STEUART DENHAM, Sir James, 8th Bt. (1744-1839), of Coltness and Westshield, Lanark.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1784 - 1802

Family and Education

b. Aug. 1744, o.s. of Sir James Steuart, 2nd Bt. of Goodtrees, Edinburgh and 7th Bt. of Coltness, Lanark by Lady Frances Wemyss, da. of James, 5th Earl of Wemyss [S]. educ. Angoulême 1749-55; Tübingen Univ. 1757-61. m. 30 Sept. 1772, Alicia, da. of William Blacker of Carrick, co. Armagh, s.p. suc. fa. as 8th Bt. 26 Nov. 1780, who on inheriting Westshield 1776 had taken the additional name of Denham.

Offices Held

Cornet, 1 Drag. 1761; capt. 105 Ft. 1763, half-pay 1764; capt. 5 Drag. 1766; a.d.c. to ld. lt. [I] 1769; capt. 8 Drag. 1770; maj. 13 Drag. 1772, lt.-col. 1776, brevet col. 1782; col. 12 Drag. 1791-1815; maj.-gen. 1793, lt.-gen. 1798, gen. 1803; col. 2 Drag. 1815-d.


Steuart Denham, known as Steuart in Scotland and Denham in England, continued to sit for Lanarkshire with the support of the 8th Duke of Hamilton. In spite of being a near relation and ‘intimate’ of Henry Erskine*,1 he consistently voted with Pitt, but took no active part in debate. This was probably due as much to a nervous handicap as to an active military career.

In 1788 he had been ordered to Ireland to improve the discipline and organization of the cavalry. On 12 Mar. 1789 he wrote to Pitt claiming to be his ‘uniform supporter’ and adding that his fortune was small and not adequate to the expense he was exposed to, while his military duty in Ireland left him little time to attend to his affairs in Scotland. His services as a cavalry officer in Dublin had been approved by the viceroy, but he now wished for a regiment of infantry, being ‘very high up in the list of colonels’; regiments were open to his juniors ‘who were neither in Parliament nor had so good a thing to give up as a lt.-colcy. of dragoons’, which he had held for 13 years. He hoped for the 20th or 71st regiment, but continued in the cavalry. His application was renewed through the Duke of Hamilton a month later. On 29 Oct. 1789 he asked for the 14th regiment and, failing that, on 5 Dec. for the 41st and on 6 Jan. 1790 for the 56th. On 1 Apr. 1791 he asked for the 74th regiment. That month, in his absence, Sir Gilbert Elliot could only be doubtful of his attitude to the repeal of the Test Act. In 1794 he was given command of the cavalry to be sent to Flanders under Cornwallis. The expedition never sailed and Steuart Denham was appointed, at Dundas’s instigation, a major-general on the Scottish staff to organize fencible regiments in Scotland. He had at first declined ‘under the influence of a depression of spirits, occasioned by a third return of the rheumatism’.2

He returned to Ireland as commander of the Southern district in 1798, but failed to distinguish himself in this, his only active command in this period. Sir John Moore, one of his subordinates, found that Steuart Denham was suffering from a nervous complaint which ‘completely unfitted him for business’:

He complained of himself for undertaking what he said he was unequal to when well, and much more when under the influence of this complaint, to which he was ever subject, and seemed determined upon resigning. I attempted to reason with him and persuade him that he magnified his difficulties ... but my reasoning had little effect; his disorder, being nervous, incapacitated him from being influenced by it.3

He relied more and more upon his subordinates and the suppression of the rebellion in his district was almost entirely the work of Abercromby, Lake and Moore. He did not resign until 1799, by which time his position had become increasingly distasteful. He himself told Henry Dundas, 25 July 1799, denying that his health impelled him to resign,

The only reason for my resignation ... and which I did with his Majesty’s consent, was that I could not get the redress I looked for and expected on a charge to which I shall never plead guilty, and that in other respects I did not think myself supported in my command in a manner that my responsibility required.4

He was promoted general in 1803 and at his death was the senior general in the army, but he was never again employed on active service after 1799.

In 1801 the 9th Duke of Hamilton brought forward his second son, Lord Archibald Hamilton, as a candidate for Lanarkshire at the next general election. Steuart Denham had anticipated this in 1799 and reminded government of his claims on them; finding his opponent too strong for him, but reluctant to concede defeat, he retired from the contest, 11 July 1802. In a circular he stated that though confident of success, ‘I was easily persuaded by some of my respectable friends to follow my own inclination, and to drop the contest in which I was then engaged, in favour of harmony in the county’.5 He was subs