MACKINNON, Charles (1773-1833), of Camden Hill, Kensington and 38 Grosvenor Place, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



23 Feb. 1827 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 1773.1 educ. Aberdeen Univ. 1790. m. 19 Dec. 1807, Sophia, da. William Burn of 7 George Street, Hanover Square, Mdx.,2 2da. d. 20 Oct. 1833.3

Offices Held

Surgeon, E.I. Co. naval service 1794; 2nd surgeon Canton 1800-5; head surgeon, Prince of Wales Island 26 Feb. 1808, suspended 27 Oct. 1808, reinstated 29 Mar. 1811, ret. 1821.


Mackinnon’s pedigree is not recorded in the annals of Clan Fingon, but it is clear from references in his will to his ‘brother’ General Henry Mackinnon (d. 1812), and the conduct of the head of the clan, William Alexander Mackinnon*, as his executor, that he was one of the Mackinnons of Skye.4 When facing allegations of commercial malpractice as a servant of the East India Company in Canton, he claimed in a dispatch, 5 Dec. 1804:

I have been brought up with as high a sense of honour as most men; my education and principles, such as they are, have been taught me in two different universities (I left my parents at an early period of life, perhaps an unfortunate circumstance) and by some of the most eminent professors of the present day, whose correspondence, friendship and good opinion, I have hitherto had the honour to enjoy. By them I have been taught to despise, on all occasions, the low chicanery of artifice and criminal complaisance.5

He became a junior member or student of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Aberdeen in 1790 and entered the East India Company’s service in 1794 as a surgeon on the Duke of Buccleugh, 1794-5, and the Nottingham, 1796-8. His son Charles, who may have been illegitimate, was born at Strathmore, Skye, 22 Jan. 1799. In January 1800 Mackinnon was appointed assistant surgeon at Canton, an unsalaried post that left him financially dependent on profits from agencies in the rhubarb and opium trades.6 A dispute with Messrs. Harrington, Burnaby and Cockburn caused the governor, James Drummond, to take disciplinary action against him in 1803; and despite receiving support from some members of the Canton Committee, notably Samuel Peach and George Sparkes, he was recalled to London to defend his conduct. He resigned on health grounds in January 1805 and on his return to London lodged with a Dr. Mackenney at 2 Upper Grosvenor Street. He was granted access to Company records and in February 1806 published a memorial in defence of his conduct.7 He was largely exonerated and remained at Upper Grosvenor Street until his marriage, departing for a new posting as head surgeon of Prince of Wales Island shortly afterwards. A quarrel with Drummond over the time he spent trading, instead of practising medicine, led to his suspension in 1808 for disrespect to the governor and council, but he remained on the island (his daughters Maria Sophia and Sophia Jane were born there in 1808 and 1811) and was reinstated on orders from Canton. In 1818 he returned to England on sick leave and settled in Kensington, retiring formally in November 1821, shortly after his wife’s death.8 His son Charles was by now an assistant surgeon on the Bengal establishment, while Mackinnon registered as an honorary member of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Aberdeen in 1820 and subscribed to the Royal College of Surgeons.9 He joined the Union Club, and intended using his East India fortune and contacts to secure a directorship of the Company and a seat in Parliament. In 1826 he put down £7,000 to stand on the Blue or Tory interest at Ipswich with a fellow Scot Robert Adam Dundas, a kinsman of the first lord of the admiralty, the 2nd Viscount Melville.10 They benefited from admiralty patronage and the local clergy’s hostility to concessions to Catholics and Dissenters and, although defeated at the poll, were returned on petition.11 Mackinnon claimed during his canvass that he would soon be able to bring patronage to Ipswich as a director of the East India Company, as he had already secured 700 (stockholders’) votes. His opponent Robert Torrens* and the Suffolk Chronicle countered that he was ‘endeavouring to obtain a seat in Parliament to further his ambitious views with regard to that directorship’ and maintained that ‘his fate is already sealed: an effectual determination against him is formed and not even parliamentary voting could reverse the decree’.12

