AGNEW, Sir Andrew, 7th bt. (1793-1849), of Lochnaw Castle, Stranraer, Wigtown
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Family and Education
b. 21 Mar. 1793, posth. o.s. of Andrew Agnew (d. 1792) and Hon. Martha De Courcy, da. of John, 26th Bar. Kingsale [I]. educ. privately in Ireland; Edinburgh Univ. 1810-11; Oxf. Univ. (privately by Charles Henry Johnson of Brasenose) 1812-13. m. 11 June 1816, Madeline, da. of Sir David Carnegie†, 4th bt., of Kinnaird Castle, Southesk, Forfar, 8s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. grandfa. Sir Stair Agnew, 6th bt., of Lochnaw as 7th bt. 28 June 1809. d. 12 Apr. 1849.
The Agnews of Lochnaw, whose baronetcy dated from 1629, were hereditary sheriffs of Wigtownshire from 1451 until the jurisdiction was abolished in 1747, when Sir Andrew Agnew, 5th baronet (1687-1771) received £4,000 in compensation. His eldest surviving son and successor Sir Stair Agnew, who was born in 1734, was sometime a Virginia merchant. His son Andrew was born in 1767, joined the 12th Foot as an ensign in 1784 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1788. During a posting to Ireland in 1791 he fell in love with the daughter of the 26th Baron Kingsale. They married without Sir Stair’s permission in 1792, but were subsequently forgiven. On a visit to Lochnaw that autumn Andrew died suddenly, leaving his widow three months pregnant with this Member.1 She returned to Ireland, where Agnew was born in March 1793 and received his early education. He took possession of Lochnaw on succeeding his grandfather in the baronetcy in 1809, and later improved and extended the castle and estate. In the winters of 1810 and 1811 he attended classes on moral philosophy, pharmacy and chemistry at Edinburgh University. In 1812 he took a private tutor, Charles Johnson, at Oxford, where he was shocked to find that ‘books are never mentioned’ on Brasenose high table. Johnson died in 1813 but Agnew, who kept a black Bajan manservant called John Gibbs, remained for a while in Oxford. Dean Milman remembered him as ‘a born gentleman, quiet in manners, unpretending in every respect, and, to those who knew him intimately, singularly amiable’. He married Madeline Carnegie after a brief courtship in June 1816, attracted some attention by rescuing from prostitution a formerly respectable woman who had been jilted and in the autumn visited Paris and the field of Waterloo with his bride.2 Between 1818 and 1821 Agnew, who had been raised in the Church of England, underwent a gradual conversion to scriptural Evangelicalism, partly under the influence of the writings and sermons of Dr. Thomas Chalmers. He became president of the Stranraer Auxiliary Bible Society in 1819 and promoted local Sunday schools, but his attempt to establish a new church in his neighbourhood was unsuccessful. His estate improvements had led him into financial difficulties, and in 1821 he resolved to go abroad to save money; but on reflection he decided to face his responsibilities by remaining at Lochnaw and implementing ‘a scheme of the strictest economy’. This operation and the education of his two eldest sons gave him great fulfilment for several years, when he was largely removed from the world, though he assisted Kingsale in his duties as premier Irish baron during the king’s visit in 1821 and met his obligations as a Wigtownshire magistrate. He moved ever closer to Methodism and in July 1828, while visiting his mother-in-law at Dalry House in Edinburgh, he was so impressed by a sermon by the Sabbatarian preacher Dr. Thomas M’Crie (the father of his future biographer) that he espoused the cause of Sabbath observance as ‘an essential branch of morality’. The death of his two-year-old daughter Elizabeth in January 1830 tested but ultimately strengthened his faith.3
In November 1828 Agnew replaced Sir William Maxwell, the county Member, who was about to go abroad, as vice lieutenant of Wigtownshire in an amicable arrangement promoted by Lord Garlies*, recently appointed lord lieutenant on the resignation of his father, the 8th earl of Galloway.4 The following month he sent to Lord Melville, the Wellington ministry’s Scottish manager, a copy of resolutions adopted at a county meeting on the need to amend the law of entail.5 At the general election of 1830, when Maxwell retired, Agnew secured the backing of the Galloway interest and prepared for a ‘very severe’ contest, but was spared this when his opponent withdrew at a late stage. After his return he declared that he
would support the crown. To the present administration he was favourably disposed, but ... he would not pledge himself to any specific line of policy. He would vote with ministers when their measures seemed calculated to promote the public weal, and against them should they deviate ... from ... the golden rule of all upright and patriotic statesmen.
