation, with a few temporary abberrations, lasted for another twenty-five years. To speed up the revision of the maps of the English coalfields Flett established four district offices in Newcastle, Manchester, Whitehaven and York, much against the wishes of some of his senior staff. Similarly, much against the wishes of the Edinburgh staff, Flett instituted an annual attachment of English field men to work in the Scottish Highlands during the brief Highland field seasons, between the spring snows and the August shooting season.

In this, as in many other ways, Flett ran the Survey as an autocrat. In England he regularly took early trains to York and Manchester on Saturday mornings, arriving at these out-offices to demand a roll-call of his minions.

Though Flett was not loved he was certainly respected, particularly for his success in getting the new Exhibition Road Museum from the long-projected ideal to its construction. He was also responsible for the revitalization of the Water Supply Memoirs, and for the initiation of work on geophysics.

Wilfrid (Jim) Edwards remembers field inspections in Orkney by Flett, whose father had been an Orcadian fisherman and whose brother was Mayor of Kirkwall, as a kind of triumphal progress, with all the locals coming to pay their respects to 'Sir John'.

No explanation has been uncovered for one of Flett's earliest orders, distributed to London office geologists and DGs in 1921:

Officers of the Survey are forbidden to receive young women in their private rooms after office hours and when the offices are otherwise vacant. Officers' wives, sisters and daughters are exempt. Warders have strict instructions to report immediately any breach of this regulation.

Flett retired after the opening of the new Museum and the centenary celebrations and was succeeded by Bernard Smith (1881-1936) who had been on the staff since 1906.