GRANT, John Peter (1774-1848), of The Doune of Rothiemurchus, Inverness.

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



1812 - 1818
27 Mar. 1819 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 21 Sept. 1774, o. s. of William Grant, MD, of Lime Street, London and Elizabeth, da. and event. h. of John Raper of Twyford House, Essex and Thorley Hall, Herts. educ. privately; Edinburgh h.s.; Edinburgh Univ. 1790; adv. 1796; L. Inn 1793, called 1802. m. 2 Aug. 1796, Jane, da. of Rev. William Ironside of Houghton-le-Spring, co. Dur., 2s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1786; uncle Patrick Grant to Rothiemurchus 1790; kntd. 30 June 1827. d. 17 May 1848.

Offices Held

Puisne judge, Bombay 1827-30, Bengal 1833-48.

Capt. commdt. Rothiemurchus vols. 1797, maj. commdt. 1801, 1803; lt.-col. commdt. Strathspey vols. 1808.


Grant, who squandered his inheritance and fell short of his aspirations in politics and the law, was described by his daughter Elizabeth as ‘a little sallow brisk man without any remarkable feature’, but with ‘a charm in his manner’ which many found irresistible. As a family man, he was ‘active’ and ‘very despotic when called on to decide, yet much beloved’; and he was ‘ever exceedingly reserved ... on all matters of personal feeling’. Always dapper in his dress, he was ‘to the last very nervous under ridicule’.1 By 1820, when he was sitting for Tavistock through the good offices of its patron, the 6th duke of Bedford, he was beleaguered by financial problems, which were largely the product of the high cost of obtaining his seat for Grimsby in the 1812 Parliament, but were worsened by his general carelessness about money and the well-meaning domestic incompetence of his long-suffering wife, who endured a ‘thickly shadowed life, none of it ... really happy’.2

At the time of the dissolution in 1820 there were reports in Grimsby, where the expected sale of his property had not yet taken place, that he would stand again.3 In the event, Bedford once more accommodated him at Tavistock. In the new Parliament, where he was appointed to the select committee on the Scottish burghs, 4 May 1820, he continued to act with his Whig friends, although he did not vote with them in the divisions on the Queen Caroline affair, 22, 26 June. On 3 July he pressed the Liverpool ministry to clarify the confusion over the late king’s personal estate. He was a steady opponent of the aliens bill, protesting against the ‘monstrous power’ which it conferred on government, 10 July, and failing in a bid to mitigate its severity, 11 July 1820. On the Irish spirits intercourse bill next day, he pointed out the ‘extreme absurdity’ of the current tangle of legislation on the subject.4 According to his daughter’s recollections, the extent of his financial difficulties began to emerge that summer, though the full and horrible truth remained concealed for a while longer. A decision was taken for the family to abandon Edinburgh, where Grant was making little headway in his renewed attempt to succeed at the Scottish bar, and to return once for all to their Highland home at Rothiemurchus. A trust deed was executed, and Grant’s elder son William Patrick gave up his legal career to devote himself to the management of the property and take responsibility for total debts of over £60,000. Grant himself was to ‘proceed as usual; London and the House in spring, and such improvements as amused him when at home’.5

