SMYTH, Sir Robert, 5th Bt. (1744-1802), of Berechurch, nr. Colchester, Essex
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Family and Education
b. 10 Jan. 1744, 1st s. of Rev. Robert Smyth, vicar of Woolavington, Suss. by Dorothy, da. of Thomas Lloyd of Dolyglunnen, Merion.; gd.-s. of Sir Robert Smyth, 3rd Bt., of Upton, Essex. educ. Westminster Trinity, Camb. 1762. m. 17 Sept. 1776, Charlotte Sophia Blake, spinster1 (who was naturalized by Private Act, 21 Geo. III, c.8, Mar. 1781), 1s. 2da. suc. cos. Sir Trafford Smyth, 4th Bt. of Upton 8 Dec. 1765.
In 1774 Smyth was returned for Cardigan on the interest of his kinsmen the Pryses of Gogerddan, but on 7 Dec. 1775 was unseated on petition. His only recorded vote in this Parliament was with the Opposition on Wilkes, 27 Feb. 1775, but according to Horace Walpole, he ‘generally voted with the court’. In his first speech he supported a motion of 6 Feb. 1775 approving the Administration’s American policy. Walpole wrote of it that Smyth, ‘another admired young speaker’,
showed his confidence not only by beginning with a reply to Burke but laughing at his metaphors, yet falling into the same fault himself and perceiving that the House observed it, he came off adroitly by saying the example had spoiled him, for evil communications corrupted good manners.2
Smyth himself, in a debate on the Quebec Act, 18 May 1775, told the House that he spoke rarely ‘and always with the greatest degree of reluctance, for I can safely say it is as painful and disagreeable for me to speak, as I fear it is unpleasing and unprofitable in the House to hear me’. But he was glad to have an opportunity of supporting the Act:
The very great disproportion between the Canadian and British subjects ... made it an object of justice as well as of sound policy, that the Canadian laws should form the basis of your system ... Whoever reflects upon the excellencies of the British laws would wish to see them extended over the whole face of the British Empire; but if there are local and circumstantial reasons arising from the national character of the people, their language, customs, and institutions ... that made it impossible for English laws to be adopted in their original purity ... a legislator is not only justified but ... it is an essential part of his duty so to alter and modify those laws.3
Smyth returned to Parliament in 1780 as an opponent of North. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Association movement, and early in 1780 became chairman of the Essex Committee. At the general election he successfully contested Colchester, which was only two miles from his Berechurch estate. In Parliament he consistently voted with the Opposition till the fall of North. In a list of proposals for office submitted by Shelburne to the King on 9 July 1782 he was mentioned as a possible lord of the Admiralty, but with ‘doubtful’ against his name. Smyth did not vote on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; voted for Pitt’s parliamentary reform proposals, 7 May 1783; and against Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783. On 8 Dec. 1783 he said:
That the destroying the charter of the East India Company and abolishing the court of directors, upon the alleged delinquency of some of the Company’s servants abroad, struck him to be full as preposterous a measure as if the House, instead of a late expulsion of one of its Members, had proceeded to disfranchise the borough of Hedon, on account of the criminal conduct of its representative.4
Smyth was a member of the St. Alban’s Tavern group which in January 1784 attempted to bring about a union of parties, but before the general election of 1784 was commended by Pitt at Colchester as a ‘zealous friend’, and received £2,000 from secret service funds. He was defeated but seated on petition. He was also proposed as a candidate for Essex, but withdrew. He voted with the Administration on Richmond’s fortifications plan, 27 Feb. 1786, but with Opposition over the Regency, 1788-9. Smyth did not stand again in 1790, and shortly afterwards settled in Paris as a banker. On 37 Sept. 1792 William Lindsay wrote to Lord Grenville that Smyth had become ‘a violent democrat ... intimately connected with some of the leading republicans’, and concluded: ‘[he] is extremely violent, and will do all the mischief in his power during his stay here’. He was a member of the British revolutionary club in Paris and a close friend of Thomas Paine, but like many other British residents was imprisoned during the Terror. In 1796, with Paine’s help, he obtained a passport, but merely to visit Hamburg in order to obtain remittances from England, not to return there, for, as Paine wrote to the French minister, Smyth liked ‘neither the Government nor climate of England’.5
He died at Paris 12 Apr. 1807.