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The Correspondence of John Smith to John Wilkes

This information is taken from The Correspondence of the Late John Wilkes, Vol. V (London 1805).

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He has been mentioned in Mr. Wilkes's letters to Mr. Cotes, and in several of miss Wilkes's letters.

His mother's name was Catherine Smith. She was housekeeper to Mr. Wilkes; but being a very low illiterate woman, the boy was removed from her as soon as possible, that he might not attain any of her vulgar idiom or coarse phraseology. He was placed first at Hounslow; in some degree under the attention of Mr. Frogley, of the Bucks militia: and was then put to school at Hammersmith; from whence, at a proper time, he was sent to Harrow. After being some years at Harrow, he was removed to Hamburgh. The three following letters contain some further account of him. Mr. Wilkes acknowledged him as his nephew, and he was accustomed to call Mr. Wilkes his uncle.

* * * * *

[118] Clement's-lane, Friday, 4th Oct. 1776.

MR. KENNEDY presents respectful compliments to Mr. Wilkes: he had the honour to receive his note of Monday last; and in compliance with his orders that the bill drawn on Messrs. Johnston and Canning from Hamburgh (£54. 6s.11 d.) for Mr. Wilkes's account should be accepted, the same has met due honour. Mr. Wilkes will please to observe, that as Messrs. Mathiessen and Co's. letter of advice to Messrs. J. and C., containing their account of this draft and the moneys laid out for Mr. Smith at Hamburgh, has been sent to Mr. Canning at Dublin, — Kennedy cannot, at present, furnish Mr. Wilkes with this account, but shall have it sent to him soon as Mr. C. returns the letter.

* * * * *

To John Wilkes, Esq. Hamburgh, Dec. 10, 1776.


Having read to your nephew your letter which you honoured me with, I grow sensible [119] of the good consequences of it. It will, to be sure, shake out of his head those false pretensions to independency, which more than one of my English newcomers had filled his mind with, howsoever inconsistent with those aims which occasioned their being sent over to me. The sudden increase of the academy last year had like to make these newcomers gain a superiority over the good examples of those who, by having lived longer under our direction, were more used to our gentle manner of ruling them: so that there were, perhaps, some of them led into false conceptions not of their own; which I am willing to suppose was your nephew's case. He lives under a more narrow inspection than the rest; in a pretty room, without any companion but that one of the governors (whose study is next to his room) has got his bed placed in it. You'll know already that I have charged our French language-master, who is a learned man, with the care of some lessons weekly in that part of mathematics which interests him in particular; as his want of understanding the [120] German hindered his improving by my more public lessons, and I had no time to spare for affording him private ones. In these he has improved pretty well: and as he, as well as his master, was desirous of giving you a proof of it by sending over his book of figures, I had bespoke the transmitting it by a ship; but which, I am afraid, won't sail now before winter, as the frost is just setting in.

I am,
with a perfect esteem and regard,
your most obedient, humble servant,

Be pleased, sir, to give my best compliments to Mr. Canning.

* * * * *

[121] THE following extract of a letter, written by Arthur Lee, Esq. at Chaillot near Paris, was received by Mr. Wilkes (from the hands of monsieur Montandoine) at London, September 8th, 1777.


Give me leave to ask you how you do; and to make you acquainted with monsieur Montandoine of Nantes, one of the first merchants in France, et de beaucoup d'esprit. Madame Montandoine will be also happy in the acquaintance of miss Wilkes, to whom I beg my very best compliments.

I had the pleasure of drinking your health with young Smith, at Berlin: he is well educated, and well behaved. — You have heard that the Scotch envoy had the impudence to hire people to rob me; and if he had not been frightened into an immediate return of all my papers, he might have done some mischief.

* * * * *

[122] IN the autumn of the year 1777 he was sent to Paris to finish his education, under the tuition of monsieur Lauchoix in that capital.

In the year 1782 Mr. Wilkes obtained for him, the place of a cadet in the East India company's service, and sent him to Bengal.

Mr. Wilkes's attention to the boy's education amply qualified him for the station which he was to fill; but the state of politics at home proved an insuperable bar to his flattering expectations in India. If Mr. Hastings had staid in Bengal a little longer, Mr. Smith would undoubtedly have experienced the happy effects of his patronage.