Maxwell, observing events from Tuscany, condemned him as the Galloways’ ‘vassal’.6 Ministers listed him as one of their ‘friends’, and he voted in their minority in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, having ‘declined, though strongly solicited’ to divide with opposition. He had earlier informed his wife that
the House of Commons is an extraordinary scene. At times it appears inextricable confusion, and then again order and method appear. Messrs Hume and O’Connell are most wearisome, because incessant ... The misfortune is that there are few animated speakers on the ministerial side ... Peel does the labour of Hercules, but he is not adequately supported ... The state of parties is anything but satisfactory. The speeches of Wellington and ... Peel on the first night were at variance. The duke protested against all reform; Sir Robert made a speech which leaves him free to do anything which he may find expedient. So those who are most desirous of supporting the government in this hour of need feel that they may be left in the lurch ... There is every appearance of a desire to give a powerful support to ministers, if they would only make up their minds to indicate what should be done.7
On 22 Nov. 1830 he was given a month’s leave on account of the death of another infant daughter.
He voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s English reform bill, 22 Mar. 1831, when it was ‘doubtful ... till the last’ which way he would jump.8 On the 25th, after commenting that he was ‘very anxious that the several difficulties which appear to arise from the principle’ of the Scottish bill ‘should be overcome’, he gave notice of a motion to instruct the committee on the English measure to consider grouping the condemned schedule A boroughs into single Member districts on the Scottish model, so that ‘no borough whatever should be totally disfranchised’. The anti-reformer Thomas Gladstone* was sure this would ‘not do’.9 Agnew voted with ministers against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment deploring any reduction in the number of English Members, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he offered for Wigtownshire as ‘a moderate reformer’ who had given ‘qualified support’ to the principle of the English bill but was determined to exercise independent judgement on its details. He was initially opposed by Maxwell’s son-in-law Henry Hathorn, an anti-reformer, but his equivocal speech at the county meeting on 30 Apr. prompted Galloway’s brother Montgomery Stewart† to declare himself as an uncompromising reformer. Agnew explained himself and persuaded Stewart to withdraw, but he remained hard pressed by Hathorn and was desperate to secure the personal endorsement of Galloway’s influential cousin James Alexander Stewart Mackenzie* of Seaforth, who was standing for Ross-shire as an enthusiastic reformer. Seaforth had already promised Agnew his vote ‘in the faith that you support the bill’; but, influenced by the observation of the lord advocate, Francis Jeffrey*, that if Agnew would not ‘pledge himself to vote for the bill, or not to vote against parts of it that are palpably vital’ he would prefer Hathorn as an open enemy, he asked Agnew if he would ‘support the disfranchising clause in the English bill’. Agnew responded by telling Montgomery Stewart, whom he asked to inform Seaforth, that
the difference between me and Mr. Hathorn is this, that I wish to see a good measure even from the Whigs, and my anxious desire is to see the question set at rest by reform being carried. But to say what I will or [will] not do in the next Parliament is not known to myself ... I must be less than a child if after the position I have taken I gave a pledge of any description.
