SMITH, John I (1767-1827), of Sea Grove, nr. Ryde, I.o.W.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



21 May 1799 - July 1799

Family and Education

b. 11 Nov. 1767, 1st surv. s. of Samuel Smith, attorney, of Jeffreys Square,1 St. Mary Axe, London by Mary, da. of Edward Grose of London, sis. of Sir Nash Grose, c.j.K.B.2 educ. Eton 1779-86; King’s, Camb. 1787, fellow 1790-9; M. Temple 1787-90. unm. suc. fa. 1783.

Offices Held

Entered army 1793, lt. 2 Ft. 1793, capt. 1794; capt. 103 Ft. 1795, 14 Ft. 1795, ret. 1799.

Postmaster-gen. Jamaica 1799-1803; commr. alienation office 1801-d.; paymaster of navy May 1805-Feb. 1806, Apr. 1807-d.


Smith’s father was listed as an attorney in the London directories from 1770; in his will he described himself as a gentleman.3 He had property on the Isle of Wight, as did his wife’s family. When he died at Swansea in June 1783, he provided for his ‘dear boys’, John and Edward Grose Smith, the larger share going to John, ‘in consideration of his being my eldest son and of the education I have given him’. John was at Eton, where he was known as ‘Easley’ Smith from his having thus pronounced the word ‘aisle’ on first encountering it.4 He distinguished himself there by his ‘general abilities’ and ‘classical knowledge’ and was one of the contributors to the celebrated Microcosm (1786-7). Under the aegis of his pedantic uncle Nash Grose, who had for many years the best practice in the court of common pleas before becoming a judge, Smith studied the law for three years, but developed an aversion to it. His brother Edward became a lawyer.

Indeed, he found the choice of a profession difficult: he was a fellow of King’s when in 1793 he entered the army. He saw action with the marines on the glorious 1st of June, served in Ireland, and as captain of the 14th regiment (1795) risked his life in the West Indies. He returned there, May 1796, and came home on leave in June 1798. He sold out of the army afterwards and next appeared as a Member of Parliament for East Looe on the interest of John Buller I*. The latter, who was in India, returned him in his own place on the recommendation of Pitt.5 George Canning, who was the instigator of this, wrote to Wilbraham in a postscript, 7 June 1799:

Do you remember Easley Smith at Eton? the tall Smith, our associate in the Microcosm. He is just come into Parliament for East Looe. It has saved him a voyage to his regiment in the West Indies. What more it will do for him remains to be seen. But he is very clever, and full of information, and I should hope might be a very useful public man in good time.6

Smith was only in Parliament a few weeks, however, vacating his seat in July on appointment to office in Jamaica. Canning wrote on 9 July 1799 that with ‘a very lucrative place to cover the object of his mission’ Smith was going out ‘to collect information upon several heads on which we should be accurately informed and cannot hope to be so through the colonial governments’. This referred to the slave trade and ‘nobody but Pitt and Lord Grenville’ knew it, though Canning disclosed it to George Ellis* and Charles Rose Ellis* before the year was out. Smith had set sail on 23 Sept. 1799 and arrived on 13 Nov. He resided in Jamaica ‘with benefit to everybody except himself’ until 1803, when ill health brought him back to England. Canning, on becoming treasurer of the navy under Pitt in 1804, made Smith his paymaster and, except under the Grenville ministry, Smith continued to discharge this responsibility, with the esteem of successive treasurers, until his death, 10 Mar. 1827. He was the author of an anonymous Essay on Architecture (1813), in the form of ‘metrical remarks on modern castles and cottages’, and also of a free English rendering of Greek tragedies (1819).7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Afterwards absorbed by the Baltic Exchange. C. B. Boulton, St. Andrew Undershaft, 123.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1814), i. 629.
  • 3. PCC 321 Cornwallis.
  • 4. Eton Coll. Reg. 1753-90, p. 481.
  • 5. Ms diary of Smith’s mother, copy penes Mrs S. White, Bembridge, information from Mr Robert Adams; PRO 30/8/117, ff. 218 seq.
  • 6. Canning and His Friends, i. 152; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 265.
  • 7. Harewood mss,Canning to Rev. Leigh, 9 July 1799; PRO 30/8/120, f. 177; Gent. Mag. (1827), i. 366; Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, 314-15.