SHAFTO, Jenison (c.1728-71), of Wratting Park, Cambs.

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



1761 - 1768
1768 - 13 May 1771

Family and Education

b. c.1728, 2nd s. of Robert Shafto of Benwell Tower, Northumb. by Mary, da. of Ralph Jenison of Elswick, sis. and h. of Ralph Jenison; Robert Shafto’s gt.-gd.-fa. was bro. of Mark Shafto, M.P., ancestor of the Shaftos of Whitworth.  m. 24 Nov. 1750, Margaret (d. 20 Mar. 1766), da. and coh. of Thomas Allan, one of the principal coal-owners in co. Dur., s.p.

Offices Held

Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1745, lt. 1750; ret. 1755.


Shafto, a well-known sportsman, owner of race-horses, member of London clubs, and gambler, once rode ‘100 miles a day on Newmarket Heath for 29 successive days’; and again, for a bet, 50 miles in two hours.1 Most of his extant correspondence with George Selwyn, Lord Orford, and even some with John Calcraft is concerned with horses or gambling. He had proverbial luck. Horace Walpole wrote to Lord Hertford on 29 Dec. 1763: ‘The beginning of October, one is certain that everybody will be at Newmarket, and the Duke of Cumberland will lose, and Shafto win, two or three thousand pounds.’

On 8 Sept. 1760, Edwin Lascelles asked the Duke of Newcastle2 for his ‘interest and countenance with the officers of the customs’ at Scarborough in favour of Shafto whom he meant to put up at the general election. And on 26 Sept. Calcraft wrote to a friend:3 ‘The Vampire has secured Scarborough though rather dear. But next week [Newmarket races] may produce him what would buy two boroughs. I am one of those who sincerely wish it may.’ However, on 3 Oct., Calcraft wrote to Shafto:

In consequence of what you told me of your situation at Scarborough, I yesterday asked Mr. Fox as the greatest favour to me to bring you into Parliament if he could possibly find room ... He will ... try hard so let me know the extent of the sum you will go to. I hope your luck continues.

And on 3 Dec.:

Lord Bateman ... will attend you to Leominster where two or three days will do your business; you will have no opposition but your money must be distributed directly to your voters, all which Lord Bateman will put you in the way of ... You have a sure seat in Parliament and as things go it will be a cheap one, for 2000 guineas is offered everywhere.4

On 14 Dec. 1760 Bateman wrote to Newcastle:5 ‘Mr. Shafto has canvassed Leominster, and is I think very certain of success.’ But so little did Shafto care about Parliament that when in March 1761 a seat was required for ‘the accommodation of all parties’ at Midhurst, Shafto, wrote Fitzmaurice to Bute on 18 Mar.,6 was willing to

relinquish his place to either of the candidates upon their paying his expenses, which will amount to about £2,000, and the promise of either pension or place, guaranteed by your Lordship, that is fit for him to take.
If your Lordship thinks this proper or worth transmitting to the D. of Newcastle, an answer is to be wished for this night ... All that Mr. Shafto wishes is, that if it’s not accepted it shall not be mentioned.
If your Lordship thought it not too excessive a compromise, I mean the place of £500 a year, the parties will be ready to give the £2,000.

Bute transmitted the proposal to Newcastle the same day; Newcastle saw no objection ‘to the reversion proposed, except the objection to reversions in general’; and Bute asked Fitzmaurice to inform Shafto that he would receive the desired ‘security’. But in the end the offer was not accepted, and Shafto was returned for Leominster.

In October 1761 Newcastle’s parliamentary whip was sent to him through Bateman. Bute’s list of December 1761 marked him as ‘Fox’; and he naturally appears in Fox’s list of Members supporting the peace preliminaries. Although a follower of the Grenville Administration, he was absent from the division on general warrants, 18 Feb. 1764; he voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766; and was classed by Rockingham, at the end of 1766, as a ‘Bedford’. In 1768 Shafto was returned by his friend Lord Orford for Castle Rising. In the new Parliament his name appears in one division only: with the Administration over Wilkes, 8 May 1769. Only one speech of his in the House is reported: on 18 Mar. 1762, he ‘proposed the militia should be sent abroad. He did it (’twas said) to win a wager of £200, laid at Arthur’s.’7

He shot himself on 13 May 1771: ‘he had not been in his right senses for some days’, wrote James Brudenell;8 others ascribed his suicide to a ‘change of fortune upon the turf and elsewhere’.9

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Hist. Northumb. xiii. 224; E. Hughes, North Country Life in 18th Cent. 393.
  • 2. Rockingham mss.
  • 3. Lt.-Col. Whitshed, Add. 17495, f. 146.
  • 4. Add. 17495, ff. 150, 179.
  • 5. Add. 32916, f. 67.
  • 6. Bute mss.
  • 7. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 8. Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 9. Hughes, 393.