SHAW STEWART, John (1739-1812), of Greenock, Renfrew.
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Family and Education
b. 1739, 1st s. of Sir Michael Stewart, 3rd Bt., of Blackhall, Renfrew by Helen, da. of Sir John Houston, 3rd Bt., of Houston, niece of Sir John Shaw, 3rd Bt., of Greenock. m. Apr. 1786, Frances, da. of Robert Colhoun of St. Kitts, sis. of William McDowall Colhoun, wid. of Sir James Maxwell, 7th Bt., of Pollok, s.p. suc. gt.-uncle in the Greenock estates 1752, and took add. name of Shaw; and fa. as 4th Bt. 20 Oct. 1796.
Shaw Stewart inherited through his mother great wealth and property which, added to his father’s interest, gave him a leading position in Renfrewshire politics. Described by Boswell as a ‘lively, good-natured, rattling’ young man,1 he revived the family ambition of wresting control of the county from William Mure and his friends. In 1768 he stood against William McDowall and Patrick Craufurd, the sitting Member, whose son John wrote to Mure on 26 Feb.:2 ‘I walked for an hour with Stewart in the park, but found him very impracticable; and if his father is equally so, nothing can be made of them.’ When on a compromise Mure and the Craufurds eventually gave their interest to McDowall, Shaw Stewart ‘stood it to the last’ and was defeated, 42 votes against 20.3 He made another attempt in 1774, this time against John Craufurd, but was again defeated by the combined Craufurd, Mure and McDowall interests.
A man of independent views on religion and politics,4 Stewart was opposed to the Government’s American policy; McDowall and his son were strong supporters of North. Nevertheless, by 1780 they had formed a compact to ‘throw out John Craufurd’ and share the representation of the county between them, with Stewart serving the first three years of the Parliament and young McDowall the remainder.5 John Robinson’s proposal to break the alliance either through the intervention of Stewart’s close friend, Lord Eglintoun, or by giving the Government interest to McDowall, came to nothing, and Stewart was returned.
Noted more for his roistering social life than parliamentary ability, Stewart made little impression in the House. He did not vote either on Lowther’s motion against the war, 12 Dec. 1781, or on the censure of the Admiralty, 20 Feb. 1782, but from 22 Feb. voted with the Opposition in every recorded division until the end of North’s Administration. He voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries on 18 Feb. 1783, and for parliamentary reform on 7 May. The Coalition lost a supporter when Stewart, in fulfilment of his electoral bargain, vacated his seat in July to make way for William McDowall jun., who sat until June 1786 when, on the expiration of his stipulated term, he in turn applied for the Chiltern Hundreds.
The compact was now at an end; at the by-election McDowall contested the seat as a Pitt supporter, Shaw Stewart as a Foxite. After a protracted struggle Stewart was returned; McDowall petitioned, but withdrew his objections when countercharges were made that Charles McDowall, the sheriff depute, had deliberately delayed the election date in his kinsman’s interest. On 17 Apr. 1787 William Adam moved that the sheriff attend at the bar of the House to answer the charge, and was supported by Shaw Stewart, who humourously recounted, in his only reported speech, the ‘many passages’ between the sheriff and himself over the election. ‘The House was highly entertained and laughed heartily.’6 After considerable debate, Adam’s motion was defeated, 23 votes to 20, but as a result, Sir James Johnstone introduced his bill for restricting the powers of Scottish sheriffs.
Stewart remained an inconspicuous member of the Opposition with whom he voted on the Regency. William Adam, in his Political State of Scotland in 1788-9, wrote (pp.278-9):
Mr. Shaw Stewart’s character is acknowledged by men of all parties to be full of benevolence and good sense. He is a man of very independent principles and is understood to be sincerely attached to the Duke of Portland.
He died 7 Aug. 1812.