Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smythe, Sidney Stafford

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624217Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53 — Smythe, Sidney Stafford1898George Fisher Russell Barker

SMYTHE, Sir SIDNEY STAFFORD (1705–1778), judge, born in London in 1705, was descended from Sir Thomas Smith or Smythe (1558?–1625) [q. v.] Waller's ‘Sacharissa’ was his great-grandmother [see Spencer, Dorothea]. His father, Henry Smythe of Old Bounds in the parish of Bidborough, Kent, died in 1706, aged 29. His mother, Elizabeth, the daughter of Dr. John Lloyd, canon of Windsor, subsequently became the wife of William Hunt, and died on 6 Oct. 1754. He was admitted to St. John's College, Cambridge, as a fellow-commoner on 1 July 1721, and graduated B.A. in 1724. Having entered the Inner Temple on 5 June 1724, he was called to the bar in February 1728, and joined the home circuit. In 1740 he was appointed steward of the court of the king's palace at Westminster, in the place of Sir Thomas Abney, and in Trinity term 1747 he was made a king's counsel, and was called to the bench of the Inner Temple. At the general election in the summer of 1747 he was returned to the House of Commons for the borough of East Grinstead. He sat in the house for only three sessions, and there is no record of any speech which he made there. In January 1749 he took part in the prosecution of the smugglers who were tried for murder before a special commission at Chichester (Howell, State Trials, xviii. 1069–1116). He was appointed a baron of the exchequer in the room of Charles Clarke (d. 1750) [q. v.], and, having received the order of the coif on 23 June 1750, took his seat on the bench accordingly. On 7 Nov. following he received the honour of knighthood. With Heneage Legge [q. v.] he tried Mary Blandy [q. v.] at the Oxford assizes in March 1752 (ib. xviii. 1117–94). While a puisne baron he was twice appointed a commissioner of the great seal. On the first occasion, from 19 Nov. 1756 to 20 June 1757, he was joined in the commission with Sir John Willes and Sir John Eardley-Wilmot. On the second occasion, from 21 Jan. 1770 to 23 Jan. 1771, he was chief commissioner, his colleagues being the Hon. Henry Bathurst (1714–1794) [q. v.] and Sir Richard Aston [q. v.] He succeeded Sir Thomas Parker as lord chief baron on 28 Oct. 1772. As Parker continued to enjoy vigorous health after his resignation, while Smythe was often prevented by illness from attending the court, Mansfield is said to have cruelly observed, ‘The new chief baron should resign in favour of his predecessor.’ After presiding in the exchequer for five years, Smythe was compelled in November 1777 to resign, owing to his infirmities. He was granted a pension of 2,400l., and on 3 Dec. was sworn a member of the privy council. He died at Old Bounds on 2 Nov. 1778, and was buried at Sutton-at-Hone, Kent.

Smythe is said to have refused the post of lord chancellor, and to have been ‘the ugliest man of his day’ (Funeral Sermon preached by the Rev. C. D. De Coetlogon, 1778, p. 25; Nichols, Lit. Illustrations, iii. 809). He was unjustly abused in print and in parliament for his conduct of the trial of John Taylor, a sergeant of the Scots guards, for the murder of James Smith, at the Guildford summer assizes in 1770. It appears that the jury, after considerable deliberation, brought in a verdict of guilty, upon which Smythe, who had told them that it was only manslaughter, expressed his surprise, and desired that a special verdict should be drawn up, which was duly signed by the jury. Though his conduct was vindicated by Dunning in the House of Commons on 6 Dec. 1770, and his decision was upheld by the judges of the king's bench on 8 Feb. 1771, the charge was reiterated by Junius in his letter to Lord Mansfield of 21 Jan. 1772 (Parl. Hist. xvi. 1211–1301; Woodfall, Junius, 1814, ii. 438–40). Smythe married, in 1733, Sarah, daughter of Sir Charles Farnaby, bart., of Kippington in Kent, but left no issue. Both he and his wife took a great interest in the evangelical movement. She died on 18 March 1790 and was buried at Sutton-at-Hone. Two of Smythe's letters to the Duke of Newcastle are preserved among the Additional MSS. at the British Museum, as well as a pedigree of the Smythe family drawn up by Edward Hasted under Smythe's inspection (32860 f. 444, 32906 f. 340, 5520 f. 45).

[Foss's Judges of England, 1864, viii. 369–71; Martin's Masters of the Bench of the Inner Temple, 1883, p. 73; Harris's Life of Lord-chancellor Hardwicke, 1847, iii. 95, 103; Sir William Blackstone's Reports, 1781, ii. 838, 1178; Hasted's Hist. of Kent, 1797–1801, iii. 26, 58, 287, v. 274–5; Gent. Mag. 1740 p. 623, 1747 p. 297, 1750 pp. 285, 526; Ann. Reg. 1778 Chron. p. 227; Burke's Peerage, &c., 1857, p. 387; Burke's Extinct Peerage, 1883, p. 621; Grad. Cantabr. 1800, p. 391; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. ix. 247, 416; Official Return of Lists of M.P.s, ii. 104; Townsend's Catalogue of Knights, 1833, p. 63; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890.]

G. F. R. B.