SMITH, JAMES, appointed judge of the vice-admiralty court in Newfoundland, 1708; fl. 1708–15.
Nothing has been found about James Smith’s background. It is known, however, that he was an agent for prizes in the fleet abroad before being appointed judge of the vice-admiralty court, which was created on 18 Sept. 1708 as part of an attempt to curb the power of the military commander in St John’s, Major Thomas Lloyd. Bryan Rushworth was, at the same time, appointed registrar of the court and Thomas Hayne (or Havyne), marshal. Nothing was done, however, about salaries for the judge or the other officers, none of whom seems to have reached Newfoundland in 1708. As the court was apparently never constituted, Archibald Cumings, appointed preventive officer in the same year, was left quite powerless to check illegal trade.
On 25 April 1710 Smith took out his patent as judge, and in 1713, when he was appointed to inspect the rights and perquisites of the Admiralty in Nova Scotia, he applied for his Newfoundland salary, but without success. “I went abroad at my own charge,” Smith wrote, “and executed my commission, and for the relief of the poor inhabitants and at their earnest desire, left deputations to such as I believed to be persons of the greatest probity and knowledge among them.” Smith’s visit to Newfoundland may have been made in 1714, or, more probably, in 1713 when he was on his way back from Nova Scotia. He gave a depressing account of the situation in Newfoundland. In the absence of a resident governor, the naval commodores exercised “a most absolute and tyrannical power.” Smith advocated that the 1699 act be amended to afford protection and encouragement for the inhabitants, and regulations for the fishery. He alleged that some persons, who wished to engross the whole of the Newfoundland trade (he seems to mean the London fishing merchants) “had interest to get several lesser officers created,” and had filled the posts “with such officers as were fit to be toolls and subservient to their designs.” Smith may have had in mind the preventive officer, Archibald Cumings, but he specifies only William Taverner*, against whom he made several charges.
James Smith is clearly the “Mr Smith” who appeared with Cumings before the Board of Trade in November 1714 and January 1714/15, when his views on Newfoundland were considered. But he is not the James Smith who figures among the Newfoundland inhabitants in 1705–6.
Smith’s career demonstrates how little real drive there was to build up an administrative machine in Newfoundland, and how, after the War of the Spanish Succession, the little incentive there was vanished. There is no evidence that this appointment of deputy vice-admiralty commissioners had any effect or continuity. The vice-admiralty court in Newfoundland had existed only on paper.