KINNAIRD, Hon. Douglas James William (1788-1830), of Pall Mall, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



10 July 1819 - 1820

Family and Education

b. 26 Feb. 1788, 5th s. of George, 7th Baron Kinnaird [S], London banker, and bro. of Hon. Charles Kinnaird*. educ. Eton 1799-1802; Göttingen Univ.; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1807; L. Inn 1807. unm. 1 da. by Maria Keppel, singer.

Offices Held

Dir. Westminster Life Insurance, 1815, British Fire Office 1817.


Kinnaird’s character united ‘some cleverness with much impudence’; witness his ruse in 1812 to hear Brougham’s clash in court with Lord Ellenborough:

Douglas Kinnaird not being able to get in, borrowed from a friend a lawyer’s wig and gown, took a bundle of papers in his hand, hustled through the crowd with an important air, muttering at his coachman for making him keep the court waiting; the crowd gave way on all sides, crying room for the counsel till he settled himself quietly behind Mr Brougham ...

In 1813 he embarked on a continental tour with his friend John Cam Hobhouse and witnessed the battle of Culm. A year later, on his return, he helped Hobhouse canvass Cambridge University. He himself was being spoken of as a potential candidate for Westminster under the aegis of (Sir) Francis Burdett* and Brougham thought him ‘the man to succeed’. Meanwhile, he became a partner in the family bank of Ransom and Morland, and in 1815 a member of the Drury Lane Theatre sub-committee, where he ‘contradicted everybody’ but was described as ‘the efficient manager of Drury Lane’. There he once appeared on the boards and staged a drama of his own adaptation. His literary friends respected his business capacity: he was Byron’s ‘trusty and trustworthy trustee’, who visited him in Italy in 1817, and James Brougham, recommending him to Lady Charlotte Johnstone as a trustee of the Johnstone estates, which included parliamentary interest at Weymouth, 22 Apr. 1817, reported that he was ‘clever and active ... a regular man of business’.1

Kinnaird, who had joined Brooks’s Club on 19 Feb. 1816, was a founder member of the Rota, the radical dining club, two years later. Early in 1818 he was encouraged by Burdett, whose son-in-law he was expected to become, to canvass Bishop’s Castle, in opposition to the Clive interest, but his ambition was to be Burdett’s colleague for Westminster. In May he agreed to take the chair at the reform dinner to be held in honour of John Cartwright, which would ‘secure the co-operation of Burdett’s committee who consider that as a pledge that the dinner will produce conciliation, not discord’. On 4 June he was adopted by the Westminster committee as Burdett’s running partner, having readily subscribed to annual parliaments, universal suffrage and the ballot. The circumstance did not conciliate Cartwright’s followers and it displeased the Whigs, with whom Kinnaird became involved in a vendetta. He stood a better chance at Bishop’s Castle, whence he sent leave to the Westminster committee to withdraw his candidature there, so as to ensure Burdett’s election, 17 June.2 He was accordingly withdrawn after three days and also defeated at Bishop’s Castle. In August, abetted in his circle only by Burdett, he chaired the dinner in honour of John Cartwright.

On the vacancy for Westminster in November 1818, Kinnaird was at once advertised by Francis Place of the Westminster committee as their reform candidate. It was thought his friend Hobhouse would make a better, but Kinnaird had the prior claim. When he insisted on adoption at a general meeting, on the grounds that he would not again stand as a third man and must be unanimously approved, he fell a victim to his own vanity—he was denied Whig support, held out as a ruse de guerre to Hobhouse (who had done what he could on Kinnaird’s behalf), and risked alienating Hobhouse by what the latter considered to be the furtive reluctance with which he made way for him. Matters were not improved by Kinnaird’s assertion, when Hobhouse faced defeat, that he would offer another time independent of the committee. Burdett gave him no encouragement to believe that he would win back their favour. Nor, on the death of his banking partner Morland in April 1819, when he headed a new partnership and invited Hobhouse’s father to join it, was the offer accepted.3