While in Bengal he sent the following six letters to his father.

[123] L ETTER I.

Caunpore, Nov. 18, 1785.


I cannot guess the reason of my not receiving even a line from you, or miss Wilkes, since my arrival in this country. I suppose it
must be owing to the number of Smiths on the Bengal establishment: and my letters must have been forwarded to them; who, opening them, did not wish to send them to me — therefore I have given myself another Christian name, John Henry Smith, to put a stop to all other mistakes that might happen in future; so beg you will direct the letters as above.

In every letter I have sent home I mentioned a dispute that happened on my arrival in this country, which has not been settled
yet, and cannot be done in this country; it must be done at home by the directors. The dispute is this:

You know that at Madras I was so unfortunate as to lose every thing I had in the world, [124] except what I had on my back; among them was my certificate of my being appointed a cadet for the year 1782. When I arrived at Calcutta, I found there was another Ensign John Smith, for that year, and only one mentioned in the general list from the court of directors; therefore, one of us must be put down at the bottom of the list of the army, till it is settled.

It will be a very easy matter for you, if you would be kind enough, to speak to sir Henry Fletcher, or any of the directors, and get my name put down very high in the list for 1782. It will be of very great consequence in a few years.

Sir Henry Fletcher might get it done in the following manner:—

The first letter the directors write to the council at Calcutta, they might mention in it that an Ensign John Smith's name, who came out in the Duke of Athol, in 1782, was forgotten to be inserted; therefore he is to take the rank of such a gentleman for the year 1782 (specifying the name I am to come above): or [125] even they might get me inserted in the list for the year 1781, which would make a difference of two or three hundred names.

May I beg the favour of you to send me some letters of recommendation to this country; as there is no post to be had without
your being strongly recommended to the commander in chief, or to somebody in council for if an officer does not get something of the kind, it is impossible to make a fortune, if you are not almost at the head of the army. General Sloper being at present commander in chief, if you, could send me out a letter to him, it will be of great consequence to me, — and at the same time one to Mr. Macpherson.

By the first gentleman that returns home I shall send you some more newspapers, and a trifling present to miss Wilkes. I should
have done it before, but am some hundred miles from Calcutta, and it cannot be done otherwise than by sending these things with a friend; and as I am not on the spot, I find that a very difficult thing to do. In a few months I shall move nearer to Calcutta, where I shall [126] have the pleasure of writing to you oftener than I have done.

I am,
dear uncle,
with respect,
your dutiful nephew,

* * * * *



THE greatest pleasure I have had since I have been in this country, is the two letters I received some time ago, one from you and one from miss Wilkes. I hope I shall be so happy once a-year. I am exceedingly sorry you put yourself to so much distress, on account of the money I drew on you for: you may depend on my never doing the like again, let what will happen.

[127] General Sloper, our commander in chief, has thought proper to make a new regulation in the army before his return to Europe, which will certainly ruin the youngest part of the army. He has made the youngest majors supernumeraries, likewise the youngest captains he has ordered to do lieutenant's duty on lieutenant's pay; also about eighty lieutenants, who are become supernumeraries, to do ensigns' duty on ensigns' pay; and all the ensigns are become supernumeraries, on 90 rupees a month instead of 135. So that by this new regulation, I shall be very lucky if I get on the strength of a battalion these four years to
come. We are not attached to any corps, nor have we any duty to do. We have permission to go to any part of the country we think proper, that is within the company's provinces, where we think we can live the cheapest; but for all that it is impossible to do it, and keep up the appearance of an officer. You know we are obliged to do it, though we do not do any duty : however, let what will happen, you may be assured I [128] never will break my word, and draw upon you again.

The directors are so good as to allow us to go home for three years, or till we are called for on our half-pay, and to find us a passage, which is certainly a very great indulgence to many; in particular to those who have money, and who wish to see their friends.

Lord Cornwallis arrived in Calcutta the 13th of September, 1786. He mentioned at his first dinner, that he would put the court of directors' orders into execution, let them be what they will. It is very well known they want us to be on half-pay, which is about twenty-two rupees per month. I understood he intends doing it: should that be the case, we must inevitably starve if we remain in the country; for one could live much better in England on fourpence a-day than here on our half-pay. As I came to India to make a fortune, and should find no likelihood of its being possible, I cannot think of remaining in the country should they put these orders into execution.