He made a nuisance of himself at the Inverness county meeting of 4 Jan. 1821, called by local ministerialists to deplore disaffection and vote a loyal address to the king. He complained that insufficient notice had been given by its promoters, an unrepresentative clique, denied the ‘existence of sedition and blasphemy’ implied in the address, and asserted that ‘the present agitation in the country was chiefly owing to the ill-advised measures against the queen’. He managed to have the address amended to state that the county was untainted by any ‘spirit of disaffection, of irreligion, or of immorality’. He subscribed to the sentiments of the concluding paragraph, which applauded the ‘vigour and wisdom’ of government, only in so far as they could be taken as referring to ‘constituted authorities in a general sense’, for he did not believe that the present ministers were endowed with either quality: ‘on the contrary, they had betrayed in their proceedings imbecility and indecision, and the very reverse of wisdom’.6 He went up early to join in the parliamentary campaign on behalf of the queen in the first weeks of the 1821 session and was an opposition teller in the division on the omission of her name from liturgy, 23 Jan. He spoke of the ‘strong feeling’ in her support throughout Scotland, 31 Jan., when he defended the Edinburgh petition in her favour and said that few of those who had attended the Inverness meeting had an acre in the county. He supported Hamilton’s motion for a copy of the ‘most absurd and preposterous’ order in council to the Scottish church on the subject of the liturgy and was a teller for the minority of 35, 15 Feb. On the complaint against the sheriff of Dublin, 22 Feb., he argued that the Commons could not responsibly leave protection of the right of petitioning to the courts. He had more to say on this theme when supporting reception of Davison’s petition against chief justice Best the following day.7 He was again appointed to the select committee on the Scottish burghs, 16 Feb. 1821, but on 22 Mar. he was excused from further attendance. He voted in protest against the suppression of the liberal regime at Naples, 21 Feb. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and paired against Peel’s amendment to the relief bill, 27 Mar.8 He voted to make Leeds a scot and lot borough if it received the seats taken from Grampound, 2 Mar., but he was not in the minorities for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 9 May. He was a supporter of economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation in most of the major divisions of the session, but was not one of those who joined Hume in hounding ministers on these issues. He secured accounts of the national debt, 1, 20 Feb., and of the medical expenses of the army, 6 Mar.9 He welcomed the Lords’ report on the timber duties, 9 Feb., and presented a petition from an individual who had been ruined by the alteration in them after sinking capital in a mechanical saw, 27 Mar.10 On 16 Apr. he unsuccessfully proposed the imposition of fixed duties on Baltic and Canadian produce, arguing that the duties constituted a tax of £600,000 and that ‘the principle of free trade ought to be acted upon’. He promised to raise the matter next session, 30 May. He insisted that the army, even allowing for the requirements of the new colonies and the burden imposed by ‘the continued misgovernment’ of Ireland, could be reduced by one eighth, 14 Mar. Supporting repeal of the usury laws, 12 Apr., he stated that distress arose from ‘the preposterous theory of a legislative interference with money dealings, which was not applied to any branch of commerce’. Later that day he agreed to the proposal to refer petitions on the Scottish malt duty to a select committee, even though it was ‘brought forward under very suspicious circumstances’. He was a teller for the minority of 31 for equalizing the interest on Irish treasury and English exchequer bills, 30 May. He opposed proceeding against the Whig Morning Chronicle for breach of privilege, 9 Mar., and supported Maxwell’s slave removal bill, 31 May, 1 June.11 He favoured inquiry into the administration of justice in Tobago, 6 June, when he was a teller for the minority;12 but he refused to support Hume’s motion on the conduct of Sir Thomas Maitland* in the Ionian Isles the following day. On the Scottish juries bill, 14, 16 Feb., he claimed that judges had arrogated to themselves an illegal power to pass sentences of transportation. He expressed reservations about the proposals to regulate the court of session, 15, 26 Feb., when he helped to persuade Creevey to drop his wrecking amendment to the resolutions concerning the Scottish admiralty court.13 He drew attention to the ‘good effects’ of the fact that Scottish sheriffs were ‘actually barristers, and actually administering justice’, 27 Mar.14 He accused government of deliberately fomenting unrest in Scotland, 16 Apr. 1821.

Grant did not go up for the 1822 session until after Easter, when he voted for remission of Henry Hunt’s* sentence, 24 Apr., reform, 25 Apr., and to condemn the increasing influence of the crown, 24 June. He voted for measures of economy, 2, 3, 15, 16 May, 28 June, 5 July. He divided for criminal law reform, 4 June, and inquiry into Irish tithes, 19 June, and spoke and voted in favour of limiting the duration of the Irish insurrection bill, 8 July.15 He was a teller for the minority for inquiry into the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 25 June. On 7 May he stated that agricultural distress in Scotland, which was felt most severely by breeders of sheep and cattle, would not be cured by ‘any such hopeful projects as ... ministers had lately unfolded’.16 After presenting a hostile petition from Inverness, he endorsed Hamilton’s criticisms of the Scottish burghs accounts bill, 17 June, when he was unsuccessful with two amendments, rejected by 53-35 and 71-44.17 He approved the changes made by Kennedy to his Scottish juries bill and demanded to know when Inverness, disfranchised in 1818, would have its sett restored, 28 June.18 He advised Hamilton to give up his motion for repeal of the Scottish cottage tax, which ministers had promised to investigate, 9 July 1822.19 On the occasion of the king’s visit to Scotland the following month, he wrote from Edinburgh to his family of ‘the ludicrous state of bustle and expectation of the sedate and sober citizens of the Scottish metropolis, and the whimsical affectation [by George IV] of a sort of highland costume, with about as much propriety in the conception and execution as if it had taken place in Paris or Brussels’. According to his daughter, he supplied the king with some rare Glenlivet whisky and 100 ptarmigan, a gesture which may have stood him in good stead a few years later.20

