Smith, Richard Baird (DNB00)
|←Smith, Richard (1590-1675)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53
Smith, Richard Baird
|Smith, Richard John→|
SMITH, RICHARD BAIRD (1818–1861), chief engineer at the siege of Delhi, born on 31 Dec. 1818, was son of Richard Smith (1794–1863), surgeon, royal navy, of Lasswade, Midlothian, where he was in good private practice, by his wife, Margaret Young (1800–1829). He was educated at the Lasswade school and at Dunse Academy, entered the military college of the East India Company at Addiscombe on 6 Feb. 1835, and passed out at the end of his term, obtaining a commission as second lieutenant in the Madras engineers on 9 Dec. 1836. He went to Chatham for the usual course of professional instruction on 2 Feb. 1837 and left on 4 Oct., having obtained six months' leave of absence to enable him to improve himself in civil engineering and geology. He arrived at Madras on 6 July 1838, and was posted to the corps of Madras sappers and miners, joining the headquarters in the Nilgiri Hills on the 13th of the same month. He was appointed acting adjutant to the corps on 20 Feb. 1839. On 12 Aug., on an increase to the establishment of the Bengal engineers, Baird Smith was transferred to that corps, and on 23 Sept. was appointed adjutant. A week later he became temporarily an assistant to Captain M. R. Fitzgerald of the Bengal engineers in the canal and iron bridge department of the public works.
On 6 Jan. 1840 Baird Smith was appointed temporarily a member of the arsenal committee. On 12 Aug. he was appointed assistant to the superintendent of the Doab canal, Sir Proby Thomas Cautley [q. v.] On 28 Sept. he went to Dakha to relieve Captain Hunter in the charge of the 6th company of the Bengal sappers and miners on the march from Silhat to Danapur. He was relieved of this charge on 21 Jan. 1841. He was promoted to be first lieutenant on 28 Aug. 1841. On 30 Oct. 1844 his meteorological observations, which were considered ‘highly credit- able,’ were mentioned in a despatch from the Bengal government. When Sir Proby Cautley commenced the Ganges canal works in 1843, Baird Smith was left in charge, under him, of the Jamna canal.
On the outbreak of the first Sikh war Baird Smith, with the other officers of the canal department, joined the army of the Satlaj. Although he made rapid marches, he arrived in camp a few days after the battle of Firozshah (22 Dec. 1845). He was attached to the command of Major-general Sir Harry George Wakelyn Smith [q. v.], whom on 18 Jan. 1846 he accompanied to Dharmkote, and thence towards Ludiana. He was with him at Badiwal and at the battle of Aliwal (28 Jan. 1846). In Sir Harry Smith's despatch of 30 Jan. he mentions that ‘Strachey and Baird Smith of the engineers greatly contributed to the completion of my plans and arrangements, and were ever ready to act in any capacity; they are two most promising and gallant officers’ (cf. London Gazette Extraordinary, 27 March 1846). Baird Smith returned with Sir Harry Smith to headquarters on the evening of 8 Feb., and was on the staff at the battle of Sobraon on 10 Feb. He received the medal for Aliwal with clasp for Sobraon. He was one of the selected officers who accompanied the secretary to the government of India on 20 Feb., when the Maharaja Dhuleep Singh was publicly conducted to his palace in the citadel of Lahore. On the termination of the campaign Baird Smith returned to his canal duties. In addition, on 12 Aug. 1848 he took over temporarily the duties of superintendent of botanical gardens in the North-West Provinces during the absence of Dr. Jameson.
