SMITH, Nathaniel (1730-94), of Ashtead, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 1730, posth. s. of Capt. Nathaniel Smith of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, London, by Anne, da. of James Gould. m. 4 Dec. 1764, Hester, da. of George Dance, architect, 1s.
Director, E.I. Co. 1774-6, 1777-81, 1782-6, 1787-1791, 1792-4, dep. chairman Aug. 1782-Nov. 1783, 1785-6, 1787-8, chairman Nov. 1783-4, 1784-5, 1788-9.
Smith, the son of a naval captain, entered the East India Company’s marine service. Appointed commander of the Clinton East-Indiaman in 1759, he transferred in 1765 to the command of the Lord Camden (he had some connexion with Camden).1 He made six voyages to India and retired in 1771, apparently with a comfortable fortune. In 1772 he unsuccessfully contested Rochester as an Opposition candidate, but does not appear to have stood at the general election of 1774. In 1780 he again contested Rochester with Opposition support, but was heavily defeated.
In the meantime he had begun to take an active part in East India affairs, and between 1771 and 1778 wrote three pamphlets on the Company rule in India as seen on his voyages, and two on its shipping problems.2 As a director from 1774 onwards he adopted a somewhat independent attitude (in 1771 he had said ‘My situation has preserved me from all Indian connexions’3), but generally followed the line of the parliamentary opposition. Still, in 1776 he opposed Warren Hastings’s policy, in which he was thought to echo Camden’s views, and 1778-80 took a vigorous line, with the Opposition, in support of Lord Pigot at Madras and against his assailants, particularly Paul Benfield.4 By 1782, when he was considered the spokesman of Lord Shelburne in the Company,5 he was on friendly terms with Laurence Sulivan, Hastings’s chief supporter. Smith seems to have been consulted by Shelburne about the Indian clauses of the peace treaty.6 Returned at Pontefract on Lord Galway’s interest in February 1783, two months later he was unseated on petition. No vote or speech by him is reported during this time.
Having vigorously opposed Fox’s India bill in the Company, he was elected chairman on 26 Nov. 1783 when Henry Fletcher, bowing before the indignation of the shareholders at his support of the bill, resigned. On 19 Dec. he was among those thanked by the Company for their share in its defeat.7
In 1784 he was returned as a Government candidate at Rochester. His only recorded vote during this Parliament was in support of Pitt’s proposals for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1785, but he spoke fairly frequently, almost invariably on East India Company affairs. Though he became a staunch supporter of the new Administration and was consulted by both Pitt8 and Thurlow9 in 1784 they were not at first anxious to retain him in the chair. Richard Atkinson wrote to Dundas in April 1784:10
I think very well of the chairman’s integrity and believe he means to do what is right, but there is a perfect certainty of his misconceiving every subject when first offered to his understanding. He is incapable of previous communications with anybody, consequently under his management the business must be one continued scene of rectifying or inspiriting what he brings forward wrong or inefficaciously, and he is never convinced till he sees the court nearly unanimous against him. His mind is also subject to very strong prejudices, especially on all the interests which were involved in Lord Pigot’s business, and his talents are much too slow and languid to animate so vast a machine.
Circumstances forced them, however, to put up with him at first, and later they continued to support him in the Company; and his relations with Pitt remained good throughout the rest of his life.
During the debate of 9 May 1787 on the impeachment of Hastings, Smith surveyed the Company’s position since 1767 at great length, and stressed that its difficulties had been aggravated by extravagant Government demands.11 His defence of Hastings was guarded; he did not wish to be considered as a defender of Hastings’s political conduct, having constantly opposed the acquisition of subsidy, tribute, or dominion through offensive alliances, but
however ... Mr. Hastings may have erred in political measures, and erred he certainly had; however unfortunately for the Company those measures had closed, he was convinced the late governor general was actuated by no private motive but merely from a laudable desire to aggrandize or enrich his country.
He had been anxious for Hastings’s recall because
he did not think him calculated to measure back the steps he had trod, and to confine our future views of dominion within those bounds which he had widely departed from ... or to circumscribe within the limits of their former amount the expenses of government, which had been increased in the course of the war to an improvident extent ... At the same time he could not avoid giving it as his sincere belief, that the errors in his political conduct were so greatly overbalanced by his public virtues, and the essential services he had rendered the nation at large ... that he justly deserved instead of disgrace to receive a generous and liberal treatment from his country.
Smith did not vote on the Regency, 1788-9; in the various lists is marked ‘ill’; and no speech by him is reported between May 1788 and the dissolution of Parliament in 1790.
He died 6 May 1794.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Mary M. Drummond
- 1. J. Walsh to Clive, 13 Dec. 1765, Clive mss.
- 2. Collected in vols. cxxviii-cxxix in the tracts in the India Office Lib.
- 3. Observations on Present State of the E.I. Co. (1771).
- 4. Add. 29137, f. 249; E. India ct. bk. 84, p. 570, 86 passim, 89, p. 471.
- 5. Add. 29155, f. 330.
- 6. Smith to Shelburne, 19, 20 Sept. 1782, Bolton mss at Bolton Hall.
- 7. E. India ct. bk. 92, p. 597.
- 8. Chatham mss.
- 9. Thurlow to Smith, 10 Dec. 1784, mss in the possession of Miss H. Smith, Cold Ash, Newbury, Berks.
- 10. Chatham mss.
- 11. Debrett xxii. 292.