A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Smith, William Sidney

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SMITH. (Captain, 1837. f-p., 19; h-p., 15.)

William Sidney Smith is second and youngest son of the late Spencer Smith, Esq., at one time a Page of Honour to Queen Charlotte, afterwards an officer in the Guards, and for many years Ambassador at Constantinople and Munich; and nephew of the late Admiral Sir Wm. Sidney Smith, G.C.B.[1] His great-grandfather, Capt. Edw. Smith, R.N. was mortally wounded in command of the Burford in the attack on Laguira 19 Feb. 1743; and his grand-uncle. General Edw. Smith (who died at Bath 19 Jan. 1809), served with Wolfe at the reduction of Quebec, and became Colonel of the 43rd Regt., and Governor of Fort Charles, Jamaica. This officer entered the Navy, 21 Nov. 1813, as Midshipman, on board the Hibernia 120, commanded by his cousin, Capt. Chas. Thurlow Smith, as flag-ship to Sir W. S. Smith, on the Mediterranean station; where he removed, in March, 1814, to the San Josef 110, bearing the flag of Sir Rich. King. He served next, from July in the latter year until July, 1816, on the coast of North America, in the Channel, and at St. Helena, in the Havannah 36, Capt. Gawen Wm. Hamilton; he then joined the Heron 18, Capts. Geo. Bentham and Herbert Brace Powell, part of the force engaged at the ensuing bombardment of Algiers; and from Feb. 1817 until made Lieutenant, 25 April, 1823, into the Martin 20, Capt. Henry Eden, he was employed at Plymouth, at Newfoundland, and again in the Mediterranean, in the Superb 74, Capt. Chas. Ekins, Sir Francis Drake 46, flag-ship of Vice-Admiral Fras. Pickmore, Drake 10, Capt. Wm. Nugent Glascock, Egeria 26, Capts. Robt. Rowley and Henry Shiffner, Rochfort 80, bearing the flag of Sir Graham Moore, and Adventure surveying-vessel, Capt. Wm. Henry Smyth. His succeeding appointments were – 12 Sept. 1823, for about three years, to the Hind 20, Capt. Lord Henry John Spencer Churchill, also in the Mediterranean; and 19 Oct. 1828, to the Victor 18, Capt. Rich. Keane. He continued in the latter vessel on the Jamaica station until promoted to the rank of Commander, 22 July, 1830; and was lastly, from 24 Sept. 1832 until paid off, in June, 1836, employed in the North Sea and West Indies in the Larne 18, Towards the close of that period he was engaged in affording protection to the British mercantile interests on the coasts of New Grenada and Venezuela, then in a state of insurrection; and was present throughout the siege of Puerto Cahallo by General Paez. He attained his present rank 10 Jan. 1837.

Capt. Smith married, 10 July, 1832, at Dawlish, co. Devon, Lucy, daughter of J. Goss, Esq.


