WISHART, Sir James (1659-1723), of Bedale, Yorks.; Little Chelsea, Mdx; and Leatherhead, Surr.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 1659, 2nd s. of Rev. William Wishart, minister of Kinneil, Linlithgow by Christian, da. of Richard Burne or Barnes of Middlemill, Fife. m. Cordelia, s.p. Kntd. 24 Oct. 1704.1
Dutch Navy, bef. 1688; capt. RN 1689, r.-adm. 1704, adm. 1708; member, Prince George’s Admiralty Council 20 June–28 Oct. 1708; ld. of Admiralty 1710–1714; c.-in-c. Mediterranean 1713–15.2
Freeman, Portsmouth 1703.3
Director, S. Sea Co. 1711–1715.4
Wishart was descended from a junior branch of an old Scottish family, which had been seated at Pitarrow since the 13th century. As a Nonconformist minister, Wishart’s father suffered imprisonment after the Restoration and was deprived of his parish, but following the Toleration Act he ministered to a congregation at Leith. Wishart’s elder brother George became a lieutenant-colonel and a baronet. Wishart himself emigrated to the Netherlands and entered the Dutch navy, being part of William’s invasion force in 1688. He was made a captain in the English navy in 1689, and in 1695 served as first captain to Sir George Rooke*. Wishart’s relationship with Rooke was to play an important part in his career, and may well have inclined him towards the Tory party. In 1703 he was Rooke’s first captain in the Channel fleet, and in January 1704 Rooke, then preparing to convoy the Archduke Charles to Spain, was much incensed to learn that Captain William Whetstone, junior to Wishart, had been promoted rear-admiral of the blue. He wrote to Prince George of Denmark, the lord high admiral, on 24 Jan. 1704:
I am informed Captain Whetstone is preferred to be rear-admiral of the blue, in prejudice . . . to Captain Wishart, who is a senior officer and captain to the admiral of the fleet. I have been always of opinion that where seniority and merit meet in the same person, it would be of the worst consequence to the service to discourage officers so qualified. Possibly Captain Wishart’s being a Scotchman may be a reasonable objection with some to his preferment at this time, but I think that circumstance should have been set in its true light before the Queen and your Royal Highness, for though he be of that country by birth, he is an Englishman by interest, which I take to be the best security her Majesty can have from any of them, for some years since he sold what he had in Scotland, added to it what he had acquired in the crown’s service, and with his wife’s fortune purchased, and now enjoys, a very good estate in Yorkshire. He has ever had the character of a good officer and a very honest man; and I think in my conscience deserves it: and he has always had right and justice done him in his preferment of the fleet, till he has had the misfortune of coming under my particular care and protection.
Rooke regarded the matter as a personal snub to himself and offered his resignation as a consequence. Further correspondence followed, Archduke Charles adding his pleas on Wishart’s behalf, and on 5 Feb. Wishart was promoted rear-admiral of the blue, backdated to 8 Jan., the same date as Whetstone’s commission. Although Rooke protested that this still did not restore Wishart’s seniority, the matter rested there. Wishart served with Rooke in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1704 and on his return received a knighthood.5
Rooke’s dismissal from command of the fleet in 1705 led to Wishart’s own fall from favour. On 6 Jan. 1705 Sir Clowdesley Shovell* wrote to Sir George Byng*:
’Tis designed two flags shall stay at home: that is, one to command the Dunkirk squadron, the other in the Soundings. ’Tis supposed the French will send some troops to Scotland, [and] therefore, not thought desirable Sir James Wishart should command the Dunkirk squadron.
Again it seems that Wishart’s Scottish birth was associated with Jacobitism, making him suspect in such a situation. Later the same month he resigned his flag, being succeeded by Sir John Jennings*. On 20 June 1708 he was added to Prince George’s Admiralty Council, but the Prince’s death the following October made the appointment a short one. He received some compensation in December when he was made a supernumerary admiral of the blue, but he remained on half-pay until the changes in the administration in 1710 led to his appointment as a lord of the Admiralty. In the October election he unsuccessfully contested Portsmouth as a Tory, but was seated on petition in February 1711, and was subsequently classed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who had helped detect the ‘mismanagements’ of the previous administration, even though he was abroad for most of the session.6
In January 1711 Wishart had been despatched to The Hague, to settle the Dutch quota of ships for the coming year, but also with a secret commission to try to persuade the Dutch to take part in an attempt to disrupt French trade to the South Seas. The Dutch were not interested and Secretary Henry St. John II* wrote angrily to John Drummond† on 30 Mar.: ‘Sir James Wishart is ordered to come immediately home, since he must make a very ill figure if he continues longer in a place where his errand is so coldly received.’ On 12 July in reply to Dutch complaints of a lack of candour on Wishart’s part, St John wrote to Drummond:
I am surprised to hear that the Dutch make any complaint concerning our conduct towards them, in what Sir James Wishart was sent to negotiate, since certainly we have as much to reproach them with upon that subject as one ally can well give another. Sir James Wishart proposed in general an enterprise to the South Sea; and if they would have engaged to join with the Queen, he was ready, as he told them, to enter into particulars, and to concert the measures to be taken. This was received coldly, and Sir James was only desired to open to them all we intended, without knowing whether they would concur in our designs or traverse them.
In Parliament Wishart voted for the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713 and was listed as a Tory in the Worsley list. In January 1714 he was put in command of the squadron fitting out to carry the king of Sweden to his dominions, but some suspected this as a screen by the administration to hide their Jacobite intentions, Boyer reporting that:
the generality of the nation were not a little alarmed at the news that came from France and were inserted in the public papers, . . . that a great squadron of men of war was equipping in the ports of France; that twelve or fourteen thousand land men were to be joined by the British squadron at this time almost ready to sail, under the command of Sir James Wishart, upon an expedition, which at first was said to be a secret; but which afterwards the public was told, was in order to carry the king of Sweden into his own dominions. At the same time it was observed that the expectations and spirits of the friends of the Chevalier de St. George were strangely elevated at this juncture.
Shortly after this, Wishart was despatched to the Mediterranean to replace Sir John Jennings* as commander-in-chief. There he joined with King Philip of Spain and the French in the blockade of Barcelona. Although no evidence had ever been produced of any Jacobite leanings, Wishart’s career had been dogged by such suspicions and after the accession of George I he was dismissed from both the Admiralty commission and active service with the fleet. He died on 30 May 1723, leaving a fortune of £20,000 which eventually went to his brother William, the principal of Edinburgh University.7