SCOTT, John (1725-75), of Balcomie, Fife.
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Family and Education
b. 1725, 2nd s. of David Scott of Scotstarvet. m. (1) 6 Nov. 1770, Lady Mary Hay (div. 18 Dec. 1771), da. of James, 15th Earl of Erroll [S], s.p.; (2) June 1773, Margaret, da. of Robert Dundas of Arniston, 2da.
Ensign 12 Ft. 1741, lt. 1743; capt.-lt. 16 Ft. 1744; capt. 1 Ft. 1744; capt. 3 Ft. Gds. and lt.-col. 1755; col. 1762; col. 26 Ft. 1763- d.; maj.-gen. 1770.
Scott was a celebrated gambler, whose skill and phenomenal luck gained him a fortune estimated at £500,000.1 Nicknamed ‘Pawkey’ by his friends, he maintained in the fashionable world the character of the bluff soldier, the ‘pawky Scot’.2 He entered Parliament in 1754 as Government candidate for Caithness, where his mother’s relations had considerable interest. In the parliamentary lists Scott appears, like his father, as attached to Newcastle rather than to Argyll, and proved his loyalty by voting, 2 May 1757, with Newcastle’s friends on the Minorca inquiry. In the controversy on the Scottish militia bill he was one of the six Scots personally lobbied by Newcastle, and was almost certainly among the six who walked out before the division.3
His seat was tenable for one Parliament only, since Caithness would not be represented in the next Parliament, and early in 1757 he made plans to secure his return as Member for the Northern (Tain) Burghs. He was on friendly terms with William, 18th Earl of Sutherland (great nephew of James St. Clair, his commanding officer), whose sister was married to his old Fife acquaintance James Wemyss of Wemyss. Sutherland offered Scott his interest in the burghs of Dornoch and Wick, and in the summer of 1757 accompanied Scott to the north to begin his campaign.4 Next Scott bought himself a place on the council of the venal burgh of Dingwall and in 1758 secured the election of a council pledged to his support, by methods which the court of session in 1759 unanimously condemned as outright bribery, declaring the election void.5 Scott succeeded in winning Newcastle’s support for his candidature, and also obtained the Earl of Morton’s interest in Kirkwall, thus securing his election.6 Lord Mansfield, Scott’s cousin, wrote to Newcastle, 30 Aug. 1760:7
Give me leave to thank your Grace for your assistance to Colonel Scott. Let me say a word for him independent of me. I exceedingly condemn any improper expression, I dare say he is sorry for it, but he is rough and never sacrificed to the Graces. In act he has not failed during the whole Parliament in a single instance, and last session singly carried the malt bill, though in opposition to Scotch politics and though he was sure to displease the Duke of Argyll and others by it ... I should hope your Grace would reckon him among the number who have adhered faithfully to you without fee or reward.8
In the new Parliament Scott deserted Newcastle for Bute, and was among those listed by Fox as favourable to the peace preliminaries. He wrote, 27 Nov. 1762, to the Earl of Sutherland:9
We shall have a fine riot in Parliament this winter but I don’t believe the Opposition will be able to muster above 120 or 130, although Billy Cumberland, Lucky Newcastle, the Nurse [Hardwicke], and Pitt have all joined.
Scott was well known to Shelburne, having been one of his hosts and sponsors in Edinburgh society during his visit 1759-60;10 and through Shelburne’s recommendation to Bute obtained the command of the 26th Foot in 1763.11 Thereafter Scott continued to be listed among the Bute connexion but consistently voted with the court whatever Administration was in power. He was not in the minority voting against the repeal of the Stamp Act, and even on the land tax division of 27 Feb. 1767 voted with the Government minority. Only when his personal interests were affected did he take an independent line.