Grant was a staunch supporter of his clan’s electoral interest in Inverness-shire, and on 11 Apr. 1823, as praeses of the meeting, he proposed the re-election of Charles Grant after his appointment as vice-president of the board of trade.21 Again a late arrival for the session, he divided against the naval and military pensions bill, 18 Apr., for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and to abolish punishment by whipping, 30 Apr. He voted for reform, 24 Apr., presented and supported an Edinburgh petition for reform of its representation, 5 May, and spoke and voted for general reform in Scotland, 2 June, when he contrasted the oligarchical system in force there with the ‘popular representation’ enjoyed in England. Next day he spoke in censure of the lord advocate’s conduct in the Borthwick case and was a teller for the minority. He voted for inquiries into chancery arrears, 5 June, the currency (in a minority of 27), 12 June, when he encouraged Phillimore not to delay his bill to remove restrictions on the celebration of marriage by Catholic priests, and the coronation expenses, 19 June. He divided to recommit the silk bill, 9 June, and objected to an increase in the duty on post horses, 12 June, but supported the temporary raising of the barilla duties, 13 June.22 He was in a minority of 26 against the beer duties bill, 17 June. On 18 June he deplored the apparent lack of concert between the lord advocate and English ministers which had delayed the Scottish commissaries and juries bills. He moved an adjournment on the third reading of the former because of the lateness of the hour, 19 June, and joined in objections to one of the Lords’ amendments, 18 July. He was listed as having paired for the second reading of the juries bill, 20 June 1823, although he was also reported as speaking on it.23 Grant appears to have been absent from Parliament for the whole of the 1824 session, during which proposals were drawn up for the liquidation of his debts.24 He was a defaulter on a call of the House, 28 Feb. 1825, but attended and was excused the next day, when he voted for Catholic relief, as he did again, 21 Apr., alluding to Scotland’s long history of toleration, and 10 May. He voted for repeal of the assessed taxes, 3 Mar., and of the beer duties, 23 May. He opposed the Metropolitan Fish Company bill because it gave ‘a chimerical Company’ advantages which were not enjoyed by regular fishermen, 9 Mar., and called for legislation to regulate joint-stock companies to prevent fraud, 18 Mar., though he admitted that the problem was a knotty one, 29 Mar. He spoke and was a minority teller against the Leith docks bill, 20 May. He successfully moved a wrecking amendment against the Edinburgh waterworks bill, 3 June, but got nowhere with his complaints that the Scottish partnership societies bill would expose the House to ‘absolute ridicule’, 22 June.25 On 5 May he sought leave to introduce a bill to amend the Act of 1701 concerning wrongous imprisonment in Scotland, in a long speech which he subsequently polished and had published. Ministers did not oppose it, but hinted at reservations. Grant presented the measure, 18 May, and saw it through its second reading on the 20th, but it was printed at the report stage, 2 June, and abandoned for the session on the 17th.26 He welcomed the government’s proposal to revise the Scottish laws concerning sedition and blasphemy, 5 May, and called for Scottish judges to be placed and paid on the same basis as English, 19 May.27 The following day he was a teller for the minority of 29 for Brougham’s motion to make puisne judges immovable. He criticized the fees exacted in courts as a ‘severe tax’ on litigants, 27 May.28 He supported Williams’s attempt to increase judges’ retirement pensions, 2 June, noting that in Scotland especially many were currently tempted to stay on the bench into very old age; and he voted to reduce the proposed new salaries, 17 June. Alarmed that the Scottish shooting and stabbing bill made throwing vitriolic acid a new capital offence, he moved a killing amendment against its third reading, 20 June, but withdrew it on being assured that the measure was only temporary. He said that ministers’ promise that Prince George would be educated in England was not sufficient in itself to persuade him to support the grant, 27 May, and he voted against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 2, 6, 9, 10 June. He was in small minorities against the grant for repairs to Lyme Regis Cobb, 3 June, for information on the appointment of the clerk of stationery in Bengal, 7 June, and for Hume’s amendment to the combination bill concerning intimidation, 27 June. He voted against government on chancery delays, 7 June 1825. Grant’s financial problems were, if anything, increasing. His daughter recalled the sad occasion of her sister Jane’s marriage in December 1825 to the old and ugly Colonel Pennington, whose fortune was discovered to be ‘much smaller than had been expected’. (The marriage in fact ‘turned out well’.) ‘My poor father, the unhappy cause of our sorrows, did look heart broken when he gave that bright child of his away’. Soon afterwards Pennington had to bale out William Grant, who was arrested and imprisoned in Edinburgh for a debt of his own. A gloomy winter was spent at Rothiemurchus, with unpaid tradesmen’s bills in Inverness creating difficulties in making ends meet. At about this time Elizabeth Grant and her sister Mary began to write stories for the monthly magazines to supplement the family’s income.29

