VANDEN BEMPDE JOHNSTONE, Sir John, 2nd bt. (1799-1869), of Hackness Hall, nr. Scarborough, Yorks. and 60 Grovsenor Street, Mdx.

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



7 Dec. 1830 - 1832
1832 - 1837
1841 - 24 Feb. 1869

Family and Education

b. 28 Aug. 1799, 1st s. of Sir Richard Vanden Bempde Johnstone, 1st bt., of Hackness Hall and 2nd w. Margaret, da. of John Scott of Charterhouse Square, London. educ. Rugby 1810; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1818; L. Inn 1820. m. 14 June 1825, Louisa Augusta, da. of Rt. Rev. Edward Venables Vernon (afterwards Harcourt), abp. of York, 2s. 4da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 14 July 1807. d. 24 Feb. 1869.

Offices Held

Cornet Yorks. Hussars yeomanry 1821, capt. 1824; maj. W. Riding yeoman cav. 1843, lt.-col. 1859-d.

Sheriff, Yorks. 1824-5.


This Member’s ancestor, William Johnston, 2nd earl of Annandale, plotted both for and against James II, but was elevated to a marquessate in 1701 after making terms with William III. In 1718, he took Charlotte Van Lore as his second wife, without the permission of her wealthy father John Vanden Bempde, a London merchant who had purchased Hackness Hall in about 1707. Annandale died in 1721, leaving one son by each of his wives, of whom the elder, James, succeeded him but died unmarried in 1730, bequeathing the title and estates to the second, George, who took the name of Vanden Bempde. In 1792 he also died unmarried, leaving Hackness to his uterine brother, Richard Johnstone, this Member’s father, who assumed the surname of Vanden Bempde by Act of Parliament in 1793 and obtained permission by sign manual to take the name of Johnstone in addition, 9 June 1795. A few weeks later he was created a baronet. He died in 1807, when his title and estates passed to John, his elder son, then six years old. On coming of age Johnstone took a post in the county militia, but by the terms of his father’s will he did not succeed to his estates until his 23rd birthday.1

In 1824 he became sheriff and took as his chaplain for his year of office the Whig wit, the Rev. Sydney Smith, the first indication of his politics.2 That September uncertainty arose over one of the seats for East Retford when the sitting Member Samuel Crompton announced his intention of stepping down at the dissolution. The banker Henry Foljambe, agent to Earl Fitzwilliam, whose nominee Crompton was, suggested that Johnstone, ‘a very worthy young man and a good politician’, might be ‘a proper person, in case he wishes to have a seat’, 30 Sept. On 18 Oct. Foljambe informed Fitzwilliam that he had ‘had a letter from Johnstone, by which he seems disposed to offer himself ... though he does not speak decidedly, but leaves the matter till he has had an opportunity of conversing with me’.3 While Johnstone hesitated, Fitzwilliam introduced his nephew. In January 1826 the Whig hierarchy in Yorkshire decided to requisition Viscount Morpeth*, son of the earl of Carlisle, to contest a seat for the county at the next general election. Johnstone, accompanied by Smith, presented this request, 14 Jan., but Morpeth declined the invitation and Johnstone appears to have taken no further part in the Whig campaign.4 At a similar meeting prior to the 1830 general election Johnstone again proposed Morpeth, who this time accepted, but his attempts to prevent the candidature of Henry Brougham*, who he feared ‘would cause a division in the religious interest of the country’ and never be accepted by the country gentlemen, proved unsuccessful. Johnstone headed Morpeth’s committee, nominated him on the hustings and chaired the Whig victory dinner, 6 Aug 1830.5 That November Brougham accepted a peerage and the post of lord chancellor in the Grey administration, creating a vacancy for Yorkshire. The manufacturers of the West Riding were keen to replace him with a like-minded man, but the gentry of the other Ridings were determined not to be usurped again, and Johnstone emerged as their favourite. On 22 Nov. he issued an address promising to pursue ‘a liberal and enlightened policy, which by the removal of all injurious monopolies, will open new channels to the commerce and manufacturers of Great Britain’. Next day he visited Leeds to ‘wait upon several of the most influential supporters of Lord Brougham with a view to conciliate them in his favour’. The Yorkshire Gazette doubted ‘that the commercial gentlemen in the West Riding will acquiesce in Sir John’s election’, and on 26 Nov. the ‘liberal men’ of Leeds, led by John Marshall junior, son of the former county Member, opted for Daniel Sykes, Whig Member for Beverley and a commercial man.6 Sykes, however, declined their invitation and the disappointed West Riding Whigs reconvened and reluctantly endorsed Johnstone. Addressing the Leeds Cloth Halls, 30 Nov., he declared that ‘freedom in trade should be the rule, restriction the exception’, advocated a revision of the corn laws, blaming ‘fluctuations in the price of grain’ for the ‘greater part of the misery of this country’, condemned the East India Company’s monopoly and called for the abolition of slavery, economy and retrenchment. He expressed his support for reform but refused to be pledged on the secret ballot, explaining:

