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SMITH, Sir HENRY, politician, lawyer, and land speculator; b. 23 April 1812 in London, England, the son of Henry Smith; m. Mary Talbot of Kingston, Upper Canada; d. 18 Sept. 1868 at Kingston.

Henry Smith immigrated to Canada with his parents before 1818. The family settled in Montreal where Henry attended Benjamin Workman’s private school, and, after they moved to Kingston in the early 1820s, he completed his education at the Midland District Grammar School. He then studied law under Christopher Hagerman* and Thomas Kirkpatrick, gaining admittance to the bar in 1834. Smith was “noted for his ability in addressing a jury” and was appointed a qc in 1846; in 1853 he became the lawyer for the Grand Trunk Railway in Kingston. He also speculated extensively and successfully in land throughout the Midland District. Richard William Scott* described Smith’s technique: he “acquired a good deal of property as a Trustee as well as for his own behalf. . . . For example, he took out Patents for a number of his constituents, and, having in many instances, advanced part of the money for the purpose, occasionally took the Patents in his own name.”

Smith, an Anglican, was a trustee and secretary of the Midland District Grammar School. He and John A. Macdonald* were intimate friends and political allies throughout the 1840s and most of the 1850s. They worked together on legal cases, and with several other Kingstonians founded the Cataraqui Club “for the cultivation of literature.” Smith, in the words of Macdonald, was a “confidential man” who could be trusted with highly sensitive information relating to ministerial personalities, public policy, party management, local concerns, and even an affair of honour in 1856 concerning Arthur Rankin, mla for Essex.

In 1841 Smith was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Frontenac and held the seat until 1861. Through these years he was a moderate Conservative, a supporter of Governor General Sydenham [Thomson*], William Henry Draper*, and John A. Macdonald, and an effective though not a prominent parliamentarian.

Henry Smith’s name became well known throughout Canada West because of his father, who had been appointed first warden of the provincial penitentiary near Kingston in 1835. In 1848–49 a commission of which George Brown* was secretary investigated charges of maladministration, corruption, and brutality towards inmates at the prison. A series of dramatic revelations about conditions there produced much unpleasant publicity for the Smiths and led to the warden’s dismissal. For years Henry Smith Jr had worked on his father’s behalf in the assembly, and throughout the inquiry Macdonald also supported Henry Smith Sr. The incident added greatly to the bitterness that poisoned relations between Reform and Conservative leaders.

By 1854 Smith was a senior Conservative and was appointed solicitor general for Canada West when Sir Allan Napier MacNab and Augustin-Norbert Morin formed a coalition government. His performance from September 1854 to February 1858 was undistinguished. When the government was reorganized in 1858 Smith was demoted to speaker of the house. His election as speaker was highly controversial; the Toronto Globe described him as “a rash, hot-headed partizan . . . [who] would not command the respect even of his own side of the Assembly.” A majority of members from Canada West voted against him, and his tenure, which lasted until June 1861, was marred by controversy with the press, disputes with legislative councillors, and conflict with the Reform opposition.

In 1859 Smith carried to London an assembly address asking Queen Victoria to visit Canada to open the Victoria Bridge at Montreal. He also expected to receive a knighthood while in London, but failed to obtain his government’s support. Both Reform and Conservative politicians publicly derided Smith’s pretensions, causing him acute embarrassment and considerable humiliation. A serious rift developed between Smith and Macdonald over the matter. Ironically, the Prince of Wales, who came to Canada in the queen’s place, unexpectedly knighted Smith at Quebec City on 21 Aug. 1860.

Several factors impelled Smith to leave the Conservative party in 1861. He faced the prospect of returning to the back benches, and he had incurred Macdonald’s displeasure by supporting, with several other Conservatives, representation by population. Moreover, he may well have suspected that the Liberal-Conservative coalition was finished as an effective political instrument. Still smarting over his humiliation about the knighthood, he offered to work with the Reformers, published an address that was strongly critical of the government, and in the general election tried to take Frontenac out of the Conservative camp. The Reformers held him at arm’s length, and his defection was bitterly resented by his former friends. After a protracted and sordid campaign, Smith was defeated by James Morton. He was again defeated in Frontenac in 1863 by William Ferguson and Macdonald’s powerful district organization.

Smith was able to win the provincial seat of Frontenac in 1867 as a Conservative supporting John Sandfield Macdonald*’s coalition government, but he became ill early in 1868 and died in September. He left “a considerable fortune” to his wife and eight surviving children.

Donald Swainson

PAC, MG 24, B40, 4; C31; MG 26, A, 188, 297, 336, 341, 359, 504, 510, 537; MG 29, D61. PAO, Mackenzie-Lindsey papers; Smith (Sir Henry) papers. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1857. Canadian Mirror of Parl. (Kingston, [Ont.]), 1841. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada, I–IV. Macdonald, Letters (Johnson and Stelmack). Mirror of Parl. of the Prov. of Can. (Montreal), 1846. [H. J. Morgan], The tour of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales through British America and the United States (Montreal, 1860). Ont., Statutes, 1869; Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1868–69. “Parliamentary debates” (Canadian Library Assoc. mfm. project of the debates in the legislature of the Province of Canada and the parliament of Canada for 1846–74), 1846–61. Thompson’s Mirror of Parl. . . . (Quebec), 1860. Canadian News, New Brunswick Herald, and British Columbian Intelligencer (London), 27 April 1859. Daily News (Kingston, Ont.), 18 Sept. 1868. Globe, 1858, 1861, 1867–69. Picton Gazette (Picton, [Ont.]), 1861. Pilot (Montreal), 1861. Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians. Political appointments, 1841–65 (J.-O. Coté). Careless, Brown. Cornell, Alignment of political groups. Creighton, Macdonald, young politician. Joseph Pope, Memoirs of the Right Honourable John Alexander Macdonald, G.C.B., first prime minister of the dominion of Canada (2v., Ottawa, [1894]). Margaret [Sharp] Angus, The old stones of Kingston: its buildings before 1867 ([Toronto], 1966). D. [W.] Swainson, “Sir Henry Smith and the politics of the union,” OH, LXVI (1974), 161–79.

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Cite This Article

Donald Swainson, “SMITH, Sir HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 20, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_henry_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_henry_9E.html
Author of Article:   Donald Swainson
Title of Article:   SMITH, Sir HENRY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   April 20, 2024