Smith, Harry George Wakelyn (DNB00)

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SMITH, Sir HARRY GEORGE WAKELYN, baronet (1787–1860), the victor at Aliwal and governor of the Cape of Good Hope, fifth of thirteen children, was born on 28 June 1787 at Whittlesea in the Isle of Ely, where his father, John Smith, was a surgeon in fair practice. His mother, Eleanor, was daughter of George Moore, minor canon of Peterborough. A sister, Mrs. Jane Alice Sargant, who kept a school at Hackney, and died 23 Feb. 1869, was the author of ‘Ringstead Abbey,’ a novel (1830); of a drama ‘Joan of Arc;’ and many religious and political tracts. A younger brother, Thomas Lawrence Smith (1792–1877), joined the 95th regiment on 3 March 1808; served with much distinction throughout the Peninsular war; took part in the battle of Waterloo; and, riding in front of his battalion, was the first British officer to enter Paris on 7 July 1815. From 1824 to 1855 he was barrack-master under the board of ordnance—until 1838 in Ireland and then at Chatham. From 1855 he was principal barrack-master at Aldershot, but in 1868, when he was made C.B., he retired from the army. Of his seven sons, six entered the army and one the navy. Another of Sir Harry's brothers, Charles Smith (1795–1854), served at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, where he was wounded, but retired early from the army.

Harry received a commission as ensign in the 95th foot, afterwards the rifle brigade, on 17 May 1805, and, being promoted to be lieutenant on 15 Aug. the same year, was quartered at Shorncliffe. In June 1806 he embarked for service under Sir Samuel Auchmuty [q. v.] in South America. In January 1807 a landing was effected at Maldonado, near the mouth of the La Plata river, after some fighting, and the suburbs of Monte Video were occupied. On the 20th the enemy made a sortie with six thousand men, when the riflemen suffered severely. The attack, after a breach had been made on 3 Feb., was led by the riflemen and the place captured. Smith also took part on 5 July in the disastrous attack on Buenos Ayres, and he returned with his regiment to England, arriving at Hythe in December 1807.

In the autumn of 1808 Smith embarked with some companies of the second battalion for the Peninsula, and landed at Coruña on 26 Oct. In December he was brigaded with the 43rd and 52nd foot under Brigadier-general Robert Craufurd [q. v.], and served throughout the retreat to and the battle of Coruña on 16 Jan. 1809. Embarking the same night, he arrived at Portsmouth on the 21st, and, after spending two months at Whittlesea, proceeded to Hythe.

In May 1809 Smith sailed with the 1st battalion under Lieutenant-colonel Beckwith for Lisbon, where they landed on 2 July, and joined Brigadier-general Robert Craufurd's brigade. Smith was seriously wounded at the action of the Coa, near Almeida, on 24 July 1810. In March 1811 he commanded a company in the pursuit of Masséna from the lines of Lisbon, and was engaged in the actions of Redinha on the 12th, of Condeixa on the 13th, and of Foz d'Aronce on 15 March. He was appointed to the staff as brigade-major to the 2nd light brigade of the light division in March 1811. In this capacity he was engaged in the action of Sabugal on 3 April, the battle of Fuentes d'Onoro on 5 May, and at the siege and at the storm of Ciudad Rodrigo on 19 Jan. 1812. After being promoted to be captain on 28 Feb. 1812, he was at the siege and at the storm of Badajos on 6 April. The day after the assault two handsome Spanish ladies, one the wife of a Spanish officer serving in a distant part of Spain, and the other her sister, a girl of fourteen years of age—Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon—claimed the protection of Smith and a brother officer, representing that they had fled to the camp from Badajos, where they had suffered violence from the infuriated soldiery, having had their earrings brutally torn from their ears. They were conveyed by Smith and his friend to a place of safety, and the younger became Smith's wife. She accompanied him to the end of the war. She was well known afterwards in English society.

Smith took part in the battle of Salamanca on 22 July 1812, the battle of Vittoria 21 June 1813, the passage of the Bidassoa 7 Oct., the attack on the heights of Vera and in the battle of Sarre, the attack upon the position of St. Jean de Luz and the heights of Arcangues in November, the battle of Orthez on 27 Feb. 1814, the combat at Tarbes on 20 March, and the battle of Toulouse on 10 April 1814.

