SHAFTO, Robert (?1732-97), of Whitworth, co. Dur.

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



9 Dec. 1760 - 1768
21 Feb. 1780 - 1784
19 July 1784 - 1790

Family and Education

b. ?1732, 1st s. of John Shafto of Whitworth, M.P. for Durham City, by Mary, da. and h. of Thomas Jackson of Nunnington, Yorks.  educ. Westminster 1740-9; Balliol, Oxf. 10 Nov. 1749, aged 17.  m. 18 Apr. 1774, Anne, da. and h. of Thomas Duncombe, of Barford, Wilts., 3s.  suc. fa. 3 Apr. 1742.

Offices Held

Comptroller of fines and forfeitures from the outports 1778.1


Of a Tory family, Shafto was put up in 1760 for Durham county by Lord Darlington, and elected with the support of the bishop of Durham and the Duke of Newcastle against Thomas Clavering, a regular Whig; and similarly at the general election in 1761. In Bute’s parliamentary list he was marked ‘Darlington, Lowther, pro’; and by 13 Nov. 1762 was classed by Newcastle as ‘contra’. But according to George Onslow’s list2 he voted with the Opposition over Wilkes, 15 Feb. 1764; according to Augustus Hervey’s3 he was absent; he voted against the Government, 18 Feb. In July 1765 he was classed by Rockingham as doubtful, but in December a Robert Shafto received from Rockingham a secret service pension of £200 a year, which would, however, seem exceedingly small for an M.P. Shafto did not vote against the repeal of the Stamp Act, nor is any further vote of his recorded during that Parliament. He was classed by Rockingham in November 1766 as ‘Tory, Bute’ (probably because of his connexion with Darlington and Lowther), by Newcastle and Charles Townshend in 1767 as ‘Administration’. He declined to stand again in 1768.

In 1780 he was returned on petition for Downton on the Duncombe interest, inherited in part by his wife. He voted with the Government, 1779-80, including Dunning’s motion. John Robinson, in his electoral survey of 1780, wrote about Downton: ‘Mr. Shafto will certainly come in again and whoever else he chooses.’ He continued his support of the North Government to the very end; did not vote on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, but was classed in Robinson’s survey of March as a follower of North. He supported Fox’s East India bill. In December 1783 Robinson wrote about Downton:4 ‘Mr. Shafto’s borough. He will come in himself. Attention and civility may probably obtain the other seat.’ There was in fact a contested election, Lord Radnor, a co-heir to the Duncombe property, opposing Shafto. After a double return Shafto was seated. William Adam classed him as Opposition in 1784, and so did North in 1788; but over the Regency bill, 1788-9, Shafto voted with Pitt. He is not known to have spoken in the House.

He was defeated at Downton in 1790 and 1796, and soon afterwards sold his interest to Radnor.  He died 24 Nov. 1797.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. T29/47/56.
  • 2. Add. 32953, f. 269; 32995, ff. 483-5.
  • 3. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 4. Laprade, 94.