MORRITT, John Bacon Sawrey (1771-1843), of Rokeby, Yorks.

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



2 Mar. 1799 - 1802
24 June 1814 - 1818
1818 - 1820

Family and Education

b. 1771 1st s. of John Sawrey Morritt of Rokeby by Anne, da. of Henry Peirse of Bedale. educ. Manchester g.s. 1781; St. John’s, Camb. 1789, to Paris 1789. foreign tour (Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Italy) 1794-6. m. 19 Nov. 1803, Katherine, da. of Rev. Thomas Stanley rector of Winwick, Lancs., s.p. suc. fa. 1791.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Yorks. 1806-7.

Lt. R. Lancs. militia 1792-4; capt. N. Yorks. vol. cav. 1797, lt.-col. commdt. 1803, lt.-col. commdt. Teesdale vol. inf. 1803.


Morritt, a Yorkshire landowner and dilettante, offered himself for Beverley on a vacancy in 1799. He had Lord Yarborough’s interest and applied successfully for that of Sir Christopher Sykes, whom he assured that he would ‘certainly support administration’. Sykes warned him against the expense of contests at Beverley, but he defeated a Whig contender for the seat. In his address of thanks he defied ‘the efforts of an implacable enemy abroad, and of an unprincipled faction at home’. Although his first known minority vote was for Grey’s motion to safeguard the independence of Parliament following the Irish union, 25 Apr. 1800, he made a maiden speech on 2 May defending the ‘necessity and wisdom’ of the measure. Pitt applauded its ‘great good sense’.1 His only other minority vote in that Parliament was for Sturt’s motion of inquiry into the failure of the Ferrol expedition, 19 Feb. 1801.

Morritt was disappointed at his defeat in the election of 1802, when he decided that Yarborough’s interest at Beverley was not worth having. He had declined an opening at York to contest Beverley. He at once applied to Walter Spencer Stanhope* for a possible opening on the Lonsdale interest which might arise from the ‘age and health’ of Lonsdale’s nominees. Nothing came of this or of a hint from William Wilberforce to Pitt on his behalf, though Pitt regretted his exclusion from the House.2 Then in July 1806 Viscount Lowther, Lonsdale’s successor, proposed him for the expected vacancy at Lancaster, as a candidate ‘acceptable’ to Lord Grenville. Morritt had considerable Lancashire connexions, but he declined, ‘partly from unwillingness to engage in an expensive contest, and partly from an apprehension, that Parliament, though advancing so near to its natural termination, may not live out that period’. Lord Grenville regretted his decision, as he would have been ‘in every respect a most unexceptionable candidate’. In 1807 he made an ‘excellent speech’ on Wilberforce’s behalf at the Yorkshire nomination meeting.3

Out of Parliament, Morritt devoted much time to his estates, his literary interests and his battalion of volunteers. In 1808 he befriended Walter Scott, who subsequently set a celebrated poem at Rokeby. In 1810 he published Advice to the Whigs, by an Englishman. Wilberforce had described him the year before as a warm friend of the government. In 1812 he lost £9,000 in the failure of Boldero’s bank.4

In 1814, shortly after returning from a visit to France, Morritt was elected for Northallerton on Lord Lascelles’s interest, his mother’s family controlling the other seat.5 His conduct at this time was independent, though he was well disposed to government. He was a Pitt Club member. On 23 Feb. 1815 he was a spokesman for the landed interest on the corn bill. He was not, as at first stated, in the government majority on the civil list, 13 Apr. 1815, and opposed them on that question on 8 May. He was in the minority on the East India ships registry bill, 6 June. He voted for the army estimates as they stood, 6, 8 Mar. 1816. On 18 Mar. he was in the majority against the property tax. He voted with ministers on the civil list on 6 May and against them on 24 May. He was in the opposition majority on the public revenue bill, 17 June. In 1817 only votes with ministers are known, three in February and one on 23 June for the suspension of habeas corpus, but he voted for Catholic relief, which his friend Scott had credited him with deprecating in 1807. (In 1826 he was to publish a pamphlet in favour of it.)6 He voted with government on the consequences of the suspension of habeas corpus, 10 Feb. 1818, but joined the opposition majority against the marriage grants to the royal dukes, 15 Apr., in spite of an invitation to Fife House to hear the ministerial case. On 25 May 1818 and again, 23 Apr. 1819, he attempted unsuccessfully to promote a lead mines assessment bill which was of some importance to Yorkshire mine owners.

In 1818 Morritt, whose name had been mentioned as a likely ministerial candidate for Yorkshire, transferred to a Dorset borough seat, on Lord Rosebery’s interest. He voted with ministers on the case of Wyndham Quin*, 29 Mar. 1819, and against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May. On 14 June he spoke in favour of quarantine regulations against plague, having been of the committee on it. He was also a member of the Poor Law committee, 1817-19. He was apparently an alarmist late in 1819, prepared to support coercive legislation against radicalism. Out of Parliament from 1820, he was ‘always forward and conspicuous in the ranks of Conservative politicians’. Since 1815 he had been a widower. He informed Wilberforce, 20 Apr. 1820, that he suffered from ‘lassitude and great mental anxiety’ which made him prone to seizures and made his standing for York out of the question.7

Nicknamed ‘Troy’ Morritt because of his researches into the site of the ancient city, he was in the vanguard of the Hellenistic revival. He was a founder of the Travellers Club in 1819. Wilberforce described him as ‘cheerful, unassuming, full of anecdote and a good deal of knowledge—literary—of the old fashioned church of England religion ... Most kind to his family and friends.’8 He died 12 July 1843.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: Winifred Stokes


  • 1. E. Riding RO, Sykes mss DDSY/101/68, Morritt to Sykes, 16 Feb., reply 19 Feb.; DDX/24/21, address, 5 Mar. 1799; Geo. III. Corresp. iii. 2140.
  • 2. E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 11 July; Sheffield City Lib. Spencer Stanhope mss, Morritt to Spencer Stanhope, 17 July 1802; Wilberforce Pprs. 33.
  • 3. Fortescue mss, Lowther to Grenville, 31 July, reply 5 Aug. 1806; Life of Wilberforce (1838), iii. 318.
  • 4. DNB (Morritt); Add. 38739, f. 321; Scott Letters ed. Grierson, iii. 90.
  • 5. NLS mss 3796, f. 84; Lockhart, Scott (1837), iii. 125.
  • 6. Scott Jnls. i. 271.
  • 7. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/42, 63; Life of Wilberforce, v. 35; Gent. Mag. (1843), ii. 548; Wilberforce mss.
  • 8. Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, ii. 126; Life of Wilberforce, iv. 392.