Robert Kerr Porter, 1777 -1842
Portrait of Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith,(1764–1840) Holding a Sword & Torch
Portrait of Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith
oil on canvas
76.20 x 63.50 cm. (30 x 25 in.)


Smith, Sir (William) Sidney (1764–1840), naval officer, was born on 21 June 1764 in Park Lane, London, the second son of John Smith of Midgham, Berkshire, a captain in the guards and gentleman-usher to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III; he was also grandson of Edward Smith, an army officer who was governor of Fort Charles at Kingston, Jamaica, and fought under Wolfe at Quebec. Another relation named Edward had been a captain in the navy who, in command of the Eltham, was killed in the attack on La Guayra on 18 February 1743. Sidney Smith's mother was the daughter of Mary Thurlow, a Norfolk heiress, and Pinckney Wilkinson, a London merchant, who regarded John Smith as an adventurer but was unable to prevent his daughter eloping with him in 1760. They had two other sons: Charles Douglas and John Spencer. Wilkinson disinherited his daughter and severed all connection with her and her three sons. However, Wilkinson's younger daughter Ann had married Thomas Pitt, first Baron Camelford, and, persuaded by him, Wilkinson relented sufficiently to pay for his grandsons' education at Tonbridge School. John Smith and his wife then quarrelled and she fled to Bath, near where the boys completed their education at a boarding-school, but stayed with their father occasionally in Midgham Cottage in the grounds of Midgham Hall, near Newbury, Berkshire. There Sidney Smith was first observed to be vivacious, quick, daring, and mercurial.

Smith entered the navy in June 1777 on board the storeship Tortoise, going out to North America, and in January 1778 moved to the brig Unicorn, which with the 44 gun Experiment in September 1778 captured the 32 gun American frigate Raleigh. On 25 November 1779 he joined theSandwich, flagship of Sir George Bridges Rodney, and in her was at an engagement with a Spanish squadron off Cape St Vincent in January 1780, and at those between the British and French fleets on 17 April and 15 and 19 May 1780. Having passed his examination for lieutenant, in September 1780 Smith was appointed in this rank to the Alcide and in her was present off the Chesapeake in September 1781 at Admiral Graves's unsuccessful attempt to relieve the British army at Yorktown, and at the battle of the Saintes in April 1782. In May 1782 he was appointed to command the sloopFury and in May 1783 was promoted to the 32 gun Alcmene.

At the return of peace, when the Alcmene was paid off, Smith lived for two years in France, for the most part near Caen, and in 1787 travelled through Spain to Gibraltar and Morocco, where, in expectation of future hostilities, he took deliberate note of the sultan's naval forces and bases, then reported on them to the Admiralty.

In 1789 Smith obtained a further six months' leave from the Admiralty to travel to Sweden and Russia, then at war. At the Swedish naval base of Karlskrona he was offered employment in the Swedish navy and, though he had as a condition of his leave agreed to forgo any such opportunity, he returned to London to request that his undertaking be waived, carrying the British ambassador's dispatches and a message from the Swedish king Gustavus III. He and his request were ignored; Smith returned to Sweden and travelled on to the Gulf of Finland, where the summer campaigning season of 1790 had begun, and where, despite his undertaking, he agreed to serve Gustavus as a volunteer. That summer he served both the king on shore and the duke of Sodermanland in the Swedish fleet. The Swedes were short of experienced naval officers and Smith was favoured, but this aroused envy. Early in June Russian naval forces drove back and entrapped the Swedes in the Bay of Viborg and to effect their escape Smith was given command of the Swedish light craft—nearly 100 vessels, predominantly bomb ketches, galleys, and gunboats—with which he cleared the Russians from islands commanding the exit from the bay and enabled the Swedes to break out early in July. An armistice followed and Smith returned to London, where in May 1792, at the request of Gustavus, George III invested him a knight grand cross of the order of the Sword. Thereafter his enemies knew him as ‘the Swedish knight’, the ill feeling behind which title was perhaps increased by the fact that at least six British naval officers were killed fighting for Russia on 3–4 June 1791.

