HENDERSON, Sir John, 5th Bt. (1752-1817), of Fordell, Fife.
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Family and Education
b. 8 Jan. 1752, 1st s. of Sir Robert Henderson, 4th Bt., by Isabella, da. of Archibald Stuart of Torrance, Lanark, wid. of George Mackenzie. educ. St. Andrews Univ. 1764; Christ Church, Oxf. 1771; adv. 1774. m. 29 Apr. 1781, Anne Loudoun, da. of Gen. James Robertson of Newbigging, Fife, 1da. suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 19 Oct. 1781.
Provost, Inverkeithing 1791-1807.
Henderson represented an ancient Fife family, was a man of some wealth and possessed a good estate and interest in the county. He began his political career in 1776 under the aegis of his uncle Andrew Stuart and of Henry Dundas. In March 1784 he became a Pittite but in 1787 he broke with Dundas over a by-election in Fife. At Pitt’s request William Wemyss received Dundas’s support in opposition to Henderson, who never forgave the injury.1
In 1790 Henderson did not contest a seat. Presumably he still hoped for a position abroad. In the next year he re-entered the political lists by obtaining the provostship of Inverkeithing, one of the burghs in the Stirling district. On 11 June 1793 his petition against the Scottish coal bill was snubbed in the House by Henry Dundas. He was involved in every contested election for the constituency until his death, standing himself as an avowed Whig in 1796, 1800, 1802, 1806 and in 1807. He gave his interest to his cousin Andrew Cochrane in 1791 but when Dundas settled a difference with the Earl of Dundonald and supported his brother in the burghs, Henderson became involved in a war of the purses, helping to perpetuate the constituency’s reputation for being the most corrupt in Scotland. In 1818 it was widely known that Henderson ‘spent nearly a hundred thousand pounds in a visionary attempt to secure popular influence in these burghs without effect’.2
He was returned for the burghs in 1806. The Grenville ministry supported him ‘to the utmost’. In April Lord Lauderdale, seeking to ensure this, reported that ‘Mr Fox was in opposition so far committed to [Henderson] that he was himself nominee when the merits of one of the elections was submitted to a committee of the House of Commons’.3 He had to contest a petition against his return and may not have attended the House with any frequency during the short-lived Parliament. On 9 Mar. 1807 he wrote to William Adam that he could not easily attend the House ‘tomorrow se’night which I understand to be fixed for the call of the Scotch defaulters’.4 On 16 Mar. he obtained three weeks’ leave.
In his only reported speech, 24 Apr. 1807, he sought to promote a bill to enable Members to recover costs from unsuccessful petitioners against their return. He had on 9 Apr. voted in the minority for Brand’s motion on the change of administration. Promising attendance on this occasion, he had informed Lord Howick:
When my friends are in opposition I feel it an impossibility to be absent. I approved of their general measures when in power though I cannot but regret that the late administration did not authorise a system of greater vigour in the northern part of the island in which case perhaps it would not so soon have relapsed under the dominion of the creatures of Lord Melville.5
He was surprised to be defeated, when he declined the county, by Alexander Campbell, who was supported by Melville. His interest began to decline and he did not stand again, but supported opposition candidates for the burghs. He died 12 Dec. 1817.