ST. JOHN, Hon. John (?1746-93).
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Family and Education
b. ?1746, 3rd s. of John, 2nd Visct. St. John, and bro. of Hon. Henry St. John. educ. Eton 1756-63; Trinity, Oxf. 13 Dec. 1763, aged 17, L. Inn 1765; M. Temple 1767, called 1770. unm.
Surveyor gen. of Crown lands 1775-84.
An unfriendly, but not altogether inaccurate, account of St. John was given in the English Chronicle in 1781:
This gentleman’s original view in life was to shine as a luminary of the law, and to astonish the grave sages of Westminster Hall ... where, if the splendour of his abilities could not produce the intended effect, the novelty of his appearance there greatly contributed to it ... The court of King’s bench first beheld a barrister pleading before them, with hair full dressed, and an ample bag pendant thereto, in the pretty figure of Counsellor St. John. In 1771 [should be 1773] ... he was by the strong recommendation of his relation [by marriage] Lord North to Mr. Holmes ... elected into Parliament, where he opened his political career with a thundering philippic against opposition.
St. John’s maiden speech was delivered on 10 June 1773 in defence of North’s regulating bill and in reply to Dowdeswell’s long opening speech against it. In the new session, 13 Jan. 1774, St. John seconded the Address.1
Our poor counsellor [wrote Selwyn2] was a long while in the mud. He took too large a field upon a dry subject, the coinage ... He was sometimes out, and very dull through the whole.
St. John spoke in two other major debates in that Parliament, on both occasions in support of Government: 25 Feb. against perpetuating the Grenville Act; and, 2 May, on the third reading of the Massachusetts Bay bill—a legalistic speech, precious and precise.3 Although he was hardly a success as a speaker, four other interventions by him in later Parliaments are recorded in Almon’s Parliamentary Register,4 though only the last, connected with Crown lands, receives more than the briefest notice.
‘John St. John is more dull, more tedious, more important than ever’, wrote A. M. Storer to Lord Carlisle on 28 June 1781; Selwyn refers to ‘our Counsellor’s profound looks and impenetrable circumlocutions’; and James Hare from Paris, in 1783: ‘St. John is by many degrees more stupid and ridiculous than he is in England.’5 When a club was formed
at Welche’s, in St. James’s Street, consisting of young men who belong to Government ... poor John St. John [wrote Hare to Carlisle on 29 Dec. 1781], whose age and zeal for Government particularly qualify to be a member ... met with objections on the ballot, which I hope will be withdrawn on another trial of his interest.
The office of surveyor of Crown lands, wrote Selwyn to Carlisle on 7 Nov. 1775, ‘is called £1,400 a year; I believe it is more, and then he has another of £500; John will wallow in preferment.’ St.