SMITH, Richard (1734-1803), of Chilton Foliat, Wilts.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
bap. 15 May 1734, at St. Mary’s, Marlborough, s. of John Smith of London. m. 25 Sept. 1756, Amelia, da. of Capt. Charles Hopkins, master mariner, 1s. 1da.
Ensign Bengal army Dec. 1752, lt. by 1753, capt. June 1756, ret. 1761; col. 1764; brig-gen. 1768; ret. 1770.
Sheriff, Berks. 1779-80.
Smith was commissioned from purser’s mate to ensign in the East India Company in December 1752, and rapidly received further promotion. He distinguished himself at the siege of Nelore in 1757, but resigned the service in 1761 and returned to England. In May 1764 he accompanied Clive to India as a colonel. On the voyage out Smith’s habitual superciliousness provoked Clive greatly: ‘You may remember that I often told you I was afraid Dick Smith’s temper and manners would not suit with Lord Clive, and it has so happened’, wrote George Mackay to Robert Orme, 5 Jan. 1767.1 ‘They quarrelled in the passage out, and have not been friends since.’ Nevertheless Smith, in command of a brigade at Allahabad, remained loyal to Clive during the Batta mutiny, and was appointed commander-in-chief when Clive left in 1767.
Smith was now busily engaged in amassing a large fortune, acquired, in part, by lending money to the Nawab of Arcot. In January 1769 he wrote: ‘I am preparing for Europe by collecting my scattered fortune ... I have fortune sufficient to make me happy, if happiness can depend on every conveniency and some few indulgences of life.’2 When he returned home in 1770 he was reported to have brought £2-300,000 with him.3
Before leaving India he had begun to negotiate for a seat in Parliament, which he confessed was his ‘utmost ambition’.4 He hoped at first to represent Marlborough, but when the negotiations fell through he wrote to Orme: ‘I particularly recommend it to you timely to look abroad for to secure me a seat on my return to England; from your letters I find you are sanguine on this particular and almost ensure me success.’5 When he reached home, however, nothing had been done. In November 1770 he began his search for a seat by canvassing New Shoreham. The resulting scandal was so great that the borough was reformed. In March 1771 he was defeated at Rochester by Admiral Pye. The following month he was reported at Cricklade with Sir Robert Fletcher, the sitting Member, and it was surmised that Fletcher, leaving for India, would ‘reimburse himself by bringing in his friend’.6 Nothing came of it however. In November 1773, on a vacancy at Maldon, it was rumoured that he was going to stand.7 He was at Cricklade once more just before the general election of 1774,8 but passed on to contest Hindon. Here his campaign was conducted with such extraordinary freedom that the election was declared void by the House of Commons, and the borough narrowly escaped reformation. Smith and the other three candidates were then prosecuted for bribery, and he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of a thousand marks. He was also required to find sureties of good behaviour for three years. In the meantime, he had been again elected for the borough in May 1776, and again unseated by the House. In 1779, on a vacancy caused by the death of Arnold Nesbitt, he canvassed Cricklade again, but was kept out by John Macpherson.9 Not until the general election of 1780 did he attain his ambition, when he bought from Lord Verney the two seats at Wendover for himself and his son.
Since his return to England in 1770 Smith had been active in East India politics, partly as representative of the creditors of the Nawab of Arcot. He now jumped immediately into the front rank of the Rockingham Opposition in Parliament. In February 1781 he moved that petitions submitted against the supreme court of Bengal should be heard by a committee. He was chairman of the select committee on Indian affairs, which did much to embarrass Lord North’s ministry. When, in April 1783, he moved to print the report of the select committee, Burke declared: ‘The report owed the greatest part of its merit to the General near him and did him infinite honour.’10 In November 1783 he spoke strongly in favour of Fox’s East India bill.
In 1784 he lost his seat at Wendover, and was not returned to Parliament. At the same time he was overtaken by financial difficulties, brought on by heavy gambling.11 He was said to have lost £180,000 to Fox, in whose gambling set he had been since at least 1774, and he was obliged to sell the estate at Chilton Foliat which he had purchased on his return from India in 1770. John Macnamara, the purchaser, wrote of it to Wilkes:12
Even at this dreary season you will find this place beautiful; you know I suppose that this entire estate, house, furniture, timber, all, cost me less than £40,000; that it all belonged to and was created by General Smith (who by the by in his treaty with me for the purchase of it acted in the most handsome manner) and that therefore everything at this place must be perfectly ‘comme il faut’.
Smith was forced to take refuge abroad,13 but his exile was brief, and he was back in his accustomed place in society in 1786, when the Public Advertiser noted that the Duke of Bedford ‘was successful enough to touch General Smith for £1,200 the week after his arrival from the Continent’.14
Smith died 3 July 1803. The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that he left ‘a very large fortune’, but his will is modest.15 In his lifetime he was the subject of much gossip and scandal. He was said by many to have been the son of a cheesemonger; others said that he had been a ‘menial servant’ in Yorkshire. In 1772 Smith was reported to have spent some time at Oxford to improve his education. That year he was satirized by Foote in The Nabob under the name of ‘Sir Matthew Mite’. In 1776 he was included in the Tête à tête portraits of the Town and Country Magazine, being coupled with Mrs. Armistead, Fox’s mistress. He was considered haughty and insolent.16 In 1782 Selwyn described him at Brooks’s:17
The General told the Ambassador how rich he was, and how well the English (meaning, he said, people of distinction, such as his son) were received both at Brunswick and at Vienna; lied immoderately about the affairs of the India Company, and was ten times more at his ease than ever, to show Belgioso that he had the ton de cour.
At the same time, it was grudgingly admitted that he had considerable ability. George Vansittart commented on him in 1769, when he was about to leave India: ‘The General has picked up a very large fortune, and as he has abilities and application, and seems disposed to busy himself in India matters, will probably have a good deal of weight when he gets to England.’18 And Wraxall wrote of him: ‘Though destitute of the advantages of education and of very obscure origin, he did not by any means want parts, and he displayed some talent in addressing the House.’19
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: J. A. Cannon
- 1. Orme mss.
- 2. To Orme, 24 Jan. 1769, ibid.
- 3. Rich. Barwell to Wm. Barwell, 25 Dec. 1769, Bengal Past Present.
- 4. Smith to Orme, 14 Mar. 1767, Orme mss.
- 5. 14 Sept. 1768, ibid.
- 6. Edm. Maskelyne to Clive, 12 Apr. 1771, Clive mss.
- 7. Gascoyne to Strutt, 6 Nov. 1773, Strutt mss.
- 8. Reading Merc. Oxf. Gaz. 8 Oct. 1774.
- 9. Add. 29143, f. 269.
- 10. Parl. Hist. xxiii. 717.
- 11. HMC Carlisle; G. F. Grand, Narr. Life Gent. long resident in India.
- 12. 4 Jan. 1786, Add. 30873, f. 1
- 13. Public Advertiser, 7 and 25 Sept. 1784.
- 14. Ibid. 29 Dec. 1786.
- 15. Gent. Mag. 1803, p. 696; PCC 660 Marriott.
- 16. Vindication Gen. R. Smith; Mems. W. Hickey, ed. Spencer, i. 237; Walpole, Last Jnls. ii. 39; G. F. Grand, op. cit.; Glocester Jnl. 13 July 1772.
- 17. HMC, Carlisle, 566.
- 18. HMC Palk.
- 19. Mems. ii. 104.