The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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William Henry Smith, 1825-1891

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1825.06.24
Place of Birth: Duke Street, Grosvenor Square
Date of Death: 1891.10.06
Place of Death: Walmer Castle, Kent


William Henry Smith, M. P., statesman and bookseller. He was only son of William Henry Smith, a Methodist newsagent, and Mary Anne Cooper. In 1858 he married Emily, the widow of Benjamin Auber Leach, and the eldest daughter of Frederick Dawes Danvers, a Clerk to the Council of the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1891 she was created Viscountess Hambleden. Their eldest son, William Frederick Danvers Smith, inherited the family business and became M.P. for the Strand.


Although he desired to go to Oxford and take holy orders, Smith instead became a partner in his father's newsagency business in 1846. He gradually took over its management and negotiated with railway companies to have bookstalls erected in stations. By 1851 he had secured a monopoly of stations on the London and North-Western lines and earned the nickname of 'the North-Western Missionary'. By 1862 he had secured the exclusive right to sell books and newspapers in stations all over England. He also formed a circulating library, and began publishing cheap editions, a branch of business that was taken over by Messrs. Ward & Lock in 1883.

In 1849 Smith joined the managing committee of King's College Hospital, in 1855 he was elected to the Metropolitan Board of Works, and in 1861 he joined a small working committee for the Bishop of London's fund. He was also Treasurer of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and of the London Diocesan Council for the Welfare of Young Men.

Smith became the Liberal-Conservative M.P. for Westminster in 1868. In 1874 he was made Secretary to the Treasury under Disraeli and in 1877 he became First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1885 he was appointed Secretary of State for War and in 1886 became First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons. Punch satirised him as 'Old Morality'. His portrait was executed by George Richmond.

In December 1887 JW sought Smith's advice as to how best to gift a set of etchings of the Naval Review at Spithead to Queen Victoria (#01849). Smith presented them to the Queen on behalf of JW (#04539).


H. E. M., 'William Henry Smith', 1897, Dictionary of National Biography Online, Oxford, 1997 (accessed 31 October 2003).