I shall lend a patient hearing to all the arguments, pro and con, upon the subject, and, should I learn from them that there cannot be a reform without it, I shall not hold up my opinion against that of the House; but I do consider the vote by ballot an un-English practice.7

After the retirement of another candidate it was expected that he would be returned unopposed, but at the nomination, 7 Dec. 1830, George Strickland* of Boynton, a leading Yorkshire Whig, said that as a result of Johnstone’s refusal to sanction the ballot, he could no longer support him and stood against him. After a brief token poll Strickland resigned and Johnstone, whose victory speech was ‘received with much disapprobation’, was returned.8

He presented a Hackness petition for repeal of the coal duty, 7 Feb., and endorsed a Leeds petition in favour of parliamentary reform presented by Morpeth, 26 Feb. 1831. In his maiden speech, 7 Mar., he welcomed the Grey ministry’s reform bill as a ‘restorative’ and ‘purifying’ measure, which would give the middle classes ‘a stake in the country’ and ‘result in a considerable improvement in the habits and feelings of the people’. ‘Under the operation of it’, he declared, ‘we may expect to see within these walls, as the representatives of the people, the wisest of her sons’. It was a ‘good and sensible’ speech, William Ord* informed Lady Holland, 7 Mar.9 On 16 Mar. he added his backing to the numerous Yorkshire petitions in support of the bill presented by Morpeth. He was appointed to the select committee on cotton factories, 18 Mar. Presenting a Scarborough petition in favour of reform next day, he denied the claims of Edmund Phipps, the borough’s Member, that it did not represent the views of the majority of the inhabitants or corporation. He voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., defended another favourable petition from Yorkshire against the criticism of William Duncombe, the sitting Tory, 28 Mar., and divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election Johnstone offered again, promising to ‘never swerve’ from the principles he professed. Alluding to a speech in the Commons, of which no trace has been found, the Tory press accused him of having ‘misrepresented’ the workers of Huddersfield who were ‘engaged in the fancy trade’, by denying that the West Riding was in a depressed state. He ‘met with a boisterous reception’ in the town, but his published explanation was said to have removed ‘every unpleasant feeling from the minds of the fancy operatives in the neighbourhood’. Rumours of an opposition came to nothing and he was returned unopposed with three other reformers.10

Seconding the address at the opening of the new Parliament, 21 June 1831, Johnstone claimed that during his recent canvass there had been ‘one feeling’ and ‘one common sentiment’, in both ‘the agricultural as well as the manufacturing districts’, in favour of ‘an extensive plan of reform’. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and gave generally steady support to its details, although he divided for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He presented a Wakefield petition for reform, 8 July. On the 13th he accused the bill’s opponents of ‘insulting the people of England with impunity’ and caused a stir by likening the actions of the Wellington administration to those of Catiline. He spoke against Wrangham’s motion to give Yorkshire ten county Members, 10 Aug., believing that by allotting four to the West Riding, in addition to enfranchising the manufacturing towns, the balance between them and the agricultural interest would be upset. He objected to Thomas Duncombe’s motion for the total disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept., arguing that an exception should not be made in order to punish it, and criticized Wetherell’s defence of the duke of Newcastle, whose nomination borough it was. He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. On 10 Oct. he spoke and voted for Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the government, describing the defeat of the bill in the Lords as ‘a national calamity’ and warning that ‘upon these resolutions depends the tranquillity of the north of England’. He presented a petition against the North Shields road bill, 19 July. He criticized members of the Manchester and Leeds railway bill committee, of which he was a member, for voting ‘without having heard one word of the evidence’, 21 July. He said that if the aim of the cotton factories apprentices bill was to prevent the overworking of children, there was no reason to exempt Scotland from its provisions, and insisted that even the ‘upright manufacturers of Yorkshire’ required the measure as it was necessary to protect the interests of good employers from the unfair competition of unscrupulous ones, 27 July. On 22 Aug. 1831 he presented and endorsed a Wakefield petition against the settlement of the poor bill, which would ‘relieve the agricultural districts at the expense of the manufacturing districts’, and recommended a settlement based on the parishes in which the poor had ‘spent their early and best years’.