[129] I am exceedingly sorry to inform you of the death of colonel Harris. You gave me a letter of recommendation to him while in England, which he paid the greatest attention to. I have not had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Harris. The oldest daughter is married to a captain Green,, of the artillery.

* * * * *


Dinapore, 4th Oct. 1786.

WITH pleasure I understand that one of the miss Angeloes is married, to a lieutenant St. Leger; I believe it is the youngest, Nancy. I wish with all my heart they were all provided for. I think it is a very worthy family, which I beg. you will very kindly remember me to.

Dear uncle ! If you wish. me to do any thing in this country, for God's sake do send me out some letters of recommendation to different people here, either in council or rank in the army; or else I shall never have a post, but [130] be obliged to live on my bare pay, upon which it is impossible to save any thing.

I have one favour to ask; which is, — to request of you, as I lost my watch when the ship blew up, to send me out another, and a double barrelled gun. Should you not have money sufficient, I beg you will speak to some captain, and desire him to bring them out to me.

I wrote to you and miss Wilkes by the Severn packet: which was lost in this country, and every soul perished in her except two or three; and, what is remarkable, a boy saved himself by laying hold of a hog's tail, and so swimming to shore.

We live here in perfect peace; every day more and more Europeans coming. Instead of three brigades we have now six. I wish the Black powers would pick up a quarrel that we might have something to do; and at the same time get a few steps, which is always agreeable to a soldier.

I understand that several packets were saved out of the Severn. I hope my letters to you and miss Wilkes are of the number.

[131] I request you will make my compliments to miss Wilkes, and tell her that if any gentleman goes from hence I shall certainly send her some otta of roses.

I am,
dear uncle,
your ever-dutiful nephew,

* * * * *


Dinapore, Nov. 12, 1787


FROM being some hundred miles from Calcutta when the Ravensworth sailed, I was under the necessity to send my letter to you to a gentleman there, to forward it on board a ship. Unluckily, he happened to be out of town when my letter arrived, so that it lost the opportunity of going with her; but I have provided that the same misfortune shall not happen to this.

[132] Since I wrote to you last I have enjoyed as good health as I could wish; but I cannot say so much for my situation in the army. The company have thought proper, to save expences, to level the army, by which regulations I am become a supernumerary ensign; but I shall come on the strength again this cold weather: they have likewise reduced our allowances while supernumeraries; but with a little economy I contrive to make it out pretty well, which I find it absolutely necessary for
an officer to learn. Since Mr. Macpherson left this country, and lord Cornwallis arrived, from my not being in Calcutta, I have not been recommended to him, nor am I acquainted with any body about him; so that I have not the least chance of any advantage except my pay and batta [1] , — if you do not contrive to get me some letters of recommendation to his lordship, or to colonel Ross (who is the head person about him), and some to the counsellors here; then with the recommendation of my commanding officer, I may probably get something, which in the course of some years may enable [133] me to go home, and return you personally my sincere thanks for every thing you have done for me.

With infinite pleasure I heard from a gentleman who left England lately, that you and miss Wilkes were in perfect health. My daily prayers are that you may continue so for years.

As I was so unfortunate to lose the watch miss Wilkes gave me coming out, may I request the favour of you to send me another, and a double-barrelled gun (as I am very fond of shooting, and it is so wholesome in this country on account of the exercise)? As I have saved some money, I beg you will give to the captain who brings them an order on me for whatever they may cost. Were I to buy them here I should pay from 3 to 400 per cent, more. Pray let the watch, seals, and chain, be gold; and the gun made by Mr. Manton, in Dover. street. Order the barrels to be made 3 feet 4 inches long.

I beg I may hear from you as often as you can make it convenient to yourself; directing your letters to John Henry Smith, Bengal.

Should you or miss Wilkes want any thing from this part of the world, I beg you will command me. I am sorry to inform you colonel Harris died just after the arrival of Mrs. Harris in this country. When you see Angelo's family, I beg you will remember me to them in the kindest manner.