On the termination of hostilities with France, Smith was appointed in May assistant adjutant-general to the force sent under Major-general Ross to carry on the war with America. He sailed from Bordeaux on board the fleet of Rear-admiral Pulteney Malcolm [q. v.], which carried the expedition, on 2 June. After calling at St. Michael's and at Bermuda, where additional troops joined them, they arrived in Chesapeake Bay early in August, landed at St. Benedict in the Patuxent river on the 19th, and marched on Washington. On the 24th Smith took part in the battle of Bladensburg and in the capture and burning of Washington. Before Ross was killed in a skirmish near Baltimore on 12 Sept. [see Ross, Robert], Smith was sent home with despatches in recog- nition of his services, and was promoted to be brevet major on 29 Sept. 1814. He left England again at once, with reinforcements under Sir Edward Michael Pakenham [q. v.], and joined the British land and sea forces before New Orleans on 25 Dec. Pakenham took the command ashore, and Smith resumed his duties as assistant adjutant-general. In the unsuccessful attack on New Orleans on 8 Jan. 1815 Pakenham was killed. Sir John Lambert assumed the command, appointed Smith his military secretary, and employed him to negotiate with the enemy. During the night a truce for two days was with difficulty effected by Smith, who passed and repassed frequently between the opposing forces.

Smith sailed in the fleet with the expedition, on 27 Jan., to attempt the capture of Mobile, one hundred miles to the eastward of New Orleans. Troops were landed to attack Fort Bowyer and on Ile Dauphine, on the opposite side of the entrance. On the completion of the siege approaches to Fort Bowyer, Smith was sent in with a summons to surrender. The commandant, having elicited from Smith that the place would certainly be taken if stormed, capitulated on 11 Feb. On the 14th hostilities ceased, news having arrived that preliminaries of peace between England and the United States had been settled at Ghent on 24 Dec. 1814. When intelligence of the ratification of the treaty arrived on 5 March, the force embarked, and Smith reached England in time to proceed to the Netherlands as assistant quartermaster-general to the sixth division of the army of the Duke of Wellington. Smith was at Waterloo, and accompanied the allied army to Paris. He was made C.B., military division, and promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel from 18 June 1815. He received the Waterloo medal, and the war medal with twelve clasps for the Peninsula. Subsequently he filled the post of major de place at Cambray, where the Duke of Wellington fixed his headquarters during the occupation of France by the allied troops. He returned to England in 1818, and served with the 2nd battalion of the rifle brigade in Shorncliffe, Gosport, Glasgow, Belfast, and Nova Scotia. On 19 Dec. 1826 he became unattached. On 23 Nov. 1826 Smith was appointed deputy quartermaster-general of the forces in Jamaica. On 24 July 1828 he was transferred, in the same capacity, to the Cape of Good Hope, under his old commander in the occupation of Paris, Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole [q. v.], then governor and commanding the forces in Cape Colony. On the outbreak of the Kaffir war, at the end of 1834, Sir Benjamin D'Urban [q. v.], who had succeeded Sir Lowry Cole, appointed Smith to be colonel on the staff and commandant of the regular and burgher forces, and second in command in the colony from 1 Jan. 1835. Smith at once rode from Cape Town to Graham's Town, accomplishing the seven hundred miles, over a rough and roadless country, in the extraordinarily short period of six days. The feat is still deservedly remembered in the colony as ‘an historical ride.’ In February he left Graham's Town with a force of eleven hundred men to clear the country between the Fish and the Keiskamma rivers. On 12 Feb. he fought a successful action with the Kaffirs. In March he prepared a central camp at Fort Willshire, where three thousand troops were assembled before advancing. He had another successful action with the Kaffirs on 7 April at T'Slambies Kop, and towards the end of the month carried on operations in Hintza's country across the Kei river. Hintza, the chief of the Amakosa Kaffirs, gave himself up as a hostage, but played false, and endeavouring to escape on 12 May, when riding with Smith on the march with his column, was pursued and overtaken by Smith, who dragged him from his saddle. Hintza, however, managed to get away, and was shot the same day in the bush by Lieutenant George Southey, whom he was about to assegai. On 28 May Smith took a column of six hundred men to clear the country near the sea and examine the mouth of the Buffalo river. On 4 June he made another expedition, scouring the country about the river Keiskamma, when the war practically came to an end.