Jeffrey became satisfied that ‘we might be a shade better with Sir Andrew than with t’other’, even though he would ‘act distinctly against us’ if he pursued his singular notion that ‘disfranchisement [is] no vital part of the bill’, and urged Seaforth to attend the election in person if possible. This he did, arriving at the last minute to be chosen as praeses of the election meeting and thus ensure Agnew’s return by one vote.10
Before the new Parliament met he informed Thomas Kennedy* that he would generally support reform; the cabinet minister Sir James Graham remarked that ‘wonders indeed never cease’.11 He duly voted for the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July, and against the adjournment, 12 July 1831, but next day he renewed the notice of his motion for grouping the schedule A boroughs. He moved it on 15 July, when Robert Ferguson made disparaging remarks about the map of the English representation which Agnew had produced the previous session ‘to enable anyone to take a bird’s-eye view of the whole subject’. Agnew admitted that he had become a convert to reform, and his amendment secured a respectable 205 votes against 316. On 19 July he divided with government against using the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, but he was in the minority against the inclusion of Appleby in A, as he was on the case of Downton, 21 July. He voted for the ministerial proposals for Greenwich, 3 Aug., Gateshead, 5 Aug., Rochester, 9 Aug., the copyholder franchise, 20 Aug., and the four sluiced boroughs, 2 Sept.; but he cast wayward votes to exclude borough freeholders from the counties, 17 Aug., enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., keep weekly borough tenants off the register, 25 Aug., and preserve freemen’s votes, 30 Aug. He divided for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept. He voted for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., but on 4 Oct. spoke and voted for a Tory attempt to secure an additional Member for the eight largest counties. He voted in minorities for inquiry into the effects of renewal of the Sugar Refinery Act on the West India interest, 12 Sept., and to end the Maynooth grant, 26 Sept., when he supported the churches building bill, of which he was one of the framers. He voted for the motion of confidence in the Grey ministry, 10 Oct. He went up to vote for the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and divided for schedule A, 20 Jan. 1832. On 10 Feb. he challenged the ministerial assumption that
all who have supported reform are necessarily desirous of a large creation of peers ... I should regard such an exercise of the royal prerogative at this time as a virtual destroying of the ... [Lords] ... I have, in my humble sphere, made as great sacrifice for reform as any ... Member ... I have ... sacrificed the confidence of my Tory friends, and I have not sought to ingratiate myself with ... ministers, but have ... exercised my own judgement on the details.
Accordingly, he divided against the inclusion of Helston in schedule B, 23 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and of Gateshead, 5 Mar.; but he voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., but with them when the issue was revived, 16, 20 July. He was in the ministerial majorities on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and military punishments, 16 Feb., but voted in the minorities against the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr., and their temporising amendment on the abolition of slavery, 24 May. He was one of the Members who left the House before the division on the motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. He presented and endorsed a petition from the synod of Galloway against the government’s Irish education scheme, 21 May, and brought up a favourable one from Glasgow, 26 July. He divided for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, but was in the minority of 39 for preserving freemen’s rights under it, 2 July. He voted with government against Conservative amendments to the Scottish reform bill, 1, 15 June, and tried to persuade Andrew Johnston not to press his bid to debar Scottish clergymen from voting, though he approved of it in principle, 6 June. He had been involved in discussions between the Society for Promoting the Due Observance of the Lord’s Day and sympathetic Members, and was mentioned to the Society’s secretary, Joseph Wilson, by the abolitionist Thomas Fowell Buxton* as a possible parliamentary spokesman for the cause. Following the refusal of Sir Thomas Baring and Sir Robert Inglis to act, Agnew reluctantly agreed to move for inquiry. He presented petitions on the subject from Islington, 20 June, and Lambeth, 28 June, when he was persuaded to defer his motion for the appointment of a select committee until 3 July. He presented more petitions that day before securing the appointment of a committee, which he chaired. The report and minutes of evidence, which revealed the extent of abuse and sought to prove the general wish of tradesmen for a day of rest, were ordered to be printed on 6 Aug. 1832. Agnew wrote that he had been ‘worked like a cart-horse for the last few weeks’.12
He was returned unopposed as a Liberal for Wigtownshire at the general election of 1832 and topped the poll in 1835. Sabbath observance became the mainspring of his existence, and he made four unsuccessful attempts to carry a regulating bill. His defeat for Wigtown Burghs in 1837 put an end to the parliamentary campaign. He continued to promote the cause outside Parliament, taking particular objection to ‘the great master profanation of the present day’, the running of railway trains on Sunday.13 He died intestate in Edinburgh in April 1849, after an attack of scarlet fever.14 He was succeeded in the baronetcy and estates by his eldest son Andrew (1818-92), Liberal Member for Wigtownshire, 1856-68. Four of his seven sons reached the age of 90, and the last survivor, Gerald Andrew, a soldier, did not die until 1927.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
See T. M’Crie, Mems. Sir Andrew Agnew (1850).
- 1. Ibid. 16; Sir A. Agnew, Hereditary Sheriffs of Galloway (1893), ii. 393-6; Gent. Mag. (1792), ii. 868.