WOOD, Mark I (1750-1829), of Gatton Park, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 16 Mar. 1750, 1st s. of Alexander Wood of Burncroft, Perth, and bro. of James Athol Wood*. m. 17 May 1786 at Calcutta, Rachel, da. of Robert Dashwood of Vellow Wood, Som., 1s. surv. 2da. suc. fa. 1778; cr. Bt. 30 Oct. 1808.
Cadet, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1770, ensign 1772, lt. 1774, capt. 1779, maj. 1786, lt.-col. 1788, res. 1793, brevet col. 1795.
Surveyor-gen. Bengal 1786, chief engineer 1788-93.
Wood, son of the procurator fiscal of Perthshire, was eventual heir to the Woods of Largo in Fife. He was the eldest of five brothers who made their own way in the world. He entered the East India Company service under the aegis of Sir Archibald Campbell*. He became chief engineer of Bengal, returning to England in 1793 with a fortune of £200,000. Henry Dundas presented him to the King, to whom he offered, as a gift, a model in ivory of Fort William which had cost him £1,500. He invested in the Piercefield estate in Monmouthshire and in East India stock entitling him to four votes for the directorate. He was returned to Parliament in 1794 at the particular request of Dundas and Pitt, on a vacancy made a fellow nabob Richard Johnson, for Milborne Port. In 1796, at Pitt’s instigation, he contested Newark against another nabob William Paxton* and thereby preserved the Newcastle interest there. To his mortification he was dropped by the Duchess of Newcastle in 1800 and his object became an electoral interest of his own. He secured one in time for the next election by purchasing the estates of Upper and Lower Gatton from the assignees of John Petrie*, yet another nabob, for £90,000. Thereupon he sold Piercefield for £95,000. He returned himself for Gatton in 1802, with his brother-in-law Dashwood, with whom he also contested Shaftesbury, where he had purchased the estate of Paul Benfield*, a less fortunate nabob, from the crown for £35,000. He was unable to make good his title and spent £15,000 in vain at that election, but was in control of the borough by 1806.1
Apart from commanding four seats in the House by 1806, Wood had sought to justify his recruitment to it by Dundas by figuring in debate. In his maiden speech he defended Dundas when the grievances of East India officials were raised, 10 Mar. 1795, though on 16 June he advised the Company to remedy them. On 2 June 1795 he deprecated Foster Barham’s motion critical of the conduct of Sir John Jervis (his brother James’s naval patron) and Sir Charles Grey in Martinique as one dictated by the French planters. He voted against the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796. On 14 Dec. 1796 he opposed Fox’s motion against the loan to the Emperor, having himself subscribed £20,000 to the loyalty loan for 1797. Subsequently he showed an independent streak. He had on 20 Sept. 1796 submitted to Pitt his ‘Observations on the present state of public affairs’, supporting the war, but urging measures of defence against possible French invasion.2 On 27 Feb. 1797 he gave notice of a motion on the state of home defence. While it was deferred to suit ministers, he voted with the minority for retrenchment, 13 Mar., and took a detached view of the plight of the Bank of England, 22 Mar. When his home defence motion came on 28 Mar., he was critical of government endeavours and proposed a general council of officers to review the question. He was supported by Fox and set upon by Dundas and Windham, who frightened him into not pressing it by implying that he was questioning the Duke of York’s competence. He was a critic of Pitt’s triple tax assessment, 4 Dec. 1797, suggesting that only persons worth over £5,000 should shoulder the extra burden. He apparently voted for Buxton’s proposal to veto any further land tax unless all property were taxed, 18 May 1798; and failed to induce Pitt to exempt persons temporarily abroad from income tax, or to make officials liable for the expense of successful appeals against it, 19, 20 Dec. 1798. On the other hand he was a cordial supporter of the Irish union, 14 Feb. 1799. He wished to increase, not reduce, the militia, 20 Feb., 15 Mar. He decried immediate abolition of the slave trade and suggested deterrents instead, 1 Mar. He was a spokesman for the East India Company trade monopoly, 12 Mar. 1799. On 1 and 2 May 1800 he expressed his reservations about two articles of the Anglo-Irish union: the admission of Irish peers to the Commons, which infringed on the ‘popular part of the constitution’, and the free export of wool to Ireland, which would damage the English textile industry. That year he published A Review of the origin, progress, and result of the late war with Tippoo Sultan.