Mackinnon made no major speeches in the House and was not an assiduous attender, but Dundas relied on him to deal with constituency business and he generally attended borough elections and dinners at Ipswich, where he acquired a reputation for ‘trimming between the two parties’.13 He divided with government for the duke of Clarence’s annuity, 16 Mar., and voted against the spring guns bill ‘because he felt conscious he was doing right’, 30 Mar. 1827. At the Ipswich chairing, which, because he had been ill, was postponed to 18 Apr., he declined to comment on the pro-Catholic Canning’s forthcoming appointment as premier, but spoke of his regret at the anti-Catholic Peel’s resignation as home secretary.14 Canning’s successor Lord Goderich informed him in November 1827 that the government patronage necessary to secure an East India Company directorship could only be obtained through the president of the board of control. Finding Charles Williams Wynn* hostile, he welcomed Melville’s appointment to the India board in January 1828 in the duke of Wellington’s ministry and asked Dundas to transmit a letter to him through his uncle, the lord register William Dundas*, in which he maintained that his previous request had failed ‘from political motives (although the duke of Buckingham and Lord Chandos* support me)’. He added, ‘we cannot keep Ipswich without patronage, but with good management and a seat in the direction I have no doubt we shall be able to retain our seats at a moderate expense’.15 He presented a favourable petition from Ipswich, 22 Feb., but voted against repealing the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and presented others for repeal of the Malt Act, 1 Apr., against the friendly societies bill, 24 Apr., and slavery, 2 June 1828. He paired against Catholic relief, 12 May.16 He divided with ministers against ordnance reductions, 4 July, and on the silk duties, 14 July. He divided for the corporate funds bill, 10 July 1828. During the recess he became concerned at the extortionate sums of money demanded as ‘printing costs’ by his Ipswich committee, and renewed his campaign for support in the forthcoming Company elections. Wellington referred his request back to Melville, but no decision seems to have been taken before September, when Lord Ellenborough took over the India board.17 After consultations with Wellington, Peel and the patronage secretary Planta, who all professed alarm at the promises Mackinnon had made at Ipswich, he was turned down.18 Despite this, Ellenborough noted in his diary, 5 Feb. 1829:

Received a letter from Mr. Mackinnon thanking me for a supposed promise to support him on the next vacancy. I never gave any such promise, nor did I use any words from which it could be deduced that I did. I have written to tell him how surprised I am at the interpretation he has put on my letter, and to say, if possibly more distinctly than I did before, that I will not pledge myself.19

Mackinnon, like Dundas, opposed Catholic emancipation in 1829, believing that it would increase the pressure for tithe reform. He spoke of his regret at voting against ministers on presenting an anti-Catholic petition from Ipswich, 11 Mar., and deliberately congratulated Peel on ‘the firmness he has displayed in pursuing his course’, 12 Mar., but divided against the measure, 18, 23, 30 Mar. He is not known to have been active in the House again until after the East India Company election of 6 Apr. 1830, when he lost by 1,009-554 to John Forbes.* On 20 Apr. he sold over £7,000 of his holdings in Company stock in five lots, keeping enough to qualify for one vote.20 He paired, 5 Apr., and voted personally for Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He voted against reducing the grant for South American missions, 7 June, to make forgery a non-capital offence, 7 June, and to restrict licensing for on-consumption under the sale of beer bill, 21 June 1830, a matter of concern to Ipswich brewers. A late challenge from the Essex Whig John Disney increased the cost of his return for Ipswich with Dundas at the general election, but their success was never in doubt.21 The liberal merchant John May complained to Gilbert Heathcote* before the election that Mackinnon

has made a most infamous use of [Thomas Barrett] Lennard’s* letters of introduction to myself and brother, so that the general feeling is both amongst the Blues and Orange that Mr. Lennard has promised his support to Mackinnon in case of a contest, and really whether there is a contest or not.22

The ministry counted Mackinnon among their ‘friends’ and he divided with them when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He received a week’s leave on account of ill health, 2 Dec. 1830. He was added to the select committee on the East India Company’s charter, 15 Feb. 1831. Before voting against the Grey ministry’s reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., he presented but spoke against favourable petitions from Ipswich, commended another recently adopted by resident freemen anxious that their sons and apprentices should not forfeit the franchise, and described himself as ‘unfriendly to close boroughs, which have but few constituents, and favourable to the extension of the elective franchise to the large unrepresented manufacturing towns as well as to the respectable householders of open boroughs’. The speech was circulated and commented on in Ipswich, where initially the Blues projected themselves as moderate reformers, and Mackinnon did not vote on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr.23 He presented an anti-reform petition from Ipswich’s London freemen for protection of their voting rights and testified to the valuable contribution they had made to his own return, 20 Apr. 1831. He contested Ipswich at the general election that month with a new colleague, the Whig 4th duke of Grafton’s nephew Robert Fitzroy, but they lost to two reformers. On the hustings Mackinnon spoke against reform, which he predicted would restrict the access of those involved in shipping, commerce, and finance to Parliament, but he again acknowledged the need to enfranchise the growing industrial towns.24

