21 June 1764, Rear Admiral Sir Sidney Smith was born in Westminster, one of the most raffish naval officers, celebrated most for his support during the Siege of Acre against Napoleon.
“That man made me miss my destiny" (Napoleon Bonaparte)
|Somewhat romantic view of Acre by F. Spilsbury with Smith's "Tigre" and a picturesque dhow in the foreground|
It was, naturally, below the dignity of an officer and gentleman to actually work beyond the scope of one’s patriotic duty. And in contrast to a pongo, an army officer, who bought his commission and usually came from a wealthy background, naval men had earned their rank by merit and had to live on the dreaded half-pay if they were not assigned to a ship. Thus, when the navy was reduced to peace-time size after the end of the American War in 1783, many sought employment elsewhere, in the navies of Russia, the Ottoman Empire or Sweden. And they were welcomed with open arms there. Sidney Smith, though, came from a wealthy family and didn’t have to worry overmuch about his livelihood, was free to travel and finally, in 1790, signed on with the Royal Swedish Navy, distinguished himself in the Battle of Svensksund against the Russians and gained a knighthood from King Gustav III. Unfortunately, a lot of fellow Britons served on Empress Catherine the Great’s ships, some were killed in action and a Swedish knighthood didn’t do exactly much to endear Smith to his brother officers when he returned back home. King George III acknowledged the “Swedish Knight’s” foreign title after he did some rather useful work when Toulon was evacuated after war had broken out with revolutionary France. It was there that Smith opposed Napoleon for the first time. Back home, Sir Sidney Smith was given command of His Majesty’s frigate “Diamond” and joined the Western Frigate Squadron along with Sir Edward Pellew’s famous “Indefatigable” and began to harass the French coast pretty much in the same way like Cochrane did ten years later off southeastern Spain, specialised in inshore work and finally was caught during a cutting-out operation in Le Havre in 1796. He spent two years in prison since the Directoire simply refused to exchange him and was finally freed in a Royalist coup and escaped back home to England.
|"St. John d'Acre with H.B.M's ships Le Tigre & Theseus employed in its defence 2. May 1799"|
|Smith heroically defending Acre, as imagined by John Eckstein |
(1735 – 1817)
Sacrificing his newly won reputation by negotiating the Convention of El-Arish with General Kleber, basically allowing the rest of the Armée d'Orient to return to France on ships of the Royal Navy, the hare-brained scheme did not exactly make Sir Sidney popular with Nelson and Lord Keith, the supreme British commander in the Med. Recalled back to England, the plan was nevertheless executed in 1801 when Nelson and Keith had turned their backs. And while he busied himself with new naval inventions, Trafalgar was won and the requirements on the navy were exactly his provenience, coastal warfare, combined operations with British and allied troops and guerrillas as well as large scale use of squadrons of battleships to exert diplomatic pressure. Even though Smith was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1805, he still had a strong independent streak that made him ignore or rebuff his superiors, a trait that is fatal for every career in every organisation since time immemorial. Sir Sidney Smith excelled in several small-scale operations in the Mediterranean theatre, but was usually ordered to disengage from his plans at some point or was completely ignored. Probably his most memorable assignment was evacuating the Portuguese Royal Family to Brazil in 1807. During the Hundred Days and afterwards, Sidney Smith did some diplomatic work, campaigned for a better treatment of war-disabled and against slavery and finally died in Paris at the age of 74, a man with independent ideas, a high grade of professionalism in his chosen field and unorthodox enough to be become a second Nelson but without having the opportunity beyond the Siege of Acre.
And more about Sir Sidney Smith on: