life stories

Thomas Rayner Smart c1771 – 1847

“Veteran patriot” and delegate to the First Chartist Convention.

Thomas Rayner SmartThomas Rayner Smart was Loughborough and Leicester’s delegate to the General Convention of the Industrious Classes (the First Chartist Convention), and one of 12 delegates whose portrait (left) was drawn for The Charter newspaper.

The First Chartist Convention of 1839 had more than its fair share of middle-class radicals. Thomas Rayner Smart, however, was a largely self-taught working class intellectual whose attainments even The Charter appears to have had trouble reconciling with his disreputable appearance.

On the evidence of the 1841 census, which puts his age at 70, Smart must have been in his late 60s when elected to serve as a delegate. The Charter puts his age at “sixty-five or sixty-six”. But although, by the tone of its profile, the paper clearly considered Smart to be an old man, he continued to be active within the Chartist movement for nearly a decade more.

Smart was present as a delegate at the Manchester Conference of 1840 at which the National Charter Association was founded, and was elected as a delegate for the 1842 Convention called to organise the presentation of that year’s national petition (but appears not to have attended).

Speaking at a “Democratic Supper” in 1845, the Leicester Chartist leader Thomas Cooper urged the setting up of a Veteran Patriots Fund to aid the likes of Smart and others “whose venerable age, infirmities, sufferings and labours in the cause of liberty” threatened the prospect of a sad death in the workhouse (Northern Star, 16 August 1845).

From then on, Smart and other “living veteran patriots” – including John “Daddy” Richards, Thomas Preston and Allen Davenport – became the subject of toasts at Chartist meetings. Smart, however, was not yet ready to give up active politics, and at the end of 1846 he could be found speaking at the annual conference of the Chartist Land Company (Northern Star, 12 December 1846).

The following month he was elected a member of the Fraternal Democrats set up both as a left-wing group within the National Charter Association and as a link to radicals and socialists elsewhere in Europe (Northern Star, 9 January 1847), and on 6 February the same year the Northern Star notes his membership of the Democratic Committee for the Regeneration of Poland.

Smart must have died within a year or so. However, the family connection with Chartism was kept alive by his daughter, Caroline Augusta Smart (born 1801), who in 1837 had married Joseph Culley. In its edition of 3 June 1848, the Northern Star, in a story lifted from the Leicester Mercury, reports a meeting of 4,000 Leicester Chartists, around half of them women, called to set up a Female Chartist Association. The paper records that:
“After singing a Chartist hymn, Mrs Cully, daughter of the late TR Smart, who was one of the earliest Chartist leaders of this county, was called to the chair.”

The Charter newspaper masthead
Portraits of Delegates No. 8: Thomas Rayner Smart

The extraordinary man with whose portrait we this week present our readers, is delegate to the General Convention from Loughborough and Leicester, and although his external appearance may not be calculated to prepossess a stranger in his favour, a few moments’ conversation with him would suffice to awaken a curiosity, and create a desire for some further acquaintance. The casket is rough, and it may be, unseemly, to the eye that can take pleasure only in what is highly wrought and adorned with the exquisite touches of an artist’s hand, but it bears a jewel of inappreciable value.
Thomas Rayner Smart is a native of Leicestershire, and was born in a small village about three miles distant from Loughborough. His parents were poor in circumstances, but rich in the enjoyment of a good name amongst all who knew them. They had the reputation, moreover, of belonging to a family who for many generations had been attached to the cause of civil and religions liberty; and one of their ancestors fought and bled in the parliamentary army, during the civil wars between the first Charles and his subjects. Mr Smart was deprived of his father at a very early age, and his mother’s resources were inadequate to procure for him the benefits of a liberal education. He was taught to read, however, and his natural thirst for knowledge overcame all the difficulties that stood in the way of its attainment. He procured books, by such means as he could command, and attained to considerable proficiency in algebra and mathematics; and subsequently made himself master of the Latin, Italian, French and Spanish languages, which he could read with tolerable fluency. He evinced, also, at a very early age, a strong passion for poetry, and was, for many years, a regular contributor to the Diaries and other periodicals of the time. Amongst the favourite objects of his pursuit, were the mechanical cuts, and his skill at the bench and lathe was very considerable. Through the friendship of the late Marquis of Hastings, he obtained a situation in the Excise department, which he filled during seventeen years, but of which he was ultimately deprived in consequence of his known liberal politics, at the instigation of the then corrupt and intolerant corporation of Leicester. Thus deprived of his bread, he turned some of his early and favourite pursuits to account; and by the construction of machinery, architectural drawing, &c, he acquired a state of comfortable independence.
Mr Smart’s long-cherished principles and ardent feelings as a reformer, induced him at once to take a decided and prominent part in the Chartist movement; and . with Mr Skevington, he succeeded in forming nine unions in and about Loughborough, as well as taking an active part in the organization of those of Nottingham and Leicester. At a public meeting held at Loughborough, in the month of November last, he was unanimously elected a delegate to the Convention, along with Mr Skevington, and was subsequently chosen sole delegate for Leicester.
In personal appearance, as we have already intimated, the delegate for Loughborough is somewhat eccentric, He is sixty-five or sixty-six years of age, and is about five feet seven inches in height. His features are largely formed, with high cheek bones and a face deeply marked by the ravages of the small pox. His usual dress is a brown, jockey-cut coat, surmounted by a rough great coat, a hat by courtesy called white, because it is any colour than that, with a very narrow brim, and beaten in on all sides. This, with a pair of heavy silver spectacles occasionally placed upon his nose, completes a picture perfectly original in its character, and which would furnish matter for amusing speculation to the philosopher or the moralist. Mr Smart is a widower, having lost his wife and eleven of his children, some years since.
After what we have said of the pursuits and attainments of the delegate for Loughborough, we need not add, that he is a man of strong and original powers of mind. He is well versed in history and politics, as well as in the higher branches of science and literature. He is remarkably clear-headed and evinces an extraordinary facility for divesting a subject of everything extraneous and irrelevant, and seizing hold upon the material points of the argument. He is active and punctual in attending to his duties as a member of the Convention, and is one of those, who, without vaunting his firmness or courage, may be implicitly relied upon whenever his services may be required.
[Source: The Charter, Sunday 21 April 1839]