On 25 Oct. 1800 Wood wrote indignantly to Dundas that he was being jettisoned by his patron the Duchess of Newcastle at the next election because she supposed that he was ‘hostile to government’. He explained that he regarded himself as ‘independent; and from a conviction of the merits of government they have ever had my decided support’. On 9 Mar. 1801 he took six weeks’ leave, but he found no difficulty in transferring his support to Addington’s administration.3 He supported the establishment of a military academy, 10 June 1801, and on 4 Nov. glossed over the peace terms, arguing that to have continued the war with France would have been quixotic. His only regret was that Malta had not been deliberately retained as a military post—he had urged this on Pitt previously and it inspired his pamphlet The importance of Malta considered (1803). On 24 June 1802 he championed Dr James Carmichael Smyth, the pioneer of nitric fumigation, whose services he had offered to lay before the House six years before.4 Having renewed his plea for a council of general officers for defence, 20 June, 22 July 1803, he supported Fox’s motion to that effect, 2 Aug., and he protested at the multiplication of exemptions from the property tax, 14 July, but on Pitt’s return to power in May 1804 was listed ‘Addington etc.’.
Wood proceeded to support Pitt again, as the Treasury lists of September 1804 and July 1805 confirmed. He voted against the opposition on Melville’s question, and returned William Garrow to Parliament gratis to support Melville. His only contretemps was an unsuccessful bid to overturn the decision of a court martial against his brother James and in favour of Admiral John Thomas Duckworth*, 7 June 1805. He did not usually oppose the Grenville ministry and supported Grenville’s friend the Marquess Wellesley in the debate on his Indian administration, 6 July 1806, but he objected to the immediate application of the training bill to Scotland, 26 June, and opposed the increased provision for junior branches of the royal family with suprising vehemence, 9, 11 July, as well as the annuity to Lord Nelson’s family, 15 July. He remained ‘adverse’ to the abolition of the slave trade.
Shortly before the election of 1806, Wood applied to Lord Grenville through Wellesley to become governor of Malta. The application was unsuccessful, but he misinterpreted Grenville’s reply to Wellesley, which was read aloud to him, and, confident of success, offered Grenville to return for his four seats in Parliament ‘gentlemen as much attached to his lordship’s administration as if they had been named by the Treasury’. He returned his brother James and himself for Gatton ‘for the purpose of waiting possible events’, on Melville’s advice. Nothing transpired and Wood turned to the Portland ministry for recognition. He attacked the late ministry’s conduct after the capture of Curaçao, in which his brother James had assisted, 22 Apr. 1807. He took Portland’s nominee as his colleague for Gatton and carried two friends of government largely at his own expense in a contest for Shaftesbury. On 3 May 1807, writing to Melville to renew their friendship, he pointed out that he was still interested in becoming governor of Malta, but if Sir George Hilaro Barlow refused the government of Madras, he offered to go there for three or four years, leaving his seats at Melville’s disposal. Melville described this as ‘a wild project. He is quite overrun with folly and self conceit.’ Wood accordingly set his sights lower and applied to be joint surveyor-general of crown lands. In this, too, he was disappointed. Finally he applied for a baronetcy in October 1807. Having been ‘a very bad courtier’ of late years, he relied on Portland to eradicate any prejudice against him the King might have conceived from his speeches in the House on 9 and 11 July 1806. He also wished for precedence of a week in being gazetted, or at least to be first in any ‘batch’ of baronetcies (2 Nov. 1807) and, as one of the joint surveyors of crown lands was being moved to another office, applied for the vacancy. Portland could not promise him satisfaction in either case, warning that the vacancy was unlikely to be filled.5
