MARJORIBANKS, John (1763-1833), of Lees, Berwick.

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



1812 - 1818
1818 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 13 Jan. 1763, 1st s. of Edward Marjoribanks of Hallyards and Lees by Grizel, da. of Archibald Stewart of Edinburgh, and Mitcham, Surr. m. 15 Apr. 1791 Alison, da. of William Ramsay, banker, of Barnton, Edinburgh, 4s. 5da. suc. fa. 1815;1 cr. Bt. 6 May 1815.

Offices Held

Ensign, 18 Ft. 1779; ensign, 1 Ft. Gds. 1780, lt. and capt. 1785, ret. 1792.

Ld. provost, Edinburgh 1814-15, 1825-6.


Marjoribanks’s father, who married into Edinburgh mercantile circles, was ‘at times disordered in his mind’ and it was during one of his bouts of insanity in May 1778 that his wife turned to Sir Robert Murray Keith, British envoy at Vienna and a family friend, for assistance in the preparation of John for his intended military career:

I am told he is a good classical scholar, but being deficient in other branches of education which are indispensable both for the soldier and the gentleman, his friends think it will be an advantage for him to be a twelvemonth abroad, to acquire the exercises, the French and German languages before he is put into the army ... I wish him situated, where besides being in a way of improving himself, he could be recommended to some worthy sensible man, who would act the part of a real friend, by giving him good council, an act of humanity lads of his age stand often in want of.

Keith secured his appointment to a position under General Douglas at Bois le Duc, where he spent about a year. On his return his father, enjoying a lucid interval, told Keith that ‘the last three months of his time the General made him serve in a German regiment both on account of the discipline and language’. His ensigncies, first in the 18th Foot and three months later in the Guards, were obtained respectively through General William Amherst and Henry Drummond the banker, both members of Keith’s social circle.2

After his marriage in 1791 to the daughter of William Ramsay, a wealthy Edinburgh banker, he gave up his commission and took a partnership in Ramsay’s banking house. He eventually rose to prominence in Edinburgh municipal affairs and served twice as lord provost. In 1796 his brother Edward became a partner in the London bank of Thomas Coutts, whose daughter married the 1st Marquess of Bute four years later. Marjoribanks, who had bought a vote in Buteshire by 1808, was entrusted with overall management of Bute’s Scottish estates. In 1807, he was recommended to Lord Grenville as ‘a very fit man’ to consult about a proposed bill concerning the Bank of Scotland.3

Bute, unable to find a suitable candidate among his family, returned Marjoribanks for Buteshire in 1812, but felt compelled to apologize to Lord Grenville, with whom he was politically aligned, 14 Nov.:

[He] ... is far from being as staunch as I could wish, but there was no help for it. His political creed attaches him to all governments indiscriminately. However, he is a decided friend to the Catholics, and in any great question will either stay away, or give up the seat. This is all I can say for my protégé.4

Ministers listed him among their supporters and any scruples he may have had about acting accordingly were probably removed by Bute’s death in 1814, when he was succeeded by a young grandson of ministerial sympathies. It may be significant that Marjoribanks, who opposed Christian proselytizing in India, 22 June and 1 July 1813, voted for Catholic relief during Bute’s lifetime, 2 Mar., 13 and 24 May 1813, but not thereafter in this period. He divided with government on Spanish Liberal refugees, 1 Mar.; the civil list accounts, 14 Apr., 8 May 1815, 6 and 24 May 1816; the Regent’s expenditure, 31 May 1815; the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816; the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817, and the Duke of Clarence’s allowance, 15 Apr. 1818; but against them on the Corn Laws, 16 and 23 May 1814; the newspaper duties, 8 June 1815; the civil services compensation bill, 19 May, and the Speakership, 2 June 1817. He spoke in favour of the revised protective corn bill, 8 Mar., criticized the stamp duties bill as far as it affected Scottish banks, 27 June 1815, and justified the increase in pay given to Scottish revenue commissioners, 20 Mar. 1816. He annoyed Lord Liverpool in July 1815, less than two months after receiving a baronetcy, by giving notice of a motion to vote thanks to the Duke of York for his services as commander-in-chief and to defray his debts. Liverpool observed to the Speaker, 2 July, that such a grant could come only from the crown, while the fact that the duke was heavily in arrears with Coutts’s made the proposal ‘particularly indelicate’. Marjoribanks was evidently persuaded to omit any reference to money and the motion was carried without a division, 4 July, though some Whigs bridled at it as ‘a piece of gross adulation’.5

Buteshire was not due to return a Member at the next election and late in 1817 Marjoribanks, encouraged by William Dundas, tested the ground in Berwickshire, where the sitting Member, George Baillie, was reported to be contemplating retirement. The enterprise seemed to have failed when Baillie said he would seek re-election, but at the dissolution of 1818 Marjoribanks, who had meanwhile taken the precaution of securing Lord Melville’s support, found him suddenly willing to stand down. He quickly persuaded his most dangerous potential rival to give way and was returned without opposition, despite local discontent with the transaction.6

He voted with government on the Wyndham Quin* affair, 29 Mar., and Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819. He was unhappy with their plans to alter the arrangements for the remittance of public money from Scotland and offered the services of his expertise on the subject.7 He had the House counted out to thwart Hume’s intended attack on the storekeeper-general’s department, 12 July; and on the seditious meetings bill, 8 Dec. 1819, suggested that a gathering ought not to be dispersed unless a magistrate’s order for the arrest of any unqualified person present was resisted. He died 5 Feb. 1833.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Scots Mag. (1815), 557.
  • 2. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 64; Add. 35514, f. 76; 35516, f. 14; 35517, f. 284; 35518, f. 278.
  • 3. Pol. State of Scotland 1811, pp. 34-35; NLS mss 11088, f. 146; Fortescue mss, unknown to Grenville, 27 Feb. 1807.
  • 4. Fortescue mss.
  • 5. PRO 30/9/16; Romilly, Mems. iii. 190.
  • 6. SRO GD51/1/198/5/7; NLS mss 1054, f. 158.
  • 7. SRO GD51/1/461.