MONTEITH, Henry (?1764-1848), of Westbank, Renfrew Road, Glasgow and Carstairs House, Lanark.

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

Constituency

Dates

1826 - 12 Dec. 1826

Family and Education

b. ?1764, 6th s. of James Monteith, weaver and merchant, of Anderston, Glasgow and Rebecca, da. of John Thomson of Anderston. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1776. m. (1) 22 June 1788,1 Christian, da. of John Cameron of Over Carntyne, Lanark, 1s. 1da.; (2) 20 Dec. 1826, Sarah, da. of George Fullerton of Carstairs, s.p. d. 14 Dec. 1848.

Offices Held

Ld. provost, Glasgow 1814-16, 1818-20.

Biography

Monteith’s great-grandfather James Monteith was a small Perthshire laird in the Aberfoyle area, whose livelihood was under constant threat from the depredations and blackmailing of Highland reivers. After his death his son Henry moved south and set up as a market gardener at Anderston, then a village near Glasgow. He fought against the Jacobites at Falkirk and died ‘a staunch Presbyterian of the old school’. His eldest son James Monteith, who was born in 1734, took up handloom-weaving. He prospered, especially when he began to import fine French and Dutch yarns, and became a cambric manufacturer on a large scale, with a bleach field near his house and warehouse in Bishop Street. Three of his sons joined him in the cotton manufacturing business, which expanded dramatically with the introduction of power looms. John Monteith, the eldest, formed his own company in 1801 and established the first Scottish power loom factory at Pollokshaws. James Monteith, the second, was initially a dealer in cotton twist at Cambuslang and in 1792 bought David Dale’s Blantyre cotton mill. The start of the French wars the following year threatened disaster, but he averted it by adopting the fashionable London method of selling linen and cotton cloth by public auction, which made him £80,000 in five years.2 He died in 1802. Henry Monteith, the youngest son and the subject of this biography, took the family business to new heights of success and prosperity. He was trained early in the art of weaving, and by 1785, when he was not quite of age, he was running a large cotton weaving mill, Henry Monteith and Company, at Anderston. The story went that during a period of unrest caused by wage reductions, disgruntled workers assaulted him and cut off his queue. Though regarded with disdain by the Glasgow tobacco barons (whose days of high prosperity were over), he played a major role in securing the supremacy of the cotton trade in the city’s economy and became a powerful figure in municipal politics. In 1802 he established at Barrowfield a factory for producing bandana handkerchiefs, and on the death of James that year he took on the principal management of the business, which encompassed bleaching, turkey red dyeing and calico printing, as well as cotton spinning and weaving. He told a House of Lords select committee in 1826 that by about 1804 his workforce had reached 6,000, but that it currently stood at about 4,000 after the firm had given up tambouring and needlework.3 He bought the Fullerton estate of Carstairs, four miles from Lanark, and from 1824 had a mansion built there.4

Unlike his father and brothers, Monteith was a staunch church and king Tory.5 At the general election of 1818 he stood belatedly for Linlithgow Burghs against a Whig, with the backing of the Buccleuch interest. He secured the votes of Lanark and Peebles, but was beaten by the casting vote of the returning burgh, Selkirk.6 On the death of George III in late January 1820 he declared his renewed candidature for the district and gave Archibald Campbell* of Blythswood ‘authority’ to assure Lord Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager, that he would ‘prove as steady and zealous a friend as any we have’. He narrowly won Selkirk, whose vote, together with those of Lanark and Peebles, gave him victory (at the age of 66) over Robert Owen, the socialist cotton master of New Lanark.7 Two days after his return he was obliged, as lord provost of Glasgow, to lead the magistrates in their co-operation with the military in the adoption of measures to deal with the anticipated insurrection of the working classes. He chaired the merchants’ and employers’ public meeting of 11 Apr., which adopted a resolution not to employ persons found guilty of involvement in the disorder. He later refused to accept and present to the Commons a petition praying for clemency for the three men condemned to death for treason; and in his official capacity he attended the last rites and execution of James Wilson, 30 Aug. 1820.8

