ANSTRUTHER, John (1753-1811), of Anstruther, Fife.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



21 Jan. 1783 - 1790
1790 - 1796
1796 - July 1797
1806 - 26 June 1811

Family and Education

b. 27 Mar. 1753, 2nd s. of Sir John Anstruther, and Bt. educ.?St. Andrews 1766; Glasgow Univ. 1772; adv. 1774; L. Inn 1774, called 1779, bencher 1793, treasurer 1807. m. 1788, Maria Jane, da. of Edward Brice of Berners St., Marylebone, 2 surv. s. 1da.  Kntd. 4 Oct. 1797; cr.Bt. 18 May 1798; suc. bro. Philip as 4th Bt. 5 Jan. 1808.

Offices Held

Receiver-gen. of bishops’ rents in Scotland 1780; solicitor-gen. to Prince of Wales 1793-5; Welsh judge 1793-7; c.j. Bengal 1797-1806; P.C. 19 Nov. 1806.


After studying law at Glasgow under the radical Whig Professor John Millar, Anstruther, at the outset of a successful career at the English bar, became active in East India Company affairs, and in October 1782 as a member of the court of proprietors made an effective speech (subsequently printed) strenuously opposing the Commons resolution for the recall of Warren Hastings, whose administration he defended as mild, just and upright.1 On his father’s withdrawal, he entered Parliament in January 1783. While his father was thought to favour a Fox-North Opposition,2 his own views, although he owed his place to North, were apparently uncertain. He did not vote on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, February 1783, and in March Robinson listed him under ‘North—doubtful’. But on the formation of the Coalition he became their ‘zealous supporter’.3 In his maiden speech on 20 Nov. on Fox’s East India bill, he established himself as an able speaker, and on 8 Dec. strongly attacked the Company’s ‘fluctuating unresponsible executive power, lodged in the hands of a multitude’.4

In December 1783, shortly before the fall of the Coalition, Robinson wrote:5

Mr. Anstruther at present takes the line of support of Government because he holds an office, but, if a change, in a future Parliament would, it is believed, support as he does now.

But Anstruther remained opposed to Pitt, and at the general election of 1784 Henry Dundas sponsored a Government candidate against him. Nevertheless, John Anstruther was returned.6

In the new Parliament he became a leading Opposition speaker, specializing in East India affairs and legal issues. On 4 Aug. 1784 he for once joined forces with Dundas to oppose, on behalf of his Scottish constituents, the duty on printed linens, commenting upon ‘the dangerous spirit of emigration excited among the manufacturers’.7 In 1785 he voted against Pitt’s Irish propositions, became a contributor to the Rolliad, and both in and out of the House directed his shafts against Dundas. During the East India debates of 1786 he strongly attacked Hastings, and had a violent altercation with Jenkinson on 26 Apr. on the question of supplying Hastings with copies of the charges against him. When on 2 June Dundas taunted him with his printed speech as an East India proprietor in 1782, Anstruther replied: he felt he should have had ‘no reason to blush for inconsistency, when at one moment refusing to recall Mr. Hastings for supposed, not actual offences, and at the present time condemning him for his evident criminalities’.8 He was appointed a manager for Hastings’s impeachment, and in 1788 took a leading part in the attempt to impeach Impey.

A consistent opponent of reform, he rebutted the claim made on 23 May 1787 that Francis Charteris was not required to vacate his seat on becoming the eldest son of a Scottish peer, and when Lord Maitland threatened to bring in a bill to put English and Scottish peers’ sons on a footing of equality, declared: ‘It behoves the representatives of the boroughs and counties of Scotland and also ... of England to reflect seriously before they gave consideration to any bill, the object of which was to alter the Act of Union.’9 On 18 May he opposed Sheridan’s motion for the internal reform of Scottish burghs.10 Before the matter again came before Parliament in 1788, Anstruther wrote to the magistrates of Pittenweem, one of the burghs particularly attacked by the reformers, asking for a statement of their finances for 1765 and 1787-8.11 When on 17 June 1788 Sheridan moved for a bill to reform the government of the royal burghs of Scotland and the manner of accounting for their property and revenue, Anstruther opposed it as leading ‘effectually to a change in the election of representatives to serve in Parliament’, denied that revenue grievances existed, and when Sir Thomas Dundas suggested that one of Anstruther’s own burghs required investigation, asserted ‘that the revenue of the burgh alluded to, so far from being decayed had within the last twenty years trebled its amount.’ In April 1789 he again spoke strongly against Sheridan’s bill for Scottish burgh reform.12

By this time he was aware that he would not be re-elected for Anstruther Burghs. The Opposition survey of the ‘Political State of Scotland 1788-9’ records:13 ‘Sir John Anstruther ... It is said he will go with Administration against his son John.’ General James Grant wrote to Lord Cornwallis in India, 3 Apr. 1790:14 ‘In Scotland the Opposition will certainly lose considerably ... The unfortunate Anstruther who was to have gone out chief justice to India [presumably if the Prince of Wales had become Regent], will not be able to come into Parliament at the next election.’ However, he found a seat at Cockermouth on the Lowther interest, and in 1793 became reunited in politics with his family.

He died 26 June 1811.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. See Hen. Dundas’s speech, 2 June 1786, Debrett, xx. 327.
  • 2. Loughborough to W. Eden, 24 Aug. 1782, Jnl. Corresp. Ld. Auckland, i. 32.
  • 3. Wm. Adam to Portland, 7 Nov. 1783, Portland mss.
  • 4. Debrett, xii, 81, 379-82.
  • 5. Laprade, 99.
  • 6. See ANSTRUTHER, Sir John, 2nd Bt.
  • 7. Stockdale, iii. 391.
  • 8. Debrett, xx. 120, 298-9, 327, 330-1.
  • 9. Ibid. xxii. 395.
  • 10. Ibid. 418; Stockdale, xii. 177.
  • 11. D. Cook, Annals of Pittenweem (1867), pp. 153-4.
  • 12. Stockdale, xv. 189-90, 191-2; xvii. 432.
  • 13. Pol. State Scotland, 125.
  • 14. Cornwallis Corresp. ii. 42-43.