GRANT, Charles I (1746-1823), of Battersea Rise, Clapham, Surr.; 40 Russell Square, Mdx.; and Waternish, Skye, Inverness.
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Family and Education
b. Mar. 1746, 1st s. of Alexander Grant (‘The Swordsman’) by Margaret, da. of Donald Macbean of Aldourie, Inverness. educ. Milton charity sch.; Fortrose acad.;1 Elgin 1753-8. m. 23 Feb. 1773, Jane, da. of Thomas Fraser of Balnain, 3s. 4da.
Writer, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1773; sec. to board of trade 1774-80; factor and commercial resident, Maldah 1780-7; jun. merchant 1782, sen. merchant 1784; member, board of trade 1787 90; home 1790.
Dir. Sierra Leone Co. 1791; dir. E.I. Co. 1794-d., dep.-chairman 1804-5, 1807-9, chairman 1805-6, 1809-10, 1815-16, dir. Hand in Hand Fire Office 1805; commr. Exchequer loan 1805.
Grant, a descendant of the Shewglie branch of the clan, was born into poverty. His father joined the Pretender (after whom Charles was said to have been symbolically christened), was wounded at Culloden and, unable to retrieve his affairs, eventually enlisted for military service in the Caribbean, where he died in 1762. Grant was taken in by his uncle John Grant of Elgin and received a rudimentary education. His mother died in 1758 and in the same year he was apprenticed to William Forsyth of Cromarty, a large shipowner and merchant, who treated him with paternal kindness. In 1763, he secured a clerical position with the London firm in which his cousin Alexander Grant had become a partner on his recent return from service with Clive’s army in India. Forsyth recommended him as ‘a young man of good genius for writing, cyphers, and keeping of accounts, as much as can be expected from one of his small degree of education’.2 In 1767, through the influence of Richard Becher, a prominent East India Company civil servant, he obtained a cadetship in the Company’s army, although he had no intention of soldiering. He reached Bengal in June 1768 and took charge of Becher’s private commercial concerns until he returned home in 1771. He had made no financial killing, but was able to assist his distressed relatives in Scotland. He failed to establish himself in business in Britain, decided to return to India, secured a writership in 1772, and left shortly after his marriage the following year.
Soon after his arrival in Calcutta, Grant was made secretary to the board of trade. Through ability and application he steadily increased his power and influence in the Company’s service. In 1776, his large losses in private trade and gambling debts of £20,000 were followed by the death of his two small daughters from smallpox. He emerged from the crisis resolved to direct his life thereafter according to the dictates of ‘vital religion’, with the emphasis on continuous self-examination and the expression of religious feeling through duty and service. In 1780, he obtained the choice appointment of commercial resident at Maldah, in which he rapidly cleared his debts and made himself financially secure. He also carried on private trade and helped to establish the indigo industry, although this was never very successful financially. He emerged unscathed from the investigations of 1786 and 1787 into corruption among Company servants, and so impressed the new governor-general, Cornwallis, with his ability and integrity that he was put in virtual control of the board of trade’s operations and charged with the task of reforming the Company’s commercial system. The poor health of his children forced him to leave India in 1790, but he returned to England with a minute knowledge of the Company’s affairs, fixed ideas on its relation to Indian society as a whole, and Cornwallis’s unreserved commendation of his talents to Henry Dundas.3
Grant was soon in the confidence of Dundas and Pitt, with whom he discussed the Bengal revenue settlement in 1792, when there was talk of his returning to India to take a seat on the council, or even as governor-general, and the renewal of the Company’s charter the following year. In 1792, he submitted to Dundas his Observations on relations between Britain and India, which tried to justify British rule through a comparative assessment of the merits of the two civilisations. His interest in the promotion of missionary work brought him into contact, association and friendship with Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. Elected to the East India direction with Dundas’s backing in 1794, he rapidly attained a position of great power and eminence at East India House. He was exempted from the prohibition on directors engaging in private trade and allowed to maintain his interest in the importation and manufacture of indigo, in which he invested considerable capital. Francis Horner, who discussed some Indian business with him in 1804, wrote:
though I have long been aware of his worth and information, I had now occasion to admire both the extent of his knowledge in Indian politics, and the purity, sensibility and enlargement of his political views.
