The General Officer Commanding the Militia of Canada, Sir Edward Selby Smyth, was born at Castleton, near Belfast, Ireland, March 31, 1820, being the only son of the late Colonel John Selby Smyth, then of the Royal Scots, and of Surrey, England. His mother was Isabella Thomson, of Irish birth, and Scotch descent. He was educated at Chiswick, Middlesex, and Putney College, Surrey. He entered the army in January, 1841, in the 2nd Queen’s Royal Regiment, then stationed in Central India, and was there employed, both regimentally and on the staff; for four years, including the campaign in the Southern Niaharatta Country, and in the Concan. In 1846 he returned with his regiment to England. He was Adjutant of the battalion between four and five years, and afterwards Aide-de-Camp to Major-General Sir Guy Campbell, Bart., C. B., in 1848. On the breaking out of the war in South Africa, in 1850, he accompanied his regiment to the Cape of Good Hope, reaching there early in 1851, having command of a company, and being in every engagement with his regiment, during the war, which closed in 1853. On one occasion, as we learn from the “Canadian Military Review,” of, August, 1877, “being attacked in the intricate fastnesses of Great Fish River, his party lost one-third of its number in a desperate encounter with some thousand Kaffirs and Hottentots, and upon the senior officer being killed during the action, the command devolved upon Sir Edward, who subsequently formed a junction with the column under Lieutenant-Colonel, now General, Sir John Michel, G.C.B.”For his” coolness and intrepidity” on this occasion, Sir Edward was complimented in the Commander-in-Chief’s general order, and he was promoted a Brevet-Major.
As soon as peace was declared in the Orange River Country, Sir Edward was appointed Deputy-Assistant Quartermaster-General of the 2nd Division, and a little later Adjutant and Quartermaster-General at the Head Quarters of the Army in South Africa, under General the Hon. Sir George Cathcart, K.C.B., an office which he filled nearly seven years, with a force at one time of about 12,000 men. During this period, the powerful Kaffir chiefs made desperate efforts to drive out the whole white population; but by prompt and energetic efforts were checkmated, and thwarted in their efforts, their tribal system being, meantime, completely broken up.
In 1858, Sir Edward became a full Colonel in the army, still holding, however, his Captain’s commission in his regiment, performing, for a time, in addition to his staff duties, those of Secretary to the Government in the Eastern Provinces On the expiration of the term of his office, in 1860, he was promoted and returned to England, his regiment, meantime, having gone to China. In 1861, he was appointed Inspector-General of Militia in Ireland, which post he held for six years. In 1867, while the flying columns were employed in crushing the Fenians in the South, Sir Edward was selected to act under General Lord Strathnairn, as Adjutant-General of the Army in Ireland, being made also, at the same time, a Special Magistrate for the County and City of Dublin, to use the troops independently, in case of outbreak. He was thanked by the Irish Government at the termination of this service.
On the 6th of March, 1868, he was promoted to the rank of Major-General; in 1870, was sent as General Officer in Command of the Forces in Mauritius, and while there acted twice as Governor, altogether for nearly a year. The Franco-German war occurred during this period, and, for some months he detained a British frigate to carry out the neutrality laws between French and German seamen.
On returning once more to England, Sir Edward gave some time to travels on the Continent of Europe, visiting France, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and Algeria. On the 1st of October, 1874, he was appointed to the command of the Militia of Canada, which position he has held for six years, discharging his duties with eminent satisfaction. In July, 1878, the Lieutenant-General received the thanks of the Governor-General in Council, for the discretion displayed in holding the City of Montreal in military occupation upon the occasion of anticipated alarming riots, which, by his judicious disposition of the troops, and firm action were happily prevented.
In 1875, he made a journey of inspection across the entire continent to British Columbia and Vancouver Island, a distance of about 2,500 miles, on horseback the first British General Officer, who has done so.
He is President of the Dominion of Canada Artillery Association. Upon the Queen’s birthday, May 24, 1877, Her Majesty appointed him Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, and in October of the same year promoted him to Lieutenant-General, as a reward for meritorious and distinguished services; he received, in the February following, a reward of one hundred pounds annually, in addition to his military emoluments.
Lady Selby Smyth, his wife, is Lucy Sophia Julia, daughter of Major-General Sir Guy Campbell, Bart., and granddaughter of Lord Edward Fitzgerald married November 20, 1848. They have one son and one daughter. The son, Edward Guy Selby Smyth, is Aide-de-Camp to his father, and Lieutenant of the 86th Royal Regiment. The daughter and mother remain at the family residence, Manor House, Thames Ditton, Surrey, England.
The Lieutenant-General has been round the Cape of Good Hope eleven times; has visited Algeria, and Northern as well as Southern Africa and much of Europe, Asia and America; and is a very communicative and rich entertainer in the private circle. He ought to write a book of travels and exploits. He has the ability, and must have the material for preparing a very entertaining work.