The second Sikh war gave Baird further opportunities of distinction. On 26 Nov. 1848 he was attached to the army of the Punjab, which was engaged in repressing the new Sikh revolt. He had previously joined the headquarters of the army at Firozpur, and having been detached with Brigadier-general Colin Campbell to watch the movements of Sher Singh on the Chenab, was with Campbell at the action of Ramnagar on 22 Nov. He then joined the force of Sir Joseph Thackwell [q. v.], consisting of twenty-eight guns, four regiments of cavalry, and seven regiments of infantry, with baggage and trains. Under his direction the force crossed the Chenab at Wazirabad. The operation commenced at 6 P.M. on 1 Dec. and was completed by noon on the 2nd. Baird Smith took part in the action at Sadulapur on the 3rd, and marched with Thackwell to Helah, where Lord Gough with the main army arrived a fortnight later. He was present at the battles of Chilianwala (13 Jan. 1849) and of Gujrat (21 Feb.). He was honourably mentioned for his services in the despatches reporting the passage of the Chenab and the battles of Chilianwala and Gujrat.
The war being ended and the Punjab annexed, Baird Smith returned to irrigation work on 12 March 1849. On 10 Feb. 1850 he obtained furlough to Europe for three years. In October the court of directors commissioned him to examine in detail (with a view to reproduction in India) the canals of irrigation in Northern Italy. Baird Smith was promoted to be brevet-captain on 9 Dec. 1851. In January 1852 he finished his report on Italian irrigation, which was printed under his supervision in two volumes and published the same year (‘Italian Irrigation, being a Report on the Agricultural Canals of Piedmont and Lombardy,’ Edinburgh and London, 8vo, 2 vols. plates atlas fol. 1st edit. 1852). A second edition was issued in 1855. Presentation copies of Baird Smith's work were placed by the Sardinian government in the Royal Academy of Science at Turin, and the king of Sardinia offered Baird Smith the insignia of a knight of the order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus. The regulations of the British service did not admit of the acceptance of this honour, but the court of directors expressed to Smith their high satisfaction with the manner in which he had executed his commission, and permitted him to visit the irrigation works of the Madras presidency before returning to duty. He arrived in Madras on 1 Jan. 1853, and soon afterwards published a description of the irrigation works of that presidency (‘The Cauvery, Kistnah, and Godavery, being a Report on the Works constructed on these Rivers for the Irrigation of the Provinces of Tanjore, Guntoor, Masulipatam, and Rajahmundry, in the Presidency of Madras,’ 8vo, London, 1856).
On 10 March 1853 Baird Smith was appointed deputy superintendent of canals, North-West Provinces. He was promoted to be captain on 15 Feb. 1854, and the following day to be brevet major for service in the field. On 17 May he was appointed director of the Ganges canal and superintendent of canals in the North-West Provinces, in succession to Cautley, with the temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel while holding the appointment. Hence it was that at the outbreak of the mutiny Baird Smith was living at Rurki, the irrigation headquarters, some sixty miles from Mirat; and when Major Fraser, commanding the Bengal sappers and miners, was ordered, on 13 May 1857, to proceed with five hundred men by forced marches to Mirat, he took his men, at Baird Smith's suggestion, by the canal, and was thus enabled to reach Mirat on the 15th in a perfectly fresh condition. Unfortunately they mutinied the next day, and Fraser was killed. Baird Smith meanwhile was assisting in defensive measures for Rurki; the workshops were converted into a citadel, in which the women and children were accommodated, while the two companies of sappers and miners left at Rurki were placed in the Thomason College buildings. It was known that the Sirmur battalion under Major Reid was coming to Rurki from Dhera on its way to Mirat, and fearing that the Rurki sappers would imagine their arrival to be a hostile demonstration against them, Baird Smith sent word to Reid to march straight to the canal and embark in boats, which he had ready for him, without entering Rurki. Baird Smith's foresight and prompt action on this occasion were generally considered to have saved Rurki and the lives of the women and children there. Always hopeful, on 30 May Baird Smith wrote to a friend in England: ‘As to the empire, it will be all the stronger after this storm, and I have never had a moment's fear for it … and though we small fragments of the great machine may fall at our posts, there is that vitality in the English people that will bound stronger against misfortunes and build up the damaged fabric anew.’
