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Rev. John Jennings Smith

Rev. John Jennings Smith

Rev. John Jennings Smith (from the 1929 Souvenir Booklet for St. Paul's Paterson).

John Jennings Smith was probably born on 14 June 1784.[1] According to family tradition he was the illegitimate son of King George IV.[2] Others claim that 'English records' list his parents as Thomas Smith and Sarah Jennings,[3] but this has not been verified. A detailed argument for his Royal lineage is provided at the bottom of the page.

Little is known of his early life apart from the fact that he received a sound education. A John Jennings Smith was an officer serving in the Bahamas in 1803.[4] If it was the same man, he would have been 19, and it is possible he served in the British Army, presumably receiving a commission as a young ensign, but further reseearch is needed to confirm or eliminate this possibility.

On 26 December 1818 at Cheshunt, Hertford, England, he married Anne Timberlake[5] and they had 11 children. Their marriage certificate indicates that he was 'of this parish' possibly indicating he was born there rather than just living there at the time.

On 27 June 1823, at the age of 39, John Jennings Smith was admitted to St. Catharine's Hall at Cambridge University to study a Bachelor of Arts prior to taking Holy Orders.[6] Notably, his admission to St Catherine's Hall was as a Fellow Commoner, with a seat at High Table,[7] an indication of his social status or support by an influential patron. He obtained his B.A., graduating on 2 May 1827 and evidently was baptised five days later.[8] The baptism was probably essential for his upcoming ordination and the fact that it occurred when he was an adult lends weight to the argument for his illegitimate birth.

Two months after graduating, on 8 July 1827, John Jennings Smith was ordained as a Deacon by the Bishop in the Diocese of Gloucester and was immediately appointed Stidendiary Curate at St Michael's, Gloucester with an annual salary of £90.[9] Almost a year later, on 15 June 1828, he was ordained as a priest at Gloucester Cathedral by the Bishop of the Diocese. In August 1829 he moved to the curacy at Hartpury, a small town north of Gloucester. Here he had an annual stipend of £60 'together with surplice fees value £195 injoined to reside in the Vicarage house, garden and offices'. He added the curacy of the nearby village of Ashelworth in January 1830.[10]

Rev. Smith continued his studies at St Catharine's Hall and his M.A. was conferred on 7 July 1831.[11] It was also about this time that he performed his last baptisms at Hartpury and Ashleworth. These four years [1827-31] were Jennings Smith's only full-time experience of parish duties in England. In mid 1831 he moved to Chiswick in London. Here he ran a boarding school at Turnham Green up until he and his family left England in 1839. In those days, positions in many areas of life depended on personal influence. The Church was no exception. By age and education, Smith would have qualified for a vicarage. He did not get one, which points to a lack of patronage.[12]

What had happened? He had high-level patronage to enter St Catherine's in 1823 as a Fellow Commoner, but by mid 1831 his patronage had vanished. One explanation is the death of his supposed father and patron, King George IV, in June 1830. Perhaps George's brother William who became King on George's death was not disposed to help Smith, leaving him stuck as a curate with little prospect of becoming a vicar.

On 31 July 1835 Rev. Smith became licensed as a 'lecturer' at Chiswick parish church.[13] Despite the impressive title this simply indicates Jennings Smith was paid to give the sermon at the less fashionable Sunday afternoon services.

Family tradition says that Jennings Smith was often visited at St Mary's Chiswick by the Duchess of Kent and her daughter, Princess Victoria. It is suggested that Victoria, as Queen, helped him gain an appointment in New South Wales, but no evidence of this has been uncovered and in any case it was not necessary. By the late 1830s the increasing number of free settlers in New South Wales created new opportunities for clerical appointments and by 1837 the NSW colonial government was promoting the emigration of clergy of all major denominations. It was within this context that Jennings Smith approached the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for a colonial posting. His application was recommended by the Society and approved by the Bishop of London. Consequentially Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies, approved Smith's appointment and 'authorised the Colonial Agent to issue to him the usual allowance for outfit and passage'.[14]

Rev. Smith's motives for emigration were wordly rather than spiritual, as he explained in a letter he wrote to a staff member at St Catharine's, Cambridge shortly before departure ...

