ADAM, Charles (1780-1853), of Barns, Kincardine and Blair Adam, Kinross

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1831 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 6 Oct. 1780, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of William Adam† of Woodstone, Kincardine and Blair Adam and Hon. Eleanora Elphinstone, da. of Charles, 10th Lord Elphinstone [S]. m. 4 Oct. 1822, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Patrick Brydone, traveller and antiquarian, of Lenell House, Coldstream, Berwick, 1s. 1da. KCB 1835; suc. fa. 1839. d. 16 Sept. 1853.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1790, midshipman 1793, acting lt. 1794, lt. 1798, cdr. May 1799, capt. June 1799, r.-adm. 1825, v.-adm. 1837; c.-in-c. W.I. 1841-6; adm. 1848.

Ld. of admiralty Nov.-Dec. 1834, Apr. 1835-Sept. 1841, July 1846-July 1847; commr. on naval and military promotion and retirement1838-40; gov. Greenwich hosp. 1847-d.

Capt. commdt. Kinross yeomanry 1818; ld. lt. Kinross 1839-d.


Born a younger son of an eminent Scottish Whig lawyer and office-holder, whose connections were aristocratic, Adam, a cousin of Thomas Francis Kennedy* and James Loch*, embarked on his distinguished naval career at the age of ten under the patronage of his maternal uncle Captain George Keith Elphinstone†, with whom he served in the Mediterranean and at the capture of the Cape in 1794. He transferred to the Victorious under Captain William Clerk the following year and served in several ships in the East Indies, the Mediterranean, the North Sea, South American waters and on the home station, distinguishing himself by the capture in the Seychelles in 1801 of the French frigate La Chiffonne, which he later commanded, and in operations off the Spanish coast at Tarragona (1811) and Almeira (1812). Sir Edward Pellew† praised his contribution to the 1813 negotiations with the dey of Algiers, and subsequently he was entrusted with sensitive missions, including that of bringing the emperor of Russia and king of Prussia to Dover for negotiations in 1814. He captained the Royal Sovereign the following year and during George IV’s 1821-2 visits to Ireland and Scotland, where from 1815 to 1830 his father was lord chief commissioner of the jury court.1 His marriage in 1822 to the countess of Minto’s sister Elizabeth Brydone, on whom her father had settled £12,000, strengthened his Whig connections, and the death in 1825 (shortly after the birth of his own son) of his brother John, a member of the supreme council and sometime governor of Bengal, left him heir to Blair Adam, where he now undertook most estate business.2 He endorsed the 1828 Scottish judicature bill and Catholic emancipation in letters to Loch and congratulated Henry Brougham* on his appointment as the new Grey ministry’s lord chancellor in November 1830.3 He had been defeated by the Melvillite Tory George Edward Graham* in Kinross-shire in 1819, but, encouraged by his father, the lord lieutenant, and Charles Stein of Hatton Burn, the convener, he promoted the adoption of pro-reform petitions there in January and March 1831 and, to the dismay of Alexander Pringle* and the Tories, came in unopposed at the general election in May.4

Adam generally supported the ministry and established himself as a useful commentator on naval issues and a voluble one on Scottish parliamentary reform, an issue on which the small Kinross-shire electorate, his father’s £4,000 pension, and his own political naivety and high-placed connections made him a prime target for opposition. He privately promoted his father’s views on burgh reform, which occasionally differed from those of Kennedy and ministers, whom he warned of the dangers of the ill-drafted bill, burgh sales and faggot votes. He also lobbied to secure the office of accountant general for his brother William George Adam, the lawyer criticized for poor drafting work on the first English reform bill.5 Speaking for the first time when the presentation of the Forfarshire anti-reform petition prompted discussion of the unprecedented rioting at the Scottish elections, 27 June 1831, he referred to his ‘orderly’ return for Kinross-shire, ‘where 7-8,000 attended but only 21 were entitled to vote’, and portrayed the loyal address presented to him there as a sign that its signatories could safely be enfranchised. He voted for the reintroduced English reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and consistently for its details, including paired votes for the enfranchisement of Greenwich, 3 Aug., and against the enfranchisement of urban freeholders in counties corporate, 17 Aug., and £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He intervened to limit time wasting by the anti-reformers, 3, 9 Aug., and presented a petition from the landowners and occupiers of Kinross-shire against the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 17 Aug. He voted for the reform bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. Responding to the Tory anti-reformer Sir George Murray, 3 Oct., he defended the government’s decision to include part of Perthshire in the proposed Clackmannan and Kinross constituency, and said that although he accepted that there was a case for awarding two Members to the most populous Scottish counties, this could not be conceded as it would jeopardize the entire measure. In his speech against Murray’s amendment granting second county Members to Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire, Edinburghshire, Fifeshire, Forfarshire, Lanarkshire, Perthshire and Renfrewshire the following day, he testified to Scotland’s support (and petitions) for the bill ‘as it stands’. He also argued that taken collectively Scottish counties were not statistically underrepresented compared with English ones, and pointed out that Scots remained eligible for election for English constituencies. He voted for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831.

