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SMITH, HENRY WILLIAM, lawyer, judge, and politician; b. in 1826 in St Kitts, British West Indies, eldest son of James Royer Smith and Cordelia Wigley; m. in 1853 Mary E. A. Poyntz, and they had several children; d. 1 Feb. 1890 at Halifax, N. S.

Although born in St Kitts, Henry William Smith spent his childhood in Wales and, after 1833, in Halifax where his father practised law with the firm of Smith and Hartshorn. In 1840 the Smith family moved to Bridgetown, Annapolis County, N. S. After study in his father’s law office Smith was admitted as an attorney on 24 July 1848 and, one year later, as a barrister of the bar of Nova Scotia. He first practised law in Bridgetown in partnership with his father, but by 1852 both father and son were working and living in Halifax.

By 1854 Henry William Smith had left Halifax and was practising law in Shelburne. In the autumn of 1857 he moved from Shelburne to Liverpool, Queens County, N. S . , and in December he petitioned Lieutenant Governor Sir John Gaspard Le Marchant* for an appointment as “Notary and Tabillion Public.” There is no record that his request was granted, but on 8 May 1858 Smith was appointed registrar of probate for Queens County, an office he held until 1867. In Liverpool his life was apparently fully occupied by his legal career, his family, social affairs, and public duty, including his positions as major in the 1st Regiment of the Queens County militia, and, from 1872 to 1876, as governor of King’s College in Windsor.

Undoubtedly the most important occurrence in the career of Henry William Smith, and the event that brought him out of his obscurity as a small town lawyer, was the movement for the political union of British North America. The scheme of union introduced by the Province of Canada in September 1864 to a Charlottetown conference called to debate Maritime union, and discussed a month later at Quebec, was embraced by many political leaders in Nova Scotia, including the government of Charles Tupper*, but opposition appeared as early as November. In its 1865 legislative session, 183 anti-confederation petitions, bearing over 15,000 signatures, were presented to the Nova Scotia assembly. This opposition shattered existing political alliances in the province and the “Nova Scotia” or “Peoples’ Party,” under the leadership of Joseph Howe*, launched a determined bid to defeat the “Botheration Scheme.” Smith was actively involved, and on 18 Sept. 1867 he was one of three anti-confederate candidates elected from Queens County to the House of Assembly. In total, Nova Scotians elected 36 anti-confederate members to the 38-seat provincial assembly. Of the 19 members of the House of Commons from Nova Scotia elected in that year, 18 were anti-confederates.

Following the 1867 elections, the Nova Scotia government of William Annand turned its attention toward the possible repeal of the British North America Act insofar as it related to Nova Scotia. To accomplish this, Joseph Howe went to London in February 1868 to present Nova Scotia’s case to the imperial authorities. Some days later the Executive Council requested that Annand, Jared Chipman Troop, and Henry William Smith go to London to assist Howe in his endeavours; they arrived on 12 March 1868. Although sources suggest that Howe did most of the real work of the delegation, Smith did at least accompany him to interviews with the colonial secretary and other officials where taxation, trade, and fishing policies were discussed. Although the British authorities agreed to ask the dominion government to review the impact of confederation on Nova Scotia in these areas, the delegation’s bid for repeal was unsuccessful. Its members returned to Nova Scotia to receive the official thanks of the House of Assembly, with the door to constitutional repeal firmly shut behind them.

Smith remained active in Nova Scotian politics; he was re-elected in 1871 and on 19 April of that year was made a member of the Executive Council and attorney general of Nova Scotia. He held the latter office until 4 Jan. 1875. During these years he attended to the regular business of the provincial government and to negotiations with the federal government, including those in 1874 dealing with the provinces’ withdrawal from the previously concurrent jurisdictions over immigration. On 15 Jan. 1875 Smith was elevated to the bench as a puisne judge of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, “which high position he . . . worthily filled” until his death in 1890.

John N. Grant

PANS, MG 1, 828; RG 1, 200, 8 May 1858; 203; 204, 19 April 1871; RG 3, 3; RG 5, GP, 11; R, 98. Univ. of King’s College Arch. (Halifax), Bylaws, calendars, reports, and other records for 1868–80. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1868, 1871–75. Acadian Recorder, 3 Feb. 1890. Liverpool Transcript (Liverpool, N.S.), 1857–60. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 3 Feb. 1890. Belchers farmers almanack, 1848–75. Catlaogue of portraits of the judges of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and other portraits, law courts, Halifax, N.S., [comp. R. V. Harris] ([Halifax?, 1929?]). Dalhousie Univ., Directory of graduates and former students of the university, corrected to September, 1937 ([Halifax, 1937?]). John Doull, Sketches of attorney generals of Nova Scotia, 1750–1926 (Halifax, 1964). E. R. Coward, Bridgetown, Nova Scotia; its history to 1900 ([Bridgetown, 1955]). K. G. Pryke, Nova Scotia and confederation, 1864–74 (Toronto, 1979). R. H. Campbell, “The repeal agitation in Nova Scotia, 1867–69,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 25 (1942): 95–129.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

John N. Grant, “SMITH, HENRY WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 22, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_henry_william_11E.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_william_11E.html
Author of Article:   John N. Grant
Title of Article:   SMITH, HENRY WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   February 22, 2024