Sir Harry Smith, 1st Baronet

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Sir Harry Smith, 1st Baronet
Sir Harry Smith.jpg
Born 1787
Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, Great Britain
Died 1860 (aged 73)
London, United Kingdom
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1805 -
Rank Lieutenant General
Battles/wars Napoleonic Wars
War of 1812
Xhosa Wars
Gwalior campaign
First Anglo-Sikh War
Battle of Boomplaats
Awards GCB
Relations Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith
Website Harrismith - Town Website

Lieutenant General Sir Henry George Wakelyn Smith, 1st Baronet of Aliwal GCB (28 June 1787 – 12 October 1860), known as Sir Harry Smith, was a notable English soldier and military commander in the British Army of the early 19th century. A veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, he is also particularly remembered for his role in the Battle of Aliwal (India) in 1846, and as the husband of Lady Smith.

Biography[edit]

He was born in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, the son of a surgeon. A chapel in the town's St Mary's church was restored in his memory in 1862, and a local community college also bears his name: Sir Harry Smith Community College.

Napoleonic Wars[edit]

Harry Smith—for throughout life he adopted the more familiar form of his Christian name—was educated privately and entered the army in 1805. His first active service was in South America in 1806 during the British invasions of the Río de la Plata. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Montevideo in 1807, but first came to real prominence during the Peninsular War. Smith served throughout these campaigns with the 95th Rifles in which he served from 1808 through to the end of the war at the Battle of Toulouse in 1814. On 7 April 1812 (the day following the storming of Badajoz) a well-born Spanish lady, whose entire property in the city had been destroyed, presented herself at the British lines seeking protection from the licence of the soldiery for herself and her sister, a child of fourteen. The latter, Juana Maria de Los Dolores de León, had but recently emerged from a convent; but notwithstanding her years she was married to Harry Smith a few days later. She accompanied him throughout the rest of the war.

At the close of the war Harry Smith volunteered for service in the United States, where he was present at the Battle of Bladensburg on 24 August 1814, and witnessed the burning of the capitol at Washington; which, as he said, "horrified us coming fresh from the Duke's humane warfare in the south of France."

Returning to Europe he was a brigade major at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

South Africa[edit]

In 1828 Smith was ordered to the Cape of Good Hope, where he commanded a force in the Sixth Xhosa War of 1834-36. In 1835 he accomplished the feat of riding from Cape Town to Grahamstown in less than six days; after he had restored confidence among the whites by his energetic measures, he was appointed governor of the Province of Queen Adelaide, where he gained unbounded influence over the native tribes, whom he vigorously set himself to civilize and benefit.

But though Sir Benjamin D'Urban, the high commissioner, supported Smith, the ministry in London reversed his policy and, to quote Smith's own words, directed the Province of Queen Adelaide to be restored to barbarism. Smith himself was removed from his command, his departure being deplored alike by the Bantu and the Boers; many Boers, largely in consequence of this policy of Lord Glenelg, began the migration to the interior known as the Great Trek.

India[edit]

Harry Smith was now appointed deputy-adjutant-general of the forces in India, where he took part in the Gwalior campaign of 1843, for which he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) and the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-46. He was in command of a division under Sir Hugh Gough at the battles of Mudki and Ferozeshah, where he conspicuously distinguished himself, but was insufficiently supported by the commander-in-chief. After the second of these actions Sir Harry Smith was appointed to an independent command, and on 28 January 1846 he inflicted a crushing defeat on the Sikhs at Aliwal on the Sutlej.

At the battle of Sobraon on 10 February he again commanded a division under Gough. For the great victory of Aliwal he was awarded the thanks of Parliament; and the speech of the Duke of Wellington was perhaps the warmest encomium ever bestowed by that great commander on a meritorious officer. Sir Harry was at the same time created a baronet; and as a special distinction the words of Aliwal were by the patent appended to the title. He was promoted to major-general on 9 November 1846.[1]

Return to South Africa[edit]

Sir Harry G W Smith.jpg
Harry Smith's Annexations, 1847-1854

In 1847 he returned to South Africa as governor of Cape Colony and high commissioner, with the local rank of lieutenant-general,[2] to grapple with the difficulties he had foreseen eleven years before. He took command of an expedition to deal with the disaffected Boers in the Orange River Sovereignty, and fought the Battle of Boomplaats on 29 August 1848. It has been asserted that "the half-mad Smith's" seizure of the entire region of "British Kaffraria" in 1848 was launched and carried out "entirely on his own initiative." Piers Brendon described "Smith, placing his foot on the neck of the Xhosan ruler and proclaiming, 'I am your Paramount Chief, and the Kaffirs are my dogs!'"[3]

In December 1850 war broke out with the Xhosa and some of the Khoikhoi; Sir Harry Smith was insufficiently supplied with troops from England; and though his conduct of the operations was warmly approved by the Duke of Wellington and other military authorities, Earl Grey, in a dispatch never submitted to the queen, recalled him in 1852 before the Xhosa and Khoikhoi had been completely subdued. He protested strongly against the abandonment of the Orange River Sovereignty to the Boers, which was carried out two years after his departure, and he actively furthered the granting of responsible government to Cape Colony. His reputation now is of someone who behaved autocratically and oppressively towards the Xhosa, and did a great deal of harm. It is said he insisted chiefs kiss his feet, for example.

His wife Juana gave her name to Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal as well as Ladismith in the Western Cape province. Harrismith in the Free State was named after Smith himself (two other towns, Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape and Smithfield in the Free State, also mark Smith's connection with South Africa).

Back in England[edit]

In 1853 he was made General Officer Commanding Western District back in England.[4] He was given brevet promotion to lieutenant-general on 20 June 1854[5] and appointed GOC Northern District in 1856.[4]

He died at his home at Eton Place, London, on 12 October 1860. He was buried at St Mary's, Whittlesey, where he is commemorated with a marble bust and memorial. That section of the church is known as Sir Harry's Chapel. His wife, Juana, deceased 10 October 1872, is interred with him.

His autobiography, first published posthumously in 1901, is regarded as a classic of love and war.

The story of Harry Smith and his wife in the Peninsular Campaign and the Battle of Waterloo narrated in Georgette Heyer's novel The Spanish Bride (1940).

Bibliography[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The London Gazette: no. 20660. pp. 3987–3989. 10 November 1846. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 20772. p. 3262. 10 September 1847. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  3. ^ Brendon, Piers: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, page 98. Knopf, 2007.
  4. ^ a b Again in England - the last years
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 21564. pp. 1931–1932. 22 June 1854. Retrieved 2008-05-04.

References[edit]

Attribution

Further reading[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Henry Pottinger
Governor of the Cape Colony
1847–1852
Succeeded by
Sir George Cathcart