GRANT, Alexander Cray (1782-1854), of 6 Whitehall Gardens, Westminster, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1812 - 1818
1818 - 1826
1826 - 1830
1830 - 1831
23 May 1840 - 13 Mar. 1843

Family and Education

b. 30 Nov. 1782, 1st s. of Sir Alexander Grant, 7th bt., of Malshanger House, nr. Basingstoke, Hants and Sarah, da. and h. of Jeremiah Cray of Ibsley. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1799; L. Inn 1799. unm. suc. fa. as 8th bt. 24 July 1825.1 d. 29 Nov. 1854.

Offices Held

Member of assembly, Jamaica 1810-11; agent, Antigua 1819-20, St. Christopher 1820-3, Nevis 1823-6.

Chairman of ways and means 1826-31;2 commr. bd. of control Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; commr. public accts. 1843-d.

Lt. Mdx. vols. 1803; recorder, East Retford 1827.

Biography

Grant’s grotesque physiognomy earned him the universal nickname of ‘Chin’.3 In 1829 Charles Baring Wall* wrote to Ralph Sneyd: ‘Do you know why Sir Alexander Grant is like Paul Pry? Because he is always searching (Sir Chin)’.4 He was the heir to two Jamaican plantations, the Albion and the Berwick, with 700 slaves, which, after he came into full possession on the death of his father in 1825, brought him a clear profit of £9,000 in bad years and four times that in good.5 One of his younger brothers, Ludovick (d. 1851) and Robert Innes (1794-1856), was receiver of the four-and-a half per cent sugar duties; and the latter was head of the family’s London West India agency (later styled Grant and Kemshead) at 46 Lime Street.6 Although Grant, a stalwart of the West India planters and merchants’ committee and, in his own words, an ‘enthusiastic politician and zealous partisan’, was a slightly preposterous figure, he could not have been a complete idiot, for Peel, who had no patience with fools, was generally indulgent towards him.7

Before his own unopposed re-election for Lostwithiel as a supporter of the Liverpool ministry on the Mount Edgcumbe interest in 1820, Grant sent his friend William Vesey Fitzgerald* a budget of election news.8 He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. 1825. He was in the ministerial majorities on the revenue, 6 Mar., and against repeal of the malt duty, 3 Apr., the disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr., parliamentary reform, 9 May, reduction of the barracks grant, 31 May, and the omission of arrears from the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June 1821. He voted against more extensive tax remissions, 11, 21 Feb., reduction of the salt tax, 28 Feb., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and inquiry into the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 25 June, and for the aliens bill, 19 July 1822. He was named to the public accounts committee, 18 Apr. An infrequent speaker, he said ‘a few words’ on the agency for Jamaica, 5 July 1822.9 He divided against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 2 June, tax reductions, 3 Mar., and repeal of the assessed taxes, 18 Mar., and of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. 1823. On 27 May 1823 he presented a petition complaining of distress from the council of St. Kitts, for which he was currently the London agent.10 That year he bought the lease of one of the old houses in Whitehall Gardens, Westminster, and with Peel, who purchased the adjoining one and abandoned a tour of inspection in August when he spotted ‘"The Chin" perched upon the wall of his house’, produced a plan for the redevelopment of the site. In November 1824 Grant, who had two houses built for £15,000 on his plot and sublet one to Charles Long*, obtained a crown lease. He lived at 6 Whitehall Gardens from 1825 until 1828, when he sold the house to Cuthbert Ellison* and moved to 1 Carlton Gardens.11

He attended a general meeting of West India planters and merchants, 10 Feb. 1824,12 but the only traces of his parliamentary activity that session are a brief comment on the sugar duties, 8 Mar., and a vote in defence of the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 8 Feb., and for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. On 21 Mar. he defended the West India proprietors, denying that it was ‘their object to make the greatest quantity of profits from their estates’ and claiming that they wanted only ‘a fair return’ and that they gave ‘a proper attention to the condition of the slaves’. He voted against the bill to disfranchise Irish 40s. freeholders, 26 Apr., and paired against the third reading of the Catholic relief bill, 10 May. He voted for the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 2, 6 June 1825. He divided with government on the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. 1826. At the general election two months later he was returned for Aldborough by the strongly anti-Catholic 4th duke of Newcastle, to whom Peel had recommended him, and who noted, after concluding terms, that he was ‘a right man in every respect and it will be agreeable to be connected with him as our political views on all points are similar’. Grant ended up paying £1,145.13

