WATSON, Brook (1735-1807), of East Sheen, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Feb. 1735, o.s. of John Watson of Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorks. by 2nd w. Sarah née Schofield. m. 1760, Helen, da. of Colin Campbell, goldsmith, of Edinburgh, s.p. cr. Bt. 5 Dec. 1803.
Commissary-gen. Canada 1782-3, Flanders Mar. 1793-1795, Gt. Britain Mar. 1798-1806.
Alderman, London 1784-d., sheriff 1785-6, ld. mayor 1796-7.
Dir. Bank of England 1784-93, 1796-1806, dep. gov. 1806-7.
Founder member of Lloyd’s 1772, chairman 1796-1806; agent, New Brunswick 1786-93; member, Musicians Co. 1784, master 1790-1.
Col. London vol. cav. 1797.
‘Modest Watson on his wooden leg’, as he was called in the Rolliad, was returned for London for the third time in 1790 as a staunch friend of Pitt’s administration, being placed second in the poll. He was in business at 25 Garlick Hill, Thames Street, and as a spokesman for the mercantile interest seconded Duncombe’s motion of 14 Dec. 1790 for an address thanking the crown for the convention with Spain on behalf of ‘every man concerned in trade’. Despite this, Watson, who had in 1786 been awarded a pension of £500 p.a. for his services as commissary-general in Canada, was caricatured as a ‘disappointed warmonger’, with a price tag of £500. During the election campaign he had felt obliged to explain to his critics that his pension was a right, not a favour.1 On 15 Dec. 1790, this time as a director of the Bank, he objected to the government’s budgeting proposal to utilize the unclaimed dividends lying in the Bank: setting aside Sir William Pulteney’s charge that he was an interested party, Watson explained that it was a matter of public confidence in the Bank. He subsequently defended the directors against their critics, 15, 25 Mar. 1791. His critics noted that he did not vote against the Russian armament, 12 Apr. 1791.2 He also turned his back on the dissenters’ cause at that time. On 19 Apr. he resumed his opposition, stated in May 1789, to the abolition of the slave trade; it was a matter of policy that the African-West Indian-Newfoundland trade triangle should be preserved:
the fact was ... that the natives of Africa were taken from a worse state of slavery in their own country to one more mild. The abolition of the trade, he contended, would ruin the West Indies, destroy Newfoundland fishery, which the slaves in the West Indies supported, by consuming that part of the fish which was fit for no other consumption, and consequently, by cutting off the great source of seamen, annihilate our marine. He recommended it to the committee to soften the rigours of slavery, by wholesome regulations; but not to adopt so rash a conduct as to vote the immediate abolition of the trade.
He did not resist the Sierra Leone settlement bill, 30 May 1791, seeing it as a ‘public spirited’ commercial undertaking, albeit a hazardous one; but he opposed Dundas’s resolution in favour of gradual abolition, 4 Apr. 1792, claiming that the trade would merely pass into the hands of foreign countries, and on 27 Apr. said he was for abolition, but not yet. In the previous year, as agent for New Brunswick, he had been a critic of the Quebec bill, 23 Mar., 11, 18 May. He had, at his second attempt, secured a clause for the corn bill to authorize the erection of warehouses to store imported grain, 27 May 1791. He was a member of the committee of inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s expenditure a week later. He was a spokesman for the Greenland and Newfoundland fisheries, 24 Feb., 26 Apr. 1792. He secured some relief for re-exporters of refined sugar, 17 May 1792, but waived his objections to the sugar bill, 22 May, for the sake of the poorer classes. He was teller for the address, 13 Dec. 1792. His last known speech was an expression of his suspicion of long-resident alien merchants, 31 Dec. 1792.
Watson resigned his seat early in 1793 on appointment as commissary-general to the Duke of York’s army in Flanders. Apart from his official correspondence, his private correspondence with Pitt on the campaign survives. He was never again in Parliament, but after returning home and retiring on half-pay in 1796 he became an active chairman of Lloyd’s and was the first member of Lloyd’s to be lord mayor 1796-7. As such he was censured, 11 May 1797, after making repeated attempts to thwart common hall resolutions hostile to government. In 1798 he helped promote the voluntary subscription to the war effort, proposing ‘one cheer for Old England’ at the Exchange meeting. As commissary-general at home, 1798-1806, rewarded with a baronetcy, he was regarded in some quarters as an alarmist during the invasion scare of 1803-4. The Marquess of Buckingham wrote to Lord Grenville, 9 Sept. 1804: ‘Sir Brook Watson is a most excellent ally in the military project of crying out for invasion; but charms he never so wisely, I cannot find one creature who believes it will be attempted’. In 1805 he was snubbed by the Prince of Wales for over-familiarity. Lord Liverpool, however, spoke of him as ‘one of the most honourable men ever known’, and Farington recorded, 17 Nov. 1796, following rumours that he had made a million on the Continent:
Brook Watson declares he has not gained a shilling by acting as contractor for the British army on the continent; he was so scrupulous as not to allow the agency of remitting money to be given to the mercantile house in London in which he is concerned by which with the most perfect honour £30,000 was to be gained’.3
Watson died 2 Oct. 1807, without issue, whereupon his title went to his great-nephew William Kay. He left a painting of the incident in which he lost his leg to a shark at Havana at the age of 14 to Christ’s Hospital, as ‘a most useful lesson to youth’.4
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: Lawrence Taylor
- 1. M. D. George, Cat. Pol. and Personal Satires, vi. 2676; Public Advertiser, 11 June 1790. In fact the pension was Â£557 10s., Debrett, (ser. 3), xv. 776.
- 2. Morning Chron. 15 Apr. 1791.
- 3. PRO 30/8/187, f. 121 seq.; Wright and Fayle, Lloyd’s, 202; C. Welch, Modern Hist. City of Lond, 96; HMC Fortescue, vii. 232; Farington, iii. 103; Wellington Supp. Despatches, ix. 428; Oracle, 15 Aug. 1795; Farington Diary (Yale ed.), iii. 696.
- 4. DNB; Gent. Mag. (1807), ii. 987; J. C. Webster, Sir Brook Watson, Friend of the Loyalists (1924).