In 1800, Grant was offered the first seat on the Indian supreme council, but he decided not to take it, both for family reasons and because he feared that it would be said that Dundas had bought him.4
At about this time his kinsmen James Grant of Redcastle and Hugh Grant of Moy, who wished to restore the Grant interest in Inverness, invited him to stand for the county at the next election. Though outwardly assured, Grant was seldom free from inner doubt, and on this occasion he brought indecision to an infinite degree of refinement. He claimed that ‘a speculation of obtaining a seat in Parliament has never entered into my scheme of life’, but was attracted by the notion that the free-holders of Inverness ‘would be glad of a man of business and activity to represent them’. Yet he was sensitive to the fact that he had no property in the county and was ‘only an appendage of one of the minor families’ and shrank from exposing himself to charges of pretentious intrusion. Protracted self-examination failed to reveal to him that duty required him to stand and he indicated that he was inclined to reject the proposal. On his recovery from illness in 1801 he found that his relatives had continued to canvass in his name and, after further soul-searching, he satisfied himself that it was in order to submit to their pressure. To overcome the problem of his lack of property in Inverness he bought the Waternish estate and was successful in a three-cornered contest at the 1802 general election. He was always careful to maintain contact with his constituents’, though not prepared to be dictated to by them, and he showed a keen interest in local improvement projects.5
Charles Innes was under the impression that he had been returned ‘in direct opposition to Mr Dundas’, but he was listed in the Melville papers as one of the ‘partisans to the politics of Mr Pitt and Mr Dundas’. In fact Grant, who had little interest in party politics and was never entirely convinced that Parliament was a worthy arena for exertion, invariably gave general support to the government of the day, reserving to himself the right to vote as he saw fit on specific issues. He supported Addington and Pitt in turn, but did not vote against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. He defended the East India Company’s commercial system, 29 July 1803, 10 and 19 July 1804, and condemned Lord Wellesley’s policy of conquest in India, 5 Apr. 1805.
Early in 1806 William Adam numbered Grant among the ‘Dundas etc. interest’, but he voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and, when threatened with opposition in Inverness from a member of the Macdonald family who was courting the support of government, explained his attitude to the ‘Talents’:
considering the great crisis in which we are placed, and the impropriety of opposition, for opposition’s sake, to any set of men the King is pleased to employ, I mean to support them where I can without binding myself to go with them.
Ministers nevertheless thought he ‘will be an enemy’ and abetted Macdonald’s ineffectual opposition at the general election of 1806. After his election Lord Seaforth had no hesitation in putting him among the ‘decided anti-ministerialists’, but Adam marked him as ‘doubtful’.6 Grant, who warmly supported abolition of the slave trade, continued to pursue his own clearly defined line on Indian affairs and early in 1806 fell into a bitter dispute with Lord Minto over the choice of a new governor-general, which was settled to his satisfaction by Minto’s own appointment in June. In the House he maintained his criticism of Wellesley’s aggressive policies, 10 Mar. 1806, but had to fight on two fronts, being compelled to defend the Company at the same time against the attacks of Paull and Francis, as he did on 22 Apr., 15 and 18 July 1806. He voted for Hamilton’s motion for production of the Company’s censure of Wellesley, 21 Apr., but stated beforehand that he was in no way concerned with Paull’s campaign and considered impeachment too drastic a step.
Grant, who handled the East India Company’s bonds bill in July 1807, joined in Folkestone’s attacks on Wellesley, 9 and 15 Mar., and voted in the minority on the Carnatic question, 1 and 17 June 1808. When the Company came under suspicion of abuse of patronage in 1809 he acquiesced in the appointment of a committee of inquiry, 10 Feb., and in the light of its findings secured the court’s adoption of a resolution recalling and dismissing every servant whose appointment had been bought, which he defended in the House, 19 June. He voted against the Portland government on the Duke of York scandal, 17 Mar., and alleged electoral corruption by ministers, 11 May 1809, but divided with their successors on the address, 23 Jan., the Scheldt inquiry, 30 Mar., the release of John Gale Jones, 16 Apr. 1810, and the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811. It is not certain whether it was he or his son, whose return for Inverness Burghs he secured in 1811, who voted against a remodelling of administration, 21 May 1812. The same difficulty arises over the vote of a Charles Grant for Grattan’s motion for consideration of Catholic claims, 24 Apr. 1812. It was probably cast by the younger man, a committed supporter of Catholic relief, but after his return for Inverness-shire in 1812 Grant himself was at pains to defend a recent vote of his own for investigation of the subject
Into this inquiry he was willing to go, though he confessed the temper which the Catholic body, or at least those delegated by them, had of late shown, was not encouraging. They urged their claims in an imperious spirit, which treated even previous inquiry as injurious to them.7
The likelihood is that Grant had voted for Canning’s successful motion of 22 June 1812. He voted for the relief bill, 13 and 24 May 1813, but against Grattan’s motion of 9 May 1817.
