SMITH, John Spencer (1769-1845).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 11 Sept. 1769,1 3rd s. of John Smith of Midgham, Berks. and Dover, Kent by Mary, da. of Pinckney Wilkinson of Burnham, Norf.; bro. of Sir William Sidney Smith*. educ. Worcester, Oxf. 1790. m. 1798, Constance, da. of Baron Herbert, Austrian minister at Constantinople, 2s.

Offices Held

Ensign, 1 Ft. Gds. 1790; lt. 8 Ft. 1792.

Sec. in charge of affairs at Constantinople 1795-8, sec. of legation 1798, of embassy 1798-1801, minister plenip. ad. int. 1798-1801; envoy extraordinary to Württemberg 1802-4.


Smith, ‘originally bred at court in the capacity of a page to one of the royal family’, purchased a commission in the Guards before travelling in Turkey with his elder brother William Sidney Smith, who wrote to Lord Auckland from Constantinople, 16 Mar. 1793:

I mentioned some time ago to my uncle that this place ... seemed to require a secretary of legation ... I at the same time mentioned my brother John Spencer Smith who is with me here as particularly qualified for that career by epistolary readiness and talent and adapted to it. His knowledge of the place and study of the Turkish language may be an additional recommendation.

Smith, who now abandoned his military career, served as private secretary to the ambassador Robert Liston and was left in charge of affairs on Liston’s departure from Constantinople in November 1795. He was not officially appointed secretary of legation until 1798, and claimed to have spent ‘exactly double’ his income in maintaining the British mission. The foreign secretary Lord Grenville, his cousin by marriage, was able to relieve his financial difficulties, but was unable to reconcile him to serving in a subordinate position under Lord Elgin, who arrived at Constantinople as ambassador in November 1799. He reluctantly granted Smith leave to return home in January 1801.2

He landed in England in June 1802, just in time to accept an invitation to contest Dover, where his father had long resided. His brother, who had declined a prior invitation to contest Dover because he had already agreed to stand at Rochester, acted on his behalf and assured the leader of the independent interest, 30 June:

I know his attachment to his Majesty’s government and the constitution of our good country to be equal to mine, and I know him to have the same conviction that their safety depends essentially on the independence of Parliament, a thing to be secured only by the freedom of election and the independence of both the electors and the elected ... Parliament is now the safeguard of the country, as our fleets and armies were. It is for the electors to fill its ranks with zealous champions.3

To Addington, who accused the family of setting up an opposition to William Huskisson, the government candidate, Sir William wrote on 2 July that ‘my brother considers himself as sincerely attached to government as Mr Huskisson or any other gentleman who comes as a stranger into our borough’. On 9 July, after Spencer Smith had beaten Huskisson into third place, Sir William wrote to Addington:

if we are after a nine year contest to sit down as we began, plain independent Kentish gentlemen, it was some consolation at least that we could keep our right places as such, and I trust the independence and disinterestedness of the support the present administration will receive from me and my brother ... will have not less value in your eyes for being of that description.4

Smith, who was granted a month’s sick leave on 27 Apr. 1803, is not known to have opposed Addington and was absent on a mission to Württemberg when the opposition groups combined against the ministry in 1804. Classed as ‘Pitt’ in the ministerial list of September 1804, he returned to England in time to vote with government against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, but, like his brother, he was listed as ‘doubtful Pitt’ in July. He supported Lord Grenville’s ministry and voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. He is not known to have spoken in the House and withdrew from Dover at the general election of 1806, explaining in his address that he could not afford a contest and recommending the ministerial candidate in his place. On 25 Oct. he assured Grenville that ‘according to the pledge I gave your lordship from Oxford last winter, you may depend upon my strictest conformity to your views’ at Dover and Rochester.5

In March 1807 the ‘Talents’ provided Smith with a pension of £1,200 a year for his diplomatic services.6 Shortly afterwards he settled in Normandy. He wrote on a variety of scholarly subjects and died at Caen, 5 June 1845.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. Fetis, Biog. Univ. des Musiciens, viii. 54.
  • 2. J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 504; Add. 34449, f. 109; HMC Fortescue, iv. 508-9; v. 318, 385; vi. 89-91, 130-2, 168, 184-5, 266-8, 396, 416-18, 432-3.
  • 3. Wilson, 504-5; Sidmouth mss, Rivers to Addington, 8 Oct. 1802, enc. Sir W. S. Smith to S. Fox, 30 June.
  • 4. Sidmouth mss.
  • 5. CJ, lviii. 358; Kentish Gazette, 31 Oct. 1806; Fortescue mss.
  • 6. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3409.