ROSS, George (1700-86), of Cromarty
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Family and Education
b. 1700, o.s. of Andrew Ross of Pitkerrie, Ross-shire by his 1st w. Catherine, da. of Duncan Fraser of Achnagairn. m. 11 Apr. 1738, Miss Kellow of Broad St., Golden Sq., London, 1s. d.v.p.
George Ross was for many years confidential clerk to Duncan Forbes of Culloden, lord president of the court of session, before setting up in business in London. On Forbes’s death Argyll took Ross under his patronage, assisted him in his career, and employed him on occasion as his military secretary.1 In 1754 the convention of royal burghs appointed Ross their London agent,2 and during the next 25 years he was their chief negotiator with the ministry. He had influential connexions in the city, in the army, and in politics, with whose assistance during the seven years’ war he built up an army agency business (by 1763 he held some eight regimental agencies) and amassed a considerable fortune.3
In 1761, to Bute’s embarrassment but possibly with Argyll’s connivance, Ross intervened in the Inverness-shire election on behalf of Simon Fraser against the sitting Member Pryse Campbell, who appealed to Bute, 21 Feb. 1761:4
Mr. George Ross told me ... that if my father and I would engage to procure for Colonel Fraser another seat in Parliament or the government of New York, Mr. Ross would secure my being chose for Inverness-shire without my going out of London; otherwise Mr. Ross himself or some other of the Colonel’s friends would be chose by the Fraser interest, which he says can carry an election in that shire.
In the end Ross was not a candidate but assisted in securing the return of Fraser.
Ross now began to use his great wealth to purchase superiorities in Ross-shire and create a strong electoral interest in the shire and in the northern district of burghs. He also assisted his friend William (Johnstone) Pulteney when ‘in 1766 ... Mr. Pulteney formed the plan of representing the county of Cromarty and in concert with ... George Ross purchased the estate of Cromarty and the superiority of several other properties in Cromarty’.5 In 1772 Ross seems to have become sole owner of the estate, and acquired other Mackenzie property which gave him a major electoral interest in the county.6In 1768 he took into partnership his half-nephew and heir Alexander Gray of Over Skibo. Business increased, particularly during the American war, and by 1780 the firm were agents for 21 regiments. In 1780 Ross was returned for Cromarty (at the age of 80), apparently unopposed, having previously transferred his agencies (a disqualification for membership) to his nephew’s firm, Gray and Ogilvie.
In Parliament he consistently supported Administration until the fall of North, whom he followed into opposition, voting against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. He supported the Fox-North Coalition, voted for Fox’s East India bill, and remained faithful to them in opposition during Pitt’s minority Administration. He is not known to have spoken in the House.
In 1784, when it was Nairn’s turn for representation in place of Cromarty, Ross does not appear to have sought another seat, but with his relations and his friends, the Orkney Dundases, supported the candidature of Charles James Fox in Tain Burghs. Fox’s return was sustained against the petition of John Sinclair of Ulbster, but when the Westminster election was decided in his favour, Fox vacated his Scottish seat. Ross, although now 86, stood as Opposition candidate against Sir James Riddell of Ardnamurchan and was returned. Riddell petitioned, alleging that Ross was ineligible to serve, ‘having been an army agent, having public money in his hands in that capacity, and enjoying ... profit ... through those by whom the agencies were conducted’.