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Gilbert Smith (?–1830)

Died, at Parramatta, on the 18th Instant, Mr. Gilbert Smith, late chief Store-keeper of Port Macquarie. Mr. Smith was an officer in whom our Commissary reposed the greatest confidence. On Mr. Bell, the second storekeeper (a gentleman of equally unblemished character, and who formerly commanded the brig Minerva) making some complaints which affected the Commandant, General Darling directed a Commission of Enquiry to be held at Port Macquarie, and for that purpose sent to that settlement Lieut.-Col. Morriset, and a young man named Busby, formerly a linen draper of Edinburgh, as joint Commissioners. The enquiry was a complete farce. It ended by the dismissal without further hearing, not of the commandant, who dealt largely in pigs, pork, and fancy trades (all of which were expressly forbidden by the Governor), but of Mr. Smith and Mr. Bell. After their dismissal, we, at their joint request, published in this Journal of Feb. 1829, Nos. 187 and 188, their defence, which they had not been allowed an opportunity of making previously to their dismissal. For that publication we were prosecuted. But the General did not give us a trial, equivalent to an inquiry. For if he had, that enquiry would not have been before a couple of enquirers of the General's own choosing, but before the Supreme Civil Court. His Excellency was pleased to order our enquiry before a commission of seven of his own officers. The form of trial however (an ex-officio information) precluded us from a defence. We were then (poor Smith is dead now and cannot speak— Mr. Bell too was compelled to leave the Colony in extreme penury, unable to prove truth of all we had alleged. But "the greater the truth" said the incorrupt and moral Lord Mansfield "the greater the libel." i.e. the greater the offence against the laws. Consequently, we were convicted. And on the sentence which followed, we are this moment in duresse.

Mr. Smith, after this blow to his fortunes, was visited by another affliction still more severe. The ways of Providence are past finding out. Therefore in recording the following, the view which the limited powers of reason can take of the Divine government, affords no satisfaction. All which a modest mind can say on such an occasion, is "The Judge of all the earth will finally do right." Mr. Smith had a small portion of arsenic in his store in a paper marked "arsenic" outside. By means still a mystery, this arsenic found its way into his kitchen, was put into a cloth, and thus folded, was used by the cook as a stopper or cover, to a jar containing flour. Every time the cook used the flour, grains of the poison fell into the jar. The viands in which the flour thus impregnated were used, were eaten for two or three days. The last time they were eaten, the flour it should seem was used in a greater quantity that the first and second time. The cook was the first victim, a servant woman the second, Mr. Smith's child the third, another servant the fourth, Mrs. Smith the fifth, and now, after a lingering illness of eighteen months, Mr. Smith, in which interval, one of his hands gradually wasted or rather rotted away, beginning at the finger ends. We are happy to learn, that the surviving children are in number only two. Thus perished a worthy family, the head of whom served his King and country in the Peninsula, for many years, again as a civil officer in New South Wales, but from which latter service he was dismissed as a venal man. A circumstance which to our knowledge preyed greatly on his mind from the time of his dismissal to the day of his death. We shall conclude this melancholy account with suggesting, that the history of the government of God proves, that while, to show the nature and evil of sin, he is pleased to afflict the righteous and to uphold the wicked, investing the latter with power, riches and honour, and apparently placing him beyond the reach of retribution, yet as a God of justice and purity, who delights in recompensing every man sooner or later according to his works, let the fainting believer in his Providence take heart, and remember that emphatic apostrophe of the Psalmist, "Verily there is a final reward for the righteous—and doubtless there is a God, that judgeth the earth." If the Almighty were to resist oppression and wrong with immediate punishment, the malice of man's heart and the evils of vice or sin, would not be portrayed. It is mysterious, but it is no doubt fit and right, for the government of these myriads of intelligencies who inhabit other worlds besides this, and the eternal space between them (all of whom are but the inhabitants of that Universe which comprises the government of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as the islands and continents of the Empire of the Almighty), that the real nature of sin should be shewn and displayed on a varied and magnificent scale. Thus it is that crimes of all kinds are permitted; thus it is, that the widow is allowed to be robbed, the orphan plundered; the chaste virgin ravished, the benevolent oppressed, and innocence imposed upon. Unless these events were permitted, who would know sufficiently the evil of vice, and the excellency of virtue? It is by contrast that a due impression is made on intellect, angelic or human (for intellect doubtless is the same in every order of beings). Let us then not be surprised, much less impugn the ways of God to man, because he suffers the evil to triumph in this life over the good. In the death of poor Gilbert Smith, we see a brave soldier, a loyal subject, a faithful servant of the King, a good husband and father, and an honest man, die in circumstances of pain, penury, and with a character stained without cause. These however are to be considered the only lesser evils of a vast plan of universal beneficence.

Mr. Smith was interred yesterday at Parramatta. The Serjeants of the 39th being Masons, and the deceased having been a Serjeant of the 48th, were kindly permitted by Colonel Lindesay to attend their gallant fellow soldier to his home.

Original publication

Citation details

'Smith, Gilbert (?–1830)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 2 March 2024.

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