Mackinnon contested Ipswich at the general election of 1832, but, having alienated both, he was denied the support of the town’s Wellington Club and of the Conservative party and came bottom of the poll in a five-man contest.25 He maintained his interest in East India Company affairs and printed and circulated his speech at East India House on the China trade, 16 Apr. 1833, in which he declared against monopoly, but defended ‘exclusive privilege where freedom of trade is impracticable and where that privilege protects great and important interests’.26 His elder daughter Maria died, 3 June 1833, and in September he went to France to recuperate, but he died, ‘aged 60’, at Beauvais on his homeward journey in October.27 His will, dated 22 Mar. 1831, with an unwitnessed codicil of 14 Sept. 1833 in favour of his daughter Sophia, was proved under £80,000. He entrusted William Alexander Mackinnon and his former East India Company colleagues John Fullarton Elphinstone, Charles Peach and John Spicer to provide annuities of £1,200 for Sophia, £100 for his son Charles, who also received his gold watch, chain and seals, £50 each for his mother’s three unmarried daughters, £20 each for his two married sisters, Mrs. W. Maclean and Mrs. J. Matheson. Other beneficiaries were his nephew Charles Mackinnon, ‘now at Mr. Slate’s school’, and George and Donald, the sons of his late ‘brother’ Henry Mackinnon, to whom the estate was to revert should his own children die without issue.28 Sophia, who married Henry Dundas Drummond (1812-67) in December 1838 and retained the use of her father’s Grosvenor Place house, had to secure a judgement in chancery against William Alexander Mackinnon and Peach, 5 Dec. 1839, to ensure payment of her legacy.29 As Mackinnon had wished, she erected a tablet in St. Mary Abbot’s church, Kensington in memory of her parents and sister.30

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Memorial inscriptions and obituaries specify 1773. According to P.J. and R.V. Wallis, Eighteenth Cent. Medical Practitioners, 385, Mackinnon was b. in 1775 and apprenticed as a surgeon in 1793.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1807), ii. 1172.
  • 3. Not 19 Nov., as stated in Ann. Reg. (1834), Chron. p. 201.
  • 4. D. Mackinnon, Mem. Clan Fingon (1899); PROB 11/1825/769; TNA C33/893, f. 539 (Mackinnon v. Peach).
  • 5. C. Mackinnon, Mem. to E.I.Co. (1806), 49.
  • 6. D.G. Crawford, Indian Medical Service, 1615-1930, p. 624; BL OIOC L/MIL/9/371, f. 165.
  • 7. Mem. to E.I.Co. (1806).
  • 8. E.I. Reg. (1807), ii. 305; Crawford, 626;
  • 9. OIOC L/MIL/9/371, ff. 161, 164; Crawford, 79; Regulations of Medico- Chirurgical Soc. Aberdeen (1833), p. xv; RCS Membership List (1825), 56.
  • 10. J. Glyde, New Suff. Garland, 454.
  • 11. The Times, 23, 29 May, 5, 19, 20 June 1826; Ipswich Jnl. 24 Feb.; Suff. Chron. 24 Feb. 1827.
  • 12. Ipswich Jnl. 3 June; Suff. Chron. 10 June 1826.
  • 13. Ipswich Jnl. 7 Oct. 1826, 12 Sept. 1829; Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss, J. May and C.C. Western to G.J. Heathcote [July 1830].
  • 14. Suff. Chron. 21 Apr.; Ipswich Jnl. 21 Apr.; Colchester Gazette, 21 Apr. 1827.
  • 15. NAS GD51/3/611/1-2.
  • 16. The Times, 19 May 1828.
  • 17. Suff. RO (Ipswich), J. Glyde, ‘Materials for Parl. Hist. Ipswich’, ff. 101-2; Wellington mss WP1/948/7.
  • 18. Ellenborough Diary, i. 268-9, 306-7, 330.
  • 19. Ibid. i. 336.
  • 20. The Times, 2, 5, 7, 8 Apr. 1830; OIOC L/AG/14/5/154, f. 77.
  • 21. Ipswich Jnl. 10, 24 July, 7 Aug.; Ancaster mss, W. May to Heathcote, 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 22. Ancaster mss, May and Western to Heathcote [July 1830].
  • 23. Ipswich Jnl. 19, 26 Mar.; Suff. Chron. 26 Mar. 1831; K.J. Atton, ‘Municipal and Parl. Politics in Ipswich, 1818-1847’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1980), 182-5.
  • 24. Ipswich Jnl. 30 Apr., 7 May; Suff. Chron. 7 May 1831.
  • 25. Suff. Chron. 3 Nov.; Ipswich Jnl. 10, 17 Nov. 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 26. Brougham mss, Mackinnon to Brougham, 13 May 1833.
  • 27. Gent Mag. (1833), i. 571; (1834); i. 656.
  • 28. PROB11/1825/769; IR26/1300/669.
  • 29. Gent Mag. (1839), i. 203; TNA C33/893, f. 539.
  • 30. Mdx. M.I. iv. 39 (Soc. of Genealogists Lib. MX/M/46248D, viii).