The Kei river was made the new boundary, and the country between the Great Fish and the Kei rivers was annexed and secured by a series of forts. On Sir Benjamin D'Urban leaving the front for Graham's Town on 10 June, he appointed Smith to command the troops and to administer the new province of ‘Queen Adelaide,’ as he named it. On 17 Sept. a formal treaty with the Kaffir chiefs was concluded by Smith at Fort Willshire, and a commission, over which Smith presided, was appointed to carry it into effect. As chief commissioner Smith defined the boundaries of the land given to each tribe, and reduced the country to order. Unfortunately, the labour of the commission was speedily undone by Lord Glenelg, secretary of state for the colonies. In consequence of Lord Glenelg's action, Smith returned to Cape Town and resumed his duties as deputy quartermaster-general on 30 Sept. 1836. Although Glenelg wrote to Smith in September 1837 praising the latter's ‘zealous, humane, and enlightened administration,’ he considered the Kaffirs the aggrieved party and their invasion of the colony justifiable, and ordered the territory which had been annexed to be restored to them.

On 10 Jan. 1837 Smith was promoted to be brevet-colonel. On 6 March 1840 he was appointed adjutant-general of the queen's army in India. On 13 May 1842 he was brought into the 3rd foot, but was again unattached on 20 Aug. 1843. In December of this year he took part as adjutant-general in the Gwalior campaign under the commander-in-chief in India, Sir Hugh (afterwards Lord) Gough [q. v.], and for his distinguished services at the battle of Maharajpur on 29 Dec. was thanked in despatches and made a knight commander of the Bath.

Early in December 1845, on the Sikh invasion, Smith was with Gough at Ambala. He was given the command of a division with the honorary rank of major-general. He took a prominent part in the battle of Mudki on 18 Dec., and again distinguished himself at the battle of Firozshah on 21 and 22 Dec. He was mentioned in despatches for his ‘unceasing exertions’ on both occasions. On 18 Jan. 1846 Smith, with a brigade, reduced the fort of Dharmkote and captured the town, containing a large supply of grain. He then marched towards Ludiana, and, by means of some very delicate combinations, executed with great skill but severe loss, he effected communication with that place. On 28 Jan. he encountered the Sikhs in open battle at Aliwal, and, leading the final charge in person, he drove the enemy headlong over the difficult ford of a broad river (the Satlaj), taking over sixty pieces of ordnance (all that the enemy had in the field), and wresting from him his camp, baggage, and stores of ammunition and of grain. The Duke of Wellington, in the House of Lords (3 April 1846), said of Smith's conduct at Aliwal: ‘I never read an account of any affair in which an officer has shown himself more capable than this officer did of commanding troops in the field.’ Of Smith's despatch announcing his victory Thackeray wrote in his essay ‘On Military Snobs:’ ‘A noble deed was never told in nobler language.’

Smith rejoined headquarters on 8 Feb., and on the 10th commanded the first division of infantry at the crowning victory of the campaign—the battle of Sobraon. Smith was commended in despatches, both by the commander-in-chief and by the governor-general, Sir Henry (afterwards Viscount) Hardinge, who took part in the campaign. A treaty was reluctantly concluded by the Sikhs, by which the country between the Beas and the Satlaj rivers was annexed by the British, and on 20 Feb. Smith arrived with the army at Lahore, the Sikh capital.

Smith was promoted to be major-general in the East Indies on 1 April 1846. For his services in the Sikh war, and especially for his victory at Aliwal, he was created a baronet and given the grand cross of the Bath. He received the thanks of both houses of parliament, of the East India Company, and of the Duke of Wellington, commander-in-chief; the freedom of the cities of London and Glasgow was conferred on him, and on 9 Nov. of the same year he was promoted to be major-general. In 1847 he was granted the honorary degree of LL.D. at Cambridge, at the installation of the prince consort as chancellor (cf. Clark and Hughes, Life of Sedgwick).

On 18 Jan. 1847 Smith was gazetted colonel of the 47th foot, and on 16 April of the same year he was transferred to the rifle brigade as colonel-commandant of the 2nd battalion. He returned to England, and on 3 Sept. 1847 was appointed governor of the Cape of Good Hope and its dependencies, and promoted to be local lieutenant-general to command the troops there. On his arrival at the Cape on 1 Dec. 1847 Smith was most enthusiastically received. War with the Kaffirs, which had been going on for some time, had just ended in the capture of Sandili and other chiefs. Smith hastened to King William's Town, where he arrived on 23 Dec. He inspected the 1st battalion of his own regiment quartered there, and held a meeting of all the Kaffir chiefs, releasing Sandili and the others. He issued a proclamation extending the Cape Colony to the Orange river on the north, and, on the East, to the Keiskamma, from the sea to the junction of the Chumie river, and then along the Chumie to its source. He announced himself, as representative of the queen, the head chief of the Kaffirs. The chiefs made their submission, and Smith ordered the annexed territory to be called British Kaffraria. Smith then visited Natal, and succeeded in stopping an exodus of the Dutch, or Boers, due to the support of the natives by the British government.

