WISHART BELSCHES (afterwards STUART), Sir John, 3rd or 4th Bt. (?1752-1821), of Fettercairn, Kincardine.
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Family and Education
b. ?1752, o.s. of William Belsches of Tofts, Berwick and Fort St. David’s, Madras by his cos. Emilia, da. of John Belsches of Invermay, Perth by Mary, sis. of Sir William Stuart, 2nd Bt., of Colinton, Edinburgh. educ. adv. 1774. m. 29 Nov. 1775, Lady Jane Leslie, da. of David, 6th Earl of Leven and Melville [S], 1da. Assumed baronetcy on d. of gt.-uncle Sir William Stuart, 2nd Bt., 6 Dec. 1777; took name of Stuart by royal lic. 7 Oct. 1797.
Clerk for admission of nottars [S] until 1807, baron of Exchequer [S] 1807-d.
Lt.-col. Kincardine vols. 1804.
It is unlikely that this Member was in strict legal right of the baronetcy which he assumed in 1777 on the death of his mother’s maternal uncle. The modern legal view is that the title ought to have passed to the Lockharts, male heirs of the daughter of the first baronet, Sir George Wishart of Cliftonhall, by his second marriage. A few months before his death Stuart wrote that he had assumed the title ‘on what I believed good legal advice, as the heir of the last patentee in possession’ and that the question of the legitimacy of his claim had been ‘the cause of much doubt, anxiety and distress to me’. It was not disputed in his lifetime and he matriculated arms as ‘Sir John Belsches Wisheart Baronet’ on 9 May 1778. In the light of modern legal opinion, which admits the right of females to hold a baronetcy, he must be regarded as the fourth baronet and his mother, who died in 1807, as the third, though he was clearly styling himself ‘Sir John’ from 1777.1
Stuart, who bought the Fettercairn estate about 1783,2 was described by Lawrence Hill in 1788 as being ‘in good circumstances’, but desirous of a clerkship, ‘about which he has had some misunderstanding’ with Henry Dundas, a distant relative of his wife.3 It was with Dundas’s backing that he was returned for Kincardineshire in July 1797 on the death of the sitting Member, and it was to him that he looked for political direction and personal advancement throughout his parliamentary career. His overriding ambition was to obtain a barony of exchequer, but when he first raised the matter with Dundas he found him already pledged to another for the first vacancy. The Scottish post-mastership was apparently mentioned as an alternative, but Stuart insisted on staking his claim to a gown and overcame Dundas’s objection that he had not practised in the court of session for several years. Thereafter he constantly expected Dundas to gratify his wish at the earliest possible moment, although he later admitted that no explicit promise had been made.4
He supported Pitt and, initially, Addington. He is not known to have spoken in the House, but claimed to have been a conscientious attender, as he told Lord Melville in 1806:
I have spent the best nine years of my life in giving that attendance which I conceived to be my duty ... tho’ I have not hitherto been more than a very quiet Member of the House ... my being there gave and now gives you and your friends the voice of a Scotch county Member which otherwise would probably have gone another way.5
In 1802, Charles Innes described him as ‘independent of Mr Dundas and will support administration’; but in a contemporaneous list in the Melville papers he was numbered among the ‘partisans’ of Pitt and Dundas. By 1803 Stuart, who had once admitted that ‘the shyness of my nature, and the great difference in the object which most people pursue, from what appears to me at all interesting, makes me unsociable to a degree that I believe is wrong’, was restless and discontented. He was worried by the mounting load of debt on his estate, desirous of secure employment and inclined in private to blame Melville and Pitt for neglecting him.6 He was one of the minority of 56 who voted for Pitt’s question for the order of the day, 3 June 1803, after which he was assured by Melville that ‘if Pitt was in office’ his claim to a gown would be met at the earliest opportunity.7 On 24 Mar. 1804 Melville told him that there was no need for him to put himself out to attend the House, but on 3 Apr. informed him that Pitt had just communicated his ‘anxious wish’ for the attendance of his Scottish friends for the combined attack on Addington.8 He does not seem to have complied, but he supported Pitt’s second ministry and voted against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805.
In September 1805 Stuart, confessing that ‘the situation of my family, and other circumstances, make the long attendances on parliamentary duty less convenient for me’, pressed Melville to expedite his acquisition of a gown by arranging a secret deal with one of the present possessors. Melville declined to commit himself and showed distinct signs of impatience when Stuart continued to badger him into the new year. He persevered and, shortly after Pitt’s death, obtained from Melville satisfactory assurance that he would ‘support my pretensions to a baron’s gown as having been a thing determined on by Mr Pitt’.9
On the formation of the ‘Talents’ William Adam listed him among the ‘Dundas etc. interest’, but shortly afterwards he informed Lord Grenville that he intended to give the new ministry his ‘general support’. Late in March he complained to the premier that a recent local appointment had been made without consulting him. Grenville assured him that no slight had been intended, but Stuart, who had in fact already decided to retire from the House at the next general election, did not vote for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806.10 He refused Melville’s request that he change his mind and contest Kincardine against Adam when the unexpected dissolution of 1806 disrupted plans for an attempt on the seat; but it was almost certainly through Melville’s intercession that he obtained his baron’s gown from the Portland ministry in 1807.11 Stuart died 4 Dec. 1821.12
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. NLS, Fettercairn mss, box 52, Stuart to Sir W. Forbes, April 1821; Pub. Reg. of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, vol. 1, f. 127, ex inf. the Lyon Clerk, Malcolm R. Innes of Edingight, WS., who also kindly clarified the misleading account of the descent of the baronetcy in CB, iv. 436-7.
- 2. Fettercairn mss, box 65; Sir W. Fraser, Melvilles and Leslies, ii. 284. CB, iv. 436 states, incorrectly, that he suc. to it in 1797.
- 3. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 189.
- 4. PRO 30/8/119, f. 102; NLS mss 5, ff. 105-11; SRO GD51/6/1476.
- 5. SRO GD51/6/1476.
- 6. Fettercairn mss, box 86, Stuart to A. Stuart, 19 Mar. 1798; box 52, Stuart to Forbes, 13, 19, 23 Apr. 1803.
- 7. SRO GD51/6/1476; Fettercairn mss, box 86, memo, 27 Feb. 1806.
- 8. Fettercairn mss, box 65.
- 9. Fettercairn mss, box 65, Melville to Stuart, 13 Sept., 9 Nov. 1805, 10 Jan., 6, 12,  Feb. 1806; box 86, Stuart to Melville, 4 Sept. 1805, 2 Jan., 4, 10 Feb., memo, 27 Feb. 1806; SRO GD51/6/1476.
- 10. Fortescue mss, Stuart to Grenville, 27 Mar.; Fettercairn mss, box 65, Grenville to Stuart, 1 Apr.; Blair Adam mss, Stuart to Adam, 8 Mar. 1806.
- 11. SRO GD51/1/198/12/23; Fettercairn mss, box 65, Melville to Stuart, 1 May 1807.
- 12. Scots Mag. (1822), i. 139, correcting CB, iv. 437 which gives 5 Dec. 1810.