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Smith, William Henry, Statesman

SMITH, WILLIAM HENRY, STATESMAN (1825-1891), English man of business and statesman, was born in London on the 24th of June 1825. His father was the founder of the great distributing firm of W. H. Smith & Son, in the Strand, and at an early age he became a partner and devoted himself to the business. He betrayed no political aspirations until 1865, when he came forward as a Conservative to contest Westminster against John Stuart Mill and the Hon. Mr Grosvenor. Defeated on that occasion, he triumphed in 1868, winning a victory when his party was in general vanquished on all sides. The prestige thus obtained combined with wealth and his business abilities to recommend him to Disraeli, who in 1874 made him secretary to the Treasury. In 1877 he gained cabinet rank as first lord of the Admiralty; in 1885 he was successively secretary for War and chief secretary for Ireland; in 1886 he was again at the War Office; and when late in that year Lord Randolph Churchill's resignation necessitated a reconstruction of the ministry, Mr Smith found himself first lord of the Treasury and leader of the House of Commons. He was no orator, and made no pretence to genius, but his success in these high offices was complete, and was admittedly due, not merely to business ability, but to the universal respect which was gained by his patience, good temper, zeal for the public service, and thorough kindness of heart. He died at Walmer Castle (which he occupied as Warden of the Cinque Ports) on the 6th of October 1891. In recognition of his services a peerage in her own right was conferred on his widow, with the title of Viscountess Hambleden. Lady Hambleden (b. 1828) had been a Miss Danvers, and before marrying Mr Smith had been the wife of Mr B. A. Leach, by whom she had a family. Her eldest son by the second marriage, the Hon. W. F. D. Smith (b. 1868), rowed in the Oxford boat, and on his father's death became head of the business; in 1891 he was elected Conservative M.P. for the Strand (London), and was re-elected in 1892, 1895, 1900 and 1906. He married in 1894 Lady Esther Gore, daughter of the earl of Arran.

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

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