Pretorius, the Boer leader, objected to a proclamation issued by Smith when in camp on the Tugela, which extended British sovereignty over the country between the Vaal and Orange rivers. Early in July 1848 Pretorius raised a commando and, establishing himself at Bloemfontein, expelled the British resident. Smith, who was at Capetown when the news arrived, acted with vigour, directed a column composed of two companies of the rifle brigade, two of the 45th, and two of the 91st regiments, with two squadrons of Cape mounted rifles, to march from Graham's Town to Colesberg; he himself met them near the Orange river on 21 Aug. 1848, and on the 29th of that month he arrived with the column at Boom Plaatz, where he found the Boers, one thousand strong, holding a formidable position and well covered by dry stone walls hastily thrown up. He attacked in the middle of the day and stormed the position. The Boers, who were better mounted and whose guns were heavier than Smith's, were completely beaten, and broke and fled. Many of the farmers crossed the Vaal with Pretorius and founded the Transvaal state (recognised in 1852); the remainder returned to their farms and waited the course of events. Smith continued his pursuit the following day towards Bloemfontein, where he arrived on 2 Sept. and reinstated the British resident. Families from the Cape moved into the Orange river country, and occupied the lands of those who had crossed the Vaal, and the territory eventually became (1854) the Orange Free State.

During 1848 and 1849 there was considerable excitement at Capetown, caused by the proposal of the home government to form a penal settlement there. After a very strong representation had been made by Smith as governor to Earl Grey on the subject, pointing out the ill feeling and opposition that had been raised, and intimating that he would resign if the proposal were forced upon the colony rather than carry it out, Earl Grey decided that the convicts who had already sailed in the Neptune, which was detained at Pernambuco, should be landed at the Cape, but that no more should be sent. On the arrival of the Neptune on 20 Sept. 1849, the tolling of bells and the sounding of the fire-alarm gong announced the unwelcome news. Shops were closed and business suspended. A committee was formed to prevent the landing of the convicts, and was supported by the community. It was resolved not to furnish the Neptune, nor indeed any one connected with government, with supplies. Smith acted with great forbearance. He frankly told the people that neither he nor the troops would go hungry so long as they had arms in their hands, but he did his best to induce the home government to send away the Neptune, and in the meantime he would not allow the convicts to be landed. His representations resulted in the arrival of orders in February 1850 to send the convicts in the Neptune to Tasmania.

On 31 May 1850 Smith inspected the 1st battalion of the rifle brigade prior to its departure for England, and issued a very complimentary and characteristic general order. During this year there were warnings of a Kaffir rising. Smith summoned a meeting of chiefs, and went to King William's Town. The head chief, Sandili, refused to attend, and was deposed on 30 Oct., when Smith returned to Capetown. Sandili's deposition had no effect, and Smith had scarcely reached Capetown when he received accounts which made him hasten back to the frontier with all available troops. On 24 Dec. a column of troops, moving to arrest the deposed chief, was attacked with some success near Keiskamma Hoek, and on Christmas day a horrible massacre of the Europeans of the villages of Juanasburg, Woburn, and Auckland in the Chumie valley took place. At the same time Smith was besieged at Fort Cox by nearly the whole force of the Kaffirs. On 29 Dec. Colonel Somerset failed in an attempt to relieve Smith, and on the 31st Smith sallied out with all his troops, and, making a dash through the enemy, succeeded in reaching King William's Town. A large body of Hottentots of the Kat river joining in the rebellion made it the more serious, particularly as they acted in small bodies, raiding the country in which the farms and villages were scattered at considerable distances. Smith could do little without reinforcements, but while awaiting them he called all the loyal inhabitants, both European and native, to arms, concentrating the women and children where they could be protected. He took the field in person on 18 March, and went to the relief of Fort Hare, which he accomplished by a clever movement, and then, with a rapidity which astonished the Kaffirs, marched on Forts Cox and White, defeating the enemy in a spirited engagement. Reinforcements began to arrive in May, and Smith organised columns to scour the country and attack some of the strongholds of the enemy in the mountains; but on 7 April 1852 Smith was superseded by Lieutenant-general the Hon. George Cathcart, the home government being dissatisfied with the slow progress made in crushing the rising. This action of the secretary of state for the colonies did not add to his popularity.

