WILLIAM Smith failed to make his fortune by creating the first geological map of Britain in the 19th century.

The geologist, from Churchill near Chipping Norton, suffered financial ruin after his innovative work was plagiarised.

But his work to create the map, published in 1815, is now set for worldwide recognition.

The Museum of Natural History in Oxford has won a £60,000 grant from Arts Council England to create a digital archive of the documents online.

Smith’s nephew John Phillips, a founder member of the Parks Road museum, bequeathed a collection of Smith’s maps and other documents to it.

Librarians, archivists and volunteers will spend the next year preparing the online archive, which will feature correspondence, manuscripts, geological maps and sketches.

The collection includes the famous map from 1815, with geological types indicated by different colours.

Museum librarian Mark Dickerson said: “Until now, people have been able to make a request to see the maps and other documents, but this project means people around the world will be able to see the collection online.

“Volunteers will transcribe parts of the collection and there could be an exhibition at some point.

“The project will certainly help a broader audience to understand William Smith’s work.”

The project will start next month and take about a year to complete, in time for the 200th anniversary of the creation of the 1815 map.

Museum archivist Kate Santry said: “We are delighted to get this grant so that we can help to publicise William Smith’s work.

“He was not a household name like Charles Darwin but he was a well-known geologist and an unsung hero of science. Smith colour-coded different stratas of soil with his maps, which was visually stunning and that will be captured online.

“There are 20 boxes full of correspondence, personal diaries, drawings and maps and there could be 15-20,000 images of different documents.”

Arts Council England South East regional director Sally Abbott: “We are delighted to support Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s plans.

“We will now be working with the museum to negotiate the exact funding it will receive, and look forward to seeing plans realised and more people engaged with the museum’s work.”

William Smith died aged 70 in 1839 and there is a bust in his memory in the museum.

The Geological Society presents an annual lecture in his honour.