CALCRAFT, John (1765-1831), of Rempstone, Dorset; Ingress, Kent and 6 Hanover Square, Mdx.

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



15 July 1786 - 1790
16 June 1800 - 1806
1806 - 1818
1818 - 1831
1831 - 11 Sept. 1831

Family and Education

b. 16 Oct. 1765, 1st illegit. s. of John Calcraft† of Rempstone and Ingress and the actress Mrs. Elizabeth Bride. educ. Harrow 1774; Eton 1778. m. 5 Mar. 1790, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir Thomas Pym Hales†, 4th bt., of Bekesbourne, Kent, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1772. d. 11 Sept. 1831.

Offices Held

Clerk of ordnance Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807; paymaster of the forces June 1828-Nov. 1830; PC 16 June 1828.

Capt. Purbeck vols. 1794; capt. Dorset militia 1798, maj. 1799-1809.


John Calcraft the elder, the son of a Grantham attorney and Member for Calne and Rochester, used his lucrative position as an army agent to build up a formidable reputation as a political man of business, and raised himself to the rank of a country gentleman.1 His son and namesake, who inherited his estates in Dorset and Kent and control over both seats at Wareham, had the same administrative ability and motivational drive, but enjoyed fewer outlets for his obvious talents. He also inherited his father’s weaknesses, one of which was a taste for actresses and, after the death of his wife in 1815, he kept up a long liaison with Eliza Chester. In 1822 it was thought that he might marry her, but in 1827, when Lady Spencer called him ‘that disgusting old profligate’, she fell into the clutches of George IV, Calcraft’s former patron.2 Having entered the Commons in 1786, Calcraft joined Brooks’s in December 1787 (sponsored by Fox), served in the Grenville ministry and was at times a leading member of opposition. He declined to come forward for Rochester, which he had been forced to quit in 1818, at the general election of 1820, when he spoke in favour of the Whig William Honywood* at the Kent election.3 Instead, with his elder and apparently entirely inactive son John Hales Calcraft, he was again returned unopposed for Wareham. He continued to be a regular attender, speaking often, especially on procedural matters and minor legislation, asking questions and calling for papers, and regularly serving on select committees. Described by Robert Ward* in February 1820 as ‘so violent an opposer’,4 he was by then one of the most senior of the Whigs, with whom he mostly voted in Commons divisions (often acting as teller) and for whom he was active in support of economies, Catholic relief and parliamentary reform. However, he was always inclined towards moderation, sometimes distancing himself from his more advanced colleagues, and one radical source commented in the early 1820s, when he became increasingly sympathetic to the Liverpool administration’s liberal endeavours, that he was a ‘wary oppositionist’.5

Calcraft remarked that there was not sufficient agricultural distress to merit inquiry and opposed alteration of the corn laws, 31 May 1820; he said that he had voted in the minority against the appointment of a select committee (on the 30th), and he acted as a teller for the ministerial majority for restricting its remit (on the 31st). He objected to the expense, 6 June, and repressive aspects, 16 June, of the construction of new barracks, and during July offered systematic but futile opposition to the barrack agreement bill. He voted against the appointment of a secret committee on the allegations against Queen Caroline, 26 June, but, with other Whigs, he left the House in order to avoid dividing on Hobhouse’s motion for an address calling on the king to prorogue Parliament, 18 Sept.6 His speech in condemnation of the bill of pains and penalties, 17 Oct., led Thomas Creevey* to call him the ‘greatest croaker’ against it and provoked comments revealing that both parties had doubts about his consistency.7 Lord Morpeth* wrote to Lady Holland, 22 Oct. 1820, that ‘I did not so well understand Calcraft’s language; his politics were not at one time quite so distinct as he wishes them to appear at present’.8 Ward, who called Calcraft’s attack on Lord Eldon, the lord chancellor, ‘one of the most illiberal things I ever heard’, observed that he would have liked to charge Calcraft with ‘worthlessness, as a man who, with reform in his mouth, sold his seats in Parliament for £5,000 a piece’.9

