HENDERSON, John (1752-1817), of Fordell, Fife.

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



7 Feb. - 1 Sept. 1780
1780 - 1784
29 Mar. 1785 - 13 Mar. 1786
21 Mar. - 26 Apr. 1786
1806 - 1807

Family and Education

b. 8 Jan. 1752, 1st s. of Sir Robert Henderson, 4th Bt., by Isabella, da. of Archibald Stuart of Torrance, Lanark, wid. of George Mackenzie of Fairnie.  educ. St. Andrew’s Univ. 1764; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1771; adv. 1774.  m. May 1781, Anne Loudoun, da. of General James Robertson of Newbigging, Fife, 1da.  suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 19 Oct. 1781.

Offices Held

Provost of Inverkeithing 1791-1807.


A non-practising lawyer, of an ancient Fife family, Henderson began his chequered political career in 1776, under the auspices of his uncle Andrew Stuart and Henry Dundas, when he unsuccessfully contested Fife. In 1779 Henderson stood again, was defeated, but seated on petition. He voted with Administration, and was counted ‘pro’ in Robinson’s survey of 1780.

At the general election he was returned for Dysart Burghs, supported North until his fall, and followed him into opposition, voting against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries on 18 Feb. 1783. Divided in his loyalties between Dundas and Andrew Stuart, he was listed by Robinson in March 1783 among ‘Lord North’s connexions—doubtful’, voted with Dundas in May 1783 for Pitt’s reform motion, but remained absent in Scotland during the debates on Fox’s East India bill.

On the formation of the Pitt Administration Robinson and Dundas were first ‘hopeful’, then ‘very hopeful’, of winning him over, mainly through the influence of his father-in-law, General Robertson, who ‘on a hint’ from Dundas ‘advised him, at the period of the India bill, to leave his affairs in Scotland and come to London’. ‘On his arrival, when the voice even of a single Member was of consequence’, Robertson’s counsels prevailed,1 and by March 1784 he was listed as a Pitt supporter. Robinson expected him to ‘come in again and be pro’,2 but he lost Dysart Burghs and was also defeated in Fife.

In 1785 Henderson secured, presumably through Dundas, the Treasury nomination for Seaford, and with Sir Peter Parker was returned 29 Mar. 1785. He voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1785. Unseated on 13 Mar. 1786, he and Parker were re-elected 21 Mar., but again unseated on 26 Apr.

On the death of Robert Skene in May 1787 Henderson was a candidate against William Wemyss who proposed vacating his Sutherland seat to represent his native Fife. Both applied for support to Dundas who, reversing the policy of a decade, gave his interest to the Wemyss family, his former antagonists.3 General Robertson protested to Dundas, 29 May 1787:4

[Sir John] was much mortified at seeing Mr. Wemyss desire to change his seat with your approbation, to the destruction of his (Sir John’s) favourite wish to support Administration in the county where he was born, which he had represented in Parliament and where his friends were numerous. He is now disposed to obey their call to support his own and their consequence by standing for the election.

While bound to ‘aid a son-in-law and a friend’, Robertson undertook ‘to remind him of his interest and duty’ to support Administration whatever the election result, and not to break with Dundas, but, embittered by defeat, Henderson rejected his advice. ‘This’, wrote Dundas in 1802, ‘has procured me the inveterate opposition of Sir John ever since.’5

For a time Henderson thought of abandoning parliamentary ambitions, and in 1788 ‘wanted to go abroad as a foreign envoy’.6 He was not then listed among active Opposition supporters, but hatred of Dundas soon led him to align himself with Henry Erskine in national as well as local politics.

He died 12 Dec. 1817.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Robertson to Dundas, 29 May 1787, Melville mss, NLS.
  • 2. Laprade, 102.
  • 3. H. Furber, Hen. Dundas, 276.
  • 4. Melville mss.
  • 5. Furber, 276.
  • 6. Adam, Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 123.