MACAULAY, Colin Campbell (?1759-1836), of Lowesby, Leics.

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



19 Dec. 1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. ?1759, ?4th but 2nd surv. s.1 of Rev. John Macaulay (d. 1789), minister of Lismore, Argyll, and 2nd w. Margaret, da. of Colin Campbell of Inveresragan, Argyll. unm. d. 20 Feb. 1836.

Offices Held

Cadet, E.I. Co. (Madras) 1777, ensign 1778, lt. 1782, capt. 1796, maj. 1799, lt.-col. 1803, col. 1812, maj.-gen. 1814, lt.-gen. 1830.

Resident at Travancore 1800-10.


Macaulay’s father John (1720-89) and his grandfather Aulay (?1673-1758) were both Presbyterian ministers who, according to family tradition, had been involved in an attempt to turn the fugitive Charles Edward Stuart over to the authorities in 1746. His uncle Kenneth Macaulay (1723-79), another Presbyterian minister, had a prickly encounter with Samuel Johnson during the latter’s Hebredian excursion in 1773. The Doctor called Kenneth, to his face, ‘a bigot to laziness’, and privately scorned him as ‘the most ignorant booby and the grossest bastard’; John Macaulay was also sneered at for his ‘rusticity’.2 Colin Macaulay, who was one of 12 children, entered the Indian army and was one of the officers captured by Hyder Ali in 1780 and imprisoned for almost four years in conditions of great barbarity and squalor. In 1799 he was secretary to the political and diplomatic mission, headed by Arthur Wellesley†, which accompanied General Harris on the invasion of Mysore; he was present at the capture of Seringapatam. Wellesley’s brother Lord Wellesley, the governor-general of Bengal, appointed Macaulay political resident at the court of the rajah of Travancore in January 1800. He had his knuckles rapped four years later for making an ‘unguarded’ and ‘imperfect statement’ of a transaction concerning tobacco, but Wellesley was anxious that such ‘an honest and deserving servant of the public’, who subscribed to ‘good principles of government in India’, should not be made to suffer unduly for this indiscretion. He was involved in the controversy surrounding the dismissal of George Vaughan Hart*, commissary of grain to the army of Mysore, for alleged peculation, and later sought to vindicate his conduct in Two Letters to Lord Harris (1816). In 1808 he faced a revolt by the dewan of Travancore and survived an attempt on his life; the following year he commanded an army of 15,000 men in a successful campaign against the rebels.3 He left India for the sake of his health in April 1810.4 On his return to England Hannah More described him as ‘a first-rate man’ of ‘the gentlest manners’, who had ‘brought home, after all his hairbreadth escapes, an ample fortune and a sober mind’. After visiting his brother-in-law Thomas Babington in Leicestershire, where he later acquired a property, he spent several months at Clapham with his younger brother Zachary, the leading abolitionist and friend of William Wilberforce*; he took a keen interest in the development of his nephew Thomas Babington Macaulay*, a child prodigy.5 In January 1811 he wrote that ‘if I could support sitting up at night I would become a Member of the House of Commons, but I must relinquish all thoughts of this during the winter’.6 He welcomed the replacement in India of Minto and Barlow by Moira and Abercromby in 1812. He remained a devotee of Wellesley, now duke of Wellington, and was in Paris in 1814, where his command of several European languages (learnt in India) made him useful to the duke in the negotiations for suppression of the foreign slave trade. In 1822 he accompanied Wellington to the Congresses of Vienna and Verona, as his advisor on the slave trade.7

He was sufficiently recovered from a recent ‘severe illness’ to take a seat for Saltash on the Russell interest in December 1826. However, his health remained ‘feeble’ and he rarely attended the House.8 He is not known to have spoken in debate. He voted against Canning’s ministry for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May 1827. He divided against Catholic relief, 12 May 1828, and privately urged Wellington, now prime minister, to settle the issue as soon as possible.9 Soon afterwards a relapse drove him to Rome, where he almost certainly still was when the government carried Catholic emancipation in 1829 (he was named as a defaulter, 5, 10 Mar.). That October he was at Clifton, ‘subject to severe coughs’, but ‘on the whole ... better than he was last year’.10 He attended the House to vote for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. 1830. He divided against government for a reduction in the salary of the assistant secretary of the treasury, 10 May, abolition of the Irish viceroyalty, 11 May, and against an increase in the recognizances required by the libel law amendment bill, 9 July 1830. He rejoiced in the brilliance of his Whig nephew’s parliamentary debut, but decided to leave the House at the dissolution that summer as it was ‘too laborious a duty for any but a hale, hearty man’.11

