LOCH, James (1780-1855), of 23 Hart Street, Bloomsbury, Mdx.

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



7 June 1827 - 1830
1830 - 1832
1832 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 7 May 1780, 1st s. of George Loch of Drylaw, Edinburgh and Mary, da. of John Adam of Blair Adam, Kinross; bro. of John Loch*. educ. L. Inn 1796, called 1806; Edinburgh Univ. 1797; adv. 1801. m. (1) 4 Jan. 1810, Ann (d. 28 Jan. 1842), da. of Patrick Orr of Bridgeton, Kincardine, 7s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. d.v.p.; (2) 2 Dec. 1847, Elizabeth Mary, da. of John Pearson of Tettenhall Wood, Staffs., wid. of Maj. George Macartney Greville, s.p. suc. fa. 1788. d. 28 June 1855.

Offices Held


Loch’s ancestors migrated in the late fifteenth century from Gloucestershire to Edinburgh, where they prospered in the Baltic trade, became prominent in municipal affairs and acquired the Drylaw estate in 1641. His grandfather James Loch (1698-1759) was a Jacobite sympathizer who donated £10,000 to the Stuart cause, thereby compounding the debts with which his general prodigality had saddled the family property. His father, who was described as being of ‘a gentle nature, much given to art and generally accomplished’, married the sister of William Adam†, a rising Scottish lawyer and Whig Member of Parliament, and followed his brother-in-law’s advice by selling Drylaw for £24,000, in order to ‘secure a good competency to my children’. Loch was raised, after his father’s death, by his mother in the family’s town house in Edinburgh, which he inherited on coming of age in 1801. He also spent much time with his uncle, an improving landlord, at Blair Adam.1 At Edinburgh University, where he studied law, he was one of the intellectual circle dominated by Henry Brougham*, Francis Horner† and Francis Jeffrey*, and as a member of the Speculative Society he espoused egalitarian and anti-Trinitarian views. During vacations he supervised improvements at Blair Adam and stayed for spells with his uncle in London, where he attended parliamentary debates. Although he was admitted as a Scottish advocate in 1801, he had already decided to forge a career at the English bar, for which he started serious study the following year. He was an early contributor to the Edinburgh Review, but an article in July 1804 caused a temporary rift with Brougham, who considered its gratuitous attack on the East India Company’s monopoly to be ill-advised, especially as Adam was counsel to the Company. Brougham also chided him for his ‘raffish’ conduct in canvassing for Sir Francis Burdett* at the Middlesex by-election that summer.2 Under the aegis of his uncle, Loch established himself with the leaders of the Whig party as a reliable factotum, dividing his time between Edinburgh, London and Blair Adam. In 1806 he was employed by George Tierney*, president of the board of control in Lord Grenville’s ministry, as his private secretary. Unsure where his future lay, Loch completed his legal studies and established himself as a conveyancing barrister, while retaining his political connections. Early in 1808 Adam and Tierney recommended him to Grenville, now leader of the opposition, who was keen to find ‘some person on whose secrecy, integrity and capacity and knowledge of the state of things ... he could depend ... [and] who could communicate with the confidential editors of newspapers his ideas on leading points’. Adam observed that the post would ‘bring about most confidential communication with [Grenville] and, on a change, lead to a situation of permanent provision’, but that it was ultimately ‘a matter of taste’. Loch, who was an enthusiast for the Spanish cause, seems to have demurred, but he was involved in the abortive Whig attempts to secure the allegiance of the British Press and Globe newspapers in 1809. The following year, he supplied Grenville and the prince of Wales with calculations of the likely outcome of the Commons clash on the Walcheren expedition.3

In January 1810 Loch informed his uncle that, ‘look[ing] upon politics as they are in fact’ and given his equally unpromising professional prospects, he had decided to concentrate on estate management and property law, and to ‘hold myself out as a candidate ... for the auditorship of any estate’. Two years later Adam negotiated his appointment as auditor (at £1,500 per annum) of the English estates, centred on Staffordshire, of the 2nd marquess of Stafford. Loch implemented a long-term programme of rational improvements, applying the principles of political economy and the techniques of scientific management. He also became increasingly involved in the management of the vast estates in Sutherland belonging to Stafford’s wife, and he assumed general control of them in 1816. He gained notoriety by continuing and intensifying the policy, begun in 1807, of removing the crofting population to the coast and turning over the vacant land to sheep farming, the profits of which were theoretically to be invested in fishing, harbour construction and kelp manufacture, to create employment for the displaced population. Allotments were provided for growing food, coal and salt workings were set on foot at Brora, and the entire scheme of regional development was underpinned by improvements in transport communications. Loch never lost faith in this programme, which he supervised for almost 40 years, but he eventually had to concede that the coastal fishing economy could not support the population and that there was no alternative to emigration on a considerable scale. He replied to criticism of the clearances in an anonymous Account of the Improvements on the Estate of Sutherland (1815), which he published under his own name five years later in a greatly expanded version, as a retort to ‘unfounded slanders’. It was an able, if less than frank apologia for the policy, which Brougham considered to be ‘excellent and ... useful to all large proprietors’.4 With his rapidly growing family causing him problems, Loch was taken on in 1823 as estate manager by the 5th earl of Carlisle, and he subsequently became responsible for the Bridgwater, Dudley, Egerton and Keith estates. He perceived the long-term implications of the development of railways and sought, by intelligent planning and co-operation with their promoters, to minimize the impact on those of his employers, notably the Staffords, with vested interests in canals. Although he was a convinced free trader, he favoured a gradual diminution of agricultural protection ‘to keep the squires in good humour’. A firm believer in the ethos of improvement, he was a council member of London University and played an active part in the affairs of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.5