He divided for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, steadily for its details, including the disfranchisement of Appleby, which his father’s memorial to Lord John Russell* had criticized,6 and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. On 2 Mar., when he foolishly responded to opposition taunts that the reformers were basely subservient to government, his remarks on his pride in his constituents’ and Scotland’s strong support for reform were ridiculed. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired, 10 May, and presented supportive petitions from Balmerino, 21 May, and Elgin, 1 June. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against increasing the Scottish county representation, 1 June. Before voting against Murray’s amendment opposing the ‘dismemberment of Perthshire’, 15 June, he again commended the decision to consolidate Clackmannan, Kinross and neighbouring Perthshire parishes into a single constituency returning to each Parliament, and denied that its creation was a sop to increase the influence of his own and the Abercromby families. He divided against Alexander Baring’s bill to deny insolvent debtors parliamentary privilege, 6 June. He had cast a wayward vote for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug. 1831, but divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and against the production of information on military punishments, 18 Feb. 1832. Now making light of opposition taunts, he spoke authoritatively in favour of the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. 1832.

Standing as a Liberal, Adam, who was expected to sponsor his father’s Scottish juries bill in the next Parliament, defeated a Conservative in Clackmannan and Kinross in 1832 and 1835 and sat undisturbed until 1841, having succeeded to Blair Adam and as lord lieutenant of Kinross-shire two years previously.7 A key member of the 2nd earl of Minto’s 1835-41 admiralty board, he had considered returning to sea since 1837 and stood down in 1841 to go to the West Indies as commander-in-chief. He returned briefly to the admiralty as first naval lord in 1846, before being rewarded with the retirement post of governor of the royal naval hospital, Greenwich, where he died intestate and was buried in September 1853. He was recalled as a spirited and competent naval lord, prone to ‘misplacing his spectacles and mislaying his papers, and who could seldom speak without getting excited, talking loud, looking fierce and thumping the table’.8 At Kinross sheriff’s court, 1 July 1856, administration of his estate was granted to his only son and successor at Blair Adam, William Patrick Adam (1825-81) of the East India Company, Liberal Member for Clackmannan and Kinross, 1859-80, who also ensured that Adam’s prenuptial agreement was honoured.9

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Oxford DNB; W.R. O’Byrne, Naval Biog. i. 3-4.
  • 2. NAS SC22/44/4; The Times, 30 June, 14, 16 Sept. 1825; Oxford DNB.
  • 3. NAS GD268/32/1, 3; Brougham mss, C. and W. Adam to Brougham, 23 Nov. 1830.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 551-2; Blair Adam mss (NRA [S] 1454), bdle. 372, Stein to W. Adam, 6 Jan., W. to C. Adam, 30 Jan.; bdle. 374, W. to C. Adam 12, 29 Mar.; NAS GD224/581/4; Stirling Advertiser, 27 May 1831.
  • 5. Brougham mss, C. Adam to J. Brougham, 4, 5, June, W. Adam to Lord Brougham, 9, 26 Sept., W.G. Adam to same, 23 Sept., W. Adam, ‘Mem. on Burgh Reform’, 29 Sept.; Blair Adam mss, bdle. 377, W. to C. Adam, 7, 29 June; bdle. 378, Lord John Russell to W. Adam, 29 July 1831; Three Diaries, 14.
  • 6. Blair Adam mss, bdle. 378, Russell to W. Adam, 29 July 1831.
  • 7. Brougham mss, W. to C. Adam, 1 Sept.; Scotsman, 15, 22, 28 Dec. 1832.
  • 8. Scottish Electoral Politics, 223, 234, 238, 250; The Times, 6 July 1841, 21, 22 Sept. 1853; Ann. Reg. (1853), App. pp. 257-8; J.H. Briggs, Naval Administrations, 1827-1892, p. 56.
  • 9. NAS SC22/44/4.