ROSS, Charles (1799-1860), of 60 Portland Place, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1 Oct. 1822 - 1826
1826 - 1832
1832 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 6 July 1799,1 o. s. of Maj.-Gen. Alexander Ross of Savile Row, Mdx. and Castlemilk, Dumfries and Barbara Evelyn Isabella, da. of Sir Robert Gunning, 1st bt., of Horton, Northants. educ. at home by Rev. Andrew Irvine;2 Christ Church, Oxf. 1818. m. 7 Apr. 1825, Lady Mary Cornwallis, da. of Charles Cornwallis†, 2nd Mq. Cornwallis, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. 1827. d. 21 Mar. 1860.

Offices Held

Ld. of admiralty July-Nov. 1830, of treasury Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; commr. of excise 1845-9, of audit 1849-d.

Commr. of lunacy 1828-35.


Ross’s father, a youngest son, was born in Aberdeenshire in 1742 and entered the army in 1760. He served with distinction in America as aide-de-camp to the 2nd earl of Cornwallis, whose intimate friend he became. He was Cornwallis’s secretary during his period as governor-general of Bengal from 1786 to 1793. On his return home in 1794 he was belatedly made an aide-de-camp to the king after Cornwallis had expressed displeasure at his omission from the original list. He accompanied the 2nd Earl Spencer, with whom he formed a close friendship, on their special mission to Vienna in August 1794: he ‘went very unwillingly’, as Cornwallis noted, ‘as it was exceedingly inconvenient for his private affairs’. Cornwallis joined Pitt’s ministry as master-general of the ordnance in January 1795 and six months later, to meet his need for ‘a capable friend in one of the efficient offices’, secured Ross’s appointment as surveyor-general. Ross obtained the colonelcy of the 89th regiment, the ‘least lucrative corps’ in the army, in 1797. He landed the more rewarding command of the 59th in March 1801, when Cornwallis overcame his wish to resign from the ordnance with him and persuaded him to stay on under Lord Chatham.3 He remained in the office until November 1804, when he was appointed governor of Fort George, Inverness. Cornwallis died in India a year later. Ross bought a Scottish estate in 1794, but had disposed of it by the time of his death, worth £20,000, in 1827, when he was the owner of a London house in Portland Place.4

Charles Ross, an only child, was barely of age when, in the autumn of 1820, his father sought Spencer’s ‘countenance’ for his candidature for St. Albans, where a vacancy was expected, provided no one of Spencer’s Whig opposition politics started. Spencer would not oblige, but when the opening occurred in December General Ross secured the neutrality of his son Lord Althorp*, in acknowledgement of having ‘received so much kindness from him ever since I was a child’. Charles Ross’s claim to be a local man was based on his father’s residence for ‘several years’, presumably as a tenant, at the Garrard property of Lamer Park, five miles north-east of St. Albans. (Earlier in the century he had been in occupation of Russell Farm, on the Watford side of the borough.) Ross, who was seen as the ‘Court’ candidate, finished 20 votes behind Wright Wilson, another ministerialist, and 21 ahead of John Easthope*, an opposition man. When the latter threatened to petition, with every hope of voiding the election, Althorp, though unwilling in that event to support Easthope against Ross, half-heartedly tried to persuade the general to withdraw Charles and let him take his chance at the next general election.5 In the event, no petition was forthcoming, presumably because the Rosses refused to leave the way clear for Easthope. In October 1822 Charles Ross was returned by the 3rd marquess of Hertford to fill the vacancy at Orford created by Lord Londonderry’s suicide.