Calcraft divided steadily with the Whigs in Caroline’s defence in the early weeks of the 1821 session and several times pressed the case for lowering expenditure on the army. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and spoke for this, 26 Mar. He divided for making Leeds a scot and lot (not a £10 householder) borough if it obtained Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar., and, although he disagreed with attempts to reduce the influence of the crown in the House, 9 Mar., 6 Apr., he was a teller for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 9 May, and voted for alteration of the Scottish county representation, 10 May. According to Henry Grey Bennet*, he ‘handsomely trimmed’ John Beckett, 15 Mar., when he criticized the military’s involvement in the Carlisle election.10 He welcomed Scarlett’s attempt to reform the poor laws, 8 May, but asked him not to press it that session, 24 May, and opposed the poor relief bill, 6, 8, 14, 20 June.11 He spoke and divided against Thomas Frankland Lewis* being appointed a commissioner of the Irish revenue inquiry, 15 June. He voted with ministers for paying the arrears of the grant to the duke of Clarence, 8, 18, 29 June, but divided against them on Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June, and led the opposition to the grant to General Desfourneaux, 28 June 1821.12

Advocating the abolition of as many taxes as would be consistent with maintaining the public credit, he voted for Hume’s amendment to the address, 5 Feb., but gave reluctant support to ministers on the Irish insurrection bill, 8 Feb. 1822. He spoke and acted as a teller for more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11 Feb., and voted for this, 21 Feb., when he asked the chancellor to abide by government’s promise to phase out the additional malt duties.13 Although he told Sir James Mackintosh* on 19 Feb. that ‘the squires were pacified if not satisfied by the retrenchments’ proposed by ministers, he introduced a motion for the gradual abolition of the salt tax, 28 Feb.; it was lost by only four votes.14 He continued to press the case for reducing this, pledging to persist in his efforts after the failure of another attempt, 28 June, and attacked other duties as no longer necessary.15 Having voted to abolish one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., he was unable to do so again on 2 May because of the ‘alarming illness’ of his daughter Fanny (who died on the 7th).16 He for the first time stated his belief that reductions in the army had proceeded as far as was practicable, 4 Mar., and he did not invariably support economies, as the Grenvillite Joseph Phillimore* reported that ‘Calcraft went out just before the division’ on reducing the cost of the embassy to the Swiss cantons, 16 May.17 But he supported the principle of making savings on civil superannuations, 11 Mar., and military and naval pensions, 24 May, 3 June, when he criticized ministers for their inflexible attachment to the sinking fund. He divided for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr., spoke and voted for receiving the Greenhoe reform petition, 3 June, and divided in condemnation of the influence of the crown, 24 June. On 14 June 1822, when he objected to William Cobbett’s† rider to the Kent petition against distress, he explained that he had been unable to attend the county meeting because of his attendance in the House on the salt question.18

He initially offered his support to Henry Bankes*, if he were unopposed, for the vacancy for Dorset in February 1823, but quickly put his weight behind the absent Edward Portman junior as a replacement for his deceased father, and, one of his most active supporters, he seconded his successful candidature at the nomination meeting.19 He spoke and voted for Maberly’s motion to reduce taxation, 28 Feb., called for further specific duties to be abolished, 4 Mar., and on 11 Mar. gave notice of a motion to repeal the leather tax (which, however, he had to abandon, 30 May).20 On 6 Mar. he moved to postpone receiving the report on the National Debt Reduction Acts to 21 Apr., in order to give more time for alternative means of alleviating distress to be substituted for it; he was a teller for the minority that day, and divided against its third reading, 17 Mar. According to Charles Williams Wynn*, Calcraft was going to support the Irish attorney-general William Plunket* against Brownlow’s censure motion on the ex-officio informations relating to the Dublin Orange rioters on 15 Apr., but he divided for inquiry into the legal proceedings, 22 Apr., and made minor interventions in the committee on this in May.21 He was a teller for the minority for adjourning the debate on Catholic relief to the next day, 17 Apr. He voted for parliamentary reform, 24 Apr., supported alteration of the representation of Edinburgh, 5 May, and divided for reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June. Although sympathetic to the principle of the Irish tithes composition bill, he commented that it was unworkable, 30 May, and opposed it, 6, 16, 27 June, 4 July.22 On 13 June, when he supported the chancellor’s proposal for a higher barilla duty, he divided (as he did again on the 17th) against the beer bill. He complained of the silk manufacture bill being needlessly delayed to the following session, 18 July. In October 1823 Calcraft’s neighbours presented him with a piece of plate in gratitude for his by now successful exertions against the salt tax.23