Monteith gave general but not entirely slavish support to the ministry.9 He voted in their majorities against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and the opposition censure of their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He was named to the select committees on the royal burghs, 4 May 1820, 16 Feb. 1821, and added to that on steam engines in factories, 26 May 1820. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 25 Apr. and (as a pair) 10 May 1825. He voted against government for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., but reversed this vote when they exerted themselves to defeat the proposal, 3 Apr. He divided for the army estimates, 11 Apr., and against disfranchising ordnance officials, 12 Apr. On 16 Apr. he repudiated as ‘most unfounded’ Hume’s allegation that the Glasgow rising had been fomented by the government spy Franklin. When the Whig Lord Archibald Hamilton presented the petition of a Glasgow tobacconist complaining that he had been arrested for treason but never tried, 2 May, Monteith defended himself and the magistrates, observing that they had acted with commendable restraint and discrimination when faced with masses of dubious information about the activities of individuals.10 He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 21 Feb., but was in the minority of 36, which included a number of Whigs, against the ministerial corn resolutions, 9 May 1822. He voted to uphold the integrity of the sinking fund, 3, 13 Mar., and against a general repeal of assessed taxes, 18 Mar., but cast a wayward vote for repeal of the levy on houses rated at below £5, 10 Mar. 1823. He divided for the grant for Irish churches and glebe houses, 11 Apr., and against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., reform of the Scottish electoral system, 2 June, and inquiry into chancery delays, 5 June 1823. His attempts the following year to obtain church preferment and employment for friends were unsuccessful.11 His only known votes in 1824 were against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb. (he repeated this, 13 Apr. 1826), and for repeal of the usury laws, 27 Feb. (and again, 17 Feb. 1825). He presented a Linlithgow petition for equalization of the duties on Scottish and Irish spirits, 18 May 1824.12 He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. On 18 Mar. he got leave to introduce a bill for the repair of Glasgow harbour and the improvement of the Clyde navigation, which provoked considerable local opposition but became law on 10 June 1825.13 On 23 Feb. 1826 he asserted that distress was ‘making rapid and alarming progress’ in Scotland and that Glasgow was suffering severely. Although he ‘valued the principles upon which the government acted so highly’, he urged them as a matter of ‘absolute necessity’ to sanction an issue of exchequer bonds in order to avert a ‘frightful train of evils’. He presented a Peebles petition against interference with the Scottish banking system, 10 Apr., and in his evidence to the Lords select committee on small Scottish notes spoke forcefully for their retention.14 He divided against condemnation of the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826.

At the general election of 1826 he was defeated in Linlithgow Burghs, but he had already been returned unopposed for Saltash on the Russell interest.15 He presented a petition from the lord provost of Glasgow for relaxation of the corn laws, 28 Nov., and one from Paisley emigration associations for financial assistance, 6 Dec. 1826.16 A week later he vacated his seat, for reasons unknown. At the general election of 1830 he stood again for Linlithgow Burghs and defeated a radical reformer by three votes to one.17 The Wellington ministry listed him among their ‘friends’ and he was in their minority in the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. He was given a fortnight’s leave on urgent private business, 14 Feb. 1831. He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s English reform bill, 22 Mar., presented a Lanark trades’ petition against the Scottish bill, 30 Mar., and was in the opposition majority for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the English measure, 19 Apr. 1831. He initially stood for the burghs at the ensuing general election, but, after much ambivalent ‘vacillation’, which greatly annoyed local Tories, including the 5th duke of Buccleuch, who blamed him for the loss of the seat, he belatedly and reluctantly gave up when his opponent of 1830 gained three of the four.18

Monteith retired to private life. He died at Carstairs House in December 1848, ‘in his 85th year’, and was succeeded by his only son Robert Joseph Ignatius Monteith (1812-84), a Roman Catholic.19

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. IGI (Scotland).
  • 2. G. Stewart, Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, 54, 72, 93-96, 110-11, 133; G. Eyre-Todd, Hist. Glasgow, iii. 310-13.