BARCLAY, Sir Robert, 8th Bt. (1755-1839).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - Apr. 1807

Family and Education

b. 13 Sept. 1755, 3rd s. of Sir William Blois Barclay, 5th Bt., by Susanna, da. of William Church of Gloucester, surgeon. m. (1) 30 Nov. 1780, at Ghent, Elizabeth (d. 13 Mar. 1788), da. of John Tickell of Glasnevin, co. Dublin, 2s. 1da.; (2) 20 June 1802, at Hamburg, Harriet Alicia, da. of Col. Thomas Durrell, sometime equerry to George III, wid. of Baron de Cronstadt of Sweden, 3s. suc. bro. Sir James Mantle Barclay as 8th Bt. 12 June 1793.

Offices Held

Member, board of agriculture 1793; dir. Rock Life assurance 1807, chairman 1812-13.

Collector of revenue, Mauritius 1813-29.


Barclay, whose elder brothers joined the army and the navy, entered the banking house of Barclay owned by his cousins. At the approximate age of 20 he went to Aix la Chapelle and by 1790 had built up both a banking house and a wine shipping business there.1 The outbreak of the revolutionary wars upset his commercial activities, but by 1795 he was again on the continent and offering his services to Lord Grenville as a British agent at The Hague. On the recommendation of Dundas, Barclay’s offer was finally accepted, but the post did not bring him the advancement he sought.2 Only two months after his appointment he incurred Grenville’s wrath by meddling in diplomatic affairs.

In January 1798 he was forced to leave The Hague to avoid arrest by the French party. Returning to England, he renewed contact with Dundas through the Scottish branch of the family and unavailingly offered his services as a commissioner of accounts to the army in the West Indies. A friend of his warned him that he was too little of a ‘slave’ to ministers to commend himself to them and urged, ‘Buy a borough, my friend, and you will become instantly an accomplished politician’. But he approached Grenville again, wishing to be rewarded for his services and hoping for a consulship at Emden or Altona.3 Disappointed in this he returned to the Continent in November 1798 and was captured by the French almost immediately. Imprisoned in Paris and brought to trial as a spy, he not only survived his twelve-month confinement but also made contacts with French businessmen and devised a new scheme for importing grain in contravention of the embargo. He obtained a permit to import from the Board of Trade and later claimed that his action had saved the country from famine in 1800-1. After the peace of Amiens, writing to Lord Hawkesbury from Hamburg, he grumbled that Grenville had not fulfilled a promise, in the event of peace, of the consulship general at Amsterdam, which he now solicited. He added that he had accepted a seat in Parliament, offered him by his friend Sir Richard Worsley*.4

Barclay described himself at the time of this unsuccessful application as a ‘warm supporter of ... government both in and out of Parliament’. He subsequently voted with opposition on the Prince of Wales’s claims and on the Nottingham election bill, 4 Mar., 3 May 1803. Writing to his friend Sir John Sinclair, 15 Dec. 1803, he was dissatisfied with ‘the state of parties’ and especially with Pitt’s ‘political manoeuvres’ and the split in the Whigs, which prevented the ‘manly opposition of Mr Windham’, in concert with Lord Grenville, from becoming an effective challenge to Addington’s inadequate defence measures.5 On 7 Mar. 1804 he was in the minority on Ireland, and a week later in that on Ceylon. From 19 Mar. he was in every known minority until Addington’s ministry fell. He was listed ‘Fox’ in May 1804, but that month Canning informed Pitt:

Sir Robert Barclay has voted with you constantly—as he insinuates, at my instigation, and for your sake I cannot undertake to say that this is so—but if he sticks to you, he will perhaps want a little job now and then. He is a corn factor.6

This probably fell on deaf ears. In any case, Barclay opposed Pitt’s additional force bill in June and was listed in September first ‘Fox and Grenville’, then among ‘the persons in opposition not quite certain’.

In opposition he remained, as the Treasury admitted in July 1805. He had voted with them on war with Spain, 12 Feb., on defence, 21 Feb., for the continuation of the naval commission of inquiry, 1 Mar., and on Melville’s case and the Duke of Atholl’s claims, 8 Apr., 7, 12 June. He was in the Grenville ministry’s majority for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and Grenville encouraged him to offer himself at Wells, on the assumption that he could not sit again for Newton at the election of 1806. But he was able to give up Wells, in a manner he thought gratifying to government, on securing the renewal of his tenure at Newtown (with power of vacating for another person) until the next dissolution. This was his pretext for urging Grenville to appoint him to office, whether compatible with Parliament or not, 30 Oct. 1806.7 Grenville made polite noises only, whereupon Barclay besieged him through the Prince’s secretary Col. McMahon, referring to his past services to Grenville in and out of Parliament, 25 Nov.8 Writing to Grenville on 18 Feb. 1807 in support of the abolition of the slave trade, of which he and his cousin David Barclay were ‘staunch friends’, he implied that Grenville had renewed his promise to find employment for him.9 Shortly before the dissolution he resigned his seat, having voted against the displacement of the ministry, 9 Apr., but apparently unprovided for by them.

On 3 July 1807 the Prince of Wales stood sponsor to Barclay’s infant son. Out of Parliament, he seems to have pinned his hopes on the Prince. In 1812 he offered the Prince’s secretary his services as an election broker. His affairs were in some disarray when in 1813 he obtained a place in Mauritius. Shipwreck on arrival there, 30 Jan. 1814, disposed of his effects. He wrote home to beg for an additional £500 p.a. to recoup himself. He was not implicated in the scandal of peculation among Mauritius officials that burst in 1823, and had got over his financial difficulties by then. He remained on the island as partner in a wine shipping business and died 14 Aug. 1839.10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: Winifred Stokes


  • 1. PRO FO38/1, Barclay to Grenville, 22 Jan. 1796; 38/3, same to same, 23 Mar. 1798; Add. 35641, f. 339.
  • 2. FO38/1, Barclay to Grenville, 1795-7; 38/2, same to same, 12 June 1797.
  • 3. FO38/2, Grenville to Barclay, Sept. 1797; 38/3, Barclay to Grenville, 12 Jan., 16 Feb., 23 Mar., 14 Nov. 1798; HMC Laing, ii. 638, 640, 662.
  • 4. HMC Laing, ii. 664-6; The Times, 14 Jan. 1800; PRO BT1/18.
  • 5. Add. 38236, ff. 56, 58; Sinclair mss.
  • 6. PRO 30/8/120, f. 197.
  • 7. Fortescue mss.
  • 8. Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2313.
  • 9. Fortescue mss.
  • 10. Geo. IV Letters, i. 161-2, 401; iii. 1088; Le Cernéen, Aug. 1839.