In the last week of June Baird Smith was ordered to Delhi to take up the duties of chief engineer. He improvised a body of six hundred pioneers to follow him, and, being pressed to hasten his arrival so as to take part in the assault, started on the 27th, and reached Delhi at 3 A.M. on 3 July to find that the assault had been, as usual, postponed. He had already an intimate knowledge of the city, and he at once examined the means of attack. He found both artillery and ammunition and also the engineer party quite inadequate for a regular and successful siege, and urged ineffectually upon the general commanding, as had already been done by others, an immediate assault by storming and blowing in certain gates. Baird Smith considered that if the place had been assaulted at any time between 4 and 14 July it would have been carried. On the 5th Sir Henry William Barnard [q. v.], dying of cholera, was succeeded in the command by Major-general Reed, who was at the time ill. Reed would not take the risk of an assault, and before he resigned on 17 July two severe actions had been fought and had so weakened the British that the chances of a successful assault had been much diminished, if not altogether destroyed. Baird Smith, however, sedulously attended to the defence of the Ridge, strengthening the position by every possible means.
Since the beginning of the month a retrograde movement had been discussed, and when Brigadier-general (afterwards Sir) Archdale Wilson [q. v.] assumed command on 17 July it required all Baird Smith's energy and enthusiasm to sweep away Wilson's doubts, and to persuade him, as he wrote to him, ‘to hold on like grim death until the place is ours.’ At the same time Baird Smith assured him that as soon as a siege-train of sufficient magnitude and weight to silence the guns on the walls of Delhi could be brought up, success would be certain. On 12 Aug. Baird Smith, who was in bad health, was struck by the splinter of a shell in the ankle-joint, but he did not allow either the wound or his sickness to interfere with his duties as chief engineer.
The siege train arrived on 5 Sept., and in consultation with Captain (afterwards Sir) Alexander Taylor, his second in command, Baird Smith submitted a plan of attack which General Wilson, despite his divergence from Smith's views, had already directed him to prepare. It was supported by Colonel John Nicholson and Neville Chamberlain, the adjutant-general, and the assault was decided upon. Wilson recorded that he yielded to the judgment of his chief engineer. Thus a heavy responsibility fell upon Baird Smith.
The first siege battery for ten guns was commenced on the night of 7 Sept.; others rapidly followed, until fifty-six guns opened fire. The attacking force completed its work triumphantly. After a heavy bombardment practicable breaches were made, and the assault took place on 14 Sept. A lodgment was made, but at heavy loss, and the progress inside Delhi was so slow and difficult that Wilson thought it might be necessary to withdraw to the Ridge, but Baird Smith asserted ‘We must retain the ground we have won.’ He deprecated street fighting, and by his advice the open ground inside the Kashmir gate was secured, the college, magazine, and other strong forts gained, and progress gradually made, under cover, till the rear of the enemy's positions was reached, and the enemy compelled to evacuate them on the 20th, when headquarters were established in the palace.
Baird Smith had been ably seconded in all his exertions by Captain Alexander Taylor, and he expressed his obligations in no stinted terms. The picture, however, which is sometimes presented of Baird Smith disabled, and in the background, while his second in command did all the work, is incorrect. The error originated no doubt in Taylor's energy and zeal in carrying out Baird Smith's orders, and in Nicholson's deathbed exclamations that if he lived he would let the world know that Taylor took Delhi. Wilson's despatch stated that in ill-health, and while suffering from the effects of a painful wound, Baird Smith devoted himself with the greatest ability and assiduity to the conduct of the difficult and important operations of the siege, and that his thanks and acknowledgments are especially due to Baird Smith for having planned and successfully carried out, in the face of extreme and unusual difficulties, an attack almost without parallel in the annals of siege operations (Malleson, History of the Indian Mutiny). The rewards bestowed upon Baird Smith were in no way commensurate with his great services. He was promoted to be brevet lieutenant-colonel (a rank he already held temporarily) on 19 Jan. 1858, for service in the field; he was made a companion of the Bath military division on the 22nd of the same month; he received the medal and the thanks of the several commanders under whom he served, and of the government of India (London Gazette, 14 and 24 Nov. and 15 Dec. 1857, and 16 Jan. 1858).