  1. Sir William Sidney Smith was born 21 June, 1764; and entered the Navy, in June, 1777, on board the Tortoise. Removing, in Jan. 1778, to the Unicorn 20, Capt. Ford, he assisted in that ship at the capture, after a close conflict of three hours, of the American frigate Raleigh of 32 guns. He served subsequently in the Arrogant, Capt. John Cleland, Sandwich 90, Capt. Wm. Young, and Cerberus frigate; and on 25 Sept. 1780 he was made Lieutenant by Admiral Rodney into the Alcide 74, Capt. C. Thompson. In the Sandwich he was present at the relief of Gibraltar, and in the engagement with Don Juan de Langara 16 Jan. 1780; and in the Alcide he fought in Rear-Admiral Graves’ action with M. du Barras off the Chesapeake 5 Sept. 1781, took part in the different skirmishes between Sir Sam, Hood and the Comte de Grasse off St. Christopher’s, and shared in the glories of 1 2 April, 1782. He was made Commander, 6 May, 1782, into the Fury sloop; and on 18 Oct. in the same year he was promoted to Post-rank in the Alcmène; which ship he brought home from the West Indies and paid off about Feb. 1784. In 1768, on the appearance of a rupture between Sweden and Russia, he entered into the service of the former power. So signal were the bravery and judgment he evinced in several encounters with the fleet of the Empress Catherine, that at the peace of Reichenback he was created by King Gustavus a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Sword, and, on his return to England, was invested by his own sovereign with the insignia thereof. On the breaking out ofthe French revolutionary war in 1793, Sir W. S. Smith, who had been latterly serving as a volunteer in the Turkish marine, made preparations for returning to England, and, for the purpose of obtaining a passage thither, proceeded (with a number of seamen whom he had collected at Smyrna, and had embarked on board a small vessel purchased at his own expense, and named the Swallow tender) to join the Victory 100, flag-ship of Lord Hood, then at Toulon. On the evacuation of that place by the British, he volunteered, notwithstanding that he was on half-pay, to burn the French fleet, magazines, &c. Although the task, with the slender means placed at his disposal, was considered nearly impracticable, the triumph of his genius and valour was shown in the destruction of 10 ships-of-the-line, several frigates in the inner harbour and arsenal, and the mast, great store, and hemp houses. On his arrival home with Lord Hood’s despatches relative to the evacuation of Toulon, he was appointed, early in 1794, to the Diamond 38. After distinguishing himself on a variety of occasions in that frigate, he had the misfortune, 18 April, 1796, to be driven in her boats with a captured privateer far up the river Seine by the strength of the current, and to be there taken prisoner. He was in consequence confined for two years in the Tower of the Temple at Paris – all proposals made to procure his exchange being rejected by the French Directory. At length, however, he contrived to effect his escape; and on 8 May, 1798, he arrived in London. In the course of the same year he was placed in command of the Tigre 74, and sent to the Mediterranean, charged with the duty of co-operating with the Ottoman fleets and armies in Egypt in his naval capacity and of acting in concert with the British minister at Constantinople in the civil character of Plenipotentiary. The subsequent exploits of the hero of Acre, his glorious defence of that aged fortress against Napoleon’s hosts, and his career of triumph in Egypt, are too well known to call for detail here; while history or tradition lasts, posteritv will not cease to feel the dazzling rays of that lustre which surrounds the name of Sir William Sidney Smith. A pension of 1000l. per annum marked the sense entertained by the country at large of his conduct at Acre. The Grand Seignior, too, presented him with a splendid sigrette and sable fur, and conferred on him the Order of the Crescent; and he was honoured with the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. On the final expulsion of the French from Egypt he was selected with Colonel Abercrombie to carry home the despatches. In 1802 Sir Sidney was chosen representative in Parliament for the city of Rochester. On the renewal of hostilities, in 1803, he hoisted a broad pendant on board the Antelope 50, as Commodore of a squadron employed on the coast of France; in the following year he was appointed a Colonel of Marines; and on 9 Nov. 1805 he was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral. Returning, in 1806, to the Mediterranean, with his flag on board the Pompée 74, he co-operated while there in the defence of Gaeta, reduced the island of Capri, and, having accompanied the expedition under Sir John Duckworth, passed the Dardanells, and had the sole credit of destroying a large Turkish squadron anchored under the guns of a redoubt at Point Pesquies. Towards the close of 1807 he was in command in the Hibernia 120, of a squadron off the Tagus when the Royal Family of Portugal took its flight to the Brazils; and he was afterwards, from Feb. 1808 until July, 1809, and from 1812 until 1814, employed as Commander-in-Chief, in the Foudroyant 80, on the coast of South America, and, as Second in command, in the Tremendous 74 and Hibernia 120, of the fleet in the Mediterranean. During his sojourn in South America he was created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword. On a subsequent occasion he was presented by the King of Sardinia with the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit. He was made a Vice-Admiral 31 July, 1810, a K.C.B. 2 Jan. 1815, a full Admiral 19 July, 1821, a Lieutenant-General of Marines 28 June. 1830, and a G.C.B. 20 July, 1838. He died an Admiral of the Red, at Paris, 26 May, 1840, and was buried at Père la Chaise. For an elaborate and highly interesting account of this great man we refer our readers to ‘The Life and Correspondence of Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, G.C.B.,’ recently published, in two volumes, by John Barrow, Esq., F.R.S.