Johnstone voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again supported its details, and divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the measure unimpaired, 10 May. When Morpeth presented a number of Yorkshire petitions for withholding supplies until the bill passed, 22 May, Johnstone suggested that circumstances were now so changed as to render such extreme measures unnecessary. He divided for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to increase the Scottish county representation, 1 June. He declined to give his wholehearted backing to a Leeds petition against the levying of tithes in Ireland before the poor had been clothed and fed, as he had been requested to do, 23 Jan. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July. On 2 Feb. he welcomed the general register bill, though he acknowledged its unpopularity in Yorkshire, where there was already a local register system of which he approved. He spoke and was a minority teller against a motion for a select committee on the expediency of establishing a general register of deeds, to which he was appointed, 22 Feb. On 9 Apr. he defended a Yorkshire petition supporting the government’s proposed education reforms in Ireland, denying that the petitioners were unqualified to form a judgement and contending that ‘the opening of the schools to the Protestant, as well as to the Catholic, will eventually lead to the welfare of both’. He welcomed another for the factories regulation bill, 27 June, when he praised conditions in the mills of the West Riding that he had visited, noting that the majority of the children working in them could read and write and regularly attended Sunday school, but warned that if the petitioners’ intention was to restrict working to ten hours regardless of the report of the select committee, he could not go along with them. He presented a Scarborough petition for students of all denominations to be admitted to the proposed Durham University, 29 June 1832.

At the 1832 general election Johnstone, who never joined Brooks’s, retired from Yorkshire and successfully contested Scarborough as a Liberal. Some confusion surrounds his subsequent political affiliations, with different sources listing him as a Liberal and a Conservative at the 1835 general election, when he was returned again for Scarborough, and in 1837, when he was defeated, and 1841, when he was re-elected.11 (His colours, however, were orange, traditionally that of the Liberals in Scarborough.) He was for many years a member of the council of the Royal Agricultural Society.12 In February 1869 he fell from his horse while hunting in Northamptonshire, and as well as breaking his collar bone, sustained a punctured lung. He returned to his London house in Belgrave Square, and ‘great hopes were entertained ... for his recovery’, but a few days later ‘an unfavourable change ensued, and he expired without a struggle’.13 By his will, dated 26 July 1856, he left his wife the freehold on his London house, a £3,000 legacy and an annuity of £400. In addition he granted her free use of Grange House on his Hackness estate and devised to her income derived from £15,000 invested in stocks and interest on another £5,000. The remainder of his estate passed to his eldest son and successor in the baronetcy, Harcourt Vanden Bempde Johnstone (1829-1916), who succeeded him in the representation at Scarborough and sat as a Liberal until he was created Baron Derwent in 1881.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. PROB 11/1468/819.
  • 2. Smith Letters, i. 407.
  • 3. Fitzwilliam mss 118/6, 7, 11.
  • 4. Leeds Mercury, 21 Jan. 1826.
  • 5. Yorks. Gazette, 7, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 6. Ibid. 27 Nov. 1830.
  • 7. Ibid. 4 Dec. 1830.
  • 8. Ibid. 11 Dec. 1830.
  • 9. Add. 51589.
  • 10. Yorks. Gazette, 30 Apr.; Leeds Mercury, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 11. Dod’s Electoral Facts ed. H.J. Hanham, 277; McCalmont’s Parl. Pollbook ed. J. Vincent and M. Stenton, 258; Dod’s Parl. Companion (1847), 191; (1857), 223.
  • 12. W.W. Bean, Parl. Rep. Six Northern Counties, 1059.
  • 13. The Times, 26 Feb. 1869.