My compliments to miss Wilkes : and believe me,
dear uncle,
your ever dutiful
and affectionate nephew,

* * * * *


Dinapore, Nov. 5th, 1788.


Y OUR Letter which I received in 1786, afforded me the greatest pleasure I have experienced in this country. Since my arrival here it is [135] the only one. The certificate which you enclosed in it, settled my rank in the army. You cannot conceive what satisfaction we feel, hearing from our friends at so great a distance. I sincerely hope illness was not the cause of my not having heard from either. I suppose you have received the three letters I wrote and sent home last year: and one which I sent by major W. Watson, with some otta of roses for miss Wilkes and a letter: he promised me that he would deliver them personally. In my last I begged that you would be so kind to send me out a double-barrelled gun; a gold watch, chain, and seals; and to give to any captains or mates of Indiamen an order on me at sight for what these articles may cost. By having them sent out from Europe I shall save above 100 per cent.

You must have heard long before we did, that half of those regiments were to be officered by the company. Any one that wished to go into them sent in their names; for my part, I have not changed as yet, not having received advice from you. You may depend that [136] never will take any step where my future prospects are concerned, without first consulting you. As long as I can remain in the company's service, I will; for it is undoubtedly the best in the world, was not the climate of the country so much against us : however, should you wish me to go into his majesty's service, I certainly will comply.

Any alteration that you may hear of that is to take place in this country, I beg you will acquaint me with, and give me your advice how to act; and to indulge me with a few lines as often as you can make it convenient to yourself, by next ships or by land.

Pray don't forget to get me some letters for lord Cornwallis and colonel Ross: without them, no appointment.

I don't suppose we shall have a war here for some time to come. Don't forget, when you write me, to direct your letters to J, H. Smith. When you send out the gun and watch, I beg you will in your letter mention the number and ,the maker, that they may not be changed. Whenever you see Angelo's family, pray give [137] my compliments. I hope they are both well off in their old days.

I shall write to miss Wilkes by the next ship. Assure her that I have the greatest respect for her.

I am,
my dear uncle,
your very dutiful
and affectionate nephew,

* * * * *

LETTER VI. Bengal, Nov. 14, 1792.


I HOPE this will find you in as good health as when miss Wilkes wrote her last letter to me. In mine to her I mentioned that we were in perfect peace: I do not know how long it may continue; the Chinese have gone against the Napal rajah, and the latter has called upon us for assistance. His lordship has seat an ambassador [138] to him : God knows how it may turn out. No European has ever been in the rajah's country: it lies on the mountains to the northward of Bengal. Should any troops be sent there, I shall apply to be sent with them: I hope it may take place, as I am very anxious to see his country.

It is reported that lord Macartney is coming out here as governor-general. Should that be the case, I beg you will send me out letters of recommendation to him or to any one else that is coming, by which means I may get some appointment which may enable me to return home in a few years.

I assure you there is not a man happier in India than I am. I have always made it a rule to pay a proper respect to my superior officers, and I must say I have always met with politeness and attention in return. Wherever I have been I have always been invited by those in the civil line, who are rather nice in associating with officers. — There are some new regulations coming out for the army, which we are happy to hear: they are -said to be [139] very advantageous for the subaltern line. I hope our allowances will be increased; for I assure you it is impossible on our present pay and batta to save any thing to signify. It would take 30 or 40 years to save 3 or 4000 l, and then you must shut yourself up, and deprive yourself of every little amusement and comfort which is absolutely necessary in this country. Notwithstanding all this, there is not such service in the world; to you I am indebted for being in it, and for all the comfort I enjoy in it. May you meet with your due reward in this and, the other world, is the daily prayer of,

my dear sir,
yours ever, affectionately,

THE editor has not seen any thing further from this young gentleman.

[1] batta: Subsistence money (given to soldiers in the field, witnesses, prisoners, etc.). Hence, extra pay given to East Indian regiments when on a campaign, and spec. An extra allowance, which grew in time to be a constant addition to the pay of officers serving in India.

The word origin is Indo-Portuguese bata, prob. ad. Canarese bhatta rice in the husk (also called by Europeans batty), which became, first with the Portuguese, a term for ‘maintenance', ‘allowance for maintenance’. Oxford English Dictionary [back]

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