ROSS, Charles (?1729-97), of Morangie, Ross.

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



Family and Education

b. ?1729, 2nd s. of David Ross of Inverchastley, Ross by his 1st w. Elspet, da. of James Sutherland of Clynes, Sutherland.  unm.

Offices Held

Ensign 32 Ft. 1747, capt. 1756; 2nd maj. 106 Ft. 1759 (disbanded 1763); brev. lt.-col. 1762; capt. 32 Ft. 1763-4; lt.-col. 39 Ft. 1773, col. 1777; col. 72 Ft. Oct. 1780-3; half-pay maj.-gen. 1781; lt.-gen. 1793.


Ross, after a short period of service during the ’45 with the Master of Ross’s Independent Company, obtained a regular commission in the 37th Foot with which he served at Laeffelt in 1747, and during the seven years’ war in Germany. Active in raising and training Sutherland’s Highland Battalion (the 106th Foot), he returned at the peace to the 32nd as eldest captain. When the regiment was ordered to America, James Stuart Mackenzie, a close friend of Ross’s elder brother David (later Lord Ankerville S.C.J.), applied in July 1764 for leave for Ross to stay at home ‘till he could find a purchase of a lieutenant-colonelcy’.1 Shortly afterwards Ross left his regiment and was unemployed for nine years, which he spent partly on the Continent, partly in Scotland and London where he became an intimate of Lord Mountstuart.2

He stood for Elgin Burghs in 1771 against Thomas Lockhart but withdrew. Having secured the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 39th Ft. in 1773 he went to Gibraltar, but within a few years was ‘on a disagreeable footing’ with his colonel, Robert Boyd, lieutenant governor of the garrison. ‘To avoid any further interference with him’ he obtained in May 1779 three months’ leave to visit Spain, where on the Spanish declaration of war he was made prisoner. Eventually allowed to go to Portugal, he returned by rowing boat to Gibraltar.3

In 1780 he was returned for Tain Burghs with the support of his brother and Stuart Mackenzie. Appointed colonel of the newly raised Manchester Volunteers he served with his regiment at Gibraltar,4 and on his return home at the end of 1781 intervened in the Ordnance contracts debate of 4 Feb. 1782 to eulogize ‘the merit of General Eliott’.5 He did not vote on the censure of the Admiralty 20 Feb., but divided against the ministry on 22 Feb. on Conway’s motion against the war; again abstained on 27 Feb., probably at North’s request,6 but voted with Opposition on the censure motions of 8 and 15 Mar. He was essentially an independent, and a man with a grievance. In the debate of 12 Dec. 1782, on the vote of thanks to Eliott and other Gibraltar officers, he strongly objected to any mention of General Boyd, and when his amendment to that effect was not seconded, left the Chamber.7

He voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries on 18 Feb. 1783 but none the less was listed by Robinson in March as connected with Shelburne. On 13 Mar. he made a long speech on army organization, methods of raising regiments, and injustices to old officers, attacked the brevet system and called for an inquiry. Conway, the commander-in-chief, regarded it as an attack upon himself, but after considerable altercation the matter dropped. In the army estimates debate of 16 June 1783 he castigated as ‘pound foolish, farthing wise’ any such drastic reduction as that of 1763 and insisted that his regiment should be brought home in triumph to Manchester and there disbanded. After two attempts on 20 and 24 June to raise the question of half-pay (during which he was shouted down and ruled out of order) he made a long speech on the subject on 27 June, when ‘the House was so disorderly’ that he could not be heard. On 3 July he moved a motion intended as an attack upon Conway for partiality in distributing commissions, but before the division the House was counted out.8

He voted for Fox’s East India bill and remained loyal to the Coalition. A long-winded, dreary speaker with a low hoarse voice, who invariably bored or exasperated the House, he caused a sensation on 12 Jan. 1784 by his report of a conversation with a lord of the bedchamber [Galloway] who had told him ‘his name was down in the list of Members who always voted with Mr. Fox’. To this Ross had replied:

He had given no authority to have his name put upon any such muster roll; but he acknowledged he had generally voted in that manner and while he entertained the same good opinion of Mr. Fox and his friends ... would continue to vote with them. Upon this the noble Lord informed him that if he voted against the new Administration on the 12th of January ... he would be considered as an enemy to the King. The General declared his feelings were shocked ... as he would not suffer any man to control his vote.

This ‘proof of secret influence’ occasioned violent debates during which ministerial supporters produced accusations of attempted bribery by the Opposition. Keith Stewart, defending his brother Lord Galloway, challenged Ross’s interpretation of their interview, but eventually both sides dropped their charges.9

Henry Dundas believed that in a new Parliament Ross would lose his seat and that there was ‘a chance of getting in a friend’.10 At the general election Ross stood down in favour of Fox against whose return John Sinclair of Ulbster petitioned. When the select committee, on 13 Apr. 1785, summoned Ross to attend as delegate for Tain, he was under house arrest awaiting court martial, and wrote, 14 Apr., explaining that he had permission only to go out for his health and private affairs. None the less the House insisted that he obey the committee’s summons.11 Fox’s election was sustained; in the following year, after Fox had opted to sit for Westminster, Ross was not a candidate and his friend and kinsman George Ross was returned. When George died immediately afterwards, the General stood at the by-election, but was defeated. In 1786 Ross’s brother had to sell a considerable part of his estates, and the family lost much of their Ross-shire interest, including control of the burgh of Tain.

Ross did not attempt to re-enter Parliament and died 5 Mar. 1797.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Mackenzie to Bute, 18 July 1764, Bute mss.
  • 2. Boswell, Private Pprs. vii. 40-42; x. 191-2.
  • 3. Add. 38212, f. 79; F. N. Reid, Earls of Ross, 74.
  • 4. Add. 36801, f. 158.
  • 5. Debrett, v. 304.
  • 6. I. R. Christie, End of North’s Ministry, 332 n.
  • 7. Debrett, ix. 107-8.
  • 8. Ibid. 487-96; x. 172-4, 196-8, 212, 246, 267.
  • 9. Ibid. xii. 404, 519, 541-69.
  • 10. Laprade, 105.
  • 11. CJ, 14 Apr. 1785.