He proved to be a thoroughly reliable supporter of the Liverpool ministry, with whom he voted against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 2 June; on the sinking fund, 3, 13 Mar., and the assessed taxes, 10, 18 Mar.; and against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiries into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and the currency, 12 June 1823. At the end of the debate on chancery delays, 5 June, he moved an amendment to get rid of the subject, but was persuaded to withdraw it. He voted against inquiry the following day. He was in the majority against Onslow’s usury laws repeal bill, 27 June 1823, but voted for his reintroduced measures, 27 Feb. 1824, 8 Feb. 1825. He divided against the production of information on Catholic office-holders, 19 Feb., and reform of Edinburgh’s representative system, 26 Feb. (and again, 13 Apr. 1826), and the abolition of corporal punishment in the army, 5 Mar. 1824. He had been named to the select committee on the game laws, 13 Mar. 1823, and on 11 Mar. 1824 he ‘warmly’ supported Stuart Wortley’s amendment bill which, far from diminishing ‘the legitimate influence possessed by the country gentlemen over the lower classes’, would increase it by removing ‘one of the main sources of irritation’. He was named to several other select committees in this Parliament. He divided with ministers on the case of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824, and the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He divided against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., 9 May. He was in the government majorities for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 6, 10 June. He was one of the minority against the spring guns bill, 21 June 1825. He voted with ministers on the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. On 26 Apr. he spoke at some length against Lord John Russell’s reform scheme, a ‘sweeping plan of alteration’ which was ‘fraught with fallacy, and replete with danger’; and he voted against Russell’s resolutions on electoral bribery, 26 May 1826.

At the general election of 1826 Ross transferred to the pocket borough of the 2nd earl of St. Germans, whose eldest son was married to the sister of his wife, Cornwallis’s granddaughter.6 The following year he inherited a moderate fortune and the Portland Place house from his father.7 He was appointed to the select committee on the electoral activities of Northampton corporation, 21 Feb. 1827. On 11 Apr. he presented the petition of some inhabitants alleging that their names had been added under false pretences to the original petition of complaint, but he did not fulfil his threat to move for inquiry.8 He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and was a teller for the minority against the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. He advised Whitmore to drop his motion for inquiry into Indian trade, 15 May, and leave the matter in the hands of the Canning ministry. An opponent of the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, he saw no reason to depart from the traditional methods of purifying corrupt boroughs, 11 June; but he acquiesced in the second reading of the disfranchisement bill, 22 June, ‘since all the proper amendments might be made in the committee’. He had by this time ingratiated himself with the Tory Commons leader Peel, to whom he wrote from Tunbridge Wells in August 1827 with news of the problems besetting the new premier Lord Goderich, whose conduct ‘seems very singular and very weak’. Thomas Macaulay* scorned Ross as ‘an ass’ and was at a loss to know ‘what Peel saw in him’; but by 1828, when Peel was restored to the home office under the duke of Wellington, they were on terms of mutual cordiality.9

Ross was one of the ‘supporters’ of the ministry considered for appointment to the finance committee, 10 Feb. 1828.10 He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May, and in the majorities on chancery delays, 24 Apr., and the ordnance estimates, 4 July 1828. He was forced to withdraw his motion for a return of the number of freemen recently created in several boroughs, 27 Feb., and his bid to introduce a bill to regulate such admissions with the object of reducing election expenses, 20 Mar., was thwarted. He cavilled at details of the Penryn disfranchisement bill, 24 Mar., and attacked Davies’s ‘very objectionable’ borough polls bill and unsuccessfully divided the House against it, 15 May. He condemned Baring’s bill to reform the Marylebone vestry, against which ‘not a shadow of anything corrupt or illegal’ had been proved, and was a teller for the hostile minority, 6 June. He was a stern critic of Otway Cave’s bill to regulate the use of corporation funds, 10 June, 1, 8, 10 July, when he called it ‘as unjust in its operation, as it was unconstitutional in principle’; he was a teller for the minority against its third reading that day. He was twice a teller for the anti-reform majorities in procedural divisions on the East Retford bill, 27 June 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that he would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation; but he evidently made himself scarce during the potentially embarrassing debates and divisions on it, though on 22 May he urged Members to agree to the current Maynooth grant, leaving it open to ministers to limit it as necessary in future. He raised practical difficulties in response to Hume’s call for a return of Irish freemen, 7 Apr., and presented a Marylebone vestry petition against the metropolitan roads bill, 1 May. He was a teller for the majority for the West India Dock Company bill, 14 Apr. Named to the committee on select vestries, 28 Apr., he was a teller for the majority which threw out the St. James’s, Westminster vestry bill, 21 May. He acted likewise for the majority against a proposed addition to the ecclesiastical courts bill, 5 June 1829.