Meanwhile, Smith's younger brother, John Spencer, had been appointed to the British embassy to Sultan Selim III of Turkey, and in 1792 Sidney Smith was authorized to visit his brother; at the same time he inspected the Turkish-ruled coasts in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. Following the French declaration of war against Britain on 1 February 1793, Smith received news of the general recall of British officers at Smyrna. He recruited some forty British seamen, purchased a lateen-rigged vessel, and sailed west; in December he entered the port of Toulon, where a British fleet under Lord Hood, with Spanish and Neapolitan allies, was attempting to support the anti-Jacobin party. When in mid-December a republican bombardment forced the withdrawal of the allied forces, Smith volunteered to burn those ships of the French fleet—thirty-two of the line and fourteen frigates—that could not be removed and were within the inner harbour, close to the naval arsenal. Thirteen of these vessels, including ten ships of the line, were burnt, as too were many of the combustible stores in the naval arsenal. Nevertheless eighteen ships of the line and four frigates survived and had to be abandoned to the republican army. Although Hood gave Smith due credit, others resented his employment and blamed him for the survival of so many French warships. The British had indeed missed an unprecedented opportunity to weaken French naval power. However, Smith was only partly to blame: more advance planning and preparation might have avoided last-minute delegation to one who was regarded as a maverick volunteer.

On returning to London with Hood's dispatches, Smith was appointed to command the new 38 gun frigate Diamond in the North Sea. Taking advantage of the opportunity of carrying to Flushing Lord Spencer, who in December 1794 became first lord of the Admiralty, Smith requested command of a flotilla of small craft to operate off the estuaries of northern France. This was given him in March 1795, in which capacity he was employed until April 1796, when, cutting out a French lugger from the mouth of the River Seine, Smith with the boarding party was cut off and taken prisoner. Sent to Paris, Smith expected to be exchanged for an officer of equal rank, as was the practice, but, suspected of complicity in espionage, he was confined in the Temple prison for two years. As his companion he had, ostensibly as his servant, a French royalist émigré, François de Tromelin, a survivor from the Quiberon Bay expedition of 1795 who had entered on board the Diamond. The latter contacted his wife, partly through whom Smith was put in touch with the royalist Colonel Louis-Edmond Picard de Phélippeaux. In February 1798, with an order of transfer to another prison, Phélippeaux and Tromelin effected Smith's escape. Via Rouen, Honfleur, and a chartered boat intercepted by the British frigate Argo, Smith reached Britain on 7 May.

Meanwhile, Bonaparte's expedition for Egypt was departing from Toulon. News of Nelson's defeat of the French fleet off the mouth of the River Nile on 31 July reached Britain on 2 October. By this time Sidney Smith's brother Spencer had become minister-plenipotentiary at Constantinople, and in October Sidney Smith was appointed to the command of the 80 gun Tigre and dispatched to the Mediterranean to act under Lord St Vincent, commander-in-chief there, as senior naval officer in his eastern sector, and also as joint plenipotentiary with his brother. Nelson, by then at Naples, had hitherto had command of vessels in the eastern basin, and St Vincent did not write to Nelson formally to place Smith under his command, while Smith in reaching his station wrote to Nelson assuming the command of a commodore with an authority which encroached upon that of Nelson, unknowingly giving offence. The combination of a diplomatic and a naval role was also confusing. St Vincent placed Smith in his naval capacity formally under Nelson, but reverberations from the reorganization reached back to London.

Smith's combined roles resulted in concentrating command of the allied forces in the eastern Mediterranean. At Constantinople, Smith became party to an alliance between Russia and Turkey, which had declared war on France for her invasion of Egypt; he was made a member of the sultan's inner council, the diwan; and he was given command of Turkish naval and military forces assembling on the island of Rhodes to attack the invading force. On 3 March 1799 he also took command of two British ships of the line at Alexandria blockading French forces on shore. That same evening he learned that Bonaparte had stormed Jaffa on his way into Syria. One of his ships Smith promptly dispatched to Acre (administrative capital of the Ottoman governor of the Levant littoral), which the French army, marching along the coast, reached on 15 March. Smith in the Tigre reached the walled city almost simultaneously; the defences had been strengthened but could be manned by only 4000 men, while Bonaparte had 13,000 hardened soldiers. Smith immediately put 800 seamen and marines ashore and mounted ships' guns on the ramparts. Over the next six weeks, strengthened by Smith's reinforcement, the Turkish garrison withstood twelve attacks, the last of which almost penetrated the city.

The siege of Acre was raised on 20 May. Initially resistance was possible principally because the French possessed only field guns; the ships conveying Bonaparte's siege guns eastward were captured by British warships on 18 March. Also, from 7 May Acre's garrison was reinforced by Turkish troops from Rhodes. The defence of Acre nevertheless made Smith's name, and justifiably so, as his courage and determination undoubtedly inspired the defenders. From Britain in September 1799 he received the thanks of both houses of parliament, and in 1801 he received a pension of £1000 a year, backdated to 1799. From the sultan he received a pelisse and the chelingk, or plume of triumph, like that awarded to Nelson.

