GRANT, John Peter (1774-1848), of The Doune of Rothiemurchus, Inverness.
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Family and Education
b. 21 Sept. 1774, o.s. of William Grant, MD, of Lime Street, London by Elizabeth, da. and event. h. of John Raper of Twyford House, Essex and Thorley Hall, Herts. educ. privately; Edinburgh h.s.; Edinburgh Univ. 1790; adv. 1796; L. Inn 1793, called 1802. m. 2 Aug. 1796, Jane, da. of Rev. William Ironside of Houghton-le-Spring, co. Dur., 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1786; uncle Patrick Grant to Rothiemurchus 1790; kntd. 30 June 1827.
Puisne judge, Bombay 1827, Bengal 1833-48.
Capt. commdt. Rothiemurchus vols. 1797, maj. commdt. 1801, 1803; lt.-col. commdt. Strathspey vols. 1808.
Grant did not give up his law studies on inheriting his Highland estate because ‘besides that he thought a knowledge of law necessary to the usefulness of a country gentleman, he really liked the profession’. His daughter described him as ‘a little sallow man’ of great charm, whose ‘wish was to be a great lawyer’. Called to the English bar, he practised on the northern circuit with no obvious success.1 By 1806, if not before, he wished to be in Parliament2 and looked to a seat for Elginshire. William Adam* was informed by John Clerk, who had introduced Grant to him five years before, 10 Sept. 1806,
Grant you know is one of our firm friends, and has the countenance of Lord Grenville, in making a transaction with [James] Brodie which we have reason to think will be effected, and in consequence of which Mr Grant expects to be the Member for Moray.
Grant himself assured Adam ‘that my interest is the same with that of the present administration whether in or out of power’, 3 Oct. 1806.3
Finding that the chief of his clan, Sir James Grant, wished his son to represent Elginshire, Grant—not eligible to do so until June 1807—was prepared to accommodate his wish in exchange for a seat for Inverness Burghs, which Sir James was unable to promise. He himself disliked a bargain with Lord Fife which gave him the prospect of the Banff burghs. His next step was to induce Sir James Grant to support him for Inverness Burghs, which he would resign in favour of Sir James’s son if Brodie had not obtained an office and given up the Elginshire seat for the son’s benefit within a year. Then he pledged himself to Brodie to give him no trouble, if Brodie resigned in his favour when provided for. This was at William Adam’s behest and Adam hinted to Sir James Grant that his son had less need to be in Parliament than Grant, who would be of service to Lord Grenville in carrying out his plan to reform the juridical system of Scotland. Sir James Grant not consenting, Grant resigned himself to not getting into Parliament next session and looked to Elginshire on Brodie’s resignation: which he thought Sir James Grant would agree to.4 At the election of 1807, with Lord Fife’s support, he was all set to defeat Brodie for Elginshire when Lord Melville thwarted him by providing Brodie with a place and substituting Sir James’s son as his opponent, thus, as Grant complained to Lord Grenville, ‘dividing my family interest’. He was thereby left in a minority of two and withdrew from the contest. He informed Adam, 28 May, of his disappointment:
I am anxious to procure at any expense not absolutely exorbitant, a seat in England ... I have no object but to contribute all the little I have in my power to the support of the party to which I have attached myself.5
Grant then set siege to the ‘thoroughly rotten borough’ of Grimsby. He sold his Hertfordshire property to cover his election expenses, bought property for £2,740 at Grimsby and secured a town clerk in his interest there. It seems that he intended to take advantage of petitions against the return of 1807 and he tried to interest Whig purchasers in Grimsby, but no opening emerged until 1812. He then headed the poll in conjunction with a fellow Whig and survived a petition ‘at an expense he and the electors, and his agent little Sandy Grant, were not one of them fully able to acknowledge’.6
Grant was described by his friend Lord Lauderdale, introducing him to Lord Holland, as ‘likely to afford us considerable aid in the House of Commons’. He had just published Essays towards illustrating some elementary principles relating to wealth and currency, and his maiden speech, 14 Dec. 1812, was against the gold coin bill. He considered himself an expert on currency regulation, preferring a silver to a gold standard, on the sinking fund and on resumption of Bank payments in specie. He frequently spoke against government on these issues. As promised before his election, he supported Catholic relief, though not in May 1813 when he took leave of absence for illness. On 22 Apr. 1814 he made another bid for attention by a ‘good’ speech in support of Morpeth’s motion critical of the Speaker. His daughter recalled
only once, when all his party censured the Speaker, he made a little reputation by the polite severity of his few words, called by Sir Alexander Boswell his ‘bit of brimstone and butter’, a witticism that ran through all coteries, almost turning the laugh against the really clever speech.7
Grant had so strained his resources in getting into Parliament that he was obliged to resume business as an advocate in Scotland in 1814. This ‘answered pretty well’, but he neglected it for Parliament and Whig society in London. On 30 June 1814 he became a member of Brooks’s Club. He differed from most Whigs in supporting the Corn Laws and said so, 17 May, 6 June 1814, 23 Feb. 1815: for this his house in Edinburgh was assailed by an anti-protectionist mob. He objected to the treaty of Paris because it did not prohibit the French slave trade, 29 June 1814. As a man with ‘too many irons in the fire’, he insisted on becoming a critic of Irish government. (He had toured Ireland in his youth, and did so again in the summer of 1817.)8 On 20 July and 21 Nov. 1814 he outlined his views, threatening an inquiry into the state of Ireland, which he apparently gave up, 25 Nov. As a prelude to steady opposition in the next session, he said of ministers, 1 Dec., that ‘he would not entrust to them the management of the affairs of a private individual, much less those of the nation’. The treatment of Spanish Liberals, the transfer of Genoa and the resumption of war with Buonaparte all incurred his censure and he was a devotee of retrenchment at home. Apart from leave of absence for Scottish business 6-27 Mar. 1816, he spoke and voted steadily in that sense during the next session, though he opposed a committee on agricultural distress, 9 Apr. He led the opposition to the aliens bill, 20 May. On 6 June he presented 32 resolutions on finance illustrating ‘a scale of economy adequate to the exigencies of our situation’. In 1817 he apparently attended only between 27 Apr. and 3 June: at that juncture he ridiculed government proposals to reduce sinecures as mere tinkering with inexpensive and useful offices rather than fundamental reform.