Early in 1830, Mrs. Arbuthnot was unimpressed when Peel tried to persuade Wellington to appoint Ross a lord of the treasury:

I rather hope he won’t, for Mr. Ross, though to a certain degree clever, is a ridiculous man and I think the appointment would be laughed at. Mr. Peel only wishes it because he is a flatterer of his.11

The Whig Edward Ellice* commented that Ross, ‘a decided Tory’, had ‘no one qualification that can be of the least use to his employers’.12 Nothing came of this, nor of a report that he was to be made a lord of the admiralty, which, so Greville reckoned, occasioned ‘much disgust’.13 He was a teller for majorities against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5 Mar. 1830. He voted against Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He did not see how Blandford’s request for a return of Irish borough voters could be furnished, 18 Mar. He was a teller in six divisions for majorities for amendments to the St. Giles’s vestry bill, 1, 2 Apr. When he obstructed Hobhouse’s vestry reform bill the following month, Hobhouse complained to the minister Sir Henry Hardinge*, who ‘called him an ass or some such name’, but failed to talk him round.14 He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He presented the petition of Marylebone vestry against the Irish and Scottish poor removal bill, 18 May, and defended the administration of Millbank penitentiary, 21 May. He had been named to the select committees on the metropolitan police, 28 Feb. 1828, 15 Apr. 1829; and on 15 June 1830 he denounced vestry interference in police affairs. He voted with Peel against the Galway franchise bill, 25 May, and was in the government majority for the grant for South American missions, 7 June, when he also voted against abolition of the death penalty for forgery. On the dissolution in July 1830 he was appointed a lord of the admiralty. After his safe return for St. Germans he wrote to a friend from his office, where he was ‘learning my business’:

Public affairs do not look brilliant. Though the elections on the whole have turned out well for government, we shall have plenty to do next session, France of itself affording ample cause for deep consideration.

He was reported to have been ‘in his glory as chairman’ of a Northampton Tory dinner in October 1830.15

Whether Ross had acted as an assistant whip before his appointment is not clear, but after the election he ‘very kindly and efficiently assisted’ Planta in producing their notably misleading analysis of the new House.16 Curiously, he was an absentee from the division on the civil list which brought down the ministry, 15 Nov. 1830. He answered Hume’s criticisms of the Marylebone vestry, 22 Nov., asked Hobhouse to postpone the second reading of his vestries bill, 14 Feb., and presented a hostile Marylebone petition, 17 Mar. 1831. He was disparagingly referred to by Greville in December 1830 as one of ‘the refuse of society and of the House of Commons’ who were the ‘confidants, friends and parasites’ of Peel. He was Peel’s guest at Drayton the following month and was one of the ‘Charles Street gang’ of former ministers and party hacks who, in default of Peel’s active involvement, sought to organize the Tory opposition to the Grey ministry and its reform bills. Though supposedly one of ‘Peel’s âmes damnées’ and ‘his devoted adherent’, he apparently confided to Greville in March 1831 his view of Peel’s ‘deficiency in all the qualities requisite for a leader’, but he did so ‘with all kinds of regrets and endeavours to soften the picture’.17 With his friends, he rejoiced in ministerial discomfiture on the civil list, 5 Feb.18 He had backed Lord Chandos’s bid to have the Evesham writ suspended, 16 Dec. 1830, and on 18 Feb. 1831 he supported his proposal to transfer its seats to Birmingham, though he remained hostile to ‘a general measure of reform’. He felt privately that the opponents of reform had been ‘thrown aback’ by the audacity of the ministerial bill and, according to Lord Ellenborough, he remained ‘low’ in spirits for several days after its unveiling.19 He voted against its second reading, 22 Mar., having been ‘very confident’ of defeating it, and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., for which he had ‘expected a majority of 16 or 17’, instead of the actual eight. Next day he was reported to be ‘in high spirits’, believing that ‘if the ministers did not go out, the bill was lost’.20