If the pace of social change sometimes alarmed Loch, he was nevertheless a committed supporter of moderate and concessionary parliamentary reform. He drew up Lord John Russell’s bill of 1820 for the disfranchisement of Grampound. Later that year he showed to Adam and Lord Grey a plan of reform designed to deal with the four major developments which he thought had undermined the representative system: the ‘vast additional influence obtained by the treasury’, which had increased government control over elections; the ‘great creation of peers’ initiated by Pitt (that ‘wretched, rash and shallow adventurer’), which had augmented aristocratic influence in the Commons, where the great landowners, now ennobled, had been replaced by ‘their lawyers or needy younger children’; the ‘great increase of the manufacturing towns and their want of representation’; and, most important of all, the spread of the ‘superior education of the bulk of the people’, based on the ‘extension and influence of the press’ in its widest sense. He proposed to deprive of one Member every borough with less than 5,000 inhabitants, and to give two to every unrepresented town with over 10,000 and one to the next six largest; the remaining surplus Members were to be distributed among the counties, where he also contemplated an extension of the franchise and the establishment of polling districts. On submitting the plan to Russell, who used it as the basis of the scheme which he presented to the Commons in April 1822, Loch commented:

There is one thing we Whigs must acknowledge, which is that not only has the constitution retrograded somewhat ... and to that extent ought to be brought back, but that there has also sprung up a new and powerful and growing influence in the country and the world, making large and incessant demands for attention and influence which must be acceded to ... [an] influence and power in some degree more at variance with ... the old Whig feelings, prejudices and aristocracy than with the powerless, inconsequential influence of the present placemen, who exist only for a season ... If the old Whigs would acknowledge to themselves the truth of this fact and become the sincere and active and zealous promoters of a moderate reform they would, as they ought from the liberality and consistency of their public conduct, and their great wealth and distinguished names, become the real and effective leaders of the people.6