On his belated arrival at Westminster Grant voted against government on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. 1826. On 13 Apr. he called for reform of Edinburgh’s representation as ‘a special case of corruption and abuse’. He discountenanced ‘radical reform’, but argued that ‘it would be impossible even to govern Scotland otherwise than as a province or a colony, until she obtained something like a fair representation’; he was a teller for the minority. He voted for Russell’s general reform motion, 27 Apr., and his resolutions against electoral bribery, 26 May. He expressed qualified approval of the bank charter amendment bill, 14 Apr., thinking that ministers had probably made the best bargain they could, though they had perhaps ‘not done enough for the permanent advantage of the country’. He was added to the select committee on Scottish and Irish promissory notes, 17 Apr. He presented a petition against any alteration of the Scottish banking system, 28 Apr., and, on the committee, voted with Peel to that effect the following month.30 He spoke in the same sense in the House, 4 May, when he said that the Paisley petitioners for an end to the paper currency as a means of relieving distress were deluding themselves. He objected to the Scottish bankers bill, 12 May. He reintroduced his wrongous imprisonment bill, 19 Apr., but on the 28th agreed to abandon it for the year.31 He voted for the introduction of defence by counsel in felony trials, 25 Apr., and, though friendly to the principle of the spring guns bill, 28 Apr., was against making all deaths caused by them cases of manslaughter. He was in the minority of 13 for reducing the salaries of Irish prison inspectors, 5 May, and voted for investigation of James Silk Buckingham’s* petition touching press freedom in India, 9 May; but he was one of the Whigs who divided against the revised corn bill, 11 May 1826.

Bedford required the Tavistock seat for his brother at the general election the following month and Grant, who was prominent in support of Charles Grant* in the contested election for Inverness-shire, failed to find a berth elsewhere.32 ‘This enforced retirement’, as his daughter recalled, ‘closed the home world’ to him, for ‘without this shield his person was never safe’ from his creditors. Grant, who was told in December 1826 that it was next to impossible to raise money on the security of his Morayshire property and the following month executed a deed entitling his four younger children to shares in the sum of £6,000 settled on them by his marriage contract, seems to have spent several months skulking on the continent and in London.33 In the summer of 1827 salvation of a kind was forthcoming in the shape of his appointment as a puisne judge at Bombay. He owed it to the influence of Charles Grant, a member of the Canning and Goderich ministries, although his daughter liked to think that recollection of his favour to George IV in 1822 had played a part. Sir James Mackintosh* saw him at Grant’s, 18 June, and wrote: ‘There is something very attractive in the good nature which in spite of some demerits endears poor Rothiemurchus to his family’.34 In the weeks leading up to his departure in late September 1827 he was still on the run from the bailiffs, and he had the humiliation of having to be smuggled on board the ship off the English coast with his younger son (for whom he had obtained a place in the Bengal civil service) after hiding at Boulogne. He reached what he called his ‘splendid exile’ in February 1828.35 Within months Grant, who as a result of deaths was for a time the sole judge of the Bombay supreme court, became embroiled in a bitter dispute with the new governor, Sir John Malcolm*, over the rights of jurisdiction which he claimed for the court. The quarrel became personal and scandalous and reached a head when Grant peremptorily closed the court in April 1829. His daughter later noted that this rash act ‘put him in the wrong at the end’, and reflected that it was all too typical of him:

There is a bee in the bonnets of the Grants. As a race they are very clever, very clear headed, and very hard working. Under rule and guidance, they do well, none better ... When they make their own work, they make a mill of it - they can’t sit idle and they never appear to consider the consequences of their impulsive acts.

