Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, John Mark Frederick

SMITH, Sir JOHN MARK FREDERICK (1790–1874), general, colonel-commandant royal engineers, son of Major-general Sir John Frederick Sigismund Smith, K.C.H., of the royal artillery (d. 1834), and grand-nephew of Field-marshal Baron von Kalkreuth, commander-in-chief of the Prussian army, was born at the Manor House, Paddington, Middlesex, on 11 Jan. 1790. After passing through the military school at Great Marlow and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, Smith received a commission as second lieutenant in the royal engineers on 1 Dec. 1805, and in January 1806 joined his corps at Chatham.

In 1807 Smith went to Sicily. He served in 1809 under Major-general Sir A. Bryce, the commanding royal engineer of the force of Sir John Stuart [q. v.], at the siege and capture of the castle of Ischia and at the capture of Procida in the Bay of Naples. He also took part, in the same year, in the capture of the islands of Zante and Kephalonia under Major-general Frederick Rennell Thackeray [q. v.], commanding royal engineer of the force of Sir John Oswald. Smith was deputy-assistant quartermaster-general and senior officer of the quartermaster-general's department under Sir Hudson Lowe [q. v.] in 1810, in the battle before Santa Maura. He resigned his staff appointment from a sense of duty in order to serve as an engineer officer in the trenches during the siege of Santa Maura under Oswald, the only engineer officer in addition to Thackeray and himself, Captain Parker having been wounded. This deficiency of engineer officers threw upon Smith all the executive work during the most arduous part of the siege, and he had no relaxation from duty in the trenches until the place surrendered. Not only, however, did he receive no special recognition of his services, but the officer who took his place upon the staff was given the brevet promotion which Smith would have received, had he not resigned the staff appointment to undertake a more difficult and dangerous duty. He was mentioned in Sir John Oswald's despatches, and some years afterwards an effort was unsuccessfully made to get him a brevet majority for his services at Santa Maura.

Smith was promoted to be second captain on 1 May 1811. He served in Albania and in Sicily, and in 1812 returned to England to take up the appointment of adjutant to the corps of the royal sappers and miners at their headquarters at Woolwich on 1 Dec. He held this appointment until 26 Feb. 1815. He was promoted to be first captain on 26 Aug. 1817, and in 1819, on the reduction of the corps of royal engineers, was placed on half-pay for seven months.

During the next ten years Smith was employed on various military duties in England. He was promoted to be regimental lieutenant-colonel on 16 March 1830, and was appointed commanding royal engineer of the London district. In 1831 he was made a knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic order by William IV, a knight bachelor on 13 Sept. of the same year, an extra gentleman usher of the privy chamber in 1833, and on 17 March 1834 one of the ordinary gentlemen ushers. The last post he held until his death. On 2 Dec. 1840 he was also appointed inspector-general of railways, in which capacity he examined and reported on the London and Birmingham and the other principal railways before they were opened to the public. In 1841 Smith, in conjunction with Professor Barlow, made a report to the treasury respecting railway communication between London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. Smith resigned the appointment of inspector-general of railways at the end of 1841, and became director of the royal engineer establishment at Chatham on 1 Jan. 1842.

On 5 July 1845 Smith and Professors Airy and Barlow were constituted a commission to inquire whether future parliamentary railway bills should provide for a uniform gauge, and whether it would be expedient or practicable to bring railways already constructed or in course of construction into uniformity of gauge, or whether any other mode of obviating or mitigating the serious impediments to the internal traffic of the country could be adopted. On 30 March 1846 he was appointed one of the five commissioners to investigate and report upon the various railway projects in which it was proposed to have a terminus in the metropolis or its vicinity. On 9 Nov. 1846 Smith was promoted to be colonel in the army, and on 1 May 1851 he was moved from Chatham to be commanding royal engineer of the southern district, with his headquarters at Portsmouth.

In July 1852 Smith was returned to parliament as member for Chatham in the conservative interest, but in March 1853 he was unseated on petition. He was promoted to be major-general on 20 Jan. 1854. In 1855 he was transferred from Portsmouth to the command of the royal engineers at Aldershot. He was appointed public examiner and inspector of the Military College of the East India Company at Addiscombe in 1856. In March 1857 he was again returned to parliament as member for Chatham. He resigned his command at Aldershot, finding his time fully occupied with parliamentary and kindred duties. He was a member of the royal commission on harbours of refuge in 1858, and of the commission on promotion and retirement in the army. He was again returned as member for Chatham at the election of April 1859, and continued to sit for that borough until 1868. He was promoted to be lieutenant-general on 25 Oct. 1859, colonel-commandant of royal engineers on 6 July 1860, and general on 3 Aug. 1863.

Smith died on 20 Nov. 1874 at his residence, 62 Pembridge Villas, Notting Hill Gate, London, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a member of many learned bodies. A good engraved portrait appears in Vibart's ‘Addiscombe’ (p. 297).

Smith married at Buckland, near Dover, on 31 Jan. 1813, Harriet, daughter of Thomas Thorn, esq. of Buckland House. There was no issue. Smith was the author of ‘The Military Course of Engineering at Arras,’ 8vo, Chatham, 1850, and he translated, with notes, Marshal Marmont's ‘Present State of the Turkish Empire,’ 8vo, London, 1839; 2nd ed. 1854.

[Despatches; London Gazette; Royal Engineers' Records; War Office Records; Royal Engineers' Journal, 1874, obituary notice; Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, vol. xxxix., obituary notice; Porter's History of the Corps of Royal Engineers; Conolly's History of the Royal Sappers and Miners; Vibart's Addiscombe, its Heroes and Men of Note; Parliamentary Blue-books.]

R. H. V.