In April 1827 Loch told Adam that if Stafford offered to return him to the Commons to support Canning’s new administration, he saw no reason to refuse. The next month he accordingly came in on a vacancy for St. Germans on the interest of the 2nd earl of St. Germans, whose deceased first wife had been Stafford’s half-sister. The duke of Bedford echoed Loch’s earlier strictures, now conveniently forgotten, on the intrusion of the employees of the aristocracy into the House, remarking that ‘it will be a bad thing for him’ and that he ‘was a good Whig and ... ought not to be converted into a Staffordite’.7 Loch was disturbed by reports that the government planned to revive the ‘grievous and mischievous’ post of minister for Scotland, ‘that fruitful source of misgovernment, oppression and jobbing’. He privately sought to persuade the home secretary Lord Lansdowne of the importance of continuing the practice established by his predecessor, Peel, of dealing directly with Scottish patronage and ignoring ‘the extremes of both Edinburgh parties’. In this way, he argued, it would be possible to ‘understand the actual circumstances and position of the country’ and ‘attend to its just claims’. His views were made known to Canning, who commissioned him to set them out at length on paper.8 That autumn Adam introduced him to Huskisson, who had assumed Canning’s mantle following the latter’s death.9 Loch was so uneasy about the duke of Wellington’s accession to the premiership early in 1828 that he considered leaving Parliament, not, as he told Adam, ‘because Lord Stafford and I differed on any essential point’, but ‘because I was determined not to mix myself up with keen party politics on their side, but to support those measures that seemed to me beneficial to the country’. In the event, he retained his seat and endorsed Huskisson’s participation in the government.10 He was absent from the division on repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., but voted for Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He divided against extending East Retford’s franchise to Bassetlaw freeholders, 21 Mar. That day he gave evidence before the select committee on the Scottish entails bill, of which he was a member.11 He recognized that Peel, the leader of the Commons, was in difficulties with the more reactionary Tories, and after the resignation of the Huskissonites from the ministry in May he feared that the outcome of these ‘strange proceedings’ would be a return to ‘the age of restrictions, monopolies and non-intercourse with foreign powers’.12 He was duly listed, with Stafford, as one of the Huskissonite parliamentary group. In presenting an Axminster petition in favour of the circulation of small bank notes, 13 June 1828, he asserted that ‘the branch establishments of the Bank of England were unnecessary’.13 That autumn, fresh from a visit to Huskisson’s constituency of Liverpool, he reported the prevalent view, which he shared, that ministers had no clear Irish policy and that the fate of Catholic relief would ‘depend on the first division in the ... Commons’.14 He naturally voted for the government’s emancipation bill, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He was named to the select committee on Scottish entails, 27 Feb., and assisted Thomas Kennedy in preparing further legislation to reform the current laws.15 Late in 1829 he tried to persuade ministers to intervene to curb the proliferation of speculative railway projects, until the Liverpool and Manchester experiment had ‘proved what this mode of conveyance was equal to’. Politically, he thought there was ‘a great chance, by the time ... Parliament meets, that the agriculturists will alone be the complaining body’.16 He divided against Lord Blandford’s reform plan, 18 Feb. (he thought it ‘not a little singular’ to see Daniel O’Connell and Blandford ‘as brother radicals’),17 but for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar., and Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr. 1830. It is uncertain whether it was he or his brother John, recently returned for Hythe, who voted with government on the grant for South American missions, 7 June. He divided that day against abolition of the death penalty for forgery. He was privately critical of the rejuvenated Whig opposition, ‘under the well regulated tempers of Lords Durham and Grey’, for giving ministers ‘the opportunity of closing the session with the only considerable majority of the year’ on the regency question, 6 July 1830.18 At the general election that summer Stafford returned him for Tain Burghs. In a speech at a subsequent dinner, he ‘stated his approbation’ of the government, explaining that ‘he had gone into Parliament to support ... Mr. Canning’ but had found Wellington and his colleagues ‘so desirous to abridge every expense and to alleviate the burdens of the people’, that ‘no ministry since the Revolution seemed better entitled to support’. He also ‘eulogized the exertions’ of Peel in ‘ameliorating the criminal law and effecting other useful reforms’.19

The ministry listed Loch among the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’, with the comment that ‘he should be a favourable doubtful at least’. After an excursion on the Liverpool and Manchester railway in October 1830 he predicted that it was ‘destined to produce the most important and serious change in the condition of the world’.20 He was astounded by Wellington’s ‘ill-advised’ declaration against reform, 2 Nov. 1830, and promptly informed Peel that, like Stafford, he felt obliged to support a reform measure and would vote accordingly in the anticipated showdown in the Commons. He probably absented himself from the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov., though it is just possible that it was he rather than John who sided with government.21 He applauded the Grey ministry’s decision to take up reform, assuring one doubting correspondent that the issue was ‘impossible to avoid’ and ‘the sooner it is conceded the less will be required’.22 According to the Scottish judge James Abercromby*, Loch told him in early December that ‘the subject’ of reform in Scotland ‘has fallen into his hands [and] he is in association with Lord Duncannon and John Russell’, two of the committee of four deputed to draft the ministry’s reform bills. He sent Abercromby ‘his plans’, which were based on the principles of enfranchising the larger towns as part of the burgh representation, rather than throwing them into the counties, and of ensuring that the county voting qualification was higher than that for the burghs. Abercromby regarded it ‘one of undisguised distrust towards the people’, its ‘main object being to maintain the monopoly of the landed proprietors’ and ‘give nothing, at least in counties, to the people’.23 According to Brougham’s unreliable account, Durham, another of the reform committee, by-passed the Scottish law officers in confiding the ministerial scheme directly to Loch, who was thus encouraged to indulge in ‘jobbing and mischievous activity’ and to try to ‘smuggle through a Stafford job against reform’.24 Loch, who presented three Scottish petitions for reform, 3 Feb. 1831, was initially disappointed with the government’s plan for Scotland, which, he told a friend, was ‘most inadequate for its purpose’. On reflection, however, he decided not to ‘throw more difficulties in their way’, as the scheme went some distance towards meeting his views, and he complied with the agreement that ‘the friends of the measure’ should suggest amendments in private. He made a number of such proposals, some of which were accepted, including one to allow the eldest sons of Scottish peers to sit for Scottish constituencies. He paired for the second reading of the English reform bill, 22 Mar., having broken his collar bone nine days earlier, but was present to vote against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr.25 It was reported in February 1831 that he was ‘strongly pressing’ the board of trade to repeal the kelp duty, ‘as a compensation for the reduction on barilla’.26 He was again returned for Tain Burghs at the general election that spring.