"My great inducement to go out is I cannot with my small fortune provide for my six sons. In N.S.Wales opportunities for employment (which cannot be found here) present to young men of ability & integrity the fair prospect of ample reward for industry. I therefore cherish the hope that my boys will do better there than here."[15]

part of letter by John Jennings Smith

Above: part of a letter written by Rev. Smith in 1839 explaining why he was emigrating (see transcript above).

Professor Elkin takes up Rev. Smith's narrative:

his wife and daughters rode in the dray while he and the others walked. They arrived at the empty parsonage late on the night of October 2, 1839. (Prof. AP Elkin)

"Mr. Smith had already made arrangements for his eldest son to emigrate to Australia, but he and the rest of his family soon followed. Thus at the age of 56, he set out on a completely new stage in his career. He was welcomed by Bishop Broughton, who offered him the Archdeaconry of Hobart Town in Tasmania, together with the headmastership of the Hutchins School there—an ideal position for a man of his experience and attainments. The alternative was the missionary charge of the new settlements along the Paterson and Allyn Rivers, 130 miles north of Sydney. He chose the latter, and with his family travelled by the Sophia Jane to Morpeth. From there his wife and daughters rode in the dray, which carried their personal belongings, while he and the others walked. They arrived at the empty parsonage late on the night of October 2, 1839."[7]

They had arrived in Sydney on the ship Amelia Thompson.[16]

The following is part of a descendant's account of Rev. Smith's ministry in Paterson:

The town had a courthouse, a store, a blacksmiths and 3 shanty public houses. The Parish was an agricultural district sparsely populated by farmers and settlers. He found the settlers unmarried, their children not baptised. He baptised whole families and conducted services in many homes. His wife's wedding ring was lent in turn to wives in the district. For two years he was not paid at all."[2]

The old schoolhouse Paterson, built in 1843

The schoolhouse in Paterson, built in the early 1840s and used as a church before St Paul's was built. The CBC B & B now stands on this block.

John Jennings Smith was licensed to serve as a Minister of the Parish or district of Paterson in October 1839.[17] He was not the first chaplain of the district (as is claimed on a memorial tablet in St.Pauls, Paterson). That honour goes to the Rev George Middleton, but Smith was the first 'incumbent' of St. Paul's.

Shortly after arriving Rev Smith erected a small stone building on Church land at the corner of King and Duke Streets, to initially serve as a church and school. About 1892 this large corner block was sold to the Commercial Banking Company (CBC) of Sydney, and the proceeds used to build the Parish Hall which today stands next to St. Paul's.

Smith was an active man and soon set about building St.Paul's Church at Paterson which was consecrated in 1845.

Unfortunately John Jennings Smith did not enjoy the use of St. Paul's for long. While driving to Hexham in 1846 he was thrown from his gig and taken unconscious to Mrs Muir's Family Hotel at East Maitland where he died of his injuries a few days later at the age of 62. He is buried in St. Paul's cemetery.

Mrs Smith and her children moved to Sydney where she died in 1884 at the age of 89. She is buried in Randwick, Sydney. Both are commemorated on a mural tablet in St. Andrews Cathedral in Sydney.

One of their sons, Francis Grey Smith, became a Melbourne banker and made it into the Australian Dictionary of Biography.[18] Another of their children, Emilie Clara, married Sydney Montagu Consett Stephen who was the second son of Sir Alfred Stephen, Chief Justice of New South Wales.[19] Sydney also made it into the Australian Dictionary of Biography.[20]

One of Jennings Smith's daughters, Ellen Augusta, married William Munnings Arnold at St Paul's Paterson in 1844 and over the next 20 or so years they had nine children, the last of whom died in 1946. In the late 1840s William and Ellen settled at Stradbroke on the Paterson River and their Stadbroke home, which is still standing, was partly modelled on the Vicarage at Hartpury in Gloucestershire where Ellen spent some of her childhood while her father was Curate there.[21]

St. Paul's Church Paterson

St Paul's at Paterson

Was Smith the son of King George IV?

