MORISON, John (?1757-1835), of Auchintoul, nr. Aberchirder, Banff. and 16 New Burlington Street, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. ?1757, 2nd s. of Alexander Morison (d. 1801) of Bognie, nr. Forgue, Aberdeen and Katharine, da. of John Duff of Cowbin. m. 1s.; at least 11 illegit. ch. suc. bro. Theodore Morison to Bognie and Frendraught 1834. d. 12 Feb. 1835.
Morison was descended from a family which had been established in north-west Aberdeenshire since at least the mid-seventeenth century. His great-grandfather George Morison (d. 1699) was the third husband of Christian, widow of the 2nd Lord Rutherfurd and the 2nd Viscount Frendraught. After the death of her unmarried only son, the 3rd Viscount Frendraught, she conveyed to George Morison the lands of Bognie and Frendraught in the parish of Forgue, near Huntly. Morison was succeeded by his only son Theodore (d. 1760), and he in turn by his son Alexander (b. ?1723), the father of this Member. His eldest son Theodore succeeded him as owner of the Aberdeenshire estates on his death in September 1801.1 His third son, George, died in London in 1820. The youngest, James Morison (1770-1840), achieved wealth and notoriety as the self-styled ‘hygeist’, the inventor and purveyor of ‘Morison’s Pills’, a drastic purgative made mostly of gamboges, which became very popular as a universal medicine in the 1820s but was often lethal when taken in excessive quantities by the infirm or seriously ill.2 John Morison’s life before he became a parliamentary candidate remains largely obscure, but he is known to have been sometime a merchant at Riga, on the Baltic, in partnership with his brother James and one Drachenham. It was there that his ‘only legitimate son’ Alexander (who entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1820 and Lincoln’s Inn in 1822) was born in about 1802.3 By Michaelmas 1811 he was on the freeholders’ roll of Banffshire as the proprietor (by purchase) of the estate of Auchintoul.4 In April 1825 he declared his intention of standing for the county at the next election, and he duly did so when Parliament was dissolved in June 1826, backed by the Tories Colonel Francis Grant* and the 4th duke of Gordon. He made no reported political pronouncements and was defeated by the sitting Member Lord Fife, but was seated on his petition claiming a majority of legal votes in April 1827.5
Morison was almost entirely inconspicuous in the 1826 Parliament. He voted with the Wellington ministry against inquiry into chancery delays, 24 Apr., and presented a constituency petition for the continuance of the herring bounties, 12 May 1828. As expected, he divided for the government’s concession of Catholic emancipation, 30 Mar. 1829, though he was reported to have stated in the House earlier that day that he would ‘vote against’ it. He was returned unopposed at the 1830 general election, after which ministers listed him as one of their ‘friends’. It was almost certainly James Morrison rather than he who voted in Parnell’s minority of 39 for reduction of the duty on wheat imported to the West Indies, 12 Nov. He was absent from the division on the civil list three days later which brought down the government.6 He also absented himself from the divisions on the second reading of the Grey ministry’s English reform bill, 22 Mar., and Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. According to his constituent John Macpherson Grant, the son of George Macpherson Grant* of Ballindalloch, on the first occasion
he was actually in the House ... but went home ... on the pretence of age and indifferent health ... The real cause ... I suspect to be a fear of offending by his vote whichever way it was given. Colonel Grant had been attacking him warmly for some time, which terrified him from voting for the bill, and the knowledge that ... many of his constituents were favourable to it had made him afraid of voting against it. I had a note from him next morning expressing a wish to see me ... He seemed to be all in a fidget ... and ready to speak on any subject but the bill. I ... let him know what I thought of the measure and of his own shilly shally conduct and sounded the alarm of an early dissolution in his ears.7
