ST. CLAIR ERSKINE, James Alexander, Lord Loughborough (1802-1866).

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

Constituency

Dates

1830 - 1831
10 Aug. 1831 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 15 Feb. 1802, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir James St. Clair Erskine†, 6th bt., of Alva, Clackmannan, 2nd earl of Rosslyn, and Henrietta Elizabeth, da. of Hon. Edward Bouverie† of Delapré Abbey, Northants. educ. Eton 1814. m. 10 Oct. 1826, Frances, da. of William Wemyss† of Wemyss, Fife, 2s.(1d.v.p.) 1da. styled Lord Loughborough 1805-37. suc. fa. as 3rd earl of Rosslyn 18 Jan. 1837. d. 16 June 1866.

Offices Held

Cornet 9 Drag. 1819, lt. 1820; lt. 47 Ft. 1821, capt. Mar. 1823; capt. 9 Drag. May 1823, maj. 1826, lt.-col. (half-pay) 1827; lt.-col. 9 Drag. 1828; col. 1841, half-pay 1842; maj-gen. 1854; lt.-gen. 1859; col. 7 Drag. 1864-d.; gen. 1866.

Master of the buckhounds Sept. 1841-July 1846, Feb.-Dec. 1852; PC 14 Sept. 1841; under-sec. state for war Mar.-June 1859.

Maj. 1 Fife mounted rifles

Biography

Loughborough’s great-uncle Alexander Wedderburn†, 1st earl of Rosslyn, was lord chancellor under Pitt. When he died in 1805 his peerage and half of his estates passed to his nephew, this Member’s father, Sir James St. Clair Erskine. A career soldier and a Whig (as was his wife (d. 1810), a granddaughter of the 1st Viscount Folkestone), from 1796 until his removal to the Upper House he represented Dysart Burghs, where, in alliance with his partisan William Ferguson of Raith, he established a controlling interest. From 1806, he grudgingly acquiesced in the return there of Ferguson’s second son Ronald Craufurd Ferguson.1 Loughborough followed a military career, joined Brooks’s, 13 Feb. 1822, and, taking the first opportunity after coming of age, he tested the ground in Dysart Burghs when a dissolution was anticipated in September 1825. His father’s refusal to authorize his candidature there at the general election of 1826 infuriated him, and although he canvassed to safeguard his family’s influence over the council of Dysart, he dissociated himself personally and politically from Ferguson, whose allegiance to Joseph Hume* he deplored.2 He seconded the nomination for Fifeshire of his future brother-in-law James Wemyss*, 23 June 1826, and praised his ‘independent and unbigoted support for Lord Liverpool’s ministry’.3 Rosslyn eschewed the duke of Wellington’s offer of a seat in the cabinet in 1828, but he and Loughborough were promoted in the duke’s regiment that year and Rosslyn accepted the privy seal in June 1829, his loyalty to his commanding officer proving stronger than his Whig politics. He gave Ferguson notice, 30 June 1830, of Loughborough’s candidature for the Burghs at the general election.4 His unopposed return at Dysart, where he spoke out against reform and praised the Wellington ministry’s retrenchment, commercial and agricultural policies, was belied by a local campaign on Ferguson’s behalf and the deliberate absence of the Kinghorn delegate and town clerk Thomas Barclay, who afterwards publicly denounced him and closely scrutinized his parliamentary conduct.5

