SMYTH, Sir George Henry, 6th bt. (1784-1852), of Berechurch Hall, nr. Colchester, Essex
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Family and Educationb. 30 Jan. 1784, o.s. of Sir Robert Smyth, 5th bt.†, of Berechurch and Charlotte Sophia Delaval Blake, spinster (who was naturalized by Private Act, 21 Geo. III, c. 8, 12 Mar. 1781). educ. Paris; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1802. m. 28 July 1815, Eva, da. of George Elmore of Penton, nr. Andover, Hants; 1 illegit. da. d.v.p. suc. fa. as 6th bt. 12 Apr. 1802. d. 11 July 1852.
Sheriff, Essex 1822-3.
Smyth was descended from a family of London drapers and silk merchants. Robert Smyth (c. 1594-1669), who was knighted in 1660 and created a baronet in 1665, bought the Upton estate at West Ham. The 4th baronet, Sir Trafford Smyth (c. 1720-66), inherited from his uncle James Smyth (d. 1741) the Berechurch property near Colchester.1 He was succeeded by Robert Smyth, the father of this Member, a strange man who had a chequered political career. After a spell as Member for Cardigan, 1774-5, he was returned for Colchester in 1780 as an opponent of Lord North. One of the St. Alban’s Tavern group in January 1784, his unsuccessful candidature for Colchester at the general election in April was financed from Pitt’s secret service fund. He was seated on petition, sided with opposition on the regency, 1788-9, became an enthusiast for the French Revolution, retired from Parliament in 1790 and settled in Paris as a banker. He was a member of the British revolutionary club and a close friend of Tom Paine, and at the notorious dinner in Paris, 18 Nov. 1792, renounced his title, though this resolution was short-lived. On a visit to London two months earlier he had been described to the foreign secretary as ‘extremely violent’ and likely to ‘do all the mischief in his power’.2 He died in Paris, leaving personal estate sworn under £15,000, 12 Apr. 1802, six weeks before his only son and residuary legatee, who had received some of his early education there, matriculated at Cambridge.3
George Smyth, who came into full possession of the Berechurch estate in 1805, took a quite different approach to life and politics. He settled at Berechurch, extended the estate and rebuilt the house, made himself respected and popular in Colchester and established himself as one of the leading figures in the anti-Catholic Tory Blue party, which dominated municipal politics through the corporation.4 He chaired the meeting which led to the formation of the Loyal Colchester Association to ‘counteract the diffusion of disloyal and seditious principles’, 28 Feb. 1821.5 He was active in the Colchester True Blue or Pitt Club: at its anniversary dinner, 17 Nov. 1821, for example, he ‘congratulated’ its members on ‘the increased ascendancy which True Blue principles were gaining every day’.6 At the general election of 1826 he was put up by the corporation to replace the retiring ministerialist and was returned unopposed in a compromise with the radical candidate. At the nomination he declared that he was ‘an enthusiastic admirer of the king; a firm supporter of the church and state; and that to the utmost of his ability, he would walk in the footsteps of the immortal Mr. Pitt’.7
Smyth presented petitions against Catholic relief from the archdeaconry and inhabitants of Colchester, 2 Mar., and the corporation, 5 Mar. 1827.8 He voted accordingly, 6 Mar. He was in the ministerial majority for the Clarences’ annuity bill, 17 Mar., but in the protectionist minority hostile to the corn bill, 2 Apr. At the True Blue Club dinner, 6 Nov. 1827, he said that in the present unsettled political situation ‘there might be some difficulty as to the course which he should pursue, but ... he would not take a seat with the Whigs, nor with those who had come round to the True Blues for the sake of place’. Dismissing the notion of ‘security’ to make Catholic emancipation acceptable to Protestants, he called for resistance to the claims of ‘men who deem us heretics, and would destroy us and the Protestant establishment altogether, if they had it in their power’.9 He had presented a Colchester petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 14 June 1827,10 but he may have voted against that measure, 26 Feb. 1828. He presented and endorsed Colchester corporation’s petition praying the House, if it passed repeal, to ‘guard the country from the danger to which it was exposed from the machinations of men who were avowedly hostile to the church establishment’, 17 Mar. At the Colchester meeting to consider the formation of an agricultural protection association, 9 Feb., he concurred in the decision to postpone the business until the Wellington ministry had revealed its hand; he was not directly involved in the establishment of the association in May.11 He presented the archdeaconry’s anti-Catholic petition, 29 Apr., and voted against relief, 12 May. On 13 June 1828 he presented a Colchester inhabitants’ petition for the abolition of slavery.