Here is a review of evidence and conjecture for the claim that John Jennings Smith was the illegitimate son of King George IV:

  1. It was stated by a descendant of John Jennings Smith in a document deposited in the State (Mitchell) Library of NSW in 1963 that Smith was the son of King George IV. This belief is also firmly held by some present day descendants (2014);
  2. It is almost impossible that someone of obscure family origins such as John Jennings Smith could procure a seat at High Table at St Catherine's Hall, Cambridge, without the support of a powerful or influential patron, possibly King George IV.
  3. Smith's coat-of-arms on the commemorative windows in St. Pauls supports this claim (see photo below this list). The barred helmet on Smith's coat-of-arms is typically reserved for the highest ranks of nobility.[22] The crest (area above the helmet) is a lion rampant. The shield is divided into four quarters. The top left quarter (technically the top right in heraldry but let's stick to left and right as we view it) consists of three doves that usually signify peace or the soul and the holy spirit. The doves, combined with the motto 'mens conscia recti' which means 'a mind that knows what is right', are the religious or spiritual component of the coat-of-arms. The top right and bottom left quadrants contain further lions rampant which usually signify royalty but can also signify bravery and courage. The bottom right quadrant contains a chevron between three trefoils, which is one of the many variants of the Smith and Smythe family crests. Three lions rampant and a barred helmet strongly suggest a link to royalty that is combined with spirituality by the doves and motto. Note also the coat-of-arms for George IV provided below Jennings Smith's. However, we need to be careful not to read too much into this. It is possible the Jennings Smith family crest was created in Australia in the 1800s and may reflect the family belief in the link to Royalty rather than provide further evidence of it. Further research is required!
a Smythe coat-of-arms
  1. Is it feasible? When Smith was born in 1784, his possible father was not yet the King, he was the Prince of Wales. And yes, it is feasible. In 1780 at the age of 18 the Prince of Wales established his own household and lived a life of heavy drinking and numerous mistresses, much to the displeasure of his father King George III. The Prince became King on his father's death in 1820.
  2. John Jennings Smith is believed to have tutored the future Queen Victoria in her youth, thus placing him within the royal court.
  3. In Rev. Smith's possessions was a box containing a hone for stropping razors. The box was of silver-gilt and on the lid is engraved "George IV", surmounted by a crown.[23] However, this could have simply been an item of Royal merchandise available in shops at the time.
  4. 'Smith' is a convenient name to give to a 'love-child' by those in the royal household given the task of arranging a discreet baptism.
  5. One of the longer-term mistresses of the Prince of Wales was Maria Fitzherbert, whose maiden name was 'Smythe'.[24] This is possibly just a coincidence. He first met Maria at the opera in early 1784, which does not really fit in with John Jennings Smith's timeline unless he was born a few years later than his gravestone and memorial tablet indicate (his baptism record indicates five years later).

A cautious conclusion is that George IV as father of Jennings Smith is possible, perhaps likely, but neither proven nor disproven. If you can shed any further light on this mystery, please contact me.

Coat of Arms for John Jennings Smith

Above: the coat-of-arms for John Jennings Smith in St. Paul's, Paterson (photo: Brian Walsh). Below: the shield in King George IV's coat-of-arms. Note the large lion rampant at top right and the several other lions which are 'passant guardant' (walking and looking towards us).