It was not until 23 Sept. that Baird Smith gave up his command at Delhi, and went by slow marches to Rurki, where he arrived on the 29th, suffering from scurvy, the effect of exposure and work, aggravated by the state of his wound. He was laid up for some weeks, and then went to Mussuri to recruit his health. On his recovery he was appointed to the military charge of the Saharanpur and Mozaffarnagar districts, which he held along with the appointment of superintendent-general of irrigation.
On 1 Sept. 1858 Baird Smith was appointed mint master at Calcutta, in succession to Colonel John Thomas Smith [q. v.] On 25 Jan. 1859 he became a member of the senate of the university of Calcutta. On 26 April the same year he was appointed aide-de-camp to the queen, and promoted to be colonel in the army. From 5 Aug. to October 1859 Baird Smith officiated as secretary to the government of India in the public works department. The appointment of mint master afforded him leisure for other public services, which made his manifold powers of usefulness better known and appreciated. His crowning service was the survey of the great famine of 1861, the provision of relief, and the safeguards proposed to prevent such disaster in future. The labour and fatigue of long journeys, investigations, and reports, followed by the depressing wet season, renewed the illness from which he suffered after the capture of Delhi. He was carried on board the Candia at Calcutta, and died on 13 Dec. 1861. His body was landed at Madras and buried there with military honours. A memorial of him was placed in Calcutta Cathedral, the epitaph being written by Colonel Sir Henry Yule [q. v.] A memorial was also erected at Lasswade, Midlothian.
Baird Smith married, on 10 Jan. 1856, in the cathedral at Calcutta, Florence Elizabeth, second daughter of Thomas De Quincey [q. v.] His widow and two daughters, Florence May and Margaret Eleanor, survived him. Of his two brothers, John Young (d. 1887) was a deputy surgeon-general in the Bombay army, and Andrew Simpson, a colonel in the Indian army, saw a good deal of active service in Upper India.
Besides the works mentioned Baird Smith published: 1. ‘Agricultural Resources of the Punjab; being a Memorandum on the Application of the Waste Waters of the Punjab to Purposes of Irrigation,’ London, 8vo, 1849. He contributed ‘Report of some Experiments in Tamping Mines’ to the ‘Papers on various Professional Subjects connected with the Duties of the Corps of Engineers, Madras Presidency,’ edited by Colonel John Thomas Smith [q. v.], vol. i. 1839, and ‘Some Remarks on the Use of the Science of Geology’ to ‘The Professional Papers of the Corps of Royal Engineers,’ Corps Papers Series, 1849. Baird Smith left unpublished notes for a history of the siege of Delhi, which are embodied in ‘Richard Baird Smith, a Biographical Sketch, by Colonel H. M. Vibart,’ London, 1897, 8vo.[India Office Records; Despatches; London Gazette; private sources; Memoir in Vibart's Addiscombe, its Heroes and Men of Note; Kaye's Hist. of the Sepoy War in India; Malleson's Hist. of the Indian Mutiny; Medley's Year's Campaigning in India; An Officer's Narrative of the Siege of Delhi; Colonel Samuel Dewé White's Complete History of the Indian Mutiny; Bosworth Smith's Life of Lord Lawrence; Norman's Narrative of the Campaign in 1857 against the Mutineers at Delhi; article by Sir Henry Norman in the Fortnightly Magazine, April 1883; Letter from Baird Smith to Colonel Lefroy, R.A., published by the latter in the Times, 11 May 1858; Lord Roberts's Forty-one Years in India; Holmes's Hist. of the Mutiny; Thackeray's Two Indian Campaigns; Thackwell's Second Sikh War.]