SMYTH, Robert (b.1777), of Drumcree House, co. Westmeath

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

5 Mar. 1824 - 1826

Family and Education

b. Jan. 1777, 1st s. of William Smyth† MP [I] of Drumcree and 1st w. Maria, da. of Mark Synnot of Drumcondragh, co. Armagh. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1793. m. 26 Jan. 1835, Elizabeth, wid. of Maj. Snodgrass, 2da. suc. fa. 1827.

Offices Held

Biography

Descended from seventeenth century Yorkshire settlers, the Smyths of Drumcree were part of a Westmeath dynasty with branches at Ballynegall, Gaybrook, Glananea and Barba Villa House, the ancestral home of William Meade Smythe, Member for Drogheda, 1822-6.1 Smyth’s father had sat for county Westmeath in the Irish Commons from 1783 and the Westminster Parliament from the Union on the declining interest of the 7th earl of Westmeath, but in 1808 had made way for the 2nd earl of Longford’s brother.2 In 1824 Smyth came forward for a vacancy in the county, allegedly as the ‘locum tenens’ of Sir Thomas Chapman of Killua, whose son was not yet of age. Citing ‘political opinions ... nearly similar’ to those of his father, he claimed to be ‘truly independent’ and ‘not bound by any pledges, either of a public or private nature’. He was returned unopposed.3 On 2 Apr. 1824 the Irish secretary Goulburn informed the under-secretary Gregory that he had received a letter ‘from the new Member for Westmeath’ in ‘favour of five gentlemen’ for the ‘appointment of chief constable’, which ‘considering that he has not yet taken his seat ... promises well; at least it shows a very perfect idea of that part of his duty which consists in obtaining offices for his constituents’. Goulburn told Smyth that he would submit his request to the viceroy, Lord Wellesley, but that ‘appointments of this nature’ were ‘extremely limited’.4 Smyth, who is not known to have spoken in debate, voted with opposition to condemn the trial in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824. He divided to suppress the Catholic Association, 15, 25 Feb., against Catholic claims, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and against the accompanying bill to disfranchise 40s. freeholders, 26 Apr. 1825.

At the 1826 general election he offered again with the support of Longford and the ‘High Protestant interest’, but denied allegations that he was a ‘person of violent political opinions’. After a turbulent contest against a pro-Catholic candidate he was narrowly defeated.5 The Catholic Dublin Evening Press, which had ridiculed him as an ‘idiot’ and ‘the most stupid and silly man in the county’, alleged that

on his first journey to London he put up from the stage-coach at a famous inn called The Bull and Mouth, in the city. He liked the accommodation, though it is three or four miles ... from St. Stephen’s chapel, and accordingly [there] he remained while attending his parliamentary duties. Whether in reference to the inn, or to his mental or gastronomic or physical qualities ... to distinguish him from the nine or ten Smiths in the House, he was known by the prenomen of ‘Bull and Mouth’ Smyth. His voting was regulated by a most impartial and original rule. On any question that presented itself he voted as the first Smith he happened to follow voted ... Where it was his good luck to follow Mr. Smith of Norwich, he voted against the Marriage Act and in favour of the Unitarians. If he happened to light on John Smith of London, he voted with him against the slave trade and for emancipation. If another Smith, he voted for the West Indian planters and for the Orangemen of Ireland. In short Westmeath Smyth was all things to all men.6

Referring to ‘how embarrassed he was in France owing to his ignorance of the language’, the Dublin Evening Post quipped that he should ‘make good use of his retirement’ and ‘get a master, and in seven years he may acquire some knowledge of French’.7 His attempt to secure the seat by petition ended in failure in April 1828. Following his succession to the family’s Drumcree estates in 1827 he began a lengthy lawsuit to recover other lands in county Westmeath which they had formerly held.8 At the 1830 general election he started, but declined in favour of Chapman’s son.9 He came forward again in 1831, but was persuaded to retire at the nomination.10

The date of Smyth’s death has not been ascertained. He was still acting as a magistrate in 1851, but on 16 Nov. 1866 his son-in-law Major Leicester Curzon (1829-91), who had married his elder daughter Alicia Maria Eliza, heiress to his 4,431-acre estate in February that year, assumed by royal licence the surname of Smyth.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon

Notes

  • 1. Analecta Hibernica</