On 24 Nov. 1826 Grant, who in August had been prompted by the sudden death of his cook, ‘a strong looking woman under 40’, to ‘reflect upon the uncertainty of our tenure’, was nominated as chairman of ways and means in the room of James Brogden. Henry Goulburn* reported to his wife next day that a ministerial dinner party had ‘laughed a little’ at the ‘Chin’s’ elevation.14 He remained chairman for the duration of the 1826 Parliament and its successor. On 5 Dec. 1826 he testily explained, in response to an allegation by Attwood, that his own direct concern in a joint-stock company formed to promote the trade of the Sandwich Islands had lasted for only a few weeks the previous year. Out of the chair, he obtained a return of information on the slave trade, 6 Dec. 1826.15 He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and for the Clarence annuity bill, 16 Mar. 1827. He voted with Canning’s administration against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, 7 June, 28 May, for the grant for Canadian canals, 12 June, and against the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June. He divided for the election expenses bill, 28 May. During the ministerial crisis which followed Canning’s death in August 1827 he kept Peel abreast of political developments in London and visited him twice at his holiday retreat at Maresfield, Sussex.16 Soon after the formation of the duke of Wellington’s ministry early in 1828 Grant confirmed to Lord Ellenborough, the lord privy seal, the accuracy of a report that ‘the [anti-Catholic] Tories were more dissatisfied at Lord Eldon’s not having been consulted than at his not being in the cabinet’.17 He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and paired against Catholic relief, 12 May. On 5 Mar. and 17 June he deplored the abolitionists’ persistent misrepresentation of the planters, who had invested capital in the West Indian colonies ‘on the public faith’: ‘I am not an advocate for the existence of slavery, but I cannot consent to have my property taken out of my pockets at the instance of other people’. He was a teller for the majority for an amendment concerning turnpike bill fees, 21 Apr. In August 1828 Vesey Fitzgerald, in search of a safe seat to escape from O’Connell’s harassment in county Clare, complained to Peel that the gossiping Grant had talked out of turn on the subject and ‘does and will continue to do irreparable mischief by affecting people’s confidences and assuming to be trusted’.18

Five months later Ellenborough reported him as fishing in vain for information on the government’s intentions on Catholic emancipation. Planta, the patronage secretary, assumed that he would swallow it, but he voted silently against it, 6, 18, 30 Mar. He was a teller for the majority against Otway Cave’s motion on slavery, 4 June 1829. He divided against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and the Galway franchise bill, 24, 25 May. On the 18th he welcomed ministers’ promise to investigate West Indian distress and urged them to give some immediate relief by ‘remedying the extreme inequality of the pressures of the [sugar] duties’; he was chastised by Goulburn, the chancellor of the exchequer, for not speaking to the question. He attended the meeting of West India Members on the rum duties, 2 June, and on the 14th joined in calls on Lord Chandos to drop his motion on the sugar duties in order to give ministers a chance to elucidate their proposals, which he welcomed in principle. He voted against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June, and any reduction of judicial salaries, 7 July. On 20 July 1830 he protested against the abolitionist Fowell Buxton’s appeal to the electors to reject all candidates tainted by connection with slavery, argued that the amelioration resolutions of 1823 had not pledged Parliament to emancipation and demanded ‘fair and equitable consideration of the interests of private property’.

At the 1830 general election Grant, who had apparently offered, unsuccessfully, £130,000 for the borough of Gatton and its seats the previous November, was jettisoned by Newcastle because ‘he does not suit me’.19 He was returned for Westbury on the Lopes interest. Ministers of course listed him among their ‘friends’ and he was in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. In January 1831 he was reported to be ‘most melancholy’ on account of ‘West Indian affairs or some such matter looking ill, and the chair slipping from under him’.20 He presented an individual’s petition in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 14 Mar., but voted against its second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election Sir Ralph Franco*, patron of Westbury, turned him out as ‘an anti-reformer’; and although opposition managers were ‘most exceedingly anxious’ to find him another seat, none was forthcoming.21 On 19 Aug. 1831 Peel told his wife:

Yesterday I paid a visit to ... Grant [in Carlton Gardens]. I found him suffering from influenza but evidently in a great fuss about something else. He was sitting in his dining-room, the folding doors open and both rooms set out in the smartest order. He had all the appearance of sitting for company. At length he said that in a few moments he expected Lord Howden, who was about to treat for his house, that he had asked £30,000 for house, furniture and stables, and that Lord Howden had offered £25,000, not for himself, but for ... Lord Goderich ... The Chin was very much disposed to accept the offer, and I have little doubt that he did so.22

He eventually did, and by 1834 he was living in lodgings at 16 Grosvenor Street. In October 1831 he privately denounced the ‘anti-reformers’ in the Lords as ‘fools’ for summarily rejecting the reform bill rather than giving it a second reading and using their numerical superiority to force modifications in committee.23 At the end of 1832 he asked ministers to give his brother ‘the option of continuing to conduct the business’ of the four-and-a-half per cent duties when the plan to bring them under the aegis of the board of customs had been matured.24

