GROSETT, John Rock (?1784-1866), of Lacock Abbey, nr. Chippenham, Wilts.; Spring Garden and Petersfield, Jamaica

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

Constituency

Dates

1820 - 1826

Family and Education

b. ?1784, 2nd1 but o. surv. s. of Schaw Grosett, merchant, of Clifton, Glos. and Mary, da. of Thomas Rock, merchant, of Bristol. m. (1) 19 Feb. 1810, his 1st cos. Mary Spencer (d. 31 Oct. 1820), da. of Edward Shirley of Cockthorpe Hall, nr. Witney, Oxon.,2 at least 4s. (3 d.v.p.) at least 2da. d.v.p.; (2) 20 July 1825, Christina Maria de Kantzow,3 at least 1s. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1820. d. 22 Sept. 1866.

Offices Held

Cornet 13 Drag. 1804, lt. 1805, ret. 1807.

Member of assembly, Jamaica 1831-44; member of council.

Biography

The Grosetts, whose rare surname had several variants, are believed to be descended from Alexander Grosier or Grosiert, a Frenchman who served in Charles I’s army and then settled in Scotland. His son Alexander, who was described as a merchant of Bo’ness, Lanarkshire, and formerly of Rotterdam, married Christian Cochran, and was granted lands in Logie, near Dunfermline, Fife, in 1711. In 1717 these were inherited by his son Archibald Grosett, who married Euphemia, daughter of James Muirhead of Bredisholm, Lanarkshire. Their third son, James, a Lisbon merchant, who was ‘a gentleman of reputation’ and ‘a rising man that way’, married Donna Leonora de Miranda of the house of Cordova.4 He took the additional surname of Muirhead by royal licence in 1753, when he purchased Bredisholm, but his son died without issue and it was through his elder brother Alexander that the family of Grosett Muirhead (later Steuart Grosett Muirhead) continued.5 The eldest son, Walter, who married Dinah Devlieger in 1729 and succeeded Archibald in 1739, was collector of customs at Alloa. He took an active part against the Jacobite rebels in 1745, and, despite being accused of corruption, later became collector at Glasgow and an inspector-general of customs in Scotland.6 In 1760 he was succeeded by his eldest son, James, a lace merchant of Gerrard Street, Westminster. He sold the property at Logie, and had many children with his wife Elizabeth, including another Walter, who retired from the navy with the rank of rear admiral in 1846.7

Schaw, a younger son of Walter Grosett of Alloa, was born in 1741 and was probably involved in the family’s Portuguese interests. On 13 Mar. 1783 he married Mary Rock (1755-1807), and on the same day her sister, Hannah Spencer Rock (1759-1808), married Edward Shirley of Cockthorpe Hall. The brides became coheiresses to the Jamaican plantations of their grandfather John Spencer (d. 1768) on the decease of their brother John Spencer Rock, and of their mother Hannah (in 1797), who after the death of their father Thomas Rock in 1772, had married, 13 July 1773, Henry Shirley (d. 1812) of Upper Wimpole Street, another Jamaican planter. John Rock Grosett, who spent some of his youth in Lisbon and served briefly in the army in England, consolidated this inheritance in 1810 by marrying his orphaned first cousin, Mary Spencer Shirley. Apart from the provision which was made for his unmarried sister Hannah Spencer, Grosett succeeded to his father’s entire estate, which included personal wealth sworn under £18,000, in April 1820. However, like his father, he also experienced prolonged legal problems over his West Indian possessions, and he had to set aside £10,000 for his younger children in order to leave the properties to the eldest at his death.8 He rented Lacock Abbey, which was described by the poet Thomas Moore as a ‘remarkably curious old place’, and it was there that, to his ‘inexpressible grief’, his first wife, ‘a woman of the greatest virtue and piety’, died, aged 36, in October 1820.9

He may have been introduced to Chippenham by another wealthy Jamaican planter and one of its former Members, James Dawkins. Indeed, it was on the interest of John Maitland, another former Member, who had purchased Dawkins’s property there and usually controlled one of the seats, that he first stood at the general election of 1818. Despite an active and favourable canvass, he was beaten into third place.10 Grosett, who never seems to have displayed any firm party allegiance, split for Paul Methuen† and John Benett* against the ministerialist William Pole Long Wellesley* at the Wiltshire election of 1818, but switched to the Tory interloper John Dugdale Astley*, against Benett, at the following year’s by-election.11 He made an agreement with Maitland to pay a total of £4,000 for being elected free of other expenses, and was returned unopposed for Chippenham at the general election of 1820.12 It was probably not Grosett but William Gosset who, as ‘Col. Grossett’, voted against Hume’s motion for economies in revenue collection, 4 July. He spoke in commendation of the Devizes Bear Club at its annual dinner, 11 Aug. 1820, and was a regular attender at meetings of this and the Wiltshire Society, another charity.13

