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The Autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, Baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej, G.C.B.

The Autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, Baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej, G.C.B.
Title: The Autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, Baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej, G.C.B.
Release Date: 2018-05-05
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Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Sir Harry Smith

First Edition (2 vols.) December, 1901.
Reprinted January, 1902.
Reprinted February, 1902.
Reprinted April, 1902.
One Vol. Edition September, 1903.

Harry Smith

Sir Harry Smith







The Life of Sir Harry Smith here offered to thepublic consists of an Autobiography covering theperiod 1787 to 1846 (illustrated by notes andappendices), and some supplementary chapterscontributed by myself on the last period of SirHarry’s life (1846-1860). Chapter XXXI. carriesthe reader to the year 1829. This, it is interestingto remark, is a true turning point in the life of thegreat soldier. Till then he had seen warfare onlyon two continents, Europe and America (thePeninsula, France, the Netherlands, Monte Video,Buenos Ayres, Washington, New Orleans); fromthat date onwards the scene of his active servicewas Africa and Asia. Till 1829 his responsibilitywas small; after 1829 he had a large or paramountshare in directing the operations in which he wasengaged. This difference naturally affects the toneof his narrative in the two periods.

The Autobiography (called by its author “VariousAnecdotes and Events of my Life”) was begun bySir Harry Smith, then Lieutenant-Colonel Smith,[vi]at Glasgow in 1824. At that time it was only continuedas far as page 15 of the present volume. On11th August, 1844, when he had won his K.C.B.,and was Adjutant-General of Her Majesty’s Forcesin India, he resumed his task at Simla. He thenwrote with such speed that on 15th October he wasable to tell his sister that he had carried his narrativeto the end of the campaign of Gwalior, thatis, to 1844 (p. 490). Finally, on 7th September,1846, when at Cawnpore in command of a Division,he began to add to what he had previously writtenan account of the campaign of the Sutlej, whichhad brought him fresh honours. This narrativewas broken off abruptly in the middle of the Battleof Sobraon (p. 550), and was never completed.Accordingly, of Sir Harry Smith’s life fromFebruary, 1846, to his death on 12th October, 1860,we have no record by his own hand.

The Autobiography had been carefully preservedby Sir Harry’s former aide-de-camp and friend,General Sir Edward Alan Holdich, K.C.B., but,as it happened, I was not myself aware of itsexistence until, owing to the fresh interest awakenedin Sir Harry Smith and his wife by the siege ofLadysmith early in 1900, I inquired from membersof my family what memorials of my great-unclewere preserved. Sir Edward then put this manuscriptand a number of letters and documents atmy disposal. It appeared to me and to friends[vii]whom I consulted that the Autobiography was sofull of romantic adventure and at the same time ofsuch solid historical value that it ought no longer toremain unpublished, and Mr. John Murray, to whomI submitted a transcription of it, came at once tothe same conclusion.

My task as Editor has not been a light one. InSir Harry’s letter to Mrs. Sargant of 15th October,1844,[1] he says of his manuscript, “I have neverread a page of it since my scrawling it over at fullgallop;” and in a letter of 14th January, 1845,“Harry Lorrequer would make a good story of it.You may ask him if you like, and let me know whathe says of it.” It is clear from these passages thatSir Harry did not contemplate the publication ofhis story in the rough form in which he had writtenit, but imagined that some literary man, such asCharles Lever, might take it in hand, rewrite itwith fictitious names, and so fashion out of it amilitary romance. The chapters[2] on Afghanistanand Gwalior, already written, were, however, of aserious character which would make them unsuitablefor such treatment; and the same was the case withthe chapters on the Sikh War, afterwards added.Whether Lever ever saw the manuscript I do notknow; at any rate, the author’s idea was nevercarried out.


It is obvious that now that fifty years havepassed, some of the reasons which made Sir Harrysuggest such a transformation of his story are nolonger in force. The actors in the events which hedescribes having almost all passed away, to suppressnames would be meaningless and would deprive thebook of the greater part of its interest. And forthe sake of literary effect to rewrite Sir Harry’sstory would be to destroy its great charm, theintimate relation in which it sets us with his fieryand romantic character.

The book here given to the public is not indeedword for word as Sir Harry wrote it. It has oftenbeen necessary to break up a long sentence, toinvert a construction—sometimes to transpose aparagraph in order to bring it into closer connexionwith the events to which it refers. But suchchanges have only been made when they seemednecessary to bring out more clearly the writer’sintention; the words are the author’s own, evenwhere a specially awkward construction has beensmoothed; and it may be broadly said that nothinghas been added to Sir Harry’s narrative or omittedfrom it. Such slight additions to the text as seemeddesirable, for example, names and dates of battles,[3]have been included in square brackets. In somecases, to avoid awkward parentheses, sentences of[ix]Sir Harry’s own have been relegated from the textto footnotes. Such notes are indicated by theaddition of his initials (“H. G. S.”).

Sir Harry’s handwriting was not of the mostlegible order, as he admits, and I have had considerabledifficulty in identifying some of thepersons and places he mentions. Sometimes Ihave come to the conclusion that his own recollectionwas at fault, and in this case I have laid mydifficulty before the reader.

