Background and early life
Robert Smith was born on 22 January 1752 in Nottingham, the third son of the Russia merchant and banker Abel Smith (c.1717-88) and his wife Mary, daughter of Thomas Bird, a Warwickshire silk manufacturer. Mary was the aunt of the campaigner and politician William Wilberforce.
From Christmas 1769 Robert Smith began to work in London for his father's bank Smith, Payne & Smith, whose main business, trading as Abel Smith & Co, was based in Nottingham. The London bank had been established purely to act as London agent for the Nottingham firm, but following Robert Smith’s arrival it began to act as a bank in its own right.
In 1773, ‘out of love and affection to his son and for his advancement in the world’, Abel Smith arranged for Robert to become a salaried partner in the firm. Eight years later Robert’s brother Samuel also joined the firm on a similar basis. From 1785, when both Robert and Samuel acquired one-sixth shares in the firm, Robert Smith effectively managed the London bank, while his father ran the Nottingham business.
Abel Smith died in 1788 and Robert Smith succeeded him as head of the banking firm, which in Nottingham became known as Robert Smith & Co. In 1789 he became head partner in the Lincoln bank Smith, Ellison & Brown, and in 1790 he became head partner in the Hull banking firm Smiths & Thompson, of which he, his father and his brother Samuel had been founding partners in 1784. Two other brothers, John and George, also served as partners in family banks.
In 1792, after the outbreak of war in Europe, Robert Smith retired from the London, Nottingham and Hull banks in order to concentrate on his activities in the London money and stock markets, which included investing surplus funds on behalf of the family’s provincial banks. In 1800 he also retired from the Lincoln bank.
In the 1780s and 1790s Smith was also a partner in the Hull merchant firms Wilberforce & Smith (from 1787 Wilberforce, Smiths & Co), which shared premises and partners with the Hull bank, and Sykes, Son & Co (from 1791 Joseph Sykes, Son & Co).
In 1779, following the death of his elder brother Abel Smith, Robert Smith was adopted in his brother’s place as parliamentary candidate for Nottingham, continuing his brother’s support for the stockingers of the town. He continued to represent the town until 1797.
Smith allied himself to William Pitt the younger, and the two men developed a close friendship. Smith became Pitt’s chief financial adviser, acting as his agent in the money market, advising on government loans and helping with the management of his personal finances. He was appointed a commissioner of Exchequer loan bills in 1793 and in the same year became a member of the Board of Agriculture, serving as its president, 1801-3.
In the unsuccessful first parliamentary vote on abolition of the slave trade in 1791, Smith allied himself with his first cousin William Wilberforce to vote in favour of abolition. Smith himself later became the owner of a slave plantation, owning Farm Pen in Jamaica from 1798 until his death forty years later.
Robert Smith was created Baron Carrington of Bulcot Lodge in the peerage of Ireland on 11 July 1796, and on 20 October 1797 Baron Carrington of Upton, Nottinghamshire, in the peerage of the United Kingdom. He is thought to have been the only ‘tradesman’ to have been elevated to the peerage under King George III. Following Pitt’s death in 1806 Smith supported Lord Grenville for a while, though he did not accept his offer of an earldom. Later in life, when he could no longer attend the House of Lords in person, he selected the Duke of Wellington to act as his proxy. In 1832 he supported Benjamin Disraeli as the Radical candidate for High Wycombe.
Appointments and offices held
Lord Carrington was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1800 and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1812. He served as a vice-president of the Literary Fund.
In 1797 he became a Captain-Lieutenant (and the following year Captain) in the Bucks yeomanry. In 1802 was appointed Captain of Deal Castle (one of the Cinque Ports), a position he held until his death, and the following year he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the 2nd battalion of the Cinque Ports Volunteers.
On 6 July 1780 Robert Smith married Anne Barnard, eldest daughter of Lewyns Boldero Barnard of Cave Castle, Yorkshire. Together they had one son, Robert John Smith (1796-1868), and eleven daughters. Anne died in 1827.
On 19 January 1836, days before his 84th birthday, Smith married Charlotte Trevelyan née Hudson (1770-1849), daughter of John Hudson of Bessingby, Yorkshire and widow of the Reverend Walter Trevelyan of Henbury, Gloucestershire.
Lord Carrington’s London home was in St James’s Place, Whitehall. In 1798 he acquired Wycombe Abbey, High Wycombe, where he employed the architect James Wyatt to make substantial alterations. He used Deal Castle to entertain and also owned property in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, and Midhurst, Surrey.
Lord Carrington died on 18 September 1838 at home in London. He was buried on 3 October 1838 at High Wycombe. His son Robert John Smith (later Robert John Carrington) succeeded to his title.
Related publications and online sources
- Harry Tucker Easton, The History of a Banking House: Smiths, Payne & Smiths (London: Blades, East & Blades, 1903)
- JASL Leighton-Boyce, Smiths the Bankers, 1658-1958 (privately published by National Provincial Bank, 1958)
- 'Robert Smith (1752-1838)' on The History of Parliament, 1754-1790 and The History of Parliament, 1790-1820
- 'Robert Smith, first Baron Carrington (1752-1838)' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Summary of our archive holdings
- Partnership agreements relating to banks in which Robert Smith was a partner, 1773-92
- Correspondence between Robert Smith and his father Abel Smith concerning family and banking affairs, 1774-7
- Article from the Nottinghamshire Journal reporting the death of Abel Smith and the meeting held to choose his successor (Robert Smith) as MP for the town, 1779
- Deeds concerning properties owned or occupied by Robert Smith in Wendover, 1795-1830
- Share certificates in the Strand (later Waterloo) Bridge, the property of Robert Smith, 1807-15