WATSON, Brook (1735-1807), of East Sheen, Surr.

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



26 Jan. 1784 - Feb. 1793

Family and Education

b. 11 Feb. 1735, o.s. of John Watson of Hull by his w. Sarah Schofield.  m. 1760, Helen, da. of Colin Campbell, Edinburgh goldsmith, s.p.  cr. Bt. 5 Dec. 1803.

Offices Held

Commissary gen. to army in Canada 1782-3; agent for New Brunswick 1786-93; commissary gen. to army in Flanders 1793-1806.

Alderman of London 1784, sheriff 1785-6, ld, mayor 1796-7; director, Bank of England 1784-6, 1787-9, 1790-3, 1796-8, 1799-1801, 1802-4, 1805-6, dep. gov. 1806-7; chairman of Lloyds 1796-1806.


Watson, born poor, was sent out to America about 1749 to join a relative in business at Boston. Later, at Havana, attacked by a shark, he lost a leg. On recovering he went to Canada where he became assistant to the regimental commissary at St. Lawrence; and in 1758 entered into a business partnership at Halifax. In 1759, back in England, he became for a time partner to Joshua Mauger, a former Halifax merchant; and continued in trade, largely with America, alone or in partnerships, till about 1774. In 1763 he obtained a share in a land grant in Nova Scotia. In January 1772 he became a member of the first committee of Lloyds, and played a considerable part in its development.

Watson returned to America just before the outbreak of the revolution; and for several months acted as a secret service agent before coming back to England in November 1775. Appointed commissary general to Sir Guy Carleton in 1782, he became responsible for the embarkation and resettlement in New Brunswick of 35,000 loyalists.1

In January 1784 Watson was returned for London as Administration candidate in opposition to Brass Crosby, and at the general election topped the poll. Frequently intervening in debates, often self-contradictory, he talked platitudes even where he could have spoken from practical experience. While generally voting with the Government, he made the usual professions of independence: on 24 May 1785, he declared that, though an appreciative well-wisher to Pitt, if Pitt ‘appeared egregiously wrong, he certainly should vote against him’; and on 6 Feb. 1788, that he ‘neither had received nor would receive any favour from the minister’ (the pension of £1,500 p.a. for which he applied in 1785, and that of £500 granted to him in 1786, he apparently passed over as due to him ‘under the stipulations ... made when he accepted his commission’ in 1782). Would he accept instructions from his constituents? On 8 June 1784 he said he would have to obey where their ‘clear decided sense ... could be collected’, or else vacate his seat; on 24 June 1789, he claimed that it was well known ‘he did not hold that Members of Parliament ought in all instances to follow the instructions of their constituents’.2

Watson took considerable interest in Canadian and Newfoundland affairs, and when accused on 14 Feb. 1785 of acting from interested motives, stated that ‘he had been out of business above two years’, and was merely doing his duty as Member. Having on 28 Apr. 1786 called the Quebec Act a measure ‘wise and necessary at the time’ which ‘had saved the province of Canada’, he declared on 16 May 1788 that ‘he had always opposed the Quebec bill as containing a weak and inadequate system of Government by no means adapted to the province of Canada’. He retained bitter memories of America, whom he considered moreover a potential rival in trade, and on 15 Feb. 1785,

made a very animated ironical appeal to the feelings of the House on the great liberality that was due to the United States of America for their wonderful kindness to the unfortunate loyalists, their extreme partiality and favour to the British ships, and their singular encouragement of the commerce of this country in every point of view.3

He took an interest in the supply of seamen and shipping; supported the navigation laws; and pressed for further bounties for the fishing industry, a ‘source of wealth and nursery for seamen’.4 On 20 May 1789 Watson presented a petition from ‘the merchants, mortgagees, annuitants, and others, who are materially interested in the West India islands’ about possible interference in the slave trade.

He did not wish to go the full length of opposing any regulation of the slave trade, but ... was decidedly of opinion, that speedy abolition of it was repugnant to every principle of humanity, of justice, of common sense, and of reason.

The next day he queried Sir William Dolben’s statements that he could prove the cruelty of the slave trade and that the West Indies could be cultivated without negroes. ‘Justice and policy ... were deeply interested in not abolishing the slave trade immediately.’5

Watson left the House on being appointed commissary general in Flanders, and died 2 Oct. 1807.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. J. C. Webster, Sir Brook Watson, Friend of the Loyalists (1924).
  • 2. Debrett, xv. 222; xviii. 393; Stockdale, xiii. 166; xvii. 351; T29/56/457, 52/77/32-33.
  • 3. Debrett, xvii. 144, 173; xx. 142; Stockadale, xv. 18.
  • 4. Add. 38219, f. 47.
  • 5. Stockdale, xvii. 237, 250-1, 269.