SCHAW, Sir John, 3rd Bt. (?1679-1752), of Greenock, Renfrew; Sauchie, Clackmannan; and Carnock, Stirling.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1708 - 1710
1722 - 1727
1727 - 1734

Family and Education

b. ?1679, 1st s. of Sir John Schaw, 2nd Bt., MP [S], by Helenor, da. and event. coh. of Sir Thomas Nicolson, 2nd Bt., of Carnock.  educ. Glasgow Univ. 1693.  m. 15 Mar. 1700 (tocher 25,000 merks), Margaret (d. 1757), 1st da. of Hon. Sir Hew Dalrymple, 1st Bt., MP [S], of North Berwick, Haddington, ld. pres. of ct. of session, 1da.  suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 16 Apr. 1702.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Glasgow 1700, Inveraray 1720.2


The Schaws of Greenock were a cadet branch of the Schaws of Sauchie, but the extinction of the senior line in the 16th century brought about a re-unification of estates, with the junior designation thereafter taking precedence. John Schaw (d. 1593) built a church and manse for the town, and was known to later generations as ‘Greenock’s Ancestor’. His grandson, also John, obtained a burgh of barony in 1635, which was confirmed to his heir, Sir John Schaw, 1st Bt., a noted Royalist who was knighted by Charles II at the battle of Worcester and later created a baronet by James II. Despite this Cavalier tradition, the 2nd and 3rd baronets were resolutely Whig. The former, the Member’s father, supported the Revolution, and signed the Association in 1700. Coming in for a Stirlingshire vacancy in 1701, he voted with the Country opposition (despite his Court connexions as a tacksman of excise) being motivated by frustration at the failure of the Darien scheme. Trade was crucial to both Greenock and its leading family: the improvement of the harbour was entirely owing to the Schaws, with the 3rd baronet implementing plans formulated by his father, who died unexpectedly in April 1702.3

Greenock, according to Macky, was ‘much embellished by its proprietor Sir John Schaw, one of the richest commoners in Scotland, with a very fine harbour’. A rudimentary harbour had long existed, but petitions to the Scottish parliament for local taxation to finance improvements made no headway. Resistance to Greenock’s pretensions stemmed from the royal burghs, particularly Glasgow. The establishment of a customs post at Port Glasgow, near to Greenock, caused continuing friction. In 1694 Schaw’s father, with the backing of the Scottish treasury, had briefly wrested the right to collect customs from Port Glasgow, but lobbying from Glasgow brought about a reversal of this decision. Undaunted by such obstacles, the Schaws not only assuaged the fears of the royal burghs by contributing £3,125 0s. 1d. Scots, as taxation for the unfree trade of Greenock from 1697 to 1705, but also circumvented the lack of parliamentary sanction for local taxation to improve the harbour. Schaw entered into contracts with his feuars and sub-feuars for a self-imposed assessment of 1s. 4d. per sack of brewing malt, while promising in 1704 to advance £400 Scots p.a. to cover immediate costs; he also made further payments of £752 12s. Scots in 1707, 2,000 merks in 1710, and £2,439 12s. 3d. Scots in 1714. The total cost of construction was over £5,500 Scots, and the harbour became famous as a ‘formidable work, the greatest of that kind at that time in Scotland’. Such was the improvement in Greenock’s trade that Schaw’s loans were all repaid in his lifetime. Shortly before his death, the future financial viability of the harbour was secured by an act authorizing a tax on ale.4

The motives for Schaw’s decision to stand for Parliament in 1708 are not known, but plausibly may be linked to his commercial aspirations. He chose to stand for Renfrewshire, but his diverse properties gave him several options. He supported the candidacy of his own cousin by marriage, Hon. William Dalrymple*, in Clackmannanshire, and rejected an approach from William Cochrane* regarding Dunbartonshire. His own election was uncontested. For family reasons Schaw was keen to stand well with the Court. While on active service in September 1708, two of his brothers were killed in duels with the Master of Sinclair (John Sinclair*), who was subsequently convicted of murder. Schaw hastened to London early in November, and wrote to the commander-in-chief, the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), praying for ‘impartial justice’. After seeking legal advice, Schaw subsequently informed the Duke that Sinclair had no grounds ‘to argue self-defence, fair duel, nor rencounter’. He contemplated presenting a petition in person to Marlborough, but decided to remain in London. In an audience with the Queen, he was gratified by her assurance that ‘she will not meddle in this matter’. The Privy Council, to which the case had been referred, confirmed the capital sentence, but Sinclair was permitted to escape, with the reputed connivance of Marlborough. Schaw thereafter faced repeated disappointments in his efforts to secure justice (see SINCLAIR, John). In Parliament Schaw made little impression. He is not known to have spoken in any debate, but on 29 Jan. 1709 was nominated as ‘Mr Shaw’ to the committee to draft a bill to standardize treason law throughout Britain.5

