SCOTT, David I (1746-1805), of Dunninald, Forfar.

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



1790 - Mar. 1796
4 Apr. 1796 - 4 Oct. 1805

Family and Education

bap. 27 Feb. 1746,1 yr. s. of Robert Scott of Dunninald by Anne, da. of John Middleton of Seaton, Aberdeen. educ. St. Andrews Univ. 1759. m. 5 Oct. 1775 in Bengal,2 Louisa, da. of William Delagard, wid. of Benjamin Jervis, 1s. 3da.

Offices Held

Dir. E.I. Co. 1788-1802, dep. chairman 1795-6, 1800-1, chairman 1796-7, Apr.-Sept. 1801.

Col. 1 R.E.I. vols. 1796-1803.


At the age of 17 Scott went to Bombay, where he operated for 23 years as a free merchant and amassed a fortune. He established the agency house of Scott, Tate and Adamson and came to play an important role in the political and financial affairs of Bombay. He returned in 1786 as the acknowledged leader of the free merchants, with an unsurpassed knowledge of western Indian commercial concerns. He assumed the management of the London branch of his agency, which invested £50,000 in the 1797 loyalty loan. His specialized knowledge brought him into contact with Henry Dundas, with whose backing he was elected a director of the East India Company in 1788, and he soon became Dundas’s most intimate, able and influential contact at India House.

In 1790 Pitt employed him in negotiations for a commercial treaty with the Dutch and at the general election he was returned unopposed for his native county with Dundas’s support. He supported Pitt, voting as predicted against the relief of Scotsmen from the Test Act, 10 May 1791, for the Indian trade regulation bill, 24 May 1793, and for the triple assessment, 4 Jan. 1798. He signed the London merchants’ declaration of loyalty, 2 Dec. 1795. In his maiden speech, 21 Dec. 1790, he vindicated the war against Tipu, ‘a perfidious Prince’. On 5 June 1792 he countered opposition criticism of the state of the Indian revenue and commended ‘the superior conduct of the government abroad, and the great prosperity attending it’. He continued to speak mainly on Indian commercial matters, but attacked Grey and the Friends of the People for fomenting unrest, 17 Dec. 1792, welcomed Sinclair’s plan for a board of agriculture, 17 May 1793, and insisted that there was adequate naval protection for trade, 18 Feb. 1794 and 7 Jan. 1795. He voted against abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796.

At India House Scott worked to end the waste and restriction of trade inherent in the Company’s monopoly. His efforts were attended with some success and trade increased, but he was personally attacked by the monopolistic ‘old shipping’ interest through a successful resolution, 17 Dec. 1794, that no director should engage in private trade with India. He remained a director, but relinquished control of his agency to trustees acting for his 12-year-old son. As deputy-chairman and chairman of the Company from 1795 to 1797 he reached the zenith of his power and influence. Dundas, preoccupied with the war, increasingly relied on Scott, ‘my right-hand man’,3 for the administration of Indian business in London. In 1796 he carried through a revision of the shipping system against the furious opposition of the monopolists.

Unfortunately for Scott’s health, this hectic and demanding period of his career coincided with serious electoral problems. In the summer of 1795 he was threatened with a formidable opposition in Forfarshire and, with Dundas’s reluctant sanction, he hurried north to take counter-measures. Dundas brought to bear what influence he could and wrote to one freeholder, whose brother had declared against Scott:

if your brother had been a freeholder in Midlothian and taken a part against the advocate, it would not have hurt me more than his taking a part against Mr Scott. This does not proceed solely from a partiality for a worthy man whom I value much as a private friend but more forcibly from my feelings as a public man. If you were to ask Mr Pitt or me whether there is any connexion of ours either in or out of Parliament, whose aid is of more use in the conduct of much essential public business, we should both answer without a moment’s hesitation, there is not one.4

It soon became obvious that his chances of success at the next election were slim, but Scott was prepared to fight it out. Dundas, however, ordered him back to London in mid August, on the grounds that his absence was ‘attended with real inconvenience to the public service’, especially as the Company’s chairman was ill, and assured him that he could rely on being provided with a seat elsewhere. Scott resumed his duties and on 27 Nov. 1795 told a constituent that his routine of ‘early in the morning in the India House until late, two o’clock almost every morning in the House of Commons’ was ‘very severe indeed’.

At about this time he received offers of support from the venal Perth district of burghs, whose sitting Member, absent on naval service, had placed the seat at the disposal of Dundas’s nephew, the lord advocate. Dundas had already approved the candidature of Archibald Campbell* of Monzie, a kinsman of Lord Breadalbane, but bought him off with the promise of an alternative seat, the cost of which Scott reluctantly agreed to meet. Scott vacated the county and came in without opposition for the burghs early in 1796. At the ensuing general election he was challenged by Breadalbane on Campbell’s behalf, but flatly rejected Dundas’s suggestion that he should compromise. Breadalbane gave way and Scott held the seat until his death.5

His health collapsed under the enormous pressure of work shortly before he left the chair of the Company and, by rotation, the direction in April 1797. Despite repeated recourse to cures and convalescence he was never again a wholly fit man and a ‘tearing pain’ in his chest inexorably wore him down. He had to meet continued attacks from his enemies among the directors. He was exonerated from a charge that he had retained an illegal interest in the agency, 22 Mar. 1798, but his opponents were gaining ground and in February 1799 he had to leave his sick-bed at Bath to counter serious accusations of illicit trading and traitorous intercourse with France. Although he managed to clear himself and to carry through the House an Act safeguarding his revised shipping system, the struggle took a heavy toll of his health, money and fund of patronage, which he mortgaged for years ahead.

In April 1800 Scott, under pressure from Dundas, unwisely took the deputy chair, despite his isolation on the private trade question and in his unbending support for Wellesley’s expansionist policies in India. He became chairman in 1801 but, with Pitt and Dundas out of office, his position was untenable. He answered Jones’s attack on Dundas’s statement on the Company’s finances and congratulated his friend on his management of India, 24 June 1801, and resigned from the chair in September.6 He left the direction altogether the following year.

Scott, who was devastated by his wife’s death in 1803, supported Addington until 1804. During the final stages of the combined attack on the ministry in April he was convalescing at Land’s End, but he came painfully up ‘over rugged roads’ and arrived in time to vote with Pitt on the 25th. He declined Pitt’s offer of a seat on the India Board, as he had an earlier one from Addington. He voted against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, and two days later, on the motion for his dismissal from the King’s counsels, struggled against illness to plead for clemency and pay a warm tribute to his friend’s public services. His last reported speech in the House was on the motion to inquire into Sir Home Popham’s conduct, 8 May 1805, when he supported the ministerial amendment.

Scott lacked political judgment and discretion, but he was a dedicated, able and well-informed administrator, with many attractive human qualities. He died, broken and wretched, 4 Oct. 1805.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


This biography is based, unless otherwise stated, on Scott Corresp. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, lxxv, lxxvi).

  • 1. Ibid. p. x.
  • 2. Bengal Past and Present , iv (1909), 502.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/198/2/6.
  • 4. SRO GD51/1/198/2/8.
  • 6. Sidmouth mss, Scott to Addington [14 June 1801].