From Acre Smith sailed for Rhodes, where, as nominal commander of the Turkish forces, he accompanied the Turkish counter-invasion of Egypt that was broken by Bonaparte in July. It is said that the French officer negotiating on board the Tigre an exchange of prisoners was shown accounts of French reverses in Europe, which precipitated Bonaparte's departure for France on 23 August. In spite of his departure, at the end of October a second Turkish landing was also routed, while Lord Elgin, the new British ambassador at Constantinople, who arrived in November, recommended use of ‘every possible means that can aid in forcing the French out of Egypt’ (Shankland, 110). In December Smith thus negotiated a month's truce with the new French commander, Kleber, and on 24 January 1800 the convention of al-‘Arish, by which, under a truce of three months, the French army would be transported back to France at allied expense.

By then French forces in Egypt had been much reduced by deaths, and the arrangement had both economy and humanity to recommend it. However, the British government opposed the prospect of 18,000 hardened troops returning to Europe, and the new commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, Lord Keith, was instructed not to ratify the agreement; indeed on 18 November 1800 and 27 May 1801 Smith was much criticized in parliament for arranging the convention. The French army in Egypt was instead destroyed in 1801 by the British campaign led by Keith and Abercromby, for which Smith was consulted over the place of invasion and on 7 March commanded the third wave of landing craft. In recognition of his significant role in these operations, at the conclusion of the campaign in September, Smith was selected to carry Keith's dispatches to London.

The height Smith's reputation had achieved after Acre was never attained again. Rather, his career hereafter was constrained by a reputation for impulsive activity that was not completely trustworthy because it was unconventional; an added restraint was the fear and irritation Smith engendered by his tendency not to consult or inform when his energy outran his discretion. The agreement of al-‘Arish did much to discredit him, while his own high opinion of his merits and long accounts of his adventures annoyed other officers.

Nevertheless Smith had acquired a high popular reputation, and at the general election of 1801 he was elected MP for Rochester, an Admiralty borough. There he posed as an independent supporter of the Admiralty, but his maiden speech of 2 December 1802 deplored the peace reductions of Lord St Vincent, then first lord, a disregard for the government interest that had already been demonstrated in 1802 when he was living at Greenwich, where he was rumoured to have had a brief affair with Caroline, princess of Wales. With the resumption of war he considered his appointment to active service a deliberate attempt to prevent him attending the House of Commons and that he was disengaged from ministers. By 1804 he was listed as supporting Pitt, and in 1806 was defeated at Rochester.

Between March 1803 and May 1804, with the rank of commodore, Smith commanded a squadron of small craft blockading the Flemish coast. After striking his flag, he designed and obtained Admiralty approval to build at Dover two prototype catamaran landing craft, a design based on the twin-hulled canoes of the Pacific islands. In the autumn of 1804, with the rank of colonel of marines, he was authorized to attempt a night attack on the French invasion flotilla at Boulogne using Congreve's rockets and Robert Fulton's mines but owing to bad weather and a heavy swell the attack was unsuccessful. It was a failure that prompted Lord Barham, first lord of the Admiralty from May 1805, to observe that ‘there seems … such a want of judgement in our friend Sir Sidney, that it is much safer to employ him under command than in command’ (Castlereagh, 5.115).

Smith's expenses at Dover had outrun his income, and in 1805 he was temporarily in the king's bench prison for debt. On 9 November 1805, however, he was promoted rear-admiral and in January 1806 he hoisted his flag in the Pompée for service in the Mediterranean, where Lord Collingwood employed him on the coast of Naples. The French had once more invaded the kingdom of the Two Sicilies and Smith's first task was to land supplies for the relief of the fortress of Gaeta; he also displaced the French occupying force on Capri with a British one, beginning the British occupation of the island. The king of the Two Sicilies appointed him viceroy of Calabria, when, as ‘commander-in-chief on behalf of King Ferdinand’, he began supplying and reinforcing the guerrilla war in the mountains, agitating for more financial and military support. The insurgents had one notable success at the battle of Maida. However, General Moore, commanding British land forces in Sicily, thought little of Smith's strategy, believing him the unconscious tool of the Neapolitan royal family, while Collingwood thought his head ‘full of strange vapours’, believed Barham had sent Smith to him simply ‘to be clear of a tormentor’ (Private Correspondence, 191), and himself found Smith more annoying than the French or Spanish fleet.