Macaulay headed for the south of France, whence he wrote to Henry Brougham*, lord chancellor in Lord Grey’s new government, to congratulate him on

the recent happy change of ministry, and that, notwithstanding my unabated personal attachment to ... [Wellington]. But the change was called for, and ... it has taken place in a mode the best calculated to satisfy in these eventful times the fair demands of the well wisher to the true interests of England internally and externally. And I must say, had the Castlereagh politics not received some such check we might have been drawn into that Serbonian bog into which a war would only have plunged us deeper and deeper.12

He returned to England in the spring of 1831, when Thomas Macaulay noted: ‘What an excellent old man he is. I cannot tell you how kind he has been in his expressions and demeanour towards me’.13 The following year he gave evidence before the select committee inquiring into the claim by the descendants of John Hutchinson, commercial resident at Anjengo, for payment of the balance of a debt due to his estate from the rajah of Travancore. He published a defence of his own part in the affair, during his time at Travancore, in his Desultory Notes. The committee’s report recommended settlement of the debt, but exonerated Macaulay from the Hutchinsons’ charge that he had been guilty of ‘repeated and vexatious interference’ to prevent the claim from being settled. John Briscoe* brought in a bill to facilitate settlement of the debt, but Grey’s ministry decided that the claim was fraudulent and defeated the measure on its second reading, 31 May 1833. Thomas Macaulay, now secretary to the India board, spoke against it, and took satisfaction in the reflection that ‘it was by our uncle ... that the rascality of the transaction was originally exposed’, and ‘it was by me that the coup de grace was given’.14 Macaulay was in Italy in 1834, as he found ‘the climate of England becoming less and less tolerable to me’. Nevertheless, it was at Clifton that he died in February 1836, ‘aged 76’.15 He directed that his real estate be sold and left £10,000 to Thomas (which helped to set him up for the rest of his life) and the residue to Zachary; his personalty was sworn under £8,000.16

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


He was baptized thus, according to his will (PROB 11/1859/178).

  • 1. Mems. of Clan ’Aulay’, 10-11.
  • 2. Oxford DNB sub Kenneth and Zachary Macaulay; Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (new edn.), iii. 336; iv. 12, 99, 107, 120; vii. 189; F. Thomas, ‘Traditions of Macaulays of Lewis’, Procs. Soc. Antiquaries of Scotland, xiv. (1879-80), 363-430; G.O. Trevelyan, Macaulay (1908 edn.), 3-7; Boswell’s Life of Johnson ed. L.F. Powell, v. 120, 505-7, 561, 563.
  • 3. Fort William-India House Corresp. ed. H. Heras, xviii. 529, 533; Wellington Despatches, i. 6, 1362; Lady Knutsford, Zachary Macaulay, 282, 284; Macaulay Letters, ii. 224; iii. 51.
  • 4. London Univ. Lib. Booth mss 797/1/5464, 5622.
  • 5. Knutsford, 283-4; Life of Wilberforce, iv. 213, 215.
  • 6. Booth mss 797/1/5467.
  • 7. Ibid. 5468; Add. 38410, ff. 359, 361; Macaulay Letters, i. 39; Life of Wilberforce, v. 152-3; Knutsford, 379-80.
  • 8. Booth mss 5661-3.
  • 9. Knutsford, 380.
  • 10. Booth mss 5665, 5667.
  • 11. Ibid. 5471.
  • 12. Ibid. 5669; Brougham mss, Macaulay to Brougham, 2 Dec. 1830.
  • 13. Macaulay Letters, ii. 50.
  • 14. Ibid. ii. 247; PP (1831-2), v. 445-51.
  • 15. Booth mss 5473a; Gent. Mag. (1836), i. 443.
  • 16. PROB 8/230 (21 Jan. 1837); 11/1859/178; Macaulay Letters, iii. 182.