At the Pitt Club meeting in November 1828 Smyth urged the formation of a local Brunswick Club; he duly became its first president, 8 Dec. At the mayoral election, 30 Nov. 1828, he ‘avowed himself a staunch supporter of the Protestant cause’, suggested that ministers looked ‘favourably’ on the Brunswickers and ‘attributed the present quiet attitude of the Irish agitators to the soldiers that had been sent to Ireland by the duke of Wellington’.12 He was astonished and outraged when the duke and Peel disclosed their decision to concede Catholic emancipation in February 1829: at the Colchester Loyal Association meeting on the 10th he declared that ‘their unaccountable conversion from their former views ... had created a feeling of terror and alarm throughout this Protestant country’.13 In the House he was one of the diehard opponents of emancipation, dividing doggedly against it throughout March and presenting many hostile petitions from his county. When bringing up those from the corporation, archdeaconry and inhabitants of Colchester, 6 Mar., he accused Peel of ‘political apostacy’, deception and betrayal, condemned Catholics as ‘an intolerant and bigotted set ... not to be trusted’ and said that if the measure was carried it would become ‘a matter of indifference to me how short a time I continue to sit in this House’. He had the speech elaborately printed in gold letters on navy blue paper.14 On 10 Mar, he complained of the ‘indecent haste’ with which the relief bill was being pressed, ‘in direct opposition to the declared opinions of the great majority of the people of this country’, and described the so-called ‘securities’ as worthless. On 17 Mar. he asserted that Parliament’s disregard of popular opinion proved the need for its reform; and on the 23rd that emancipation would open the House to ‘a crowd of demagogues, bold enough to go any lengths for the advancement of their religion’. He voted against the third reading of the bill, 30 Mar., and the following day informed Colchester corporation of his decision to resign his seat in protest at ministers’ ‘most extraordinary change of policy’. He could not be talked out of it and took the Chiltern Hundreds in mid-April. At the Colchester dinner to mark the return of his True Blue replacement, 17 July 1829, he said that he was ‘disgusted with the House of Commons’ and had ‘done everything he could to oppose’ emancipation, which would be ‘the ruin of Old England’.15
Smyth remained prominent in Colchester politics. At a meeting called to petition for repeal of the beer and malt taxes, 19 Dec. 1829, he admitted to being ‘wholly ignorant’ on the currency question, hoped that the ministry would alleviate the tax burden and discounted the radical nostrum of a property tax. He did this again at the Essex county meeting, 11 Feb. 1830, when he demanded economy and retrenchment.16 At the Essex by-election of March 1830, when he professed himself to be a ‘Tory of the old school’, he was instrumental in raising an opposition to the ministerialist Thomas Bramston*. He was one of the six candidates nominated for Colchester at the general election in July, but he withdrew before the poll.17 At the True Blue Club dinner, 27 Nov. 1830, he attacked ‘those demagogues who would overturn the constitution’ and opposed all reform.18 He nominated the corporation’s absentee candidate against a reformer at the March 1831 by-election; and at the general election the following month was a prominent supporter of the unsuccessful Blue candidate.19 He stood for Colchester at the general election of 1835 and was returned with another Conservative.20 He held the seat, as an opponent of the Maynooth grant and repeal of the corn laws, until his retirement on account of ‘age and infirmities’ in early 1850.21 He died without surviving issue at Berechurch in July 1852, commemorated as ‘a fine specimen of the old English gentleman’, notable for his ‘warm-hearted, generous and hospitable disposition’.22 The baronetcy became extinct, but Berechurch and his other real estate passed to the children of his illegitimate daughter Charlotte (1813-45), the late wife of Thomas White of Wetherfield, Essex.23