Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1857-1858.
PROFESSION:- Silversmith/Watch maker
WARD:- All Saints
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- February 28th 1852
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Ex officio magistrate, tenure only
RESIDENCE:- Yarborough Villa, Elm Grove. Southsea
DECEASED:- cAug 10th 1874 Aged 78
BURIED:- Not Known
Trading from premises at 185 Queen Street Charles, Smithers was one of a number of Silversmith/Watchmakers to be found in Portsmouth in the C19th. He was also one of the few mayors never to be appointed a full magistrate.
At the meeting of the 9th November Alderman Orange stood to nominate Alderman Smithers. He went on to enunciate that Smithers was well respected in the Borough, had been a council member for eighteen years and was in all ways a fit and proper person. This was seconded by Cllr Louis A. Vandenbergh (St Paul). However, Cllr William H. Garrington then proposed Cllr Henry Ford. In his nomination speech Garrington cleared any possible objections to Ford. One, that he was not an alderman. But the doctrine that none but alderman should be elected was not one he supported. Two, nor did he subscribe to the contention that no councillor ought to be mayor until all living aldermen had held the post. Three, that Ford, as a solicitor practising in the Police Court, ran foul of the dictum of the Lord Chancellor that no practising solicitor be placed permanently on the Bench - as this might generate a conflict of interests. "But why should men well versed in the Law be disbarred.?" questioned Garrington. Fourth the objection that Ford's nomination was a political move. Garrington was adamant that there was no basis for this claim adding that party politics should always kept out of mayoral elections. Alderman Owen spoke in support of Ford saying that he knew him to be a man of integrity who would not allow his judgement on the Bench to be swayed by personal considerations. The majority of the Council were not swayed. The motion was put with the result for Smithers:- Ayes 37. Noes 11, and neuters 5.
Smither's mayoral dinner held at the Portland Hotel was apparently a lively affair. On the 21st November 1857 the Portsmouth Times carried an item refuting allegations of excess as reported in the Hant's Advertiser. The Portsmouth Times nevertheless reprinted this 'gross libel' in full:- "We regret to say that the conduct of the majority of gentlemen, as the evening advanced, was fitter for the arena of a cockpit or bear garden than a handsomely equipped room which usually accommodates none but those who know how to behave themselves in public."
For the Corporation the year opened with an Address to the Queen on the marriage of the Princess Royal. Nationally in 1858 the Local Government Act was passed but Portsmouth declined to accept this landmark piece of legislation until 1863. The council nevertheless found sufficient other business to occupy itself with at their quarterly meetings. Law and Order often featured on the agenda. In 1858 the Borough police consisted of one Superintendent, six Inspectors, and 64 constables. In February the rate payers of the borough memorialised the Watch Committee to increase the size of this force in order to suppress alleged nuisances on the Hard caused by rowdy drunkenness and prostitution etc. The mayor made known that in the past year no less than 63 persons had been arrested by the Police on the Hard. He went however, to point out that the police had no powers to arrest prostitutes as such - unless caught flagrante delicto. (2) But given scenes of continued disorder on the Hard the force was later increased by 23 men.
Clarence Esplanade, this elegant carriage way along the seafront, when opened in 1848 was the borough's pride and joy. It was the pet project of Cllr Emanuel and completed with the assistance of the Governor - Lord Frederick Fitzclarence. Though for the most part free convict labour was used some funding, though minimal, was required. This had been drawn mostly from resources allocated for improvements and its use on the Esplanade development was of dubious legality. By 1858 the Esplanade was in dire need of maintenance. Cllr Henry Ford proposed that financial help should be sought from both the Portsmouth and Landport Improvement Commissioners - whose bailiwicks this asset spanned. Cllr Emanuel was incensed. He wanted the council to keep control and proposed an amendment to that effect. At first mayor Smithers was reluctant to put this to the vote on grounds of the legality of spending council money on this carriage way. Emanuel threatened to resign. The mayor changed his mind. No matter, the amendment was lost. Eventually the Portsmouth Commissioners agreed to pay 1/4 and the Landport & Southsea group agreed to pay 3/4 of the cost with a maximum of 100.00. (3)
The show piece event occurred on August 2nd when Her Majesty invested nine officers and three men with the Victoria Cross on Southsea Common in the presence of 20,000 spectators. (4) Grandstands were erected on the Esplanade for this event and entrance fees were charged so some of the expenditure was recouped.
Smithers remained a member of the Council until his death in 1874. No obituary was carried in the local press but the short lived Southsea Observer August 14th 1874 printed that the council noted his death with regret and sent condolences to the widow.
Norman Gordon
1. Portsmouth Times 14th November 1857.
2. Portsmouth Times May 8th 1858. By now the price of this paper had been reduced from 6d to 3d or 4d stamped
3. Portsmouth Times 22nd May 1858.
4. Portsmouth Times August 7th 1858.