I have not thought it my duty to normalizethe spelling of proper names, such as those oftowns in the Peninsula and in India, and thenames of Kafir chiefs. Sir Harry himself spellssuch names in a variety of ways, and I havenot thought absolute consistency a matter of importance,while to have re-written Indian namesaccording to the modern official spelling wouldhave been, as it seems to me, to perpetrate ananachronism.

I have, indeed, generally printed “Sutlej,”though Sir Harry frequently or generally wrote“Sutledge;” but I have kept in his own narrativehis spelling “Ferozeshuhur” (which is, I believe,more correct) for the battle generally called“Ferozeshah.” Even Sir Harry’s native place(and my own) has two spellings, “Whittlesey”and “Whittlesea.” In his narrative I have preservedhis usual spelling “Whittlesea,” but I have[x]myself used the other, as I have been taught to dofrom a boy.

Perhaps it is worth while to mention here thatSir Harry’s name was strictly “Henry GeorgeWakelyn Smith,” and it appears in this form inofficial documents. But having been always knownin the army as “Harry Smith,” after attaining hisknighthood he stoutly refused to become “SirHenry,” and insisted on retaining the more familiarname.[4] As the year of his birth is constantly givenas 1788, it is worth while to state that the BaptismalRegister of St. Mary’s, Whittlesey, proves him tohave been born on 28th June, 1787.

While the documents put into my hands by SirEdward Holdich enabled me to throw a good dealof additional light on the events recorded in theAutobiography, I thought it a prime duty not tointerrupt Sir Harry’s own narrative by interpolations.Accordingly I have thrown this illustrativematter into Appendices. In some of these, especiallyin his letters to his wife of 1835 (Appendix iv.),one sees the writer, perhaps, in still more familiarguise than in the Autobiography.

But I had not merely to illustrate the period ofSir Harry’s life covered by his Autobiography; I[xi]had a further task before me, viz. to construct anarrative of the rest of his life (1846-1860), includinghis Governorship of the Cape (1847-1852).For the manner in which I have done this, I mustcrave indulgence. At the best it would have beenno easy matter to continue in the third person astory begun by the main actor in the first, and inthis case the letters and personal memoranda, whichwere tolerably abundant for Sir Harry’s earlieryears, suddenly became very scanty when theywere most required. Accordingly, for much of SirHarry’s life I had no more sources to draw on thanare accessible to anybody—histories, blue-books,and newspapers. I can only say that in thissituation I have done the best I could. My chiefdifficulty was, of course, in dealing with the timeof Sir Harry’s command at the Cape. It wouldhave been inconsistent with the scope of the wholebook to have attempted a systematic history of thecolony or of the operations of the Kafir War. Atthe same time I could not enable my readers toform an estimate of Sir Harry’s conduct at thistime without giving them some indication of thecircumstances which surrounded him. If I amfound by some critics to have subordinated biographytoo much to history, I can only hope thatother critics will console me by finding that I havesubordinated history too much to biography.

Amid a certain dearth of materials of a private[xii]kind, I do congratulate myself on having been ableto use the packet of letters docketed by Sir Harry,“John Bell’s and Charlie Beckwith’s Letters.”General Beckwith was an earlier General Gordon,and his letters are so interesting in matter and sobrilliant in expression that one is tempted to wishto see them printed in full. Perhaps some readersof this book may be able to tell me of other lettersby the same remarkable man which have beenpreserved.

The latter part of this book would have beenbalder than it is, if it had not been for the help Ihave received from various friends, known andunknown. I must express my thanks in particularto the Misses Payne of Chester, who lent me lettersaddressed to their father, Major C. W. MeadowsPayne; to Mrs. Thorne of Chippenham, who lentme letters addressed to her father, Major GeorgeSimmons; to Mrs. Fasson, daughter of Mr. JusticeMenzies of the Cape, and Mr. W. F. Collier ofHorrabridge, who gave me their reminiscences; toColonel L. G. Fawkes, R.A., Stephen A. Aveling,Esq., of Rochester, Major J. F. Anderson of Faringdon,R. Morton Middleton, Esq., of Ealing, CaptainC. V. Ibbetson of Preston, Mrs. Henry Fawcett,my aunt Mrs. John A. Smith, Mrs. Farebrother ofOxford, Mr. B. Genn of Ely, Mr. Charles Sayleof Cambridge, Mr. G. J. Turner of Lincoln’s Inn,Mr. A. E. Barnes of the Local Government Board,[xiii]the Military Secretary of the War Office, andothers, for kind assistance of various kinds. I amindebted to my cousins, Mrs. Lambert of 1, SloaneGardens, S.W., and C. W. Ford, Esq., for permissionto reproduce pictures in their possession,and to General Sir Edward Holdich for muchaid and interest in my work in addition to thepermission to use his diary of the Boomplaats expedition.Lastly, my thanks are due to my brothersand sisters who assisted in transcribing the Autobiography,and in particular to my sister, Miss M.A. Smith, who did most of the work of preparingthe Index.

I shall feel that any labour which I havebestowed on the preparation of this book will berichly repaid if through it Harry and Juana Smithcease to be mere names and become living figures,held in honour and affection by the sons anddaughters of the Empire which they served.


September, 1901.

For some of the corrections now introduced Iam indebted to Lieut.-Col. Willoughby Verner,Rifle Brigade, and to the Rev. Canon C. Evans,late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

G. C. M. S.

University College, Sheffield,
April, 1902.



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