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Smith, Sir Henry George Wakelyn

SMITH, SIR HENRY GEORGE WAKELYN, Bart. (1787- 1860), British general, son of John Smith, surgeon, of Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, was born at that place on the 28th of June 1787. 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, and he subsequently served through the Peninsular War from the concentration at Salamanca in November 1808 to the battle of Toulouse on the loth of April 1814. On the day following the storming of Badajos (the 6th of April 1812) 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, by whom she was accompanied. The latter, whose name was Juana Maria de Los Dolores de Leon, had but recently emerged from a convent ; but notwithstanding her years she was married to Harry Smith a few days later. She remained with him throughout the rest of the war, accompanying the baggage train, sleeping in the open on the field of battle, riding freely among the troops, and sharing all the privations of campaigning. Her beauty, courage, sound judgment and amiable character endeared her to the officers, including the duke of Wellington, who spoke of her familiarly as Juanita; and she was idolized by the soldiers. At the close of the war Harry Smith volunteered for service in the United States, where he was present at the battle of Bladensburg (the 24th of 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 brigademajor at Waterloo; and in 1828 was ordered to the Cape of Good Hope, where he commanded a division in the Kaffir War of 1834-36. In 1835 he accomplished the feat of riding from Cape Town to Graham's Town, a distance of 600 m., in less than six days; and having restored confidence among the whites by his energetic measures, he was appointed governor of the new Province of Queen Adelaide, where he gained unbounded influence over the native tribes, whom he vigorously set himself to civilize and benefit. But though supported by Sir Benjamin D'Urban, the high commissioner, 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 Kaffirs and the Dutch; and numbers of the latter, largely in consequence of this policy of Lord Glenelg, began the migration to the interior known as " the great trek."

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 received a K.C.B.) and the Sikh War of 1845-46. He was in command of a division under Sir Hugh Gough at the battles of Moodkee 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 the 28th of January 1846 he inflicted a crushing defeat on the Sikhs at Aliwal on the Sutlej. At Sobraon on the loth of 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. In 1847 he returned to South Africa as governor of Cape Colony and high commissioner, to grapple with the difficulties he had foreseen eleven years before (see CAPE COLONY: History). He took command of an expedition to deal with the disaffected Boers in the Orange River Sovereignty, and fought the action of Boomplaats on the 2gth of August 1848. In December 1850 war broke out with the Kaffirs; 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, Lord Grey, in a despatch never submitted to the queen, recalled him in 1852 before the Kaffirs 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 Spanish wife was his constant companion in his second as in his earlier sojourn in South Africa, where her memory is recalled by the town of Ladysmith in Natal (rendered famous by the Boer War of 1899-1902), as is that of her husband by Harrismith in the Orange Free State; while Aliwal North, founded in 1849 and named after his great Indian victory, further commemorates Sir Harry Smith. On his return to England he held a military appointment for some years, and died in London on the 12th of October 1860. Juana, Lady Smith, survived till 1872.

See Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith, edited by G. C. Moore Smith (1901); R. S. Rait, Life of Viscount Gough (1903); Wilmot and Chase, Annals of the Cape Colony (1869); J. Noble, South Africa (1877); Theal's History of South Africa, vol. iv. (R. J. M.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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