His hopes were dashed by the dissolution, but he retained his own seat. On 29 June 1831 he denied Hume’s allegations that an opposition agent had infiltrated the Republican newspaper. He voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 6 July. He opposed the issue of the Liverpool writ, 8 July, 5 Sept., and demanded inquiry into the use of barracks to house supporters of the ministerial candidate at the Northampton election, 11 July. Two days later Ellenborough asked Ross, who he had recently discovered to ‘have more nous than I supposed’, to persuade Peel to be more accommodating towards Tory backbenchers. Ross spoke to Peel, but to little effect, and in turn complained to Ellenborough of ‘bad attendance’.21 He voted for use of the 1831 census for the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He was an opposition teller for the divisions on the cases of Guildford, 29 July, and Sudbury, 2 Aug. On 22 July he argued for Minehead and Plympton being allowed to retain one Member and complained of ‘the inconsistent and arbitrary manner’ in which ministers had applied the disfranchisement criteria. He vainly pleaded for a reprieve for his own constituency, 26 July. He failed to persuade ministers to amend the measure in order to permit electors whose qualification was disputed to tender votes, 5 Sept. He voted against the passage of the bill, 21 Sept. According to Edward Littleton*, he was ‘indefatigable’ in his attempts to muster Tory members of the committee of privileges on the William Long Wellesley* affair, in an unsuccessful bid to overturn lord chancellor Brougham’s ruling.22 He presented petitions for the protection of Irish clerical income from tithes and against the vestries bill, 23 Aug., when he voted against government on the Dublin election controversy. He was a teller for the majority against a Lords’ amendment to the lunatics bill, 26 Sept., and the minority against the issue of the Liverpool writ, 12 Oct. 1831.

Ross acted likewise for the minority against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and voted against going into committee, 20 Jan., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He suggested alterations to some of its details, 11, 15 Feb. He was in the majority against the vestry bill, 23 Jan. He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr. and the glove trade, 3 Apr. His bill to regulate Scottish landlords’ right of hypothec, introduced on 11 Feb., was thrown out on its second reading, 1 June. During the crisis of May, Ellenborough noted that Ross, who professed to believe to the very last that the Conservatives would be able to form a ministry to carry a moderate reform bill, ‘would like to be secretary of the treasury in Planta’s place, and he would do very well in it’. A moving spirit and original committee member of the Carlton Club, he was one of the seven men deputed by opposition to ‘obtain information as to all the new boroughs’ in England in preparation for the next general election.23 He voted against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. On the boundary bill, 7 June, he objected to the proposed division of Surrey; and the next day he questioned the need for so many polling places in Bedfordshire and criticized the union of Hythe with Folkestone. His attempt to embarrass ministers by moving a new writ for Aylesbury in anticipation of Lord Nugent’s appointment as commissioner of the Ionian Isles was foiled, 24 July, and he was dressed down by Nugent himself the following day. He was in the minority of 20 against the crown colonies relief bill, 3 Aug., and obtained a return of Commons Speakers and their emoluments since 1688, 6 Aug. He was a teller for the majority against Evans’s motion for a bill to remedy supposed problems created by the regulations governing the payment of rates as a prerequisite of electoral registration, 7 Aug. He objected to all the Lords’ amendments to the lunatics bill, 9 Aug., was named to the committee appointed to consider the matter and reported its recommendation of a conference with the Lords, 10 Aug. 1832.

