PETRIE, John (?1742-1826), of 6 Portland Place, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1796 - Apr. 1800

Family and Education

b. ?1742, 2nd s. of Rev. Robert Petrie, minister of Canonbie, Dumfries by Margaret, da. of Andrew Waugh of Selkirk; bro. of William Petrie*. m. (1) 11 Nov. 1779 at Calcutta, Ann, da. of Page Keble, paymaster of marines at Calcutta, 1s. 3da.; (2) 6 June 1793, Elizabeth, da. of George Vesey of Lucan, co. Dublin, 4da.

Offices Held

Free merchant (Bengal) 1762; cadet and ensign, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1763, lt. 1765, q.m. 1765; 1st Bengal European Regt. 1765, res. 1766; in England 1766-72; factor (Bengal) 1773; collector of customs and sec. to board of customs, Calcutta 1774; jun. merchant 1778; collector of government customs 1779; naval storekeeper 1780; sen. merchant 1782; compiler of standing orders 1783-5; furlough 1786, ret. 1788.

Lt.-col. Holmsdale vols. 1798.1


Petrie, followed by his younger brother William, sought his fortune in India. His first sojourn ended in disgrace (1766) but he tried again, more successfully. He returned home in 1788. His second wife’s dowry was charged on four estates in Tobago, which was ceded to France in 1783. He therefore welcomed Talleyrand’s suggestion in 1792 that Tobago be ceded to England in return for an English loan to France and in 1797 urged Pitt to retain the captured island, where he was anxious to cut his losses—he had £150,000 ‘depending’. In London he became a merchant in the house of Petrie, Campbell & Co. at 24 Throckmorton Street and, from 1793, a partner in a bank with his brother William. In 1794 he aspired in vain to the directorate of the East India Company and in July of the same year offered his services to Pitt, recommended by (Sir) William Pulteney*, as sponsor of a loan to the Emperor ‘with as little risk to Great Britain as possible’, on the assumption that Walter Boyd* would not be able to manage it. This assumption proving false, he joined Boyd’s consortium.2

Petrie was also ambitious of a seat in Parliament and late in 1794 bombarded Henry Dundas* with requests for a decision from Pitt on an invitation he had received to offer himself at Totnes, where he looked forward to securing both seats ‘for the friends of administration’. Nothing came of this and a year later he negotiated the purchase of Gatton estate, which entailed the nomination of both seats for the borough, from Robert Ladbroke*. It was completed in February 1796, for £110,000, of which Petrie reserved £50,000 to meet the encumbrances on it. He was at that time a contractor for making canvas for the forces. With the security of a seat for Gatton he also contested Coventry, on the ministerial and London out-voters’ interest, in 1796, but was defeated there.3

Petrie, whose firm subscribed £30,000 to the loyalty loan for 1797, was an intermediary of the London merchants and bankers with government on such questions as the scarcity of money (September 1796) and offered Pitt his criticism of Bank of England tactics on money supply (March 1797). On 9 Mar. 1797 he was present at the meeting of the ‘armed neutrality’ at Sir John Sinclair’s house, and on 3 Apr. was a teller against ministers on a clause of the Bank restriction bill. By September 1797 his affairs were involved in difficulties: but for this, he might have replaced Paul Benfield* as Walter Boyd’s partner. He voted for Pitt’s triple tax assessment, 4 Jan. 1798. In his only known speech in the House, 1 Mar. 1799, he declared:

The abolition of the slave trade would be the scourge of Africa. As a planter he wished it to take place but as a cosmopolite he desired its continuance out of humanity to the inhabitants of the coast of Africa.

In April 1800 he offered Gatton for sale and vacated his seat. The eventual purchaser was Mark Wood I*. The restoration of Tobago to France in 1802 completed his discomfiture. He was at Calais and one of Bonaparte’s détenus in France in 1803. In September 1810 he relinquished all his property to his creditors, so he stated in a will made in 1812. In 1814 his residence was Dean’s Court, Devon.4 In 1820 his wife surrendered her claims on the Tobago estates, which were sold.

Petrie died at Calais, 5 Feb. 1826, aged 84.5 His estate was then valued at £1,500.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. A. Symonds


  • 1. N. and Q. (ser. 10), vi. 401.
  • 2. Add. 16264, f. 243; PCC 431 Sutton; HMC Fortescue, ii. 259; Hilton Price, London Bankers, 160; Scott Corresp. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, lxxvi), 14; PRO 30/8/166, ff. 163, 165, 175; 169, f. 217.
  • 3. SRO GD 51/1/200/1, 2; see GATTON; Add. 38230, f. 321; see COVENTRY.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/166, ff. 169, 173, 175; The Times, 18, 24 Apr. 1800; PCC 431 Sutton, 468 Creswell (his brother William’s will).
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1826), i. 287. His MI states 6 Feb. aged 83.