Between 1809 and 1813 Grant, who defended the Company in the House, 31 May 1810, 21 Feb. 1811, 6 Feb. and 15 June 1812, and argued on 21 Mar. 1811 that the introduction of liberty of the press would ‘unhinge the whole frame of Indian society’, was preoccupied with the negotiations for renewal of the Company’s charter. His unshakeable conviction that the fate of British rule in India was inextricably bound up with that of the Company, and that any attack on its privileges would have disastrous consequences, together with his unrivalled knowledge of the Company’s affairs, made him its most forceful spokesman in the debates of 1813. While he reluctantly agreed, 22 Mar. and 28 June, that concessions must be made to private trade, he was alarmed by their extent, and stuck resolutely to his basic argument that, as the Company’s political administration was dependent on its trading system, any material infringement of its monopoly threatened to undermine the whole fabric of British India. He was the main force behind the controversial clause of the charter bill which compelled the Company to legalize the entry of Christian missionaries into India.
Grant remained a powerful figure in the home administration of India until his death, but after these debates took little active part in the House, finding its demands on his time, health and energy increasingly burdensome. He voted with the minority against the expulsion of Lord Cochrane, 5 July 1814, but divided with the Liverpool ministry, of which his son became a member in 1813, on the army estimates, 8 Mar., the property tax, 18 Mar., the civil list, 6 May 1816, and the employment of domestic spies, 11 Feb. 1818. The Charles Grant who voted for the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill, 29 June and 3 July 1815, was probably his son. He defended the East India ships registry bill, 8 June 1815, welcomed the proposal to grant money for church extension, 17 Mar., and opposed inquiry into the claims of creditors of the nawab of the Carnatic, 21 May 1818. In a valedictory speech to his constituents’ in 1818, when he made way for his son, he recalled that he had supported unremitting prosecution of the war and unyielding resistance to the reform movement, but had favoured a modicum of retrenchment.8
While Grant’s talents found their best outlet in administration, he was a tenacious and effective speaker, who confined himself to matters with which he was fully conversant and was always in command of his audience. Many contemporaries were repelled by his pietism and moral zeal, but those close to him regarded him highly. Wilberforce thought him ‘one of the best men I ever knew’; James Grant of Bught considered him ‘a man of great mental endowments’; and his friend Lord Teignmouth wrote:
Mr Grant’s presence was imposing—perhaps repressive, and even alarming, in the estimation of some persons, even to members of his family, though he lived with them on the most affectionate terms. Mr Serjeant Stephen observed to me that he was, without exception, the most awful man he ever met with. And to youthful aspirants his indefinite postponement of the rightful period of entering on public life might be discouraging ... My own recollections of Mr Grant are most pleasant. From no friend of my father did I receive more considerable kindness whenever the opportunity offered, and none did I ever find more gentle and un-appalling. Though much engrossed by state affairs, Mr Grant was fully capable of relieving the affliction of suffering friends.9
He died 31 Oct. 1823.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
See H. Morris, Charles Grant (1904) and A. T. Embree, Charles Grant and British Rule in India (1962).
- 1. W. Mackay, Urquhart and Glenmoriston (1914), 406; Bristol Univ. Lib. Pinney mss, Watson to Baillie, 7 Feb. 1810.
- 2. H. Miller, William Forsyth, 67-70; Morris, 6.
- 3. Cornwallis Corresp. i. 318, 389, 430, 493.
- 4. Morris, 169-73, 200; Horner Mems. i. 252; Scott Corresp. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, lxxvi), ii. 250, 284; Add. 37275, f. 210.
- 5. Sir W. Fraser, Chiefs of Grant, ii. 512-15, 520-1; Morris, 274-88.
- 6. Morris, 288; Blair Adam mss, Adam to Gibson, 1 Oct.; Fortescue mss, Seaforth to Carysfort, 25 Dec. 1806.
- 7. J. Barron, Northern Highlands in 19th Cent., i. 58.
- 8. Edinburgh advertiser, 7 Aug. 1818; Morris, 289-90.
- 9. Gent. Mag. (1823), ii. 569; Life of Wilberforce (1838), v. 206; Pinney mss, Grant to Baillie, 16 Oct. 1810; Teignmouth, Reminiscenes, i. 179-80.