He declined to present the Chippenham address to Queen Caroline while she was under trial, because he thought it would prejudge the issue, and he voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb. 1821.14 He did not vote in the division on Catholic claims, 28 Feb., but made a brief intervention against the relief bill, 23 Mar., citing the Journal of the Irish Commons for 1642 to show that the Elizabethan oath did exclude Catholics from the House. He presented and supported a Chippenham petition against their claims, 26 Mar., on the grounds that they aimed at political power and not merely toleration.15 He divided against Hume’s bill to disqualify civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., and was possibly the ‘W. Grosset’ who voted against parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821. He chaired a meeting of local inhabitants, 23 Jan. 1822, at which it was decided to establish the Chippenham Savings Bank, and was appointed as one of its presidents.16 He was added to the standing committee of the West India Planters’ and Merchants’ Committee, 22 Mar., and was thereafter a regular attender at its sittings, at least during the parliamentary session.17 He voted for the remission of the remainder of Henry Hunt’s* gaol sentence, 24 Apr., against the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr., and for Western’s motion condemning the resumption of cash payments, 12 June. As a local magistrate he attended the inquest on the two men killed during the Chippenham riots in September 1822.18 He presented anti-Catholic petitions from Chippenham and two Wiltshire parishes, 25 Feb., 15 Apr. 1823, and St. Vincent petitions complaining of distress and the equalization of East and West Indian sugar duties, 19 Mar., 22 May.19 He sided with opposition on the ordnance estimates, 17 Mar., inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 24 Apr. 1823.

In January 1824 a young cousin of his, Walter Grosett, died in Jamaica ‘from a fever caught in performing militia duty in repressing the late conspiracy among the slaves’.20 Despite being active in defence of West Indian interests, Grosett presented a Chippenham anti-slavery petition, 1 Mar., but when another was brought up, from Melksham, 15 Mar., he protested that it had been ‘handed about’ by a Methodist parson rather than approved at a public meeting.21 He justified the seizure of several men in Jamaica, 21 May, arguing that they had raised money for missionary work but had used it to arm rebellious slaves, and on 16 June 1825 he reiterated his belief that ‘the persons might be guilty’ and ‘denied that they were entitled to be provided for’. He voted against condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. In the same month he published a pamphlet, Remarks on West India Affairs, in which he criticized anti-slavery societies for inflaming public opinion:

Mr. Buxton’s motion of last session [15 May 1823], and above all the workings of a party in this country have produced infinite mischief, by unsettling the mind of the negro population and by the infusion of false and exaggerated expectations.

Fearing revolution, as had occurred in the French islands, he asserted the planters’ legal right to own slaves and praised the foreign secretary Canning’s ‘eloquent speech’ of 16 Mar. 1824, which had argued that practical improvements in their conditions could only realistically come from their proprietors. He agreed with George Watson Taylor’s* defence of slavery at the Devizes Bear Club dinner, 27 Aug. 1824, when he emphasized the colonial contribution to England’s naval expertise.22

He divided against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the related Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., and brought up another hostile constituency petition, 24 Mar. 1825.23 In July he married into the de Kantzow family, relations by marriage and commercial associates of the Grosetts in Portugal.24 In the autumn he was appointed provincial grand master of Wiltshire, and he later praised freemasonry as an ‘object worthy of cultivation and encouragement, as it unites men in one common bond of union, affection and good fellowship’.25 He voted in the minority of 39 against going into committee on the Bank Charter Acts, 13 Feb. 1826, and presented another Chippenham anti-slavery petition, 17 Feb.26 He told the House, 1 Mar., that it ‘seemed to pass over entirely the state of slavery in which many of the natives of the East Indies were held; a slavery which was more abject and degrading than that in the West Indies’; and the following day he divided against condemning the Jamaican slave trials. His last recorded votes were against alteration of the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., and resolutions to curb electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. Under his agreement with Maitland, Grosett was obliged to withdraw if his patron sold his property in Chippenham. However, when he proposed to convey his burgages to his nephew, Ebenezer Fuller Maitland*, who intended to stand himself, Grosett claimed to have forgotten the terms of the arrangement, having said on 26 May 1824 that ‘he did not consider himself precluded from standing for Chippenham if the people chose to elect him’. A settlement was nevertheless reached, on the same financial basis as before, when it was decided that Fuller Maitland would stand on his own interest, while Grosett would offer in place of William Alexander Madocks, on the interest of Anthony Guy, who was in the process of selling control of the other seat to Fuller Maitland.27 Grosett was considered to be ‘a most amiable man in private life’ and assiduous in his attention to Chippenham affairs, but neither his popularity, nor Guy’s, was proof against the entry, at the general election of 1826, of an independent candidate, Frederick Gye*, who promised to revitalize the town’s depressed cloth industry. Having been politely requested to stand aside, he bowed to the inevitable and issued an address stating that he would ‘rather sacrifice my own advantage, than, after the handsome manner in which you have addressed me, be the supposed cause of any injury to you’.28 He is not known to have sought a seat elsewhere and never sat in the Commons again.