At the general election of 1832 Ross successfully contested Northampton, on the strength of his mother’s family’s property.24 He continued his activities as an assistant opposition whip and, at Peel’s pressing request, became a lord of the treasury in his first ministry.25 Evidently his ‘unfortunate’ and ‘objectionable manner’ was a source of irritation to some backbenchers, but Lord Granville Somerset* thought his ‘indefatigable activity’ more than made up for it.26 Ross, dismissed by John Stuart Mill as one of ‘the hack official jobbing adventurer Tories’, lost his seat at the 1837 general election.27 He was in the field at Tiverton in 1841, but did not risk a poll, and spent the last 15 years of his life as a civil servant.28 His elder son Captain Charles Cornwallis Ross was killed at Sebastopol, aged 28, in 1855. (He was the fourth of the great-grandsons of Cornwallis to perish in the Crimea in the space of ten months.)29 In 1859 Ross published an edition of Cornwallis’s Correspondence, which Macaulay told him to his face was ‘full of interest’, but privately considered to contain ‘frightful blunders’.30 Ross died in March 1860. He left his wife his London house and £1,500, in addition to an annuity of £3,000 secured by their marriage settlement. He bequeathed £70,000 to provide for his three surviving children. His son Alexander Ross (1829-88), a barrister, was Conservative Member for Maidstone from 1880 until his death.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Cornwallis Corresp. ed. C. Ross, iii. 115.
  • 2. Add. 38296, f. 139.
  • 3. Oxford DNB; Cornwallis Corresp. i. 76, 80, 91, 142, 151; ii. 232, 235, 256, 273, 279, 284-6, 288, 292, 297; iii. 351, 536; Windham Diary, 63; Burke Corresp. v. 297, 301; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1019, 1597, 1675; iii. 2376.
  • 4. PROB 8/220 (22 Dec. 1827); 11/1734/719.
  • 5. Add. 76124, Gen. Ross to Spencer, 30 Sept., 13 Dec., replies, 1 Oct., 12 Dec., Howarth to Spencer, 11 Dec., reply, 12 Dec., Duncannon to Spencer [11, 13 Dec.]; 75940, Althorp to Spencer, 25 Nov., 8 Dec. 1820; 76378, Althorp to Gen. Ross, 24 Jan. 1821; Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 514; The Times, 13, 19 Dec. 1820, 16, 18 Jan. 1821.
  • 6. Add. 76134, Ross to Spencer, 10 Oct. 1825.
  • 7. PROB 11/1734/719.
  • 8. The Times, 12 Apr. 1827.
  • 9. Add. 40394, f. 202; 40397, f. 137; Macaulay Letters, vi. 196.
  • 10. Add. 40395, f. 221.
  • 11. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 328.
  • 12. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [5 Feb. 1830].
  • 13. Greville Mems. i. 370.
  • 14. Add. 56554, f. 94.
  • 15. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/14/66, 67.
  • 16. Add. 40401, f. 179; R. Stewart, Foundation of Conservative Party, 55.
  • 17. Greville Mems. ii. 92, 126, 135; Stewart, 68-69; N. Gash, Sir Robert Peel, 7; Three Diaries, 35, 37, 41, 52, 54, 57, 93.
  • 18. Three Diaries, 46.
  • 19. Ibid. 62-63.
  • 20. Add. 56555, f. 114; Three Diaries, 80-82.
  • 21. Three Diaries, 45, 104, 106.
  • 22. Hatherton diary, 20, 21, 26 July [1831].
  • 23. Three Diaries, 250, 256-7, 266; Croker Pprs. ii. 153.
  • 24. Arbuthnot Corresp. 173.
  • 25. Three Diaries, 291, 296, 306, 308, 315, 336, 340, 349; Add. 40406, ff. 108, 150.
  • 26. Wellington Pol. Corresp. ii. 477.
  • 27. Mill Works, xii. 345.
  • 28. K. Bourne, Palmerston, 634.
  • 29. Gent. Mag. (1855), ii. 666.
  • 30. Macaulay Letters, vi. 196-7.