MARJORIBANKS, Sir John, 1st bt. (1763-1833), of Lees, Berwick.

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



1812 - 1818
1818 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 13 Jan. 1763, 1st s. of Edward Marjoribanks of Hallyards and Lees and Grizel, da. of Archibald Stewart† of Edinburgh and Mitcham, Surr.; bro. of Stewart Marjoribanks*. m. 15 Apr. 1791, Alison, da. of William Ramsay, banker, of Barnton, Edinburgh, 4s. 5da. suc. fa. 1815;1 cr. bt. 6 May 1815. d. 5 Feb. 1833.

Offices Held

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

Ld. provost, Edinburgh 1814-15.


Marjoribanks was a leading figure in the commercial life of Edinburgh, where he was a partner in his father-in-law’s banking house. His election for Berwickshire in 1818 had been approved by the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager Lord Melville and was widely resented, and plans were made to oppose him at the next election. However, he came in unopposed in 1820, when he was joined in the House, as Member for Hythe, by his brother, the Whig banker Stewart Marjoribanks.2 Marjoribanks failed to dissuade the Berwickshire landowners’ meeting at Greenlaw, 1 May 1820, from petitioning for changes in calculating corn averages.3 In the House, where he remained a poor attender, he voted consistently with the Liverpool ministry on the revenue and retrenchments, 1820-3, and divided for Catholic relief, 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. A radical publication of that year noted that he ‘attended occasionally and voted with government’.4

He echoed his constituents’ pleas for repeal of the additional Scottish malt duty, which he complained had been rushed through in the absence of most of the Scottish Members, 5 July, and proposed an amendment to extend the scope of the Scottish malt allowance bill, but it was ruled out of order, 13 July 1820. (On 19 Apr. 1823 he was added to the select committee on Scottish petitions against the duty, which he said had been ‘very injuriously felt’, 20 June 1823).5 The Marjoribanks listed in the minority for the indefinite postponement of the secret committee of inquiry into Queen Caroline’s conduct, 26 June 1820, was almost certainly Stewart. Sir John went to Greenlaw to promote the adoption of Berwickshire’s loyal address to the king, 28 Dec. 1820, divided against censuring ministers’ handling of the affair, 6 Feb., and, amidst impatient calls for a division, spoke against restoring her name to the liturgy 13 Feb. 1821.6 He was granted a month’s leave because of illness in his family, 12 Mar. He voted against criminal law reform, 23 May, and on 29 June 1821 expressed his hope that the extra post bill would not be extended to Scotland.7 He voted against reforming the Scottish county representation, 10 May 1823. No record has been found of a vote by him in the next two sessions. He divided against condemning the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824. A motion to grant him six weeks’ leave to attend to urgent private business was withdrawn, 14 Apr. 1825, and he was awarded ten days’ leave the next day. He presented a Berwickshire petition against alteration of the corn laws, 28 Apr. When provisions for the education of the children of the dukes of Cumberland and Kent were considered, 27 May, Marjoribanks (as he had done in 1815) extolled the virtues of their brother the duke of York and called for payment of his debts. As on the earlier occasion, his introduction of this subject irritated ministers and he was rebuked by Canning.8 He voted for the Cumberland annuity bill, 30 May-10 June 1825. Confusion with his brother probably accounts for the presence of his name on the list of opponents of the president of the board of trade’s salary, 7 Apr., but he certainly divided against the bonded corn bill, 11 May 1826.

Marjoribanks’s involvement in urban development in Edinburgh twice landed him in scrapes in the House. On 27 June 1821 he was accused by Joseph Hume of complicity in a dubious transaction with the treasury over the sale of the site, which he had acquired, selected for the construction of a new stamp office. In an ‘indistinct manner and tone’ he denied that there had been any ‘dirty work’, professed that he ‘could not have been more astonished to find himself in a watch-house on a charge of picking a pocket’, and complained that he ‘had been detained in London, while his family was in Scotland, merely to wait the commands and pleasure’ of his accuser.9 On 11 May 1825 he refuted opposition allegations of jobbery in the committee on the Leith docks bill: ‘if there were, he might be considered the chief jobber, as he had a great property embarked in the Leith docks’. His minority vote in favour of the bill, 20 May, was challenged by Hume, on the ground that he had a direct pecuniary interest in its success, and his plea of ‘inadvertence’ was disallowed. He had, since 1824, been repeatedly obliged by his Berwickshire constituents to confirm his retirement at the next dissolution, and plans had been laid to return the 8th earl of Lauderdale’s second son Sir Anthony Maitland* as his replacement.10 On 4 June 1825, with his failure to carry the Edinburgh-Leith water bill paramount, he wrote to the Member for Edinburgh William Dundas, accusing him of publicly snubbing and insulting him following their disagreement over the water bill, and announced that he would oppose his return for Edinburgh at the first opportunity. Dundas forwarded the letter to Melville, who had already been warned of a likely application for support from Marjoribanks, whom he considered ‘very ill qualified’; and Melville helped the future provost of Edinburgh William Trotter and the council to thwart Marjoribanks’s scheme.11 Peeved at Melville’s reaction and refusal to support him, he wrote to him on 14 June, defending his parliamentary conduct, and praising his election successes in Berwickshire and achievements as an Edinburgh businessman, but to no avail.12 With no prospect of a third return, he went abroad and left the House at the dissolution of 1826, having promised his interest in Roxburghshire to Henry Francis Hepburne Scott*. Maitland duly replaced him as Member for Berwickshire.13

Marjoribanks did not stand for Parliament again. He aligned with the reformers in Berwickshire and Roxburghshire in 1831, displayed largesse as a local benefactor and, assisted by his brother, successfully promoted the candidature for Berwickshire of his son Charles, a banker and East India Company official in Canton. Charles returned to Scotland during the campaign and outpolled Maitland at the 1832 general election.14 Marjoribanks died in February 1833, a few days after his eldest son Edward. His will incorporated a family settlement of 31 Dec. 1832 and was proved in Edinburgh, 21 Feb., and London, 18 Apr. 1833. He provided for his wife, relations and business partners. The baronetcy and entailed estates intended for Edward passed to his second son William, who survived only until 1834, when he was succeeded by his infant son John (1830-84).15 It was extinguished by the death of the latter’s brother William in 1888. Marjoribanks’s fourth and youngest son David, who took the name of Robertson in 1834, was created Lord Marjoribanks, 12 June 1873, but died childless seven days later.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Scots Mag. (1815), 557
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 523-5; iv. 545-6; NAS GD267/23/8A/3.
  • 3. Berwick Advertiser, 7 May 1820.
  • 4. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 475
  • 5. The Times, 14 July 1820.
  • 6. Caledonian Mercury, 1 Jan. 1821.
  • 7. The Times, 21, 30 June 1821.
  • 8. Ibid. 29 Apr., 28 May 1825.
  • 9. Ibid. 28 June 1821.
  • 10. NAS GD157/2961/1/8; GD267/23/8A/3-8.
  • 11. NAS GD51/1/198/16/43; GD51/5/3; NLS mss 2, ff. 75-91. See EDINBURGH.
  • 12. NLS mss 2, ff. 93-100.
  • 13. NAS GD157/2962/31; 2963/4.
  • 14. NAS GD157/3007; GD267/23/8/1-5, 13-17; Berwick Advertiser, 29 Jan., 19 Feb., 15 Oct. 1831, 23, 30 June; Caledonian Mercury, 21 June, 30 July; The Times, 19, 21 Dec. 1832.
  • 15. PROB 11/1814/237.