STEIN, John (b.1769), of Canonmills, Edinburgh.

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



1796 - 1802

Family and Education

b. 13 Sept. 1769, 1st s. of James Stein, distiller, of Kilbagie, Clackmannan by Catherine, da. of John Buchanan of Alloa, Clackmannan. m. 1 Feb. 1802, Grace, da. of John Bushby of Tinwald Downs, Dumfries, 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1804.

Offices Held


Stein was sixth in descent from John Stein of Craigton, Alloa (d.1615). His father was a partner with his brothers John and Robert in a distillery at Kennetpans by Alloa, ruined by the distillery legislation of 1788 which excluded it from the London market. The Steins, who had recently erected a Watt steam engine at their works to grind barley for distillation, went bankrupt. The works were sold to David Stewart but purchased back for the Steins by Sir Thomas Dundas* and Mr Erskine of Mar. They restored their credit and became spokesmen for the grievances of the Scottish licensed distillers against government.1 John Stein (possibly this Member’s uncle rather than himself) sold his whole stock of barley to government to counter bread scarcity in 1795 and was described as a banker in Edinburgh in 1796. In the following year the firm owed government £31,225 in licence duties and, being refused deferment of payment, just contrived to raise the money before proceedings were started against them.2

In 1796 Stein was returned to Parliament as a paying guest of Sir Robert Clayton*. Clayton usually returned Whigs, but only one minority vote of Stein’s is known, for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797. No speech of his in the House is recorded. On 25 Mar. 1799 he wrote to Pitt to announce that he had discovered how to make Dutch gin: ‘My distilleries of malt spirits and my residence, except during my attendance in Parliament, being in Scotland I am desirous to establish my apparatus there’, he added, and requested an exclusive licence to be included in the new Scottish distillery bill that session. He was treated by government as a representative of the Scottish distillers and in 1799 gave evidence to the Treasury on the advisability of prohibition of distillation from grain. In a letter to Henry Dundas, whose good opinion he feared he had forfeited, 8 Nov. 1799, he claimed that his views had been misrepresented and that he favoured a more limited moratorium on the prohibition. His own works at Canonmills were then ‘silent’ and his brother James was in charge of the Kilbagie distillery.3

Stein did not seek re-election in 1802. He had established a porter brewery in St. Petersburg, obtaining an exclusive licence which deprived the Southwark firm of Barclay, Perkins & Co. of a lively trade. This enterprise was doubtless managed by his father, who died in Riga on 15 Aug. 1804. The distilleries in Scotland continued, though the Steins did not prosper to the same extent as their cousins the Haigs. The date of Stein’s death has not been established, but the following comment, made in 1814, has the sound of an epitaph: ‘a man entirely devoted to the service of his country wherever it did not interfere with his own interest’.4

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Soc. of Genealogists, Stein ped.; Birmingham Ref. Lib. Boulton mss, Stein to Boulton and Watt, 29 Feb. 1788, 13 Jan. 1792; affidavit by Matthew Boulton, 8 Apr. 1788; PRO 30/8/180, f. 243.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/123, f. 145; Oracle, 7 Dec. 1795; Edinburgh Advertiser, 7 June 1796; T.17/26, ff. 26, 49, 53, 55, 57, 58.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/180, ff. 245, 251-7; T.17/26, ff. 76-7;
  • 4. Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 589.