Smithson Held as a Prisoner of War

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Returning from a sojourn on the Continent, in early August 1807, Smithson is taken as a prisoner of war in Tonningen, at the moment of the rupture between England and Denmark in the Napoleonic Wars. He subsequently arranges a transfer to Hamburg, Germany, where he is again held under arrest, this time by the French. On September 18, 1808, Smithson writes to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society of London from 1778 to 1820, noting that he is physically ill, and requesting Banks use his influence to get Smithson back to England, which Banks does.


  • Banks, Joseph Sir 1743-1820
  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Royal Society of London


Chronology of Smithsonian History


James Smithson Collection, 1796-1951. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7000, Box 2, Folder 5, Box 4, Folder 5.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


September 18, 1808


  • Professional associations
  • Prisoners of war
  • Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1814


  • Denmark
  • Germany

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