In February–March 1807, as third in command, he accompanied the fleet under Sir John Duckworth that penetrated the Dardanelles to Constantinople with the intention of forcing the Turks to end collaboration with the French. The demonstration of naval force had little effect; indeed the fleet had to withdraw under threat of being cut off by batteries in the straits. Smith was consulted by Duckworth but felt his former connection with the sultan, which might have been useful diplomatically, was ignored. He returned to Britain, to be appointed in November 1807 senior officer in the Tagus. At Lisbon he assisted in the evacuation of the Portuguese royal family and the remnants of the Portuguese navy to Rio de Janeiro, where in February 1808 he himself was sent to command the South American station. There, without the co-operation of the British minister, Lord Strangeford, he attempted to raise a Portuguese-backed attack on the Spanish in Buenos Aires and was recalled to London to be reprimanded in August 1809.

Smith was promoted vice-admiral on 31 July 1810 but by then opinion about employing him seems to have been widely unfavourable. ‘Beware of Heroes—the more you come to know them, the less you will think of them’ (Croker Papers, 1.350), Sir Roger Curtis advised John Wilson Croker, the new secretary to the Admiralty, with regard to Smith. However, it was Croker who asserted responsibility for Smith's appointment as second in command to Sir Edward Pellew in the Mediterranean in July 1812, claiming that naval members of the board were ‘rather averse; for certainly he was not what is called a sailor’ (ibid., 1.349). Mainly employed in the blockade of Toulon, Pellew found him ‘as gay and thoughtless as ever’ (Parkinson, 406), and he was replaced in July 1814.

Smith was not employed at sea again. However, criticism of him continued to grow, as was expressed by the duke of Wellington. In Brussels at the time of Waterloo, Smith arranged the evacuation of some of the wounded from the battlefield, and was subsequently employed in a liaison role by Wellington, who later observed to John Croker at the Admiralty:

Of all the men whom I ever knew who have any reputation, the man who least deserves it is Sir Sidney Smith. During my embassy at Paris … I saw a good deal of him and had eternal projects from him as long as I would listen to them. At first, out of deference to his name and reputation, I attended to him but soon I found he was a mere vaporiser. I cannot believe a man so silly in all other affairs can be a good naval officer. (Croker Papers, 1.348–9)

Smith lived in Paris for much of the remainder of his life. Initially this was to escape his creditors. In 1811 he had been refunded £7375 for past expenses and, on petitioning government from Paris, his pension was doubled. He was accompanied to France by his wife, Caroline, daughter of James Hearn of Shanakill, co. Waterford, and widow of Sir George Berriman Rumbold, British minister to Hamburg; Smith had married her in October 1810 and they had three daughters and a son. He was invested with the KCB in December 1815 and attained the rank of admiral on 19 July 1821. In Paris he formed the order of ‘knights liberators’ to campaign for the release of Christian slaves from captivity in the piratical states of north Africa. With characteristic enthusiasm, he continued to request naval employment. He was made a GCB on 4 July 1838. His wife died on 16 May 1828, and he died in Paris on 26 May 1840; both were buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery.

Smith's intelligence, imagination, energy, and courage were the principal features of his reputation, but he was also renowned for his eccentricities. He was indeed egotistical and insensitive to others, for which he suffered. For he was also the victim of a naval service that during the Napoleonic wars became increasingly rigorous and bureaucratic in its conventions. The sheer size of the Royal Navy, the scale of its operations, and the co-operation and discipline demanded of its officers acted against Smith. He was an individualist who might have been judged more liberally in an earlier military age; certainly some of his proposals were sound.

