Smith, Samuel (DNB12)

SMITH, SAMUEL (1836–1906), politician and philanthropist, born on 11 Jan. 1836 at Roberton, in the parish of Borgue, Kirkcudbrightshire, was eldest of the seven children of James Smith, a large farmer of Borgue, who also farmed land of his own in South Carleton and other places. His grand-father and an uncle, both named Samuel Smith, were each parish minister of Borgue. The former (d. 1816) wrote 'A General View of the Agriculture of Galloway' (1806); the latter seceded at the disruption of the Scottish church in 1843.

Smith, after being educated at the Borgue parish school and at Kirkcudbright, entered Edinburgh University before he was sixteen, and spent three sessions there. In spite of his literary tastes, he was apprenticed to a cotton-broker in Liverpool in 1853. There he spent his leisure in study, frequenting the Liverpool literary societies and speaking at the Philomathic Society, of which he became president, and forming close friendships with (Sir) Donald Currie [q. v. Suppl. II], W. B. Barbour, and William Sproston Caine [q. v. Suppl. II]. In 1857 Smith became manager of the cotton saleroom and began to write with authority on the cotton market in the 'Liverpool Daily Post,' under the signature 'Mercator' (cf. Thomas Ellison, The Cotton Trade of Great Britain). In 1860 he visited New Orleans and the cotton-growing districts of North America, of which he published a description. On his return, having made a tour of the leading Lancashire manufacturing centres, he started in business as a cotton-broker in Chapel Street, Liverpool, and he established the first monthly cotton circular, conducting it till his entrance into parliament. In the winter of 1862-3 he went to India on behalf of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to test the cotton-growing possibilities of the country, in view of the depletion of the English market owing to the American civil war. In a communication to the 'Times of India' (embodied in a pamphlet published in England) Smith questioned India's fitness to grow cotton. The visit generated in him a lifelong interest in India and its people. He travelled back slowly by way of the Levant, Constantinople, and the Danube, and greatly improved his business prospects. Toward the close of his career he recommended the growing of cotton in British Africa, Egypt, the Soudan, and Scinde. On 1 Jan. 1864 the firm of Smith, Edwards & Co., cotton-brokers, was launched, and three months later Samuel Smith also became head of the Liverpool branch of James Finlay & Co. of Glasgow and Bombay. Cotton-spinning and manufacturing were subsequently added to his activities by the purchase of Millbrook mills, Stalybridge.

From an early period Smith was active as a philanthropist. At Liverpool he interested himself in efforts for prevention of cruelty to children, for establishing scholarships to connect primary and secondary schools (1874), and for improving public houses; he entered the town council in 1879 as an ardent temperance reformer. A zealous presbyterian of liberal views, he joined in inviting Messrs. Moody and Sankey to Liverpool in 1875; presided at a meeting of 4000 held at Hengler's Circus in aid of 'General' Booth's 'Darkest England' scheme in 1890; and received 14,000 American delegates of the Christian Endeavour Society in 1897. In 1876 Smith became president of the Liverpool chamber of commerce.

At a bye-election at Liverpool in Dec. 1882, caused by Lord Sandon's succession to his father's earldom of Harrowby, Smith was elected in the liberal interest by a majority of 309, winning a seat for his party in what was regarded as a conservative stronghold. In 1885 he was defeated in the Abercromby division of Liverpool, but in March 1886 was returned for Fhntshire during his absence in India. That seat he retained till 1905. Gladstone's residence, Hawarden Castle, was in his constituency, and Smith was often there, exchanging views with the statesman. Smith, who seconded the address to the crown at the opening of the session of 1884, constantly spoke in the House of Commons on moral, social, religious, currency, and Indian questions. Critics likened him to Jeremiah, but he was sincere and well-informed. He pressed untiringly for compulsory evening continuation schools for children leaving school at thirteen, and for the abrogation of payment by results and of overstrain in elementary schools. He zealously promoted the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, and by his efforts made legal the evidence of young children. The Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act of 1889 embodied reforms which he had advocated in Liverpool. He lamented that his attacks on the opium trade between India and China were not very effectual.

Gradually adopting bimetallic views, on which he gave addresses in many parts of the country, he several times raised the question in parliament. On 18 April 1890 he initiated a parliamentary debate in which Mr. Balfour, Sir Edward Clarke, and Sir Richard Webster supported, and Sir W. Harcourt and Mr. W. H. Smith opposed his resolution (which was lost by 183 to 87). Smith contributed 'Three Letters on the Silver Question' to H. Cernuschi's 'Nomisma' (1877), and published 'The Bimetallic Question' (1887).

Smith revisited India in 1886, and his subsequent articles in the 'Contemporary Review' (reprinted as 'India Revisited; the Social and Political Problem,' 1886) were answered by Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff [q. v. Suppl. II], governor of Madras. Thenceforth the grievances of India were a main theme of his in the House of Commons. On 30 April 1889 Smith carried by a majority of ten against the government a motion condemning the liquor policy of the Indian government. The result was a reduction of licences in India. In 1894 Smith's motion for a parliamentary inquiry into the condition of the Indian people was followed by a royal commission which recommended a reduction by 250,000l. of Indian liabilities. He encouraged the native claim to a larger share in the government. Other native races found in Smith a warm champion. In 1892–3 he called attention to the abuses of the Kanaka labour traffic from the New Hebrides to Queensland, and in March 1896 the motion of sympathy with the Armenians in consequence of the recent massacres was carried unanimously.

Religious questions chiefly occupied his closing years. He urged in parliament disestablishment both in Wales and England, and denounced ritualistic offences with sustained vehemence, publishing pamphlets on the subject which reached a circulation of a million. In the summer of 1901 his health failed, but he retained his seat in parliament till the end of 1905, when he was named a privy councillor on his retirement.

Smith, who was again in India in 1904-5, returned thither with Mr. William Jones, M.P., at the end of 1906 in apparently improved health, arriving on 25 Dec.; but after attending some sittings of the Indian National Congress he died rather suddenly on 28 Dec. at Calcutta. He was buried in the Scottish cemetery there. He bequeathed upwards of 50,000l. to various Liverpool institutions.

Smith married on 20 July 1864 Melville (d. 1893), daughter of the Rev. John Christison, D.D., of Biggar, Lanarkshire. In memory of a son, James Gordon Smith (1870–1900), who predeceased him, the Gordon Smith Institute for Seamen, in Paradise Street, Liverpool, was founded in 1900 and carried on by his father.

Smith was constantly engaged in controversy in the press. He met Henry George in debate at the National Liberal Club, each making four speeches (printed in the appendix to his 'My Life Work,' 1902). His many publications include, besides those mentioned, 'The Credibility of the Christian Religion' (1872; last edit. 1889) and 'India and its Problems: Letters written from India in 1904–5' (1905). His 'Cotton Trade of India' (1863) was translated into French by F. Emion.

[Smith's My Life Work, 1902 (with portrait), contains, besides the narrative, copious extracts from his letters written in India and America and excerpts from speeches; The Times, and Daily News, 31 Dec. 1906; Liverpool Daily Post, 31 Dec. 1906 and 1 Jan. 1907 (with portrait); Hansard's Parl. Debates; Lucy's Diary of the Unionist Parlt. 1901, pp. 262-4 ; John Newton's W. S. Calne, 1907; Who's Who, 1906; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. Le G. N.