Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, Thomas Assheton

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SMITH, THOMAS ASSHETON (1776–1858), sportsman, son of Thomas Assheton Smith (1752–1828), was born in Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square, London, on 2 Aug. 1776 [for ancestry see Smith, John, (1655–1723)]. He was educated at Eton (1783–94), and while there fought Jack Musters (d. 1839), afterwards a well-known sportsman. Smith was in residence at Christ Church, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner, from February 1795 until 1798, but did not graduate. He sat in parliament, in the conservative interest, for Andover, 1821–31, and for Carnarvonshire, 1832–41. His life was almost entirely devoted to sport. In youth he was an active cricketer. While at Eton in 1793 he was in the school cricket eleven, and at Oxford he played with the Bullingdon Club. He first appeared at Lord's on 11 July 1796, in the match Bullingdon Club versus Marylebone Club; he made fifty-two in his first innings and fifty-nine in his second. He was frequently seen at Lord's up to 1821. Still more conspicuous was he in the hunting field. From 1806 to 1816 he was the master of the Quorn hounds in Leicestershire, and from 1816 to 1824 of the Burton hounds in Lincolnshire. His first pack in Hampshire was introduced at Penton, near Andover, in 1826, and consisted of a selection from Sir Richard Sutton's and other kennels. In 1834 he purchased a large portion of Sir Thomas Burghley's hounds, and in 1842 he added the Duke of Grafton's entire pack. He usually had at this time about one hundred couple of hounds in his kennel. He hunted his own hounds four days in the week, and sometimes had two packs out at the same time. He maintained this large establishment entirely at his own expense, and conducted all his arrangements with great judgment. After the death of his father, he in 1830 removed his stable and kennels to Tedworth, where he extended a lavish hospitality to his fox-hunting neighbours. In 1832, in consequence of the Reform riots, he raised a corps of yeomanry cavalry at his own expense; he was the captain, and the troopers were chiefly his own tenants and small farmers.

On 20 March 1840 he accepted an invitation to take his hounds to Rolleston, Henry Greene's seat in Leicestershire, where he was received by an assembly of two thousand horsemen and acclaimed the first fox-hunter of the day (Sporting Mag. June 1840, pp. 130–2). In 1845 he built a glass conservatory at Tedworth, 315 feet long and 40 feet wide, in which he took horse exercise in his later years. He continued in the hunting field up to his eightieth year.

Besides his residence at Tedworth, he owned an estate in Carnarvonshire with a house called Vaenol. There yachting occupied much of his attention. He was for many years, until 1830, a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and during that period five sailing yachts were built for him. In 1830 he quarrelled with the club committee on their refusal to admit steam yachts, and commissioned Robert Napier (1791–1876) [q. v.] of Glasgow to build for him a steam yacht, christened the Menai, 400 tons and 120 horse-power. This was the first of eight steam yachts built for him between 1830 and 1851. In 1840 the Fire-king was constructed for him according to his own model, with long and very fine hollow water-lines. He claimed to have been the originator of this wave-line construction, but to John Scott Russell [q. v.] belongs some of the credit of the invention.

Among other improvements upon his Welsh estate, Smith erected the Victoria Hotel at Llanberis, enlarged and improved Port Dinorwic, worked the Victoria slate quarries, and constructed the Padarn railway. He died at Vaenol, Carnarvonshire, on 9 Sept. 1858, and was buried at Tedworth. He married, on 29 Oct. 1827, Matilda, second daughter of William Webber of Binfield Lodge, Berkshire, but had no issue. His widow died at Compton-Basset, near Devizes, on 18 May 1859.

[Eardley-Wilmot's Reminiscences of T. A. Smith, 1862, with portrait; Nimrod's Hunting Reminiscences, 1843, pp. 294–303; Delmé Radcliffe's The Noble Science, 1893, pp. 21, 329; J. N. Fitt's Coverside Sketches, 1878, passim; Cecil's Records of the Chase, 1877, pp. 107, 249–51; Illustrated London News, 1856, xxix. 571; Gent. Mag. 1858, ii. 532; Lillywhite's Cricket Scores, 1862, i. 203; Practical Mag. 1873, ii. 280; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1894.]

G. C. B.