Roger Morriss DNB

Artist biography

Porter, Sir Robert Ker [pseud. Reynold Steinkirk] (1777–1842), painter, writer, and diplomat, was born in Durham on 26 April 1777, one of the five children of William Porter (1735–1779), who was buried at St Oswald's, Durham, in 1779 after twenty-three years' service as surgeon to the 6th Inniskilling dragoons. He was descended from an old Irish family, whose ancestors included Sir William Porter, who fought at Agincourt, and the royalist Endymion Porter. His mother was Jane (1745–1831), daughter of Robert Blenkinsop of Durham. She died at Esher, Surrey, aged eighty-six. Robert's brothers, both older than him, were William Ogilvie Porter, a naval surgeon, who after his retirement from the navy practised over forty years in Bristol and died there on 15 August 1850 aged seventy-six, and Colonel John Porter, who died in the Isle of Man, aged thirty-eight, in 1810. His sisters, both novelists, were Jane Porter (bap. 1776, d. 1850) and Anna Maria Porter (1778–1832). Robert spent his boyhood in Edinburgh, where his mother had moved in 1780; she was very poor, and depended largely on the support of her husband's patrons in the army. In Edinburgh, Robert attracted the notice of Flora Macdonald, and, in consequence of his admiration for a battle piece in her possession depicting some action in the fighting of 1745, he determined to become a painter of military subjects. In 1790 his mother took him to Benjamin West, who was so impressed by the vigour and spirit of some of his sketches that he procured his admission as a Royal Academy student at Somerset House. He entered the Royal Academy Schools on 18 February 1791, aged thirteen.

Porter's progress was remarkably rapid. In 1792 he received a silver palette from the Society of Arts for a biblical drawing, The Witch of Endor. In 1793 he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for Shoreditch church; in 1794 he painted Christ Allaying the Storm for the Roman Catholic chapel at Portsea; and in 1798 St John Preaching for St John's College, Cambridge. In 1799, when he was living in London with his sisters Jane and Anna Maria, at 16 Great Newport Street, Leicester Square (formerly the house of Sir Joshua Reynolds), he became a member of a small club of young artists, known as the Brothers, founded by Louis Francia for the cultivation of Romantic landscape painting. Girtin, who then lived in the immediate neighbourhood, was also a member. The artistic precocity of Bob Porter, as he was known, and the skill with which he wielded the ‘big brush’ were already fully recognized, and in 1800 he obtained congenial work as a scene-painter of Othello's ‘antres vast and desarts idle’ at the Lyceum exhibition room in the Strand, on the site of what was to become the Lyceum Theatre; but in 1800 he astonished the public by his Storming of Seringapatam, an impressive panorama, 120 feet in length, with 700 life-size figures and stated on the good authority of Jane Porter to have been painted in six weeks. This huge picture covering 2550 square feet of canvas was supported on rollers and, extending to three-quarters of a circle, was one of the first of such works which subsequently became extremely popular, especially in France; it was also lucrative, according to account books in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. After its exhibition at the Lyceum it was rolled up, but was later destroyed by fire; yet the original sketches and engravings of it by Giovanni Vendramini preserve some evidence of its merits. Other successful comparable works were The Battle of Lodi (1803), also exhibited at the Lyceum, and the Defeat of the French at Devil's Bridge, Mont St Gothard, by Suwarrow in 1804; to accompany these explanatory handbooks were issued. Other battle pieces, in which Porter displayed qualities of vigour, though bordering sometimes on the crude, and a daring compared by some to that of Salvator Rosa, were Agincourt (executed for the City of London), the Battle of Alexandria, the Siege of Acre, and the Death of Sir Ralph Abercrombie, all of which were painted about the same time. Porter also worked on easel-pictures, and in 1801 he exhibited at the Royal Academy a successful portrait of Mr and Mrs Harry Johnston as Hamlet and Ophelia. In all, between 1792 and 1832 he exhibited thirty-eight pictures, the majority being either historical pieces or landscapes. In 1797 he founded, with the aid of his sisters and with some support from Thomas Frognall Dibdin, a periodical called The Quiz; it had a very brief existence. His own contributions appeared under the pseudonym Reynold Steinkirk.

In 1803 Porter was appointed captain of the Westminster militia, but his family's urgent solicitations deterred him from becoming a regular soldier, a career which attracted him more strongly than any other. In 1805, however, his restless and energetic nature was encouraged by an invitation from Tsar Alexander I of Russia to paint some vast historical murals for the admiralty in St Petersburg, and he immediately started for the Russian capital. While in St Petersburg he won the affections of a Russian princess, Mary, daughter of Prince Theodor de Scherbatoff. The courtship was postponed after the tsar had signed the treaty of Tilsit with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1807, thus aligning Russia with the enemy of Great Britain. In view of this, and mindful of his own safety, Porter crossed into Finland on 10 December 1807, and from there he entered Sweden where, for reasons unknown, he had in 1806 been knighted by the eccentric King Gustavus IV. He then visited several of the German courts, was in 1807 created a knight of St Joachim of Württemberg, and subsequently accompanied Sir John Moore (whom he had met and captivated while in Sweden) to Spain. He was with Moore's expedition throughout, was at Corunna, and was present at the death of the general. He returned home with many sketches of the campaign. In the mean time, in 1809, there appeared his Travelling Sketches in Russia and Sweden during the Years 1805–1808, in two sumptuous quarto volumes, elaborately illustrated by Porter himself; yet this work showed neither outstanding literary ability nor any special gift of observation. It was followed after a brief interval by Letters from Portugal and Spain, Written during the March of the Troops under Sir John Moore (1809).

