Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, Charles Hamilton
SMITH, CHARLES HAMILTON (1776–1859), soldier and writer on natural history, a descendant of a Flemish protestant family of good position called Smet, was born at Vrommen-hofen in East Flanders (then an Austrian province) on 26 Dec. 1776. At an early age he was sent to school at Richmond, Surrey, but on the outbreak of revolution in the Low Countries in 1787, returned to Flanders, and pursued his studies in the Austrian academy for artillery and engineers at Malines and at Louvain. After having served, under the patronage of Lord Moira, in the British forces as a volunteer in the 8th light dragoons, and as a cornet in Hompesch's hussars, he joined in December 1797 the 60th regiment of the British forces in the West Indies, and was for ten years brigade-major under Major-general Carmichael. In 1809 he was on recruiting service at Coventry, and soon afterwards was engaged as deputy quartermaster-general in the Walcheren expedition. He served with distinction in Holland and Brabant, capturing the fortress of Tholen, near Bergen-op-Zoom, with a handful of German auxiliaries. In January 1811 he was again at Coventry, and was then captain in the 6th regiment, but was called away from this position to active service, and the preface to his work on ancient costume is dated from ‘his majesty's ship Horatio, in the Ram-Pot, on the coast of Zeeland, 6 Dec. 1813.’ In March 1815 he furnished Lord Lynedoch with information as to the roads and towns in the forest of the Ardennes. He was sent in 1816 on a mission to the United States and Canada, and his scheme for the defence of Canada was printed by the government.
Smith retired on half-pay in 1820, and was never again actively employed. He received the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1830, and was also a knight of Hanover. On settling into private life he fixed his home at Plymouth, and devoted the rest of his life to studious labours. He began sketching before he was fifteen years old, and from that time was unwearied, whether he was voyaging down the coast of Africa or exploring the West Indies, in making drawings and in accumulating scientific data. History, zoology, and archæology were his favourite subjects of research. He left behind him twenty thick volumes of manuscript notes and thousands of his own watercolour drawings, which were always at the free disposal of a student. Many of his manuscripts, chiefly consisting of unpublished lectures and papers, are in the library of the Plymouth Institution. His library overflowed into every room of his house. Some account of his collections is given in the ‘Transactions of the Plymouth Institution’ (i. 255–88). A club of west-country artists and lovers of art was originated by Smith at Plymouth, and called ‘The Artists and Amateurs’ (Bentley, Miscellany, lxii. 197–8, 301). He frequently lectured at the Plymouth Athenæum, and he designed in 1837 the modern seal for the borough of Plymouth (Worth, Hist. of Plymouth, 1890, p. 197).
Smith was a pall-bearer at the funeral of the elder Charles Mathews, often gave information to Macready and the Keans on the proper costumes for the pieces they were about to bring on the stage, and supplied Sir Charles Barry with designs for the heraldic decorations of the houses of parliament. He used to be constantly with the Cuviers in Paris, and Sir Richard Owen was an intimate friend (Life of Owen, i. 182–4). Landor, during his visits to Charles Armitage Brown at Plymouth, became acquainted with Smith, whose daughters fell in love with the poet (Forster, Life of Landor, ii. 387–8; cf. Bath Chronicle, 30 Jan. 1890, p. 6). A very pleasant picture of Smith's family life is given in the ‘Seven Homes’ of Mrs. Rundle-Charles (pp. 100–5). Smith was elected F.R.S. in 1824 and F.L.S. in 1826.
After an active life he died at 40 Park Street, Plymouth, on 21 Sept. 1859, and was buried in the family vault at Pennycross. He married, in 1808, Mary Anne Mauger, daughter of Joseph Mauger (pronounced Major) of Guernsey. She died before 1841. Their issue was one son, Charles Hamilton Smith (a captain in the British army, who accepted a grant of land in Australia and died there), and four daughters, three of whom survived him; the eldest, Emma, who never married, was her father's companion and assistant until his death.
Smith's portrait, painted by Edward Opie, belonged to Mrs. Rendel in 1868 (Cat. Nat. Portraits at South Kensington, 1868). An engraving by James Scott was published at Plymouth in 1841.
A great naturalist and an accurate and unwearied artist, Smith was a student of profound knowledge in many branches of learning. His writings comprised: 1. ‘History of the Seven Years' War in Germany by Generals Lloyd and Tempelhoff. With Observations, Maxims, &c., of General Jomini. Translated from the German and French,’ vol. i. n.d. . 2. ‘Secret Strategical Instructions of Frederic the Second. Translated from the German,’ 1811. 3. ‘Selections of Ancient Costume of Great Britain and Ireland, Seventh to Sixteenth Century,’ 1814. 4. ‘Costume of Original Inhabitants of the British Islands to the Sixth Century. By S. R. Meyrick and C. H. Smith,’ 1815. 5. ‘The Class Mammalia, arranged by Baron Cuvier, with Specific Descriptions by Edward Griffith, C. H. Smith, and Edward Pidgeon,’ 2 vols. 1827. 6. ‘Natural History of Dogs,’ vol. i. 1839, vol. ii. 1840. Afterwards reissued in 1843 as vols. iv. and v. of the ‘Naturalists' Library.’ 7. ‘Natural History of Horses,’ 1841. In 1843 this was vol. xii. in the ‘Naturalists' Library.’ 8. ‘Introduction to the Mammalia,’ 1842; issued in 1843 as vol. i. in the same ‘Library.’ 9. ‘Natural History of the Human Species,’ 1848. This volume was devised to harmonise with the publications in the ‘Naturalists' Library.’ Prefixed to it was his portrait. It was reprinted at Boston, U.S.A., in 1851, with an Introduction by Samuel Kneeland, jun. M.D. Most of his works were illustrated by his own drawings.
Smith wrote the military part of Coxe's ‘Life of the Duke of Marlborough,’ and the plans of the battles and campaigns were mainly constructed under his inspection. From the knowledge of military affairs displayed in this work it excited Napoleon's interest at St. Helena. A narrative of the retreat of Napoleon from Moscow was written by him in French, and is said to have been disseminated abroad by the English government. The articles on subjects of natural history and warfare in Kitto's ‘Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature’ were contributed by Smith; that on ‘War,’ in the eighth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ was his composition, revised by Major-general Portlock; and he was the author of the introductory paper on ‘the Science of War’ in the ‘Aide-Mémoire of the Military Science by Officers of the Royal Engineers.’
Smith contributed to the ‘Transactions of the Linnean Society,’ 1822, pp. 28–40, an article on the ‘Animals of America allied to the Antelope,’ and a paper by him ‘On the Original Population of America’ appeared in the ‘Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal for 1845,’ pp. 1–20. He issued in 1840 a ‘Model of a proposed Statistical Survey of Devon and Cornwall, arranged in Tables;’ the scheme included a bibliography of the counties.[Worth's Plymouth (1890 edit.), pp. 471–2; Proc. of Linnean Soc. 24 May 1860 pp. xxx–xxxi; Proc. of Royal Soc. vol. x. pp. xxiv–vi; Trans. Devon. Assoc. xxiii. 379–80; Ryland's Memoir of John Kitto, pp. 563–6; information from Sidney T. Whiteford, esq., his grandson. A Memoir of Lieutenant-colonel Smith, written in French, was published at Ghent about 1860; it contains a good lithographed portrait.]