ANSTRUTHER, Sir John, 2nd Bt. (1718-99), of Anstruther and Elie, Fife.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



17 Jan. 1766 - 1774
1780 - Dec. 1782
1790 - Feb. 1793

Family and Education

b. 27 Dec. 1718, o. surv. s. of Sir John Anstruther, 1st Bt., M.P., by Lady Margaret Carmichael, da. of James, 2nd Earl of Hyndford [S]. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1733; ?Grand Tour. m. 4 Oct. 1750, Janet, da. of James Fall, M.P., merchant and provost of Dunbar, 3 surv. s. 1 surv. da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 21 Sept. 1753; and cos. Gen. Philip Anstruther, M.P., 11 Nov. 1760.

Offices Held


Chief of an ancient Fife family, Sir John was known as a numismatist,1 an agricultural improver, an exponent of drill husbandry, and the ‘well drilled husband’2 of the beautiful ‘Jenny Faa’, with whose brother Robert he founded in 1756 the Anstruther whale fishing company.3

In 1760 he inherited a great fortune and the Airdrie estate from the notorious Gen. Philip Anstruther, together with a share of his unpopularity, which was not lessened by his own arrogance, his extravagant building projects, and the ruthless removal of an entire village, reputedly at the whim of his wife, to improve the amenities of Elie House.4

On the death of Sir Henry Erskine in August 1765, Anstruther returned post haste from Spa, and, after consultation with Sir Alexander Gilmour, who had already recommended him to Newcastle, stood with Government support for Anstruther Burghs.5 His opponent was Robert Alexander, son of William Alexander, banker and tobacco merchant, supported by Alexander Wedderburn and the Erskine interest. After a campaign unprecedented for bribery and chicanery, of which anecdotes were current for over a hundred years, Anstruther was returned.6

Anstruther supported the Rockingham Administration on the repeal of the Stamp Act. Under the Chatham Administration his allegiance was uncertain: in the winter of 1766-7 he was listed ‘doubtful’ by Rockingham and ‘Government’ by Townshend, and in March 1767 Newcastle counted him as ‘doubtful or absent’. In the land tax division, 27 Feb. 1767, Almon records him as voting against Administration, but his name does not appear either in Meredith’s list or in that printed in Paris.

In view of his local unpopularity and the litigation still proceeding over burgh council elections, his prospects of return in 1768 were doubtful. As early as October 1766 he was mentioned as a candidate for Fife, since ‘in all appearances he would lose his burghs’.7 Nevertheless, with the assistance of Col. John Scott and the Erskines of Kellie (whose estates he purchased in 1769), he was re-elected, and supported the Grafton Administration over Wilkes and the Middlesex election. He also supported North, but seems to have been absent a good deal through ill health; and Robinson, in his ‘Minutes as to Scotland’, 13 Dec. 1773,8 records: ‘Sir John is abroad and query whether he will come in again.’

At the 1774 election Anstruther brought in his eldest son Philip for the Burghs, and devoted himself to the development of his estates, coalmines and salt-pans. In 1780 he terminated the arrangement under which George Damer had replaced Philip Anstruther in the Burghs, and took back the representation into his own hands, with the intention of serving ‘a session or two’, and thereafter vacating in favour of his son.9

He consistently supported North, but did not vote on Cavendish’s censure motion, 8 Mar. 1782, having apparently left London. Robinson sought the intervention of Henry Dundas, who replied, 9 Mar.:10 ‘I send you a letter from me to him which will certainly bring him up.’ As a result Sir John returned, and voted with Administration on Rous’s no confidence motion of 15 Mar.

In June Sir John returned to Scotland, and in December resigned his seat to his second son John, thereafter concerning himself mainly with his agricultural experiments11 and the management of his estates. In 1783 he sold the Airdrie estate to Lt.-Col. James Moncrieff, who in 1784 stood as Government candidate against John Anstruther. Despite the defection of the Balcaskie branch of the Anstruther family, Sir John secured his son’s return, but by 1788 had ceased to endorse his Opposition politics,12 had reached agreement with Henry Dundas on burgh patronage, and become a Government supporter. In 1790 he refused John the nomination and was himself returned for the Burghs, but vacated his seat in February 1793 in favour of his third son Robert.

An ailing and emaciated old man,13 he spent his last years in the preparation of his two treatises on agriculture, Drill Husbandry (1796) and Hoeing Husbandry (1798). He died 4 July 1799.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Pococke’s Tours in Scotland (S.H.S. 1887), 275.
  • 2. W. Anderson, Scottish Nation, i. 142.
  • 3. Sir Wm. Fraser, Leven Melville Pprs. i. 340-1.
  • 4. W. Wood, East Neuk of Fife (1887), 227-9.
  • 5. Gilmour to Newcastle, 28 Aug. 1765, Add. 32969, f. 209.
  • 6. For the story of Alexander’s petition, see ANSTRUTHER EASTER BURGHS.
  • 7. Geo. Chalmers to Geo. Grenville, 16 Oct. 1766, Grenville mss. (JM).
  • 8. Laprade, 7.
  • 9. Robinson’s survey of 1780, Royal archives, Windsor.
  • 10. Dundas to Robinson, Abergavenny mss.
  • 11. Scots Mag. 1784, p. 210.
  • 12. Pol. State Scotland 1788, p. 125; H. Furber, Henry Dundas, 245.
  • 13. J. Fergusson, Letters G. Dempster to Sir A. Fergusson, 309.