Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Smith, Francis

SMITH, Sir FRANCIS, afterwards Sir Francis Villeneuve (1819–1909), chief Justice of Tasmania, born at Lindfield, Sussex, on 13 Feb. 1819, was elder son of Francis Smith, then of that place, and a merchant of London, by his wife Marie Josephine, daughter of Jean Villeneuve. At an early age Smith accompanied his father to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), where the latter purchased an estate called Campania, near Richmond, in that colony. Returning to England for his education, he attended University College, London, and London University, where he graduated B.A. in 1840 and took a first prize in international law. He was called to the bar by the Middle Temple on 27 May 1842, and was a bencher of his Inn from 1890 to 1898. In October 1844 he was admitted to the bar of Van Diemen's Land.

During 1848 he acted as solicitor-general of the colony in the absence on leave of A. C. Stonor. On 1 Jan. 1849 he was appointed crown solicitor and clerk of the peace, and again acted as solicitor-general from 15 Dec. 1851 to 1 Aug. 1854, when he was appointed attorney-general, taking office only on the condition of being at liberty to oppose the influx of convicts into the colony. He retained the post until the change in the constitution in 1856, when his office was abolished and he was granted 4500l. as compensation. On 15 Dec. 1851 he was nominated a member of the legislative council. Although opposed to the introduction of responsible government on the ground that the colony did not possess a leisured class from which suitable ministers could be drawn, and that the system would involve constant changes of administration, yet Smith was returned as one of the representatives of Hobart in the first House of Assembly, and accepted the portfolio of attorney-general in the first responsible ministry, which was formed by W. T. Champ on 1 Nov. 1856; he was also sworn a member of the executive council. Champ's administration fell by an adverse vote in the house on 26 Feb. 1857, but Smith returned to office on 25 April as attorney-general in W. P. Weston's government. On 12 May 1857 he took over the duties of premier in addition to those of attorney-general, and the reconstructed ministry remained in office for three years and a half. During that time much legislation of a useful character was passed, including the settlement of the long-pending 'Abbott claim,' the establishment of scholarships, the liberalising of the land laws, and the amendment of the Constitution Act.

On 1 Nov. 1860 Smith was made a puisne judge of the supreme court, and on 5 Feb. 1870 he was appointed chief justice in succession to Sir Valentine Fleming. In that position his legal knowledge and ability, combined with his high character, won for him every confidence. Twice he administered the government of the colony in the absence of the governor, viz. from 30 Nov. 1874 to 13 Jan. 1875, and again from 6 April to 21 Oct. 1880. He was knighted by patent on 18 July 1862, and retired on a pension 31 March 1884. He spent his remaining years in England, and died on 17 Jan. 1909 at his residence, Heathside, Tunbridge Wells. His remains were cremated at Golder's Green.

Smith married on 4 May 1851 Sarah (d. 29 July 1909), only child of the Rev. George Giles, D.D., and left one son and two daughters. In 1884 he assumed the additional name of Villeneuve.

[The Times, and Tasmanian Examiner, 20 Jan. 1909; Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, 22 Jan. 1909; Burke's Peerage, 1909; Johns's Notable Australians, 1908; Mennell's Dict. of Australas. Biog. 1892; Tasmanian Official Record, 1890; Fenton's History of Tasmania, 1884; Colonial Office Records; private information.]

C. A.