George Ferguson† of Pitfour, who had the support of Colonel Grant and the 5th duke of Gordon, declared his candidature for the next election in the second week of April, but Morison’s wife (whose identity is unknown) told him that her husband had ‘no intention of giving up’; he publicly confirmed this a week later. John Macpherson Grant, a reformer, speculated that if Morison, ‘a perfect cipher’ in Parliament, lost Colonel Grant’s backing, he might start his ‘indolent and careless’ son Alexander, who had moved the resolutions approving reform at the recent county meeting (Morison presented its petition on 20 Apr.)8 When Parliament was dissolved a few days later Morison stood his ground and claimed the support of local reformers. On 4 May he wrote to The Times to contradict its designation of him as being ‘against’ reform: ‘I never voted against the reform bill, but, on the contrary, I am decidedly in favour of it’. In a riposte the following day Ferguson, who also claimed to be ‘a reformer’, commented that this would come as a surprise to Morison’s constituents, whose interests had gone effectively unrepresented in the last Parliament.9 Morison secured the support of John Macpherson Grant and other reformers, declared under questioning at the election meeting that he was ‘a favourer of the bill’ and approved of the disfranchisement of ‘rotten boroughs’, the enfranchisement of large towns and an extension of the franchise, but said he disliked the proposed £10 Scottish county voting qualification. He defeated Ferguson by seven votes in a poll of 33.10
Morison was barely more active than previously in the 1831 Parliament. He paired for the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July, for its details in at least three divisions and for its passage, 21 Sept. He was present to vote against use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and for clause 15, giving urban freeholders a county vote, 17 Aug. 1831. His next known votes were not until those for the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and Gateshead, 5 Mar., and the third reading of the revised English reform bill, 22 Mar. 1832. He was in the minorities for a reduction in the West Indian sugar duties, 7 Mar., and against the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. He divided against increasing the Scottish county representation, 1 June, and presented a Banff reform petition, 4 June. He was in the government majorities on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 20 July 1832.
By then he was in severe financial trouble, with ‘great’ debts, which forced him to sell his Banffshire property. He retired from Parliament at the 1832 dissolution. His much altered will of 25 July 1830 reveals a notably unconventional and disordered private life. He left all his real and personal estate, except his ‘small remaining property in Russia’, to Alexander, but made provision for a battery of his bastards produced by various women: five by Sarah Cole of Southampton Row, Marylebone, whom he was thinking of ‘perhaps legitimating by acknowledging a marriage’ with her; a ‘natural son Alexander’, currently thought to be at Riga; two children with Menzies Munro; two with Matilda Palmer of Fordyce, and one with Mary White of Brompton, Middlesex. His personalty was sworn under £4,000 in the province of Canterbury, 23 July 1835, but a marginal note of 1846 on the death duty register entry indicates that liabilities amounted to £18,254.11 Morison nominally succeeded his brother Theodore to the entailed Aberdeenshire estates in October 1834, but he died four months later and it was his legitimate son Alexander who was served heir of line to Bognie on 4 Dec. 1835.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. A. Jervise, Epitaphs and Inscriptions from North East Scotland, ii. 170, 172, 180.
- 2. Ibid. ii. 180; Gent. Mag. (1840), ii. 437-8; The Times, 28 Nov., 1 Dec. 1835, 19 Feb., 8 Nov. 1836, 3, 4 Sept. 1838, 11 May 1840; Oxford DNB.
- 3. Jervise, ii. 180; PROB 11/1849/441; Admissions to Trinity Coll. Camb. iv. 179.
- 4. Pol. State of Scotland 1811, p. 26.
- 5. Aberdeen Jnl. 20 Apr. 1825, 14, 21 June, 5 July 1826; Caledonian Mercury, 5 Apr. 1827.
- 6. The Times, 22 Nov. 1830.
- 7. Macpherson Grant mss 361, J. to G. Macpherson Grant, 2/4 Apr. 1831.
- 8. Ibid. 118, Ferguson’s circular, 10 Apr.; 361, J. to G. Macpherson Grant, 19 Apr.; Aberdeen Jnl. 27 Apr. 1831.
- 9. The Times, 4-6 May 1831.
- 10. Aberdeen Jnl. 25 May 1831.
- 11. Jervise, ii. 180; PROB 11/1849/441; IR26/1392/331.