According to one contemporary list, Schaw voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, an attribution that was almost certainly erroneous, as George Lockhart* later pointed out. Indeed, a vote against the ministry would have run counter to Schaw’s self-interest because he was shortly to revive the controversy over the respective rights of Greenock and Port Glasgow. In June 1710, the provost of Glasgow reported to the Earl of Mar that Schaw intended to use his influence at court to secure the transfer of the custom house to Greenock. The following year a petition from Glasgow, supported by Thomas Smith II* and Cochrane, was presented to the Treasury. The Scottish barons of exchequer, however, reported in Schaw’s favour in July 1712, and a Treasury commission of 16 Sept. declared Greenock to be a legitimate branch of Port Glasgow. In 1714 this ruling was consolidated by instructions that customs officers should always be in residence at Greenock for ‘the ease of trade’. The emergence of Greenock as a major port is largely attributable to Schaw’s efforts.6

Schaw did not stand in 1710 or 1713, but he continued to press schemes for improving the regulation of customs in western Scotland. In conjunction with his efforts to elevate the status of Greenock, he was also intent on reviving a commission he had held under the Scottish parliament to maintain two ships and a small number of troops for the prevention of the illegal importation of Irish victuals into Scotland. In an undated memorial (probably written early in 1713) he outlined the detrimental effects of this trade, and his former services. After the Union, financial support from the government had lapsed, and Schaw, being unable to bear the ‘expenses and fatigue’, abandoned his patrols. The subsequent revival of the scheme was prompted by the increase in Irish imports. As a further incentive he offered to extend his role to prevent frauds in the tobacco and wool trade, and to oversee ‘the due execution of the laws concerning salmon fishing’. Although his proposals were well argued and accompanied with estimates of running costs, no such plan was implemented in this period. Schaw remained convinced of the detrimental effects of cheap imports, however, and in 1725 was authorized ‘to burn all boats that shall bring meal or grain from Ireland’.7

In October 1714 Schaw hosted elaborate celebrations to mark the safe arrival of George I, and was active the following year in suppressing the Jacobite rebellion. Shortly before the rising he had been involved in a street brawl with James Houstoun (uncle of John Houston*), and it was feared that legal repercussions might impair Schaw’s ability to assist the government in countering Jacobitism. This did not occur, owing to the survival of the wounded party, though Schaw was later compelled to pay him compensation. Schaw fought at several battles during the rebellion, acting in close co-operation with the Duke of Argyll, under whose auspices he revived his parliamentary career after 1722. His relations with Argyll’s brother the Earl of Ilay became strained in the aftermath of the Excise crisis of 1733, partly because of Schaw’s family ties with the Dalrymples. He consequently failed to secure re-election for Clackmannanshire in 1734, and never stood again. Schaw died at Sauchie on 5 Apr. 1752; the baronetcy thereupon became extinct and the estates passed to the families of his sister and daughter.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. Williamson, Old Greenock (1886), 20, 99, 278–82, 313; Recs. Univ. Glasgow, iii. 153; Hist. Scot. Parl. 623.
  • 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. lvi. 243; n.s. xiv. 19.
  • 3. Williamson, 14–21; J. B. Brown-Morison, Gen. Notes anent Ancient Scot. Fams. 115–19; HMC 4th Rep. 528; Hist. Scot. Parl. 632–3; SHR, xxv. 249, 253.
  • 4. J. Macky, Journey through GB, iii. 302; APS, x. 145, 221, 231; Williamson, 24–28; J. D. Marwick, River Clyde and Clyde Burghs, 130–1, 141, 151, 154, 160; G. Eyre-Todd, Hist. Glasgow, iii. 97; Recs. Convention R. Burghs, iv. 374; G. Chalmers, Caledonia (1890), vi. 807.
  • 5. SRO, Alloa sheriff ct. recs. SC64/63/24, electoral ct. mins. 16 June 1708; Procs. in the Court Martial, Held upon John, Master of Sinclair (Roxburghe Club, xlv); Add. 61294, ff. 141–53; SP54/4/261.
  • 6. [J. Oldmixon], Mems. North Britain, 245; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 287; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 398; HMC Portland, x. 165–6; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 541–2; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, p. 411; Chalmers, 807.
  • 7. SRO Cromartie mss GD305/1/159/130, memorial by Schaw, [?1713]; NLS, ms 16503, f. 8; APS, xi. 434; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, pp. 52, 557; 1720–8, p. 366; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxi. 498.
  • 8. Scots Courant, 6–8 Oct. 1714; Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 3, xxv. pp. liii, 57, 63; HMC 2nd Rep. 26; SRO, Stair mss GD135/140, f. 27; [P. Rae], Hist. Late Rebellion (1718), 203, 229, 290; G. Charles, Hist. Trans. in Scotland, i. 289; Parlty. Hist. xi. 200–3, 214–17; HMC 5th Rep. 618; HMC 4th Rep. 528; Scot. Rec. Soc. xxxi. 50; W. Fraser, Chiefs of Colquhoun, i. 373; ii. 108–9; Williamson, 21, 99–100, 313.