He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and steadily for its details. He voted for its passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. It is not clear whether it was he or his brother who voted with ministers on the Dublin election dispute, 23 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, though he believed that government had little backing in the country on any other issue. His support for the measure cost him his job as auditor of the insane Lord Dudley’s estates.27 He again voted steadily for the bill’s details and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. When it faced defeat in the Lords he expressed the fear that ‘we are on the brink of a tremendous crisis, not for this country but the world at large’.28 He presented a Tain petition in favour of minor amendments to the Scottish bill, 13 Apr., and was in the ministerial majorities on that measure, 1, 15 June. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. On 16 Apr. he introduced a bill to empower Scottish burghs to establish police forces; it gained its second reading, 15 May, but foundered at the report stage. Either he or his brother divided against the exclusion of insolvent debtors from the House, 6 June, and to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June 1832.

At the general election of 1832 Loch was returned for what had now become Wick Burghs, and he sat until his defeat in 1852. He died in June 1855 and left his freehold property and London house in Albemarle Street to his eldest son, William Adam Loch, who recalled him as being

a man of various accomplishments, of powerful intellect ... [whose] judgement was sound, well read and an excellent converser. He was strict, even perhaps stern in the discharge of his duty, and yet he had a gentle heart ... He had a commanding presence, tall and well made, his face very handsome, with a profile like that of the first Napoleon.29

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. G. Loch, Loch Fam. pp. xii-xv, 138, 143, 145, 235-7 (quoted); E. Richards, Leviathan of Wealth, 19-22; Add. 40885, ff. 238-42.
  • 2. Brougham and His Early Friends ed. R.B. Atkinson and G.A. Jackson, i. 11, 39, 51, 173-5, 211, 261, 265, 281, 289, 346; ii. 3, 77-79, 83, 143-6, 149-50 (quoted), 161-4; iii. 278-83; Horner Mems. (1843), i. 203-5, 211-14.
  • 3. Brougham and Early Friends, ii. 269-71, 295-6 (quoted); iii. 280; Horner Mems. ii. 424; A. Aspinall, Politics and the Press, 291, 298; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4122.
  • 4. Blair Adam mss (NRA 9954), Loch to Adam, 7 Jan. 1810; Richards, pp. ix-xviii, 88-105, 195-7; D. Spring, English Landed Estate in 19th Cent. 89-95; E. Richards, Highland Clearances, i. 182, 306, 331, 337-8 (quoted); ii. 52-56, 380-2, 387-8, 405; Sutherland Estate Management Pprs. ed. R.J. Adam (Scottish Hist. Soc. ser. 4. viii-ix), passim.
  • 5. Loch, 243; Spring, 93-94; Richards, Leviathan, 28 (quoted); Blair Adam mss 2/269, 290, 297; Brougham mss, Loch to Brougham, 19 Aug. 1825, 1 Jan. 1827, 4, 6 Oct., to James Brougham, 15 July 1828.
  • 6. Richards, Leviathan, 27-28, 30; Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D593/K/1/5/10, Loch to Abercromby, 20 Apr., to Russell, 16 Oct. 1821.
  • 7. Blair Adam mss 2/332; Add. 51669, Bedford to Lady Holland, 23 May 1827.
  • 8. Blair Adam mss 2/333; Canning’s Ministry, 277.
  • 9. Add. 38751, f. 103.
  • 10. Blair Adam mss 2/339; Add. 38755, f. 58.
  • 11. PP (1828), vii. 237-49.
  • 12. Blair Adam mss 2/341; Add. 38756, f. 224.
  • 13. The Times, 13 June 1828.
  • 14. Brougham mss, Loch to Brougham, 30 Sept. [1828]; Add. 38757, f. 81.
  • 15. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland [Mar. 1829].
  • 16. Add. 38758, ff. 52, 76.
  • 17. Blair Adam mss 2/362.
  • 18. Ibid. 2/366.
  • 19. Inverness Courier, 18 Aug. 1830.
  • 20. Loch, 249.
  • 21. Sutherland mss K/1/5/27, Loch to Innes, 25 Mar. 1831; Countess Granville Letters, ii. 62; Howard Sisters, 164.
  • 22. Blair Adam mss 2/370; Sutherland mss K/1/5/26, Loch to Dempster, 25 Dec. 1830.
  • 23. Add. 52182, f. 21.
  • 24. Brougham mss, autiobiog. fragment.
  • 25. Sutherland mss K/1/5/27, Loch to Laing, 16, Gunn, 16, Sellar, 18, Russell, 24, Innes, 25 Mar. 1831; J. Cannon, Parl. Reform, 206.
  • 26. Orkney Archives, Balfour mss D2/8/9, Traill to Balfour, 5 Feb. 1831.
  • 27. Blair Adam mss 2/383-4.
  • 28. Ibid. 2/386.
  • 29. PROB 11/2218/706; IR26/2039/639; Loch, 238-9, 250-3.