Ministers of course listed Loughborough among their ‘friends’, but he was one of four sons of peers in the cabinet, with seats in the Commons, who, although in town, failed to speak or vote with government on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830.6 Rosslyn became one of the active organizers of the new Tory opposition. After some public wrangling in the press, Loughborough presented Kinghorn’s petition for Scottish burgh reform, 17 Nov., and anti-slavery ones from Burntisland, Dysart and Kirkcaldy, 23 Nov. He received two weeks’ leave ‘on the public service’ that day to return to his regiment.7 He presented, as requested, a Kirkcaldy petition for burgh and parliamentary reform, including the ballot, 23 Dec. 1830, but dissented from its prayer and called for a ‘measure ... unfettered by the pledges of any party whatever’.8 He supported the London petition against any alteration in the timber duties on his constituents’ behalf, and argued that their abolition would lead to the ‘total annihilation of that trade’, 15 Mar. 1831. Responding to the vice-president of the board of trade Poulett Thomson’s criticism (earlier in the debate) of the self-serving landed interest, he maintained that they looked to the ‘prosperity of every class of the community as the only means by which it can thrive’. He brought up a similar petition from Kirkcaldy and one from Dysart for parliamentary reform, 16 Mar. He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar. Speaking for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 18 Apr., he asked why England and Scotland were treated differently, declared that the bill’s only principle was that of ‘change and revolution’ and predicted that it would lead to universal suffrage, voting by ballot and annual parliaments. He maintained that it was his duty, ‘careless of what my constituents may think’, to oppose it in the wider interests of the country and asserted that if the proposals for Scotland were passed, the Act of Union would be violated and eventually dissolved. Justifying his majority vote on 19 Apr. to Barclay, 22 Apr., he hinted at support for Scottish parliamentary reform (excluding disfranchisements).9 His decision to circulate copies to the burghs of the radical Henry Hunt’s speeches highlighting the bill’s inadequacies had already made his position as their Member untenable, and at the general election in May 1831 he was replaced by the reformer Robert Ferguson of Raith, Sir Ronald’s elder brother.10 He later recalled: ‘On the dissolution, I went down again ... and they broke my head and kicked me out’.11 He also vainly canvassed the Stirling Burghs.12

Loughborough was not without a seat for long. In August 1831 he successfully contested Great Grimsby, where the return of two Tories at the general election had been voided, with his partisan Henry Fitzroy. On the hustings he said it was evident that the reform bill would pass the Commons, but it was in the Lords, where his father sat, that the real struggle would be made, and they might ‘fairly hope to obtain a reversion of the case of Grimsby’, which was set to lose a Member. He claimed that he was not opposed to all reform but ‘decidedly hostile’ to the ministerial bill.13 In the House, 24 Aug., Loughborough criticized the proposed £10 householder voting qualification as unfairly discriminatory, as rentals for similar properties differed between large and smaller towns, predicted that it would cause a ‘fictitious value [to be] given to property vested in the lower classes’, and suggested making it £5 for schedule B boroughs. He was in a minority of only ten for Hunt’s ‘no taxation without representation’ clause, 25 Aug. Defending the vote next day, he explained that he thought it an improvement on the £10 clause, but said he did not think his name should be ‘connected with the views [Hunt] generally takes’, and branded the bill as a ‘most republican measure’. He voted to preserve the rights of non-resident freemen for their lives, 30 Aug., and divided against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He voted against government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., and to deal with bribery at Liverpool, 5 Sept. He voted against the revised bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, and committal, 20 Jan., against enfranchising Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. When Grimsby’s place in schedule B was considered, 23 Feb., he unavailingly maintained that no case could be made for its disfranchisement as a corrupt or a nomination borough, cited his own and Fitzroy’s election as proof of the freemen’s independence and stressed that the borough was growing in prosperity. He deliberately refrained from voting on the Scottish reform bill at its second reading, 21 May, but criticized it as inconsistent with the English measure and with the articles of the Union. Arguing that reform would not be the panacea its advocates predicted, he highlighted the disparity in county representation that provided one Member for 94,000 people in Scotland and one for 64,000 in England and said that he rejected it ‘wholly’. He paired against the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May.14 He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 20 July, and the Greek loan, 6 Aug., but with them for the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr. 1832.

Loughborough announced his candidature for Grimsby as a Conservative, 3 Oct. 1832, before joining his regiment in Ireland, but, as he had anticipated, he faced powerful opposition and was defeated at the general election in December.15 He did not stand for Parliament again. After succeeding his father to the peerage, he held office under Peel, whom he supported in repealing the corn laws, and later under Lord Derby.16 He died at his London home in Lower Belgrave Street in June 1866, predeceased in 1851 by his elder son James Alexander George, and in 1858 by his wife, and was succeeded in his titles and estates by his second son Francis Robert (1833-90).17 Lord Ribblesdale recalled him as a ‘fine horseman, and a great judge of a horse, or indeed any animal’.18 A member of Benjamin Disraeli’s† early coterie, he was supposedly the model for Lord Rambrooke in Coningsby.19

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Margaret Escott / Martin Casey

Notes

  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 596-7; iii. 83-84.
  • 2. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 6 Sept.; Caledonian Mercury, 8 Oct. 1825; NAS GD164/1770/3; 1782/1, 3.
  • 3. Caledo