Kept waiting for his baronetcy, Wood became peevish. In May 1808 he attempted to discredit his brother’s bête noire Admiral Duckworth in the House by a motion relative to the failure of the Dardanelles expedition, which got nowhere (16 May). On 13 Sept. he queried the delay in gazetting the new baronetcies—he was satisfied a month later. He was a supporter of the Duke of York in February and March 1809 and of the duke’s secretary Col. Gordon, 5 May. On Portland’s retirement he wrote to him, 5 Oct. 1809, lamenting that his pretensions to office had remained unrecognized. The proposals for a board of commissioners of woods and forests had ignored him, despite his known interest in that department and indifference to salary, and if John Charles Villiers was to be preferred to him, he at least wished to see his brother James succeed Villiers as paymaster of the marines. He had no connexion with Portland’s successor, Perceval, but went on to support him in all but one of the crucial divisions of January-March 1810. He was a champion of Martello towers in the debate on the army estimates, 14 Mar. The Whigs listed him ‘against the Opposition’. He opposed the discharge of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr., the Middlesex petition for Burdett’s release, 3 May, and parliamentary reform, 21 May. He voted with ministers on the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811. Unless it was he rather than Col. Thomas Wood (their speeches were often confused) who clashed with Burdett on flogging in the army, 18 June 1811, Sir Mark figured infrequently in debate thereafter. His applications for patronage went unheeded. He had since the last election been seeking to dispose of his interest at Shaftesbury, but his negotiations with Sir John Nicholl* were not completed at the time of the election of 1812. He then returned a friend of the Prince Regent’s as his colleague for Gatton, disappointing Lord Sidmouth’s application on behalf of Lord Ellenborough’s son Law, not by a negative, but by proposing as terms a free seat for himself in exchange for bestowing his own on Law. His Shaftesbury sale was not settled without his threatening to publicize the whole transaction and an appeal to the Speaker for arbitration. He obtained nearly £55,000.6
Wood, listed a Treasury supporter, voted against Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 24 May 1813, and against Christian missions to India, 22 June, 1 and 12 July. On 30 Jan. 1815 he complained to Lord Liverpool of the uniform neglect of his pretensions and applications since 1809, after he had returned 18 Members over the years at the expense of more than £50,000. Recently he had again been overlooked when Huskisson, a former foe of government, replaced Lord Glenbervie as first commissioner of crown lands. All his known votes between then and the dissolution were nevertheless with ministers and he may have spoken on 13 Mar. 1816 against reducing the Guards, as he had just voted for the army estimates. In 1818 he returned neither himself nor his son, bringing in Members supposed friendly to administration. Subsequently he wrote a long screed to Liverpool boasting of the 22 Members he had returned since 1802 without any cost to the successive governments they had supported and hinting at the inadequate return he had received for his pains.7 This was ignored. He died 6 Feb. 1829.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: J. W. Anderson / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1829), i. 276; Farington, ii. 94; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 10/62; Add. 38368, f. 206; see NEWARK, GATTON and SHAFTESBURY.
- 2. PRO 30/8/191, ff. 58, 60.
- 3. SRO GD51/1/200/25; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 1/2, Bowles to Abbot, 15 Feb. 1802.
- 4. PRO 30/8/191, ff. 56, 70, 76.
- 5. Add. 38368, f. 206; HMC Fortescue, viii. 401-3; NLS, Melville mss (Acc. 6409), Wood to Melville, 3 May, Melville to Saunders Dundas, 12 May 1807; Dacres Adams mss 10/62, 64.
- 6. Portland mss, PwF; Geo. IV Letters, i. 164-5, 168, 330; see SHAFTESBURY.
- 7. Geo. IV Letters, ii. 524; Add. 38368, f. 206.