Grant was horrified by the government’s scheme for the emancipation of the slaves in 1833, complaining in private and as a planters’ delegate to ministers that the proposed compensation settlement was ‘robbery’: he reckoned that he was fairly entitled to £90,000 rather than ‘the miserable £15,000 which is now talked of, but by no means assured’.25 At the general election of 1835 he stood for Grimsby, utterly confident of success and buoyed by Peel’s fulfilment of his wish to be appointed an unpaid commissioner of the India board in his new ministry. His defeat astonished and mortified him and, whining that Peel’s friendship was ‘perhaps the only object of my life in which I have not experienced bitter disappointment’, he pleaded to be made a privy councillor. Peel could not gratify him, but was personally kind to him that summer.26 He was one of the Conservatives’ ‘red-tapers and second rate officials’ beaten at the 1837 general election (at Honiton);27 but he won a by-election at Cambridge in May 1841 and was successful there at the general election the following year. He then embarrassed and irritated Peel by asking, ludicrously, to be made chairman of ways and means in the new Parliament.28 In 1842, lamenting ‘the utter destruction of my income’ (presumably by emancipation), he implored Peel to find him a job abroad to relieve him from ‘the misery and humiliation of living in a community in which I feel that I have lost caste’. Unable to carry out his scheme to retire to Jamaica because of ‘the exorbitant demands’ of his insurance companies, and ill with worry and shame, he solicited an excise place later that year. Peel could not accommodate him, but in March 1843 made him a commissioner of public accounts, which ended his parliamentary career and, with its annual salary of £1,200, made him ‘indebted’ to Peel ‘for the bread I eat’; he was pathetically grateful.29 He died in harness in November 1854. By his brief will of 22 Oct. 1842, in which he moaned that ‘a series of untoward and irresistible events of ruin and most unfair treatment has reduced me from high expectations and affluence to that state of fortune that the payment of my debts will leave but a small surplus to my successor’, he devised all his property to his sole executor, Harry Spencer Waddington† of Cavenham Hall, Suffolk in return for his ‘unparalleled friendship and confidence for 40 years’. Waddington renounced probate, which was granted to Grant’s brother Robert, his successor in the baronetcy. Grant’s personalty was sworn under £3,000; but annotations on the estate duty register indicate that there was no real estate and that he died ‘insolvent’.30

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. The Times, 28 July 1825 and IR26/1042/684. Burke PB and other standard sources incorrectly give 26 July.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 59 erroneously gives 1826-32.
  • 3. M. D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, xi. 16219; Disraeli Letters, iv. 538X; Peel Letters, 46; Arbuthnot Corresp. 192.
  • 4. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/52.
  • 5. Add. 40403, f. 255; PROB 11/1703/484; IR26/1042/684.
  • 6. Add. 40403, ff. 110, 113; Black Bk. (1823), 158-9.
  • 7. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4; Add. 40414, f. 328.
  • 8. NLI, Vesey Fitzgerald mss 7858, pp. 167-70.
  • 9. The Times, 6 July 1822.
  • 10. Ibid. 28 May 1823.
  • 11. N. Gash, Secretary Peel, 270-1; Peel Letters, 46; Survey of London, xiii. 184-5, 193-4, 196; Add. 40345, f. 75; 40605, f. 168, 171.
  • 12. The Times, 11 Feb. 1824.
  • 13. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC F2/1/139-41; 6971b; 6973; 6975-7.
  • 14. Add. 40606, f. 254; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 24 Nov. 1826; Surr. Hist. Cent. Goulburn mss Acc 304/67A.
  • 15. The Times, 7 Dec. 1826.
  • 16. Gash, 450; Parker, Peel, ii. 10-11, 13, 19, 22; Add. 40394, ff. 169, 180, 196, 212, 216, 219.
  • 17. Ellenborough Diary, i. 18.
  • 18. Add. 40322, f. 278.
  • 19. PRO NI, Hill mss 642/242; Newcastle mss NeC 2 F3/1/245.
  • 20. Add. 40320, f. 173.
  • 21. NLI, Farnham mss 18606 (1), Arbuthnot to Farnham, 5 May 1831.
  • 22. Peel Letters, 131.
  • 23. Broughton, Recollections, iv. 145.
  • 24. Add. 40403, ff. 110, 113.
  • 25. Add. 40403, f. 255; Wellington Pol. Corresp. i. 45, 72-73, 75, 80, 226, 281; Greville Mems. ii. 349-50; Three Diaries, 293.
  • 26. Add. 40404, f. 336; 40406, f. 198; 40409, f. 166; 40414, ff. 328, 332; Peel Letters, 156.
  • 27. Disraeli Letters, i. 643.
  • 28. Add. 40486, f. 216; 40488, ff. 19, 23; 40489, f. 29; Greville Mems. iv. 415.
  • 29. Add. 40506, ff. 330, 332; 40517, ff. 239, 242, 244; 40525, f. 414; 40545, ff. 258, 262.
  • 30. PROB 11/2204/30; IR26/2028/2.

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