SMITH, Richard (1734-1803), of Harley Street, Mdx. and Chilton Lodge, Hungerford, Berks.
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Family and Education
bap. 15 May 1734, at St. Mary’s, Marlborough, Wilts., 1st s. of John Smith, cheesemonger, of Jermyn Street, St. James’s, Mdx. m. 25 Sept. 1756, Amelia, da. of Capt. Charles Hopkins, master mariner, 1s. (John Mansell Smith†) 1da.
Ensign, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1752, lt. 1753, capt. 1756, ret. 1761; col. 1764; c.-in-c. Bengal 1767-9; brig.-gen. 1768, ret. 1770.
Sheriff, Berks. 1779-80.
‘General’ Smith confirmed most prejudices against returning nabobs. Pretentious, loud, arrogant, violent in his politics and extravagant, he was nevertheless gullible. An habitué; of Brooks’s since 1779, he lost heavily: on one such occasion
to dissipate his chagrin he walked about the room, and at length joined in a conversation upon religion. ‘For my part’, said he, ‘I cannot understand what they mean with their Trinity and Holy Ghost.’ ‘I wonder at that’, replied General Fitzpatrick, ‘as the symbol is a pigeon.’1
A martyr to Fox at the gambling table and in politics, he was driven abroad by his debts soon after his defeat at Wendover in the election of 1784. He was resilient, returned in 1786, and in 1790, after being defeated at Boston, came in for Wareham as the guest of John Calcraft*.
Smith voted with opposition on the Oczakov question, 12 Apr. 1791, 1 Mar. 1792, and was listed favourable to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791, but he was not a member of the Whig Club and his inveterate interest in Indian affairs now disposed him to rally to government in that sphere. Many of his ‘tedious and tiresome’ speeches were devoted to India.2 He supported the war against Tipu and called for an extension of Lord Cornwallis’s authority for the purpose, 2 Mar., 16, 24 May 1791. He rebuked Edmund Burke for the tendentious language he invariably applied to the East India interest, 27 May. On 31 Jan. 1792 he conceded that he differed from his friends in opposition on Indian questions. He seconded Dundas’s tribute to Cornwallis on the successful conclusion of the war, 19 Dec. 1792, and went on to defend the acquisition of new territories by the East India Company, 23 Apr. 1793. On 14 Apr. 1794 he supported the East India Company indemnity bill. He was jocularly described as ‘comptroller of the Board of India control’. He was the champion of the claims of the sepoys and officers on the East Indian establishment, whose services he thought were inadequately rewarded, 6 June 1791, 4 Apr. 1794, 26 Jan., 26 Feb. 1795. On 10 Mar. 1795 when he moved for ‘ample redress’, the House judged it improper in view of Dundas’s previous assurances that the matter was under consideration. Smith raised the matter twice more before he was satisfied, 16 June 1795.
Smith was listed, with a query, a Portland Whig, but he was considered for the ‘third party’ in 1793. On 29 Apr. 1794 he was prepared to swallow the Prussian subsidy and on 17 May the suspension of habeas corpus. Yet the conduct of the war against France eventually drew him back into regular opposition. His speech and vote against the imperial loan, 5 Feb. 1795, confirmed this. He expressed dissatisfaction with government accounting, notably on 2 Mar. 1795, and voted with Fox in censure, 24 Mar., and for Wilberforce’s plea for peace, 27 May. On 4 June, opposing the imperial loan, he said that ‘he would have made any sacrifice to preserve Holland; but when that was lost, he considered the object of the war was entirely gone’. He spoke in favour of the Prince of Wales when his debts were debated that month, twice acting as teller on the subject. He remained in opposition in the last session of that Parliament. He opposed further encroachments on the liberty of the subject by speech, 12 Nov., 3 Dec. 1795, and by vote 10, 25 Nov. He disliked the government’s monopolizing imported corn, 2 Nov. 1795, and several times moved for accounts of corn imports, deplored the fluctuations in the price of bread, 29 Feb., and supported the proposal to enforce the sale of corn in the public market, 11 May 1796. He criticized the increase in the army estimates, 19 Nov. 1795, and insisted that the fencible cavalry should now be disbanded. He warned that excess government expenditure might yet bring about a revolution, as in France, 2 Dec. 1795. He moved for an account of the expense of building barracks, 11 Feb. 1796, but failed to secure an inquiry into it, 8 Apr. He admitted that he was no longer satisfied with the conduct of the war on the Continent, 9 Dec. 1795, and voted for peace negotiations, 15 Feb. 1796. He condemned the abuse of child labour in factories, 12 Feb. 1796, but would have no truck with the abolition of the slave trade, 3 and 15 Mar. He had voted with the planters on the question of Martinique, 2 June 1795. On 2 May 1796 he instigated the expulsion of John Fenton Cawthorne* from the House, on which Charles Long’s comment was: ‘had not General Smith brought the subject forward probably no one else would’.3 He opposed the legacies duty, 5 Apr., 9 May 1796. After a last acrimonious brush with Dundas over the morale of East India officers, 18 Apr., 14 May 1796, he professed satisfaction on the subject on 18 May.
Smith had stated on 6 Mar. 1795, in opposition to the bill to limit franking by Members, that he might not long enjoy the privilege, being ‘very old and infirm’. He did not seek re-election in 1796. He died 3 July 1803, not as rich as his obituarist supposed.4