Coat of Arms for King George IV

Notes and references

1. according to the memorial tablet in St. Andrews, Sydney, as cited by Professor A.P. Elkin in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate 8 July 1939 p7. It has sometimes been said John Jennings Smith was born in 1782, for example see the Dungog Chronicle, 2 July 1929 p5. A birth year of 1784 aligns with his age of 62 when he died on 8 September 1846, as stated on his gravestone. This age was probably informed by his wife and it likely to be accurate.

2. Smith, Ethel Selwyn. Memo of the Rev. John Jennings Smith, M.A. ML DOC 385, State Library NSW, 1963. Copy provided courtesy of Dr Cameron Archer, AM.

3. Patfield, Val. Reverend John Jennings Smith 1782- 1846. Paterson Historical Society, 2013. There is a record of a baptism on 7 May 1827 of a John Jennings Smith at Great Whelnetham, Suffolk, England, with a birth date of 14 June 1789, father's name Thomas Smith, mother's name Sarah Smith (Family Search database via ancestry.com.au) but this does not indicate Sarah Jennings. The year of birth puts his age five years different to the age shown on his gravestone.

4. Whittington, Bernard Johnson. Race Relations in the Bahamas, 1784-1834: Nonviolent Transform Slave to Free. University of Arkansas Press 2000, p46.

5. England, Marriages 1538-1973. Salt Lake City, Utah, FamilySearch 2013, per Ancestry.com 2014.

6. Venn, John and JA Venn. Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900. Part 2, volume 5, Cambridge University Press, 1953, p561 (available online).

7. Professor A.P. Elkin in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate 8 July 1939 p7.

8. The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review and Ecclesiastical Record, vol 2, London 1827, p262. Baptism on 7 May 1827 of John Jennings Smith at Great Whelnetham, Suffolk, England, with a birth date of 14 June 1789, father's name Thomas Smith, mother's name Sarah Smith (Family Search database via ancestry.com.au).

9. CCEd-Clergy of the Church of England Database: http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/, records 205386, 142548 and 66880, accessed 14 September 2014. See also:The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review and Ecclesiastical Record, vol 2, London 1827, p511.

10. CCEd-Clergy of the Church of England Database: http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/, records 205413, 66936, 142619, 67031, 142637 and 67076, accessed 14 September 2014. See also: Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 26 June 1828, p2.

11. The British Critic and Quarterly Theological Review, London 1831, p508.

12. Holland, Julian. "John Jennings Smith (1782-1846) and his Philosophical Apparatus". Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, 69, 2001, pp21-26 (available online).

13. CCEd-Clergy of the Church of England Database: http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/, record 164488, accessed 14 September 2014.

14. Glenelg to Gipps, 25 January 1839. HRA series 1 volume 19 pp772-773.

15. John Jennings Smith to College official, St Catherine's Hall, Cambridge, 20 April 1839. St Catharine's College Archives, Cambridge.

16. Sydney Gazette, 1 October 1939, p2..

17. NSW Government Gazette, 1839 p1240.

18. Geoffrey Blainey, 'Smith, Francis Grey (1827-1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published in hardcopy 1976.

19. Northampton Mercury, 17 December 1853, p3.

20. Martha Rutledge, 'Stephen, Montagu Consett (1827-1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, , published in hardcopy 1976.

21. Dungog Chronicle: Durham and Gloucester Advertiser, 13 September 1932, p5..

22. wikipedia.

23. Bedford, Ruth. Think of Stephen: a Family Chronicle. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1954, pp 85-88.

24. Newspaper article, unknown source, supplied courtesy of a descendant.

See also

Burke, Bernard. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry. Vol 2, London, 1893, p494.

Clements, Pauline. History of St. Paul's Church Paterson NSW. Paterson Historical Society, 1993.

Clements, Pauline. Burials in St. Paul's Church Cemetery, Paterson - Part 1 from 1839 to 1900. Paterson Historical Society, 1996.

Elkin, AP. The Diocese of Newcastle. Sydney, 1955.

Wilkins, William Henry. Mrs Fitzherbert and George IV. 2 Vols. London, 1905.