CARNAC, John (?1720-1800), of Cams Hall, nr. Fareham, Hants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



6 Feb. 1768 - 1774

Family and Education

b. ?1720, s. of Peter Carnac of Dublin, of Huguenot extraction. educ. Trinity, Dublin 15 May 1736, aged 15. m. (1) 7 Nov. 1765, Elizabeth (d. Oct. 1767), da. of Rev. W. Woollaston, s.p.; (2) 20 July 1769, Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Rivett, M.P., s.p.

Offices Held

2nd lt. 4 Marines 1739, lt. 1745; lt. 39 Ft. 1754; capt. Bengal army 1758; maj. 1760; brig.-gen. (local) 1764; col. 1765; res. Jan. 1767.

Member of the council at Bombay 1776-9.


Carnac went out to India with the 39th Foot in 1754, and when the regiment was sent home in 1758 he transferred to the East India Company’s service. He became closely connected with Robert Clive and left India with him in 1760, but returned from St. Helena on receiving the news that he had been promoted by the Company and appointed military adviser to the Bengal council. In 1760 when he took up the command of the army at Patna he referred to Clive as ‘the person to whom I owe everything’1 and Clive after his return to England continued to support his cause. Carnac conducted two successful campaigns, but fell foul of Governor Vansittart, on whose complaint he was dismissed by the Company in January 1764, but he was reinstated two months later. Clive wrote confidential letters to him, and as Clive’s attorney he handled the Indian side of the dispute with the directors about Clive’s ‘jagir’ in 1763. In 1764, when Clive was appointed governor, Carnac was made a member of the select committee and was closely associated with Clive throughout his governorship, returning home with him in February 1767, when he resigned the service. In 1765 he was given presents to the total of £32,000 by the Mogul and the Rajah of Benares, when they made peace with the Company. Clive, though opposing the presents taken by others about this time, strongly pressed the directors to permit Carnac to accept these sums since ‘I found him the only officer of rank who had resisted the temptations to which, by his station, he was constantly subject, of acquiring an immense fortune’.2

On his return to England he purchased estates in Hampshire. He was determined to enter Parliament, and willing to go ‘as far as £4000’3 for a seat. ‘He is a character that will reflect honour upon his friends’ wrote John Walsh to Clive, 25 Nov. 1767.4 Through Walsh Carnac seems to have met Chase Price,5 on whose interest he was returned unopposed for Leominster at the by-election in February 1768, and again at the general election. In Parliament Carnac voted with the Opposition, following Clive, whom he also supported at East India House. His speeches in Parliament were almost invariably on East India affairs. On 3 May 1773 he declared:

I have not a shilling that causes me to blush. There should not be an universal brand of infamy put on every person who has been in India. Had I been rapacious I might have had four times the fortune I have.6

On 21 May 1773 he defended Clive, referring to his own special knowledge of the events discussed.7 He gave evidence on several occasions before the select committee of 1772-3.

By the beginning of 1773 Carnac was seriously embarrassed financially owing to failure to have his fortune remitted to England; and on 6 Feb. Clive earnestly begged Warren Hastings to use his influence to ‘get a part or the whole of his fortune sent him by every opportunity’.8 Francis Sykes wrote on 20 Dec. 1774 that Carnac’s ‘circumstances are greatly shattered owing chiefly to the death of Francis Lister [in Bengal] who owed him a great deal of money’.9 In 1774 Clive recommended him for the Bombay council, to which he was appointed in 1776 (a measure forced on the directors by a demand made in the general court by a group of his friends),10 returning to India with the prospect of succeeding to the governorship. But, in spite of attempts by the second Lord Clive to save him,11 he was dismissed on 10 Apr. 1780 for taking part in the convention of Wargaon with the Mahrattas in 1779. Nevertheless Carnac remained in Bombay for the rest of his life, selling his English estates in 1783.

He died at Bangalore 29 Nov. 1800.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Lucy S. Sutherland


  • 1. Carnac to Clive, 15 June 1760, Clive mss.
  • 2. Reports from Commons Committees 1715-1801, iii. 392.
  • 3. Geo. Clive to Ld. Clive, 17 Oct. 1767, Clive mss.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Walsh to Ld. Clive, 20 Nov. 1767, ibid.
  • 6. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.
  • 7. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 248, p. 341.
  • 8. Add. 29131, f. 98.
  • 9. F. Sykes to Warren Hastings, Add. 29135, ff. 393-5.
  • 10. Court Bk. 84, 18 Mar. 1776.
  • 11. Clive to North, 16 Jan. 1780, Clive mss.