PIGOT, Sir George, 1st Bt. (1719-1777), of Patshull, Staffs.
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Family and Education
b. 4 May 1719, 1st s. of Richard Pigot of Westminster, by Frances, da. of Peter Godde of Westminster; bro. of Hugh and Robert Pigot. unm. 1s. 2da. illegit. cr. Bt. 5 Dec. 1764; Baron Pigot [I] 18 Jan. 1766.
Went out as writer to Madras 1737; gov. and c.-in-c. of Fort St. George, Madras 1755-63 and 1775- d.
As governor of Fort St. George Pigot proved a vigorous and autocratic administrator and a courageous soldier, defending Madras successfully against Lally in 1758-9, and completing the peace negotiations in 1762. He resigned his governorship on 14 Nov. 1763, and returned to England. Luke Scrafton wrote to Clive, 9 Dec. 1765: ‘I understand his great fortune was acquired by lending money to Mohammed Ali [the Nawab of Arcot] and the Zemindars at two and three per cent per month.’1 The Nawab was also said to have promised him an annual pension of 12,000 pagodas (about £4,500), though after a time he ceased to pay it,2 which must have contributed to the deterioration in Pigot’s financial position by 1773.
On his return to England, Pigot attached himself to the Government, treading in the steps of Lord Clive,3 to whom at this time he gave general support at East India House. Grenville, on a vacancy at Wallingford, applied to William Blackstone, recorder of the borough, for his interest and good offices ‘for a gentleman who had not yet declared himself’ but ‘will, if he stands, not be deterred by any reasonable expenses’4 (John Walsh estimated that it would probably cost him £5,000, without benefit in a future election).5 Soon afterwards Pigot declared his candidature with warm support from Grenville,6 and was returned unopposed. On 5 Dec. 1764 he was made a baronet with remainder to his brothers.
He next set to work, again with Grenville’s help, to form a family group of his own in Parliament. On the death of Jonathan Rashleigh, 24 Nov. 1764, Pigot offered his son Philip 2,000 guineas if he would bring in Pigot’s brother at Fowey, but met with a refusal. In 1765 Thomas Lockyer’s son Joseph was dying, and attempts were made to persuade him to vacate his seat at Ilchester: on 7 Mar. Lord Egmont reported to Grenville that he had ‘settled the affair’ between Sir George Pigot and Thomas Lockyer, but on the 16th that Joseph refused; then on 25 Mar., in a covering note to a further letter from Thomas Lockyer, Egmont spoke of ‘the probability that Mr. Pigot [either Hugh or Robert] will become very soon representative for that borough’.7 But when young Lockyer died on 5 Apr., his father did not return Pigot’s brother.
Pigot’s attachment, whatever favours he received from Grenville, was not to him but to Government as such; and on 8 Aug. 1765 Lord Temple wrote to Grenville that ‘the great Sir George Pigot of the vast diamond’ had ‘been performing the eastern adoration of that rising sun, Lord Rockingham, at his levee’.8 Rockingham listed him in July 1765 as ‘pro’; obtained for him an Irish peerage; and even after having left office marked him as a ‘Whig’ (which meant a ‘Rockingham’) though with a query. But Pigot voted with the Chatham Administration even on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767.
Having in 1765 bought from Sir John Astley for about £100,000 the Patshull estate, some 10 miles from Bridgnorth, Pigot established an interest in the borough for which he was returned in 1768, ceding his seat at Wallingford to his brother Robert. His other brother Hugh was chosen at Penryn—on what interest is uncertain, but presumably with Government support. In the new Parliament, at least till 1772, the three brothers regularly voted with the Government; and even as late as February 1775, Lord Pigot, when expostulating with Lord North for supporting Rumbold against him for governor of Madras, claimed that he had ‘never voted against Government in his life, except on India affairs, when he thought himself bound to support the Company which gave him bread’.9 In 1773 Pigot delivered his only three reported speeches in Parliament: on 3 and 21 May, strongly supporting Lord Clive; and on 2 June 1773 on the East India regulating bill, when he argued that the remedy of abuses need not involve the total overthrow of the Company.10 On 26 Apr. 1773 Pigot still voted with the Administration on the Middlesex election motion, but on the Grenville Election Act, 25 Feb. 1774, voted against them, without being given in the King’s list the exculpating mark of a dissenting friend. At the end of this Parliament he was classed by Robinson as ‘doubtful’. In 1774 Pigot secured re-election, but no vote by him is known before he left for India in the summer of 1775.