By the late 1820s he had ceased to live at Lacock, although he retained property in Chippenham and served as a magistrate and deputy lieutenant of Wiltshire.29 He attended the West India Committee’s meetings until 1829.30 He signed the Wiltshire anti-Catholic declaration early that year and was present at the Wiltshire Society dinner, 19 May 1830, but he must soon afterwards have left England to settle in Jamaica.31 He was elected to the assembly there, for the constituency of St. George, at a by-election, 11 Nov. 1831, and was returned at four subsequent general elections.32 He was also for many years a member of the island’s council, and served as custos of St. George. He must have resided there for most of the rest of his life, as the Wiltshire freemasons complained that absence abroad and ill health had led him to neglect the duties of his office, which he left in 1847.33 It was also there that he suffered the deaths of his children, Mary Henrietta, John Schaw and Hannah Teresa, in 1833, and Albert Henry (at Clifton) and Edward Walter, in 1838, while the only known child of his second marriage, Charles Walpole, died in 1852.34 He died in September 1866, aged 82, at Chew Magna, Somerset, where he was then living.35 By his will, dated 23 July 1859, which was proved in London, 1 Nov. 1866, provision was made for his wife if she recovered from her ‘mental malady’, and everything else was left to his only surviving child, Frederick Rock Spencer Grosett. He, however, died intestate, aged 50, 17 Feb. 1868, before he could execute his father’s will, and administration of their joint estate was eventually granted, 14 July 1869, to Frederica Theresa Henrietta, Countess de Maricourt of Versailles.36

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. W.I. Bookplates ed. V. L. Oliver, 46.
  • 2. Reg. St. Marylebone, Mdx. ix. 16.
  • 3. Reg. St. George Hanover Square, iv. 35.
  • 4. G.F. Black, Surnames of Scotland, 330; A. Nisbet, System of Heraldry, ii. (1742), 268; W. Stephen, Hist. Inverkeithing and Rosyth, 203-4.
  • 5. Burke LG (1886), ii. 1316; PROB 11/980/292.
  • 6. IGI (London); Grosett ms ed. D. N. Mackay (1917); Faithful narrative of many enormous frauds and abuses (1747); James Grosett, appellant (1763) [BL 516.m.19.(77)].
  • 7. IGI (London); Stephen, 204; W.R. O’Byrne, Naval Biog. i. 436.
  • 8. IGI (Clackmannan, London); Reg. St. George Hanover Square, i. 344; Gent. Mag. (1797), ii. 1073; (1806), i. 586; (1807), ii. 1078; (1808), i. 367; (1812), ii. 594; (1820), i. 476; PROB 6/182/449; 11/983/421; 1543/215; 1629/279; IR26/822/388; MI of Jamaica ed. P. Wright, 2940a; Caribbeana, ii. 185; Sources of Jamaican Hist. ed. K.E. Ingram, i. 398.
  • 9. Moore Mems. ii. 282; Salisbury Jnl. 6 Nov. 1820; Bristol Cathedral Reg. ed. C.R. Hudlestone, 49.
  • 10. Salisbury Jnl. 15 June 1818; Oldfield, Key (1820), 29-30.
  • 11. Wilts. Pollbook (1819), 84.
  • 12. Wilts. RO, Bevir mss 1171/9, electoral agreement, ‘Grosett’, n.d.; Bath Jnl. 21 Feb.; Salisbury Jnl. 20 Mar. 1820.
  • 13. Devizes Gazette, 17 Aug. 1820, 31 May 1821.
  • 14. J.A. Chamberlain, Chippenham, 111.
  • 15. The Times, 27 Mar.; Devizes Gazette, 29 Mar. 1821.
  • 16. Devizes Gazette, 31 Jan. 1822.
  • 17. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/3, 4.
  • 18. The Times, 14 Sept. 1822.
  • 19. Ibid. 26 Feb., 20 Mar., 16 Apr., 23 May 1823.
  • 20. Gent. Mag. (1824), i. 647; MI of Jamaica, 2939.
  • 21. The Times, 2 Mar.; Devizes Gazette, 18 Mar. 1824.
  • 22. Devizes Gazette, 2 Sept. 1824.
  • 23. The Times, 25 Mar. 1825.
  • 24. PROB 11/1364/663; IR26/56/85.
  • 25. F.H. Goldney, Hist. Freemasonry in Wilts. 12-13; Devizes Gazette, 7 Aug. 1828.
  • 26. The Times, 18 Feb. 1826.
  • 27. Bevir mss 1171/9, ‘Mem. in London’, May; ‘Mem. relative to purchase of Mr. Guy’, Nov.; electoral agreement, 12 Nov. 1824.
  • 28. Devizes Gazette, 28 July 1825, 15 June, 26 Oct.; The Times, 25 Mar., 3 June 1826.
  • 29. Wilts. RO, Ross mss 1769/93; Gent. Mag. (1866), ii. 698.
  • 30. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4
  • 31. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 X114, Long to Bucknall Estcourt, 8 Feb. 1829; Salisbury Jnl. 24 May 1830.
  • 32. Members of Assembly of Jamaica ed. G. Robertson, 37, 53.
  • 33. Goldney, 13-15, 69-70.
  • 34. Gent. Mag. (1833), i. 479; (1838), ii. 227; MI of Jamaica, 1425, 2938, 2940; J. H. Lawrence-Archer, MI of British W.I. 122.