On 18 Nov. Smith was a standard-bearer at the funeral of the Duke of Wellington at St. Paul's. On 21 Jan. 1853 he was appointed to the command of the western military district, and made lieutenant-governor of Plymouth. He was promoted to be lieutenant-general on 20 June 1854, and on 29 Sept. of the same year was transferred to the command of the northern military district, with headquarters at Manchester, which he held until 30 June 1859. He died without issue on 12 Oct. 1860, at his residence in Eaton Place West, London. His widow died on 10 Oct. 1872. Both he and his wife were buried in the cemetery at Whittlesea, his native place. By way of memorial to him the chancel aisle of St. Mary's, Whittlesea, was restored in 1862, and a marble monument with his bust was placed there. The aisle is known as ‘Sir Harry's Chapel’ (cf. Sweeting, Churches of Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire). The sabre Smith wore from 1835 to 1857 is now the property of Queen Victoria. The South African towns Harrismith (Orange Free State), Ladysmith (Natal), Whittlesey, and Aliwal commemorate Smith's connection with Cape Colony.

Smith was not devoid of the self-assertion characteristic of men who fight their own way in the world and owe their successes solely to their own energy and ability; but he was popular with his colleagues and subordinates, who were fascinated by his daring energy and originality, and admired his rough and ready wit.

A crayon portrait by Isabey belongs to the Baroness Burdett-Coutts; another, in olis, belongs to Mrs. Waddelow of Whittlesea. Smith is a prominent figure in W. Taylor's picture ‘The Triumphal Reception of the Seikh Guns,’ engraved by F. C. and C. G. Lewis. A photograph of Smith was engraved.

[War Office Records; Obituary Notices in the Annual Register and Gent. Mag. 1860; Despatches; Alison's Hist. of Europe; Cope's Hist. of the Rifle Brigade; Napier's War in the Peninsula; Siborne's Hist. of the Waterloo Campaign; Alexander's Excursions in Western Africa and Narrative of a Campaign in Kaffirland in 1835–6; Hough's Political and Military Events in India; Trotter's Hist. of India, 1844–1862; Theal's Compendium of the Hist. and Geography of South Africa; King's Campaigning in Kaffirland, 1851–2; Ward's Five Years in Kaffirland, with Sketches of the late War, 1848.]

R. H. V.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.253254
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
43 ii 2f.e. Smith, Sir Harry G. W.: for (1788 read (1787
44 i 2  for 1788 read 28 June 1787 (baptised Henry, though always called Harry)
4f.e.  before proceeded insert after spending two months at Whittlesea
ii 30  omit within two years
31  after wife. insert She accompanied him to the end of the war.
13f.e.  for Malcombe read Pulteney Malcombe [q. v.]
4f.e.  for When read Before
45 i 10-11  omit and fell into Smith's arms
40-41  for was left commandant of Cambray when read with
15f.e.  before He returned insert Subsequently he filled the post of ‘major de place’ at Cambray, where the duke of Wellington fixed his headquarters during the occupation of France by the allied troops.
13f.e.  for Ireland read Shorncliffe, Gosport, Glasgow, Belfast, and Nova Scotia
55-56  for Peninsula read occupation of Paris
ii 52-54  omit Having completed this work ... 13 Sept. 1836
5f.e.  after colonies insert in consequence of Lord Glenelg's attitude Smith returned to Cape Town and resumed his duties as deputy-quartermaster-general on 30 Sept. 1836
46 i 5f.e.  for Sir Arthur Hardinge read Sir Henry (afterwards Viscount) Hardinge
47 ii 17  for Johannesburg read Juanasburg
10f.e.  for pall-bearer read standard-bearer
48 i 26  before A crayon portrait insert One oil portrait is at Government House, Cape Town, and another belongs to the Rifle Brigade. Four other oil portraits are in private hands.
27-28  omit another, in oils . . . Whittlesea
48 i 34 : before War Office Records insert Sir Harry Smith's Autobiography, 1901;