He was now a man of great wealth. ‘As rich as Scott’ was becoming a proverb.12 When his luck at play ever faltered, the phenomenon was considered worth recording. Young men were warned against him. ‘I am in hopes indeed’, wrote George Selwyn to Lord Carlisle, 12 Jan. 1768, ‘that when you are maître de vos biens you will not invite Scott ... to partake it with you.’ Selwyn himself lost heavily to him.13 After his father’s death in 1766 Scott purchased outright the estate of Balcomie, of which his father’s charter did not carry absolute possession.14 He invested part of his wealth in East India stock, and when, during the Chatham Administration, a motion was made for an inquiry into the Company’s affairs, wrote to Shelburne, 29 Nov. 1766:15
I think we that are considerable East India proprietors have likewise reason to complain of the measure of allowing such a hurlo-thrumbo as Beckford and a declared enemy to the Company to make the motion in so hostile a manner; if it had come in a decent manner from the Treasury bench I for one should have supported instead of opposing it.
Scott’s unsavoury dealings in the Northern Burghs made his re-election there unlikely, especially as Lord Sutherland had given no guarantee for 1768 and was negotiating with the Mackays. In 1765 Anstruther Burghs fell vacant and Scott, seizing the opportunity to represent a district in his native Fife, proposed to his friends Wemyss and Sutherland to resign his seat in favour of a candidate nominated by himself, and with the assistance of the Wemyss interest to contest Anstruther burghs. But neither Sutherland nor Wemyss would come into this.16 Then in 1766 Scott, breaking his old friendship, declared his candidature for Fife in opposition to Wemyss. ‘Unless Mr. Wemyss exerts himself with great vigour’, wrote George Chalmers to Grenville, 5 Jan. 1767, ‘I am afraid he will be beat.’17 Wemyss was driven from Fife and obliged to seek election for the county of Sutherland. ‘Few honest men’, wrote a friend to him, ‘can guard against un chevalier d’industrie.’18
After his victory Scott went on a visit to America and his name does not appear in the division lists of 1769 on Wilkes and the Middlesex election. William Allen, merchant and chief justice of Pennsylvania, wrote on 7 Nov. 1769:19
I had a good deal of conversation with Colonel Scott, a Member of Parliament, who last year travelled through the colonies, who agreed with me that most of the late commercial regulations were absurd and injurious to both countries; and he with great confidence assured me that they would be repealed, and matters put upon the old system.
But dissatisfaction with Government policy does not seem to have carried him into opposition, and to the end of his life he continued to vote with Administration.
He died 7 Dec. 1775. George Selwyn wrote to Lord Carlisle:20
General Scott is dead ... The place of Nickster which is in the Devil’s gift and vacated by John Scott is not disposed of. We go into mourning on Thursday. The waiters are to have crepes round their arms and the dice to be black and the spots white, during the time of wearing weepers, and the dice box muffled.
He suggested a motto: ‘Sic Dice placuit’.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. Walpole to Rich. Bentley, 23 Feb. 1775.
- 2. Sir W. Fraser, Wemyss Memorials, iii. 212-13.
- 3. Add. 32904, f. 145.
- 4. Add. 32874, ff. 35-36.
- 5. Add. 36169, f. 1.
- 6. Add. 32910, f. 92.
- 7. Ibid. ff. 427-31.
- 8. Add. 32874, ff. 35-36.
- 9. Wemyss Memorials, iii. 211-12.
- 10. Fitzmaurice, Life of Shelburne, i. 7; Shelburne to Bute, 4 Jan. 1759, Bute mss.
- 11. Shelburne to Bute, 4 Dec. 1762.
- 12. Walpole to Lady Ossory, 27 Dec. 1775.
- 13. HMC Carlisle, 228, 240-1, 302.
- 14. W. Wood, East Neuk of Fife, 390.
- 15. Lansdowne mss.
- 16. Wemyss Memorials, iii. 214-15.
- 17. Grenville mss (JM).
- 18. Wemyss Memorials, iii. 224.
- 19. Burd Pprs. ed. Burd Walker, 77.
- 20. HMC Carlisle, 309, 310, 312.