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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/170

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home, but unable to get a passage. On his own responsibility he purchased a small vessel, shipped some forty of them on board her, and with her joined Lord Hood at Toulon. When the evacuation of the place became necessary, Smith volunteered to burn the French ships which had to be left behind—a duty which, in the haste and confusion incident to the time, was carried out so imperfectly that several of the ships reported as burnt and destroyed formed part of the French fleets during the next and following years. The distinction conferred on Smith, an officer on half-pay, by assigning to him a task of difficulty and distinction, added to his own habitual and excessive self-assertion, obtained for him much ill will in the fleet, and it was freely said that he talked too much to be of any great use. In the emergency, however, Hood was glad to have a spare man at hand, and sent him home with the despatches. He was at once appointed to the Diamond frigate, which, after being employed during 1794 in the North Sea, was through 1795–6 employed on the north coast of France, where, in command of a flotilla of small craft, Smith displayed unusual ability for partisan warfare, captured or destroyed great numbers of the enemy's armed vessels, and completely stopped the coasting trade.

On 18 April 1796 the ship was off Havre, and Smith learnt that a noted privateer lugger, which, by her superior speed and the ability of her commander, had done much damage to our trade, was then lying in the port. Smith determined to send in the boats to bring her out, and, finding at the last moment that he had no available lieutenant, went himself in command of the enterprise. The lugger was taken by surprise and captured, almost without resistance; but when she was in the river, with Smith on board, she was caught by the flood-tide and swept up some distance above the town, where, the wind having fallen very light, she still was at daybreak. She was then attacked by a very superior force of gunboats and other armed vessels and recaptured, with Smith and his officers and men. Smith and his companions were taken to Havre; but, though he was treated with proper courtesy, the proposals made by the English government for his exchange were bluntly rejected, and within a few days he was sent to Paris, where he was closely confined in the Temple. The French government and the French people were greatly exasperated against him. It was known that he had directed the burning of the ships at Toulon; it was understood that, at the time, he held no commission, and it was maintained that his piratical action put him out of the recognised category of prisoners of war. His eighteen months' cruise on the coast of France had won for him a dangerous notoriety; and it was even urged that at the moment of his capture, in a place where no English officer had any ostensible business, he was attempting to carry out some deep-laid and nefarious plot for the destruction of Havre (Barrow, i. 199–200). In consequence, though not harshly treated, he was retained a prisoner for two weary years. He then, with the assistance of a Colonel Phélypeaux, an officer of engineers in the old royal army of France, and aided, it was supposed, by a feminine intrigue, succeeded in effecting his escape, reached Havre, and was taken off by a fishing-boat to the Argo frigate, which landed him at Portsmouth a few days later. Sir William Hotham [q. v.], senior officer off Havre at the time, noted in his ‘Characters’ that he was one morning invited by the captain of the Argo to breakfast. ‘As he had designedly kept the circumstance [of Smith's arrival on board] from me, I was some minutes sitting next to him at breakfast without at all knowing who he was, he was so completely disguised, and was such a perfect Frenchman.’ Smith had, in fact, already deceived sharper eyes and more capable ears than Hotham's, unless, indeed, we accept Barrow's unsupported suggestion that the escape was connived at by the Directory (i. 230).

On arriving in London, on 8 May 1798, Smith was taken by Lord Spencer, the first lord of the admiralty, to wait on the king, and a few weeks later he was appointed to the Tigre of 80 guns, in which, in October, he was sent out to join Lord St. Vincent at Cadiz or Gibraltar, but with a commission from the foreign office appointing him joint plenipotentiary with his brother at Constantinople, and instructions to St. Vincent to send him to the Levant (Nicolas, iii. 214). The anomalous position led to what threatened to be a very serious misunderstanding; for St. Vincent, conceiving it to be Lord Spencer's intention that Smith should conduct the further operations on the coast of Egypt, did not formally put him under Nelson's orders, and Smith, who was not at all the man to minimise his authority, assumed the airs of an independent commander, constituted himself a commodore, and hoisted a broad pennant; all which gave—as it could not help doing—great offence to Nelson, on whose prerogative of command Smith was unduly trespassing (ib. iii. 213, 215). It has indeed been asserted that there was no such intention, either on the part of Smith or Spencer; but both of them had had