Grant spoke on Scottish subjects from time to time and on 10 Feb. 1818 was a prominent critic of the conduct of the Glasgow magistrates towards the radicals. Next day he voted against employment of agents provocateurs. He was however concerned about the safety of his seat. On 8 Mar. Sir Thomas Robinson informed Lord Liverpool that Grant was
about to make overtures to rejoin the party he pretended to support at his first acquaintance with me, but from which he apostacized even before he was of any value, and has invariably voted against it and against the wishes, views and interests of his constituents’ ever since he had the honour to sit in Parliament.
He added that Grant had tried to convince him by voting with ministers on Philips’s motion of 5 Mar. against government employment of informers, which only made him ‘a double apostate ... the meaning of this deception ... being palpable as light’.9 Grant, a member of the finance committee that session, remained critical of ministers subsequently. He opposed the ducal marriage grants, 13, 15 Apr. and attempted to amend the Bank restriction bill, 18 May, and the aliens bill, 20 May. On 19 May he was teller for his colleague Heron’s motion to repeal the Septennial Act.
Grant was cast off by Grimsby, as Robinson had prophesied, in 1818. The more fortunate Whig candidate Fazakerley reported that it was due to ‘the grossest mismanagement of his agents. He talks of recovering his interest and if he has money to pay the people he will certainly succeed.’10 But his affairs were in disarray; he owed his return for Tavistock in March 1819 to the indulgence of the Duke of Bedford, who let him in until his heir came of age. He took his seat on 1 Apr. and sat beside Lord Archibald Hamilton, whose motion for the reform of the burgh of Aberdeen he favoured: the lord advocate sarcastically acknowledged his supporting role in the ensuing debate.11 He further supported Scottish petitions for reform and on 6 May was a teller for it. He was an opponent of state lotteries, 4 May 1819, and of the sinking fund scheme, 13 May. He continued to advocate retrenchment and to criticize indirect taxes as oppressive of the poor, 9 June. He voted for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, and for Brougham’s motion for inquiry into charitable abuses, 23 June. He did not vote for reform on Burdett’s motion, 1 July. Next session he steadily opposed repressive legislation, claiming that this was ‘no time for permanent legislation’.
An Indian legal career saved Grant from financial ruin. He died 17 May 1848.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Mems. of a Highland Lady ed. Lady Strachey, 4, 9, 10, 15, 161.
- 2. Ibid. 62. His daughter suggests that he pretended to Invernesshire in 1802 and was bought off by Charles Grant with ‘unlimited Indian appointments ... the secret of my father’s Indian patronage’.
- 3. Blair Adam mss.
- 4. Ibid. Grant to Gillies, 23 Oct., Gillies to Adam, 30 Oct., Adam to Brodie and to Sir J. Grant, 1 Nov., Grant to Adam, 1, 5, 9 Nov. 1806. Grant’s pamphlet Some observations on the constitution and forms of proceeding of the Court of Session in Scotland, with remarks on the bill now depending in the House of Lords for its reform appeared in 1807.
- 5. Fortescue mss, Grant to Grenville, 27 May, Fife to same, 10 June 1807; Blair Adam mss.
- 6. Mems. of a Highland Lady, 63, 161; see GREAT GRIMSBY.
- 7. Add. 51691, Lauderdale to Holland, 5 Dec. 1812; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 64; Mems. of a Highland Lady, 321.
- 8. Mems. of a Highland Lady, 235, 282, 286, 287.
- 9. Add. 38458, f. 225.
- 10. Add. 51576, Fazakerley to Lady Holland, Thurs. [18 June 1818].
- 11. Edinburgh Advertiser, 6 Apr. 1819.