Pigot’s revolt against the Government on East Indian affairs is seen most clearly at East India House: in the court of proprietors he came out vigorously with the Opposition interests led by the Duke of Richmond against the implementation of the Regulating Act of 1773.11 ‘After being for many years the most humble servant of the minister, [he] is now in Opposition and has distinguished himself amongst the other orators in Leadenhall St. in opposing all the late resolutions of the proprietors with regard to the late established form of Government’, wrote General Caillaud to Warren Hastings, 4 Apr. 1774. Some attributed his volte-face to an unsuccessful application for the new post of governor-general. Francis Sykes wrote to Hastings, 8 Nov. 1773: ‘Lord Pigot wanted it, who has a great ministerial influence by having three votes in the House of Commons, but then he wanted Madras to be the seat of government.’ And on 30 Mar. 1774: ‘Lord Pigot has acted a very weak part indeed, when he could not get the appointment of governor-general he then went against Lord North in every measure and opposed him in every regulation relative to India affairs.’12
It was no secret that ‘the distressed state of his circumstances’ was one reason for his wishing to return to India.13 In 1774 he made another attempt, seeking the governorship of Fort St. George. He was opposed by Thomas Rumbold who, backed by Government, obtained the directors’ nomination; but Pigot’s supporters, including members of the parliamentary Opposition, demanded a general court of proprietors which met on 23 Feb. 1775;14 and in a ballot in March he won by four votes.
Going out with a reversal (apparently proposed by himself) of the Company’s policy with regard to the Nawab of Arcot and his feudatory, the Raja of Tanjore, Pigot was at first well-received in the presidency, but soon fell into violent conflict with the Nawab and with his own council, most of whom were deeply committed to the Nawab for financial reasons. An attempt to over-ride the council and suspend its leaders led to a coup de main, Pigot being seized and placed in confinement while his assailants took over the administration. George Stratton and Sir Robert Fletcher were the ostensible leaders, but a great part was played behind the scenes by the Nawab, Paul Benfield and John Macpherson. Both sides appealed to the Company, but the latter (with the support of Administration and after stormy general courts called by Admiral Hugh Pigot and his friends in Opposition) decided to reinstate Pigot but to recall all the parties concerned.15 Meantime Pigot had fallen ill and died in captivity on 11 May 1777. An attempt made in Madras to indict his enemies for his murder failed.
George III expressed a common view when he said: ‘I have not the smallest doubt but both parties have been stimulated by motives alone of private interest.’16 Pigot died with his financial difficulties unresolved, and the attempts of his enemies to bring forward proof of corruption against him during his second governorship were unsuccessful. An intelligent visitor, who saw him in Madras shortly before the coup, said of him: ‘He appears to me to be a man of shallow abilities, of great spirit, and I believe in general honourable, but of excessive vanity and overbearing despotism.’17
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Authors: Sir Lewis Namier / Lucy S. Sutherland
- 1. Clive mss.
- 2. G. Stratton to chairman of the East India Co., 21 Sept. 1776. Printed in Case of Mr. Benfield ; Sir G. Fletcher to W. Hastings, Add. 29137, f. 335.
- 3. J. Walsh to Clive, 13 Dec. 1765, Clive mss.
- 4. 31 Aug. 1764, Grenville letter bk.
- 5. Walsh to Clive, 22 Nov. 1764, Clive mss.
- 6. Grenville to T. Blackall, 29 Sept., Grenville letter bk.
- 7. Grenville mss (JM).
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Duke of Richmond to Rockingham, 17 Feb. 1775, Rockingham mss.
- 10. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 248, pp. 84-87, 204-6; 249, pp. 198-200; Fortescue ii. 489.
- 11. Sutherland, E.I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 246.
- 12. Add. 29134, ff. 125, 364.
- 13. Caillaud to Hastings, 4 Apr. 1774, ibid. f. 389.
- 14. Ct. Bk. 83, p. 455.
- 15. Sutherland, 317-21.
- 16. Add. 37833, f. 189.
- 17. J. Stewart to W. Hastings, 13 Feb. 1776, Add. 29137, f. 69.