Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/8

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Smith
Smith
2

But upon his old friend Sir John Trenchard [q. v.] becoming secretary of state (for the northern department) in 1693, Smith's activity against suspects and Jacobites was redoubled. On preliminary evidence of the slenderest kind he travelled down to Lancashire with two informers, Taafe and Lunt (for whom he had appeared as bail on a charge of bigamy), two men of execrable character. A few compromising letters and some arms behind a false fireplace were discovered, and five Lancashire gentlemen were arrested; but Ferguson and other pamphleteers alluded to the plot as a ridiculous sham; Taafe changed sides at the last moment, and at the trial at Manchester in October 1694 the prisoners were acquitted. Smith was charged by the hostile party with having ‘fashioned all the depositions’ of the witnesses for the prosecution, and by his own side with having thoroughly mismanaged the affair. Large sums of money passed through his hands, and he was widely suspected of malversation. In February 1696 he was closely questioned by the House of Commons as to his accounts. Failing to deliver his accounts to the commissioners appointed to examine them by 18 Feb., he was ordered to be taken into custody, and on 25 July 1696 he was dismissed from his employments. Four months later he attended at the bar of the house and pleaded illness. He was given an extension of date until 16 Jan. 1697. But he failed to put in an appearance, and thenceforth drops into obscurity, or more probably died, early in 1697.

[Luttrell's Brief Hist. Relation, vols. i. ii. iii. and iv. passim; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time, ii. 474; Roger North's Autobiogr. ed. Jessopp; Kingston's True Hist. of several Designs and Conspiracies, 1698; Jacobite Trials in Manchester, 1694, ed. Beamont (Chetham Soc.), pp. 50, 94 sq.; Lord Kenyon's Papers (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. iv. passim, 14th Rep. App. vi. 85–7); Macaulay's Hist. of England; Ranke's Hist. of England, vi. 529; Sitwell's First Whig, pp. 49, 84, 155, 197, 200. The indexes to Luttrell and to the three works last mentioned make the curious mistake of confusing the disreputable and insolvent Aaron Smith with John Smith (1655–1723) [q. v.], who became chancellor of the exchequer in 1699, and was subsequently first speaker of the British House of Commons.]

T. S.


SMITH, AARON (fl. 1823), seaman, was on 19 Dec. 1823 tried at the Old Bailey on various charges of piracy in the West Indies, and especially of having plundered the ship Victoria of coffee, dyewood, and other articles to the value of 30,000l., and also of having plundered the ship Industry. The alleged facts were proved by competent witnesses; Smith's defence was that he was an unwilling agent. The story which he related in court was that, having been for about two years in the West Indies, he shipped as first mate on board the Zephyr brig; which sailed from Kingston for England in the end of June 1822. The master, an ignorant and obstinate man, had been warned against the leeward passage, which, however, he preferred as the shortest. The warning was justified, and the brig was taken possession of by a schooner manned by Spaniards and half-breeds, who plundered her of whatever seemed valuable, forced the master by threats of torture to deliver up what money he had on board, and then let them go, detaining Smith to act as navigator and interpreter, in which capacity he was compelled, by threats and actual torture, to act at the plundering of the Victoria, the Industry, and other vessels. After several months' detention he succeeded in escaping, but at Havana was recognised as one of the pirates, arrested, and thrown into prison; and as he refused or was unable to bribe the Spanish magistrates, who offered to release him on payment of one hundred doubloons, he was handed over to Sir Charles Rowley [q. v.], the English commander-in-chief at Jamaica, and was brought to England in irons on board the Sybille. His tale, in part substantiated by witnesses, carried conviction to the judge, who summed up strongly in his favour; and the jury, without hesitation, returned a verdict of ‘Not guilty.’ He was described as ‘a very genteel-looking young man, apparently about thirty years old.’ ‘The Atrocities of the Pirates: a Faithful Narrative of [Smith's] Unparalleled Sufferings during his Captivity in Cuba’ (1824), was apparently a much embellished record by a sympathising friend.

During the following years Smith continued at sea, and had command of a vessel in the China trade. In 1834 he retired and lived in London, doing, apparently, a little business as an underwriter, and also, it was said, as a bill discounter. On 31 Jan. 1850 he attended a meeting at the London Tavern, called to petition parliament to do away with ‘head money’ for Borneo pirates, i.e. money paid by the government in lieu of prize-money for pirates officially sworn to have been killed. It was said that the pirates had no existence, and that harmless fishermen or people picked up on shore were killed for the head money. Smith—described as a burly seafaring man—stood up to contradict this, and said the pirates were very real; he himself had been attacked by them and his ship