In July 1819 a vacancy at Bishop’s Castle provided Kinnaird with a seat, after a keen contest. Hobhouse reflected:

It is to be hoped our little secret coyness will melt down—he is a kind fellow, but Westminster was too strong a temptation for his honesty ... What he wants is genius, he has none whatever, no liveliness, no stock of general information, no classical learning nor even historical to any extent whatever. Yet he gets up a subject well, and explains with perspicuity what he understands correctly—his voice and manner are good, his elocution ready and generally correct—his fault is tediousness and confusion and when he has got beyond his tether, there is nothing happy in his mode of retreat.4

With a reputation as a ‘firebrand’, Kinnaird ‘rose at the same moment with several Members, but the courtesy of the House gave the precedence to the hon. gentleman as a new Member’, 30 Nov. 1819. He spoke in support of Althorp’s motion for a select committee on the state of the country, claiming that he was ‘anxious to raise his voice that night in behalf of the suffering people of this country, while yet they had a constitution’ and defend them against ‘a sweeping charge of sedition’. He asked for conciliatory rather than repressive measures and called for tax relief. Of this maiden speech he wrote to Hobhouse, 2 Dec.:

My talk was of the least ambitious description. I found the malice of enemies and the folly of some friends were creating an exaggerated expectation, that I was delaying to make a great let-off, and so I thought it better at once to dissipate so disadvantageous an illusion. I shall therefore another time be without the disadvantage.

On 10 Dec. he defended Hobhouse’s pamphlet A trifling mistake, which he denied was ‘an excitement [sic] to rebellion’, but he was not well heard. Exasperated by Hobhouse’s subsequent imprisonment in Newgate, he visited him there, but did not attend the public meeting in his favour. Hobhouse wondered whether shame at his failure in the House or his partners’ cautions influenced him. It was Francis Place who informed Hobhouse, 17 Dec.:

Kinnaird has just been here, not quite so sober as a legislator should be; he says ‘Burdett will be sent to the Tower on Monday’ ... he runs about talking nonsense, and may perhaps by his folly produce the mischief.5

That month he voted steadily with opposition, except on the seizure of arms bill. On 22 Dec. he supported Maberly’s motion for information on the repayment of £5 million to the Bank of England, complaining of the ignorance in which the public were kept of the Bank’s dealings with the government.

Kinnaird was involved in a double return (a tie) at Bishop’s Castle in 1820 and lost his seat by decision of the House, 16 June. He was reported to be off on his travels again and made no further attempt to sit in Parliament, but was prominent in opposition to the directors in debates in the East India proprietors’ court, absenting himself from ‘scarcely a debate of consequence’. He died 12 Mar. 1830, ‘after a long and painful illness’. With an active mind, cultivated tastes and a talent for languages, Kinnaird was hospitable (he gave ‘mob dinners’ for 30 to 40 guests) and steadfast in his friendships, despite ‘a temper too hasty, and not always under due control’. Had he remained in Parliament, according to an obituary, ‘his habits of business and his integrity would have rendered him probably a useful and certainly an honest Member’.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PRO 30/29/6/8, f. 1450; Broughton, Recollections, i. 50, 324; Creevey mss, Brougham to Creevey, 11 June 1814; Moore, Byron Letters (1875), 472; DNB; Brougham mss J.1355.
  • 2. Edinburgh Advertiser, 31 July 1818; Add. 27841, ff. 91, 261; 27845, ff. 6, 8, 41; 36457, ff. 3, 19, 44; 47235, ff. 20, 21; Pope of Holland House ed. Lady Seymour, 200; Romilly, Mems. iii. 360-2.
  • 3. Add. 27842, ff. 20, 36, 40; 56540, ff. 9-14, 60, 65, 71.
  • 4. Add. 56540, f. 86.
  • 5. Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 10 Nov. 1818; Add. 36457, ff. 357, 367; 56540, ff. 120-2, 125.
  • 6. CJ, lxxv. 316; Byron, A Self Portrait ed. Quennell, ii. 512; Gent. Mag. (1830), i. 465.