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SIR WILLIAM SIDNEY SMITH (1764-1840)

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Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 273 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SIR WILLIAM SIDNEY SMITH (1764-1840), English admiral, was the second son of Captain John Smith of the Guards, and was born at Westminster on the 21st of July 1764. He entered the navy, according to his own account, " at the beginning of the American War," being only about eleven years of age. For his bravery under Rodney in the action near Cape St Vincent in January 1780, he was on the 25th of September appointed lieutenant of the " Alcide," 74. After serving in the actions against the French fought by Graves off Chesapeake in 1781 and by Rodney at the Leeward Islands in 1782, he was on the 6th of May of the latter year promoted to be commander of the " Fury " sloop, and on the 18th of October advanced to the rank of captain. His ship having been paid off in the beginning of 1784, he spent two years in France and afterwards visited Spain. From 1790 to 1792 he advised the king of Sweden in the war with Russia, receiving for his services the honour of knighthood. After his re-turn to England he was sent on a mission to Constantinople, and having joined Lord Hood at Toulon from Smyrna in December 1793, he, though only on half pay, was actively employed in the attempt to burn the enemy's ships and arsenal. In the following years he was engaged in the Channel hunting French privateers; but, having with the boats of his squadron boarded in Havre-de-Grace harbour a lugger which was driven by the tide above the French forts, he was on the 19th of April 1796 compelled to surrender and sent a prisoner to Paris. By means of forged orders for his removal to another prison he made his escape from the Temple, and, crossing the Channel in a small skiff picked up at Havre, arrived in London on the 8th of May 1798. In October he was appointed to the command of the " Tigre," 8o, and was sent to the Mediterranean. By a very curious decision of the government he was joined in commission with his brother Spencer Smith, minister at Constantinople. Learning of Bonaparte's approach to St Jean d'Acre, he hastened to its relief, and on the 16th of March 1799 captured the enemy's flotilla, after which he successfully defended the town, compelling Napoleon on the loth of May to raise the siege and retreat in disorder, leaving all his artillery behind. For this brilliant exploit he received the special thanks of the Houses of Parliament and was awarded an annuity of r000. On the 24th of January 1800 he took upon himself to make the convention of El Arish, by which the French were to have been allowed to evacuate Egypt. His action was disallowed by his superiors, who insisted that the French must surrender. Subsequently he co-operated with Abercromby, under whom he commanded the naval brigade at the battle of Aboukir, where he was wounded. On his return to England he was in 1802 elected M.P. for the city of Rochester. In March 1803 he was commissioned to watch the preparations of the French for an invasion of England. Having on the 9th of November 18o5 been promoted to be rear-admiral of the blue, he was in the following January despatched on secret service for the protection of Sicily and Naples. His conduct was as usual brilliant, but, also as usual, his vanity and self-assertion led him into quarrels with the military officers. He relieved Gaeta and captured Capri, but on the 25th of January 1807 received orders to proceed to Malta, first president of the college from .1873 to September 1910 was whence he joined Sir John Duckworth, who was sent to act against the Turks. On the 7th of February, with the rear division of the squadron, he destroyed the Turkish fleet and spiked the batteries off Abydos. In November following he was sent to blockade the Tagus, and was mainly instrumental in embarking the Portuguese prince regent and royal family for Rio de Janeiro, after which he was sent as commander-in-chief to the coast of S. America in February 18o8. At Rio• he was entangled in another quarrel with the British minister, Lord Strangford, and was summarily recalled in 1809. On the 31st of July 1810 he was made vice-admiral of the blue, and on the 18th of July 1812 was despatched as second in command under Sir Edward Pellew (afterwards Viscount Exmouth) to the Mediterranean, but the expedition was uneventful. His term of active service practically closed in 1814. He was made K.C.B. in 1815 and in 1821 admiral. The later years of his life were spent at Paris, where he died on the 26th of May 1840. His restless self-assertion brought him into collision with many of his, contemporaries, including Nelson and Sir John Moore. Colonel Bunbury's Narrative of some Passages in the Great War with France contains a most amusing account of his theatrical vanity. But though by nature a boaster he was both daring and ingenious. See Barrow, Life of Admiral Sir W. S. Smith (2 vols., 1848).
End of Article: SIR WILLIAM SIDNEY SMITH (1764-1840)
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