SMITH, Samuel (1755-93), of Cherington, Glos. and Putney Hill, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 19 Mar. 1755, 1st s. of Samuel Smith of Aldermanbury, London (a cos. of Abel Smith sen.) by Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Watson of Lothbury. m. 28 Nov. 1777, Mary, da. and coh. of Thomas Lockyer, 1s. 3da. suc. fa. 1789.
Director, E.I. Co. 1783-6; treasurer, Levant Co. 1790.
Smith’s grandfather, a younger son of Thomas Smith, founder of the Nottingham banking house, settled in London as a goldsmith and London agent to the bank; and his father, at first a ‘merchant and silkman’, had by 1776 established his own banking house of Samuel Smith and Son. Smith himself also carried on business as a Turkey merchant.
In 1780 he was returned unopposed for Ilchester on the interest of his father-in-law, Thomas Lockyer. In Parliament he regularly supported North’s Administration till its fall, and voted gainst Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. In 1783 he became a director of the East India Company, and East India affairs were henceforth his main preoccupation in the House. He vigorously opposed Fox’s East India bill, and on 1 Dec.,
went through an argument upon the state of the Company’s accounts, answering Mr. Fox’s objections and observations article by article, and charging Mr. Fox with wilful misrepresentation ... [he] also added an argument against the principle of the bill in which he charged the whole with being a design to send off some half-plucked pigeons to India, in order that they might come back in full plumage, decked out in all the splendour of the East.1
Smith did not seek re-election at Ilchester in 1784 (though in October 1786 he was able to offer to return an Administration candidate there). He stood for London, but on 31 Mar. 1784 George Rose wrote to Robinson: ‘Sam Smith has dropped the City and is gone to Worcester against [Thomas Bates] Rous.’ Rous was forced to withdraw, and Smith was returned unopposed. He regularly supported Pitt on major issues, though he opposed certain fiscal measures including the tobacco regulation bill, 24 June 1789. He continued to take an active interest in East India affairs. He wrote to Warren Hastings on 30 Nov. 1784:
It adds much to my own satisfaction that you should think my endeavours in the execution of my public duty have in any degree contributed to your support in the honourable cause in which you were engaged ... I trust you will experience from hence that full support to which on many occasions ... you have unfortunately for the Company been a stranger.
On 24 Feb. 1785 he described Philip Francis’s accusations against the civil establishment in Bengal as ‘insinuations’ by which ‘without asserting anything positively ... the credit of the Company was to be attempted to be wounded’. And on 3 Apr. 1786, in reply to an attack on the Company by Burke:
As to the long speeches of the right honourable gentleman ... they were fraught with promise without performance, assertion without proof, and calumny without elucidation.
Though Smith had supported Pitt’s East India bill, and had in the House justified the reduction of the proprietors’ interest, he disliked the increasing power of the board of commissioners, and in June 1786 resigned from the directorate as a protest against ‘the daily encroachments of the board of the directors’ powers’. He now spoke less frequently on East India questions (though he spoke more than once in defence of Hastings) and several speeches of his on other subjects are reported. In the debate of 21 May 1789 on the slave trade he said he thought the slave owners ought to be compensated in the event of abolition, and that before he could be convinced that the slave trade ought not to be abolished, he would have to be sure
that it was not attended with circumstances of great severity and cruelty to the negroes. Secondly that it did not tend rather to destroy our seamen than prove a nursery for them: and thirdly, that the West Indies could not be cultivated without a fresh importation of African negroes.
On 20 Apr. 1790 Smith sent a memorandum to Lord Hawkesbury in which, having briefly asked for some protection for the Turkey trade, he surveyed at great length the wealth and resources of India, and the position of the Company.
The commercial affairs of the Company [he wrote] can alone be well administered by a separation of them from the political. They must descend from the throne of sovereignty and pursue their views through humble, though better adapted paths of mercantile prudence ... The loss of India burthened as this country is with taxes would be more severely felt than any event that could happen to our West Indian colonies. The good government of it is essential; it must no longer be considered as a toy to be played with, but as a pillar of the state to be protected.
In 1790 Smith unsuccessfully contested Worcester. He died 15 June 1793.2