The government promoted Dewar, the advocate-general, to chief justice over the head of Grant, who was further mortified by Malcolm’s probably deliberate leaking of the description of him by Lord Ellenborough, the president of the board of control, as ‘a wild elephant’. He conveniently ignored an official order recalling him to explain his conduct, but resigned in September 1830.36 He moved to Calcutta and spent three years practising at the bar there, before, thanks to Charles Grant, president of the board of control under Lord Grey, he was appointed a puisne judge of the Bengal supreme court.37 He retired in early 1848, at the age of 73, but died at sea on his way home in May and was buried in Edinburgh. By his brief will, written on board the Earl of Hardwicke on his departure from India, 16 Mar. 1848, he confirmed the deed of appointment of 1827 regarding his younger children and all settlements made by way of life assurances for providing for his wife. He referred to the sale of all his household goods in Scotland by the trustees for the payment of his debts, and left to his wife the commemorative silver plate which he intended to buy with money given to him for the purpose by Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy and other native inhabitants of Bombay. His personalty was sworn under a paltry £450.38 His second son, John Peter Grant (1807-93), had a distinguished career as an Indian administrator and was governor of Jamaica, 1866-74.39

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Mems. of a Highland Lady ed. A. Tod (1988), i. 10, 11, 31, 83, 119.
  • 2. Ibid. ii. 156, 203.
  • 3. Grimsby Pub. Lib. Tennyson mss, Daubeny to Tennyson, 11 Dec. 1819, 5, 12, 16, 20, 26 Feb., Veal to same, 23 Feb. 1820.
  • 4. The Times, 12, 13 July 1820.
  • 5. Highland Lady, ii. 150, 152, 155-6, 193.
  • 6. Inverness Jnl. 5 Jan. 1821.
  • 7. The Times, 24 Feb. 1821.
  • 8. Ibid. 29 Mar. 1821.
  • 9. Ibid. 2, 21 Feb., 7 Mar. 1821.
  • 10. Ibid. 28 Mar. 1821.
  • 11. Ibid. 1 June 1821.
  • 12. Ibid. 7 June 1821.
  • 13. Ibid. 16, 27 Feb. 1821.
  • 14. Ibid. 28 Mar. 1821.
  • 15. Ibid. 9 July 1822.
  • 16. Ibid. 8 May 1822.
  • 17. Ibid. 18 June 1822.
  • 18. Ibid. 29 June 1822.
  • 19. Ibid. 10 July 1822.
  • 20. Highland Lady, ii. 165-6.
  • 21. Inverness Courier, 17 Apr. 1823; NAS GD23/6/583/18.
  • 22. The Times, 13 June 1822.
  • 23. Ibid. 19-21 June, 19 July 1823.
  • 24. NRA [S] 0102, p. 69.
  • 25. The Times, 4, 23 June 1825.
  • 26. CJ, lxxx. 380, 435, 448, 463, 472, 484, 551.
  • 27. The Times, 6, 20 May 1825.
  • 28. Ibid. 28 May 1825.
  • 29. Highland Lady, ii. 191-6.
  • 30. The Times, 28 Apr.; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Denison diary, 14 May [1826].
  • 31. CJ, lxxxi. 259, 261, 272, 303.
  • 32. Inverness Courier, 12 July 1826.
  • 33. Highland Lady, ii. 199; NRA [S] 0102, pp. 42, 71.
  • 34. Add. 52447, f. 81.
  • 35. Highland Lady, ii. 199-213, 222; NRA [S] 0102, pp. 42, 43.
  • 36. Oxford DNB (Malcolm); Wellington mss WP1/961/9; 970/18; 1008/25; 1024/12; 1025/9; 1038/19; 1039/22; 1061/3; 1139/4; Ellenborough Diary, i. 327; ii. 82, 144-5, 174-5, 441-2; Highland Lady, ii. 256-7, 281, 283; Add. 41964, f. 7.
  • 37. Highland Lady, ii. 283; NRA [S] 0102, pp. 56, 81-84, 98; W.S. Seton Karr, Grant of Rothiemurchus, 2; Macaulay Letters, iii. 165.
  • 38. Highland Lady, ii. 283; Gent. Mag. (1848), ii. 335; PROB 11/2093/351; IR26/1834/260.
  • 39. Oxford DNB.