Open main menu

Smith, Lionel (DNB00)


SMITH, Sir LIONEL (1778–1842), lieutenant-general, born on 9 Oct. 1778, was the younger son of Benjamin Smith of Liss in Hampshire, a West India merchant (d. 1806), by his wife Charlotte Smith [q. v.], the poetess. In March 1795 Lionel was appointed, without purchase, to an ensigncy in the 24th regiment of foot, then in Canada; in October of the same year he obtained his lieutenancy. While in America he attracted the notice of the Duke of Kent, who materially assisted his advancement. After being quartered in Canada for some time, his regiment was removed to Halifax in Nova Scotia, and thence he was ordered to cross to the west coast of Africa to quell an insurrection in Sierra Leone. In May 1801 he obtained his company in the 16th regiment, and in April 1802 was promoted to the rank of major. In the same year he proceeded to the West Indies, and was present at the taking of Surinam, Essequibo, Berbice, and other foreign possessions. He became lieutenant-colonel in June 1805, in the 18th regiment, but about 1807 was transferred to the command of the 65th, then at Bombay. In 1809 and 1810 he conducted expeditions against the pirates who infested the Persian Gulf, and received for his services the thanks of the imaum of Muscat. In 1810 he was present with his regiment at the reduction of Mauritius, and obtained his full colonelcy in June 1813. On 17 Nov. 1817 he commanded the fourth division of the army of the Deccan at the capture of Poonah, and in the following year he was severely wounded in the cavalry action at Ashta. On 12 Aug. 1819 he was advanced to the rank of major-general, but, after serving for some time on the Bombay staff, he left India, and on 9 April 1832 was nominated colonel of the 96th foot. On 3 Dec. of the same year he was created K.C.B., and in October 1834 was appointed colonel of the 74th regiment.

From 27 April 1833 he was stationed at Barbados as governor and commander-in-chief of the Windward and Leeward Islands. The recent enactment of the Emancipation Act had produced much bitter feeling among the Europeans, and Sir Lionel incurred much unpopularity by his sympathy with the coloured population. His attitude towards the House of Assembly was unconciliatory, and he was charged with unconstitutional procedure. In 1836 he succeeded the Marquis of Sligo as captain-general and commander-in-chief of Jamaica, and in the same year was appointed a knight grand cross of the order of the Guelphs of Hanover. In Jamaica he found even greater difficulties than in Barbados. The expiration of the term of apprenticeship and the complete emancipation of the slaves in 1838 were followed by an attempt on the part of the planters to keep the negroes in subjection by charging them heavy rents for their huts, by perverting the vagrancy laws, and by ejecting offenders from their estates. By these means they drove large numbers of labourers to tracts of virgin land, where they could live in independence. Sir Lionel endeavoured to restrain these abuses, but his measures only hastened a crisis, and earned for him the hatred of the proprietors and managers of estates. On the publication of an imperial act ‘for the better government of prisons in the West Indies,’ framed with a view to preventing the ill-treatment of negroes, the House of Assembly declared its rights infringed and refused to legislate. Lord Melbourne was defeated in the British parliament in an attempt to pass an act to suspend the constitution of Jamaica, and for a time matters were at a deadlock. In 1839 a modified bill was carried by the local legislature, and as Smith was hopelessly unpopular, Sir Charles Metcalfe [q. v.] was selected to succeed him as governor.

While governor, Sir Lionel was appointed a lieutenant-general in January 1837, and in February he succeeded George Cooke as colonel of the 40th regiment. At the coronation of Queen Victoria he was included in the list of baronets, and in 1840 he succeeded Sir William Nicolay as governor of the Mauritius. In 1841 he was created G.C.B., and he died at Mauritius on 3 Jan. 1842. He was twice married. By his first wife, Ellen Marianne (d. 1814), daughter of Thomas Galway of Kilkerry, co. Kerry, he had two daughters, Ellen Maria and Mary Anne. On 20 Nov. 1819 he married Isabella Curwen, youngest daughter of Eldred Curwen Pottinger of Mount Pottinger, co. Down, and sister of Sir Henry Pottinger [q. v.] She died three days after her husband, leaving four children, Lionel Eldred, Augusta, Isabella, and Charlotte.

[Gent. Mag. 1842, ii. 93–4; Annual Register, 1842, pp. 242–3; Dodd's Annual Biogr. for 1842, pp. 4–8; Burr's Appeal to the Marquis of Hastings, 1819; Asiatic Annual Register, vol. xi. Chron. p. 161, vol. xii. Chron. p. 122; Asiatic Monthly Journal, ii. 341; Mill's Hist. of India, ed. Wilson, vii. 315–18, viii. 309–11; Paton's Records of the Twenty-fourth Regiment, p. 332; Schomburgk's Hist. of Barbados, 1848, pp. 450–75; Gardner's Hist. of Jamaica, 1873, pp. 394–404.]

E. I. C.