image L&P_7_188_2
Image number: RS.8497
Credit: © The Royal Society
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Landscape with termite hills


ca. 1781


Henry Smeathman (1742-1786, British), Naturalist

Object type

Archive reference number



height (painting): 202mm
width (painting): 363mm


Content object

   > animal
      > insect


Landscape view of one intact and one sectioned termite [isoptera] hill in Sierra Leone, Africa. The hills show turrets, nurseries and a royal chamber. A labourer with a pick axe stands in between and points to the termite hill to their left.

European settlers are visible behind, climbing a termite hill and using it as a viewpoint. A herd of cattle appears to the right [as viewed] with a bull standing sentinel on a termite mound. Behind are west African palm trees. Above the main hills and attached to a tree branch is a termite arborium, reached by covered passageways extending up the trunk of the tree. The arborium is shown in section on the upper right of the painting.

Plate 7 from the paper Henry Smeathson’s “Some account of the termites, which are found in Africa and other hot climates”, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society vol.71 part 1 1781 pp.139-192.

Henry Smeathman (1742–1786) English naturalist, known for his work in entomology and colonial settlement in Sierra Leone.

In 1771 John Fothergill (1712-1780), along with two other members of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Marmaduke Tunstall (1743-1790), sponsored Smeathman to spend four years in and around the Sierra Leone peninsula studying its natural history, specifically its insects. His research relied heavily on individuals involved in slave-trading networks for support and assistance.

Associated place