Thomas Smith (Royal Navy officer)

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Thomas Smith
Commodore Thomas Smith.jpg
Portrait by Richard Wilson
Died28 August 1762(1762-08-28) (aged 54–55)
AllegianceUnion flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branchNaval Ensign of Great Britain (1707-1800).svg  Royal Navy
Rank Admiral
Commands held Downs Station
Leith Station
Newfoundland Station
HMS Royal Sovereign
HMS Success

Admiral Thomas Smith (1707 - 28 August 1762) [1] was a British admiral and colonial governor, credited with the invention of the divisional system that remains in use on ships of the Royal Navy. [1] . He served as Commander-in-Chief, the Downs and Commander-in-Chief, Leith.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.


Early life

Born in England around 1707, Smith was the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton [1] and a woman of whom details are unknown. He was raised a member of the Lyttelton family, who provided for Smith's education and aided him in the beginnings of his career in the Royal Navy. [1]

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 4th Baronet, of Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, was an English landowner and Whig politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1721 to 1741. He held office as one of the Lords of the Admiralty from 1727 to 1741.

Early naval career

The precise date as to when Smith entered the Royal Navy is unknown, but his first notable appointment in the Service was to the position of junior lieutenant aboard the Royal Oak on 6 February 1728, at the appointment of his commanding officer Sir Charles Wager. In June of the same year he was moved to the 44-gun Gosport under the command of Captain Duncombe Drake.

HMS Royal Oak was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built by Jonas Shish at Deptford and launched in 1674. She was one of only three Royal Navy ships to be equipped with the Rupertinoe naval gun. Life aboard her when cruising in the Mediterranean in 1679 is described in the diary of Henry Teonge.

Charles Wager Royal Navy admiral

Admiral Sir Charles Wager was First Lord of the Admiralty between 1733 and 1742. Despite heroic active service and steadfast administration and diplomatic service, Wager can be criticized for his failure to deal with an acute manning problem. However, in reality the Royal Navy's numerical preponderance over other navies was greater than at any other time in the century, and its dockyard facilities, overseas bases, victualling organization, and central co-ordination were by far the most elaborate and advanced. Although British warship design was inferior to French in some respects, the real problem was an insufficiency of the versatile and seaworthy 60-gun ships, a class that Wager's Admiralty had chosen to augment during the 1730s but, as wartime experience would show, not aggressively enough.

While a lieutenant aboard the Gosport, Smith attracted great controversy in an incident involving a French corvette in late November, 1728. At the time of the incident the Gosport was harboured in Plymouth Sound and Smith was acting-commanding officer due to all of his superiors being ashore. While in command, a French corvette that had entered the Sound for shelter passed the Gosport while departing, and Smith signalled for the French captain ‘to haul in his pennant in respect to the king of Great Britain's colours’. [1] Having already saluted the Royal Citadel of Plymouth, the French captain took this as an affront and the French authorities, upon receiving his report, presented an official letter of complaint to the British government. Smith was thus court-martialed and summarily dismissed from the Navy by king's order on 27 March 1729. [1] However, due to popular outcry at his dismissal, [1] he was reinstated at the same rank and made second lieutenant of the Enterprise on 12 May of the same year, [1] receiving the nickname 'Tom o'Ten Thousand' from his fellow seamen. [2]

Plymouth Sound Bay at Plymouth, England, UK

Plymouth Sound, or locally just The Sound, is a bay on the English Channel at Plymouth in England.

Royal Citadel, Plymouth fort in Plymouth, England

The Royal Citadel in Plymouth, Devon, England, was built in the late 1660s to the design of Sir Bernard de Gomme. It is at the eastern end of Plymouth Hoe overlooking Plymouth Sound, and encompasses the site of the earlier fort that had been built in the time of Sir Francis Drake.

On 5 May 1730, Smith was promoted to the rank of captain and given the command of the 24-gun Success. [1] Two years after this Smith was given command of the Dursley Galley, [1] a 20-gun fast frigate stationed in the Mediterranean, mainly tasked with patrolling against Barbary Pirates. [1] Remaining mainly in the Mediterranean, Smith remained in this position for a decade. [1]

Tenures as Governor of Newfoundland

In 1740 Smith transferred to the 50-gun Romney, on board which he sailed back to Great Britain. Smith then departed aboard the Romney with the fishing fleet to Newfoundland, where he was to become Commodore-Governor. He only held this position for one year, resigning in April 1742, [1] but was appointed again in 1743 after a brief return to the Mediterranean. [1]

HMS Romney was a 50-gun fourth rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built by Sir Joseph Allin to the 1706 Establishment at Deptford Dockyard, and launched on 2 December 1708.

In Newfoundland the Commodore-Governor was a British Royal Navy official who was commander of the annual fishing convoy which left England each spring to fish off Newfoundland and was charged with protecting the convoys from harm. He was also responsible for various administrative and judicial functions, including assisting the fishing admirals in maintaining law and order and compiling the annual report on the fishery for the English government. By 1818, the colony had a significant enough permanent population to justify having a resident governor.

Late naval career and the creation of the divisional system

Smith left the post of governor for good and was placed in command of the 100-gun Royal Sovereign in September 1745. [1] Around this time Smith spent a lot of time organising anti-invasion defences off the coast of Suffolk and Essex aboard the 40-gun Hastings. [1] In February 1746 he replaced John Byng as Commander-in-Chief, Leith, a position he stayed in until January 1747. [1] Smith was promoted to Vice-Admiral in 1748, [1] and in August 1755 he was made Commander-in-Chief, the Downs. [1]

Soon after taking command of the Downs Squadron in 1755, Smith began to draft a scheme to combat the problems regarding relations between the officers and the men in the Royal Navy. [3] Under this system the lieutenants on board a ship would be placed in charge of a division of the ship's company, and would be responsible for the health, welfare and efficiency of the men under their jurisdiction. [3] This system became known as the divisional system. While originally confined to Smith's Downs Squadron, it soon spread to other ships in the Service and was widely, though not universally admired, by the end of the Seven Years' War. [4] By 1765 the system appears to have been the structure of choice for ships in the Royal Navy. [4] A very efficient arrangement, Smith's divisional system resulted in increased efficiency and closer control, as well as improved communications between the officers and men on board. [4]

In December 1756 he was ordered back from the Downs to preside over the trial of Admiral John Byng, at which Smith apparently did his utmost (albeit unsuccessfully) to see that the court's recommendation of leniency was followed. [4] Smith then returned to the Downs Squadron on 24 February 1757 after promotion to the rank of Admiral of the Blue, but ill health forced Smith to declare his retirement the following year.


Thomas Smith died at his Rockingham Hall residence on 28 August 1762. [1]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Daniel A. Baugh (September 2004). "'Smith, Thomas (1707?–1762)'". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  2. "Adm. Thomas Smith Papers" . Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  3. 1 2 Rodger, N. A. M. (March 1988). The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy. Fontana Press. p. 217. ISBN   978-0-00-686152-2.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Rodger, N.A.M. The Wooden World. p. 218.

See also

Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Medley
Commodore Governor of Newfoundland
First Term 1741 1741
Succeeded by
John Byng
Preceded by
John Byng
Commodore Governor of Newfoundland
Second Term 1743 1743
Succeeded by
Charles Hardy

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