In 1811 on the tsar's invitation, Porter returned to Russia, where on 7 February 1812 he at last was able to marry his Russian princess. He was subsequently accepted in Russian military and diplomatic circles and became well acquainted with the Russian version of the events of 1812–13, of which he gave a graphic account in his Narrative of the Campaign in Russia during 1812; it was printed seven times. He had returned to England before his book appeared, and was on 2 April 1813 knighted by the prince regent, two months before the birth of his daughter Mary (Mashinka) on 8 June. He was soon back in Russia, and in August 1817 he started from St Petersburg on an extended course of travel, proceeding through the Caucasus to Tehran, thence southwards by Esfahan to the site of ancient Persepolis, where he made many valuable drawings and transcribed a number of cuneiform inscriptions. After a sojourn at Shiraz he retraced his steps to Esfahan, and proceeded to Ecbatana and Baghdad; and then, following the course of Xenophon's Katabasis, to Scutari. He published the records of his long journey in his Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia, 1817–1820 (2 vols., 1821). This huge book, which is full of interest and a great advance upon his previous books of travel, was illustrated by bold drawings of mountain scenery, of works of art, and of antiquities. A large number of Porter's original sketches are preserved in the British Museum, to which they were presented by his sister, Jane. At Tehran, Porter had an audience with the Persian monarch Futteh Ali Shah, whose portrait he drew, and from whose hands, in 1819, he received the insignia of the order of the Lion and of the Sun. After a brief return to England he left again for Russia, but was in 1825 appointed British consul in Venezuela. During the fifteen years in which he held that position, he resided at Caracas, where he kept up an extensive hospitality, and became well known and generally popular. He continued to draw, and painted several large sacred subjects, including Christ Instituting the EucharistChrist Healing a Little ChildEcce homo, and St John Writing the Apocalypse. He also painted a portrait of Simón Bolívar, hero of South American independence and founder of the republic of Colombia. In 1836 he advised the Venezuelan congressional commission on the design of the republic's coat of arms.

During his years as consul Porter did much to reconcile strong local Catholic intolerance towards non-Catholic foreigners living in the country. For example, before his time, protestants had to bury their dead in their own gardens or plantations, as they were barred from Catholic cemeteries. Porter, with some financial support from the British government, and to some extent at his own cost, succeeded in establishing a protestant burial-ground in Caracas. In recognition of the many benefits he had obtained for the protestant community in Venezuela, he was created in 1832 a knight commander of the order of Hanover. He returned to England in 1841. His wife had died at St Petersburg, of typhus, on 27 September 1826, but their only daughter was still living in the Russian capital, having in 1837 become the wife of Pierre de Kikine, a captain in the imperial guard. After a short stay with his brother, Dr William Ogilvie Porter, at Bristol, he left in company with his sister Jane on a visit to Mme Kikine. On 3 May 1842 he wrote from St Petersburg to tell his brother that he was on the eve of sailing for England; but he died suddenly of apoplexy on the following day as he was alighting from his coach, after returning from a farewell visit to Tsar Nicholas I. He was buried in St Petersburg. A marble tablet was placed in the cloisters of Bristol Cathedral commemorating several members of the Porter family, Sir Robert among them.

Owing to his large expenditure, Porter's affairs were left in some disorder, but his estate was finally wound up in August 1844 by his executor, Jane Porter, who spoke of him with great affection as her ‘beloved and protecting brother’. His books, engravings, and antiquities were sold at Christies on 30 March 1843. His drawings included twenty-six illustrations to the odes of Anacreon (engraved by Vendramini, and published in 1805 by John P. Thompson), a large panoramic view of Caracas, and a very interesting sketchbook (forty-two drawings) of Sir John Moore's campaigns, which was presented by his sister to the British Museum.

A man of the most varied attainments, Porter has been justly described as ‘a distinguished British gentleman and diplomat, and artist’ (Porter, cviii), but is probably now best remembered as an artist. He was a splendid horseman, excelled in field sports, and possessed the gift of finding acceptance by people of every rank.

Thomas Seccombe, rev. Raymond Lister  DNB