He objected to opposition calls for reducing the size of the army, 20 Feb., and largely welcomed the tax reductions proposed in the budget, 23 Feb. 1824, although he expressed disappointment that they were not more extensive. He voted for reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. He criticized the repeal of the Irish linen bounties, 22 Mar., the exportation of long-haired sheep, 26 Mar., and the grant for Windsor Castle, 5 Apr.24 He voted for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 11 May, and was named to the select committee on this. He spoke and acted as a teller for the minority for his own motion to repeal the leather duty, 18 May. He conceded that the dangerous state of Ireland required the passage of an insurrection bill, 18 June 1824. At his own request, he was replaced by Sir Matthew Ridley on the select committee on the state of Ireland, which was reappointed on 17 Feb. 1825.25 Condemning pro-Catholic ministers for staying in office, he attacked the Irish unlawful societies bill, 11 Feb., and divided (or was a teller) against it, 15, 18, 21, 25 Feb. He voted for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May; having ridiculed hostile petitions from London and Margate, 21 Apr., he presented one in its favour from the Protestant Dissenters of Wareham, 22 Apr.26 As Williams Wynn recounted, on the duke of Buckingham’s heir Lord Chandos insisting on 18 Apr. that he would oppose Catholic relief

Calcraft, who was standing behind the [Speaker’s] chair among a great crowd, said loud enough for me and all to hear, ‘I like to see this sort of display of union and good feeling in the Grenvilles; they must strengthen any government and are fit for any king’.27

Although he congratulated the chancellor on his financial management, 3 Mar., he was a teller that day for the minority for repeal of the assessed taxes. On the London Brick Company bill, 28 Mar., he stated that ‘on the general principle which he had adopted with respect to such companies as the present, he would oppose this bill unless ... he heard some good reasons from the opposite side that the Act was necessary’.28 He spoke and voted for alteration of the corn laws, 28 Apr., and repeal of the window tax, 17 May, and complained of the lack of consideration given to the combination bill, 27 June. During speculation in late 1825 over the possibility of a dissolution, it was rumoured that he would offer for Dorset, but in fact he dropped his threatened opposition to Bankes, who gained the county seat on a vacancy early the following year.29

The anonymous pamphlet Some Practical Remarks on the Effect of the Usury Laws (1826) was addressed to Calcraft, who invariably opposed their alteration, after he had spoken against the introduction of an amendment bill, 15 Feb. 1826. That month, blaming the Bank of England rather than the country banks for the recent financial crisis, he repeatedly challenged plans to curtail the issue of small notes. Having voted against going into committee on the Bank Charter Acts, 13 Feb., he made a long speech against ministerial policy and was a teller for minorities against the third reading of the promissory notes bill, 7 Mar., and for inquiry into their circulation, 19 Mar. He argued against free trade in corn, 2, 6 Mar., but called for further discussions on the corn laws, 9 Mar. He asked the chancellor to lower the tobacco duties, 13 Mar. He criticized adding the salary of the treasurer of the navy to that of the president of the board of trade, 6 Apr., and acted as a teller for his own motion to postpone this vote of supply, 7 Apr. (when he also voted for Hume’s motion for inquiry), and against receiving the report, 10 Apr. He divided for reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., parliamentary reform, 27 Apr., and Russell’s resolutions against electoral bribery, 26 May. He forced a division, which he lost by 42-34, against the last of the resolutions relating to private bills, 19 Apr. On 2 May, when he told the House that he had accepted ministers’ arguments and therefore voted with them in the majority against Whitmore’s motion for inquiry into the corn laws (on 18 Apr.), he complained about the government’s change of direction in now sponsoring a corn bill. Although he praised Canning, the foreign secretary, for making it less objectionable, 5, 8 May, he voted against its second reading, 11 May, and repeated his concern that agriculturists should not be deprived of an adequate protecting duty, 12 May 1826.

That summer, when he was described by William Wilberforce* as ‘a very superior man’, Calcraft was returned unopposed for Wareham at the general election.30 He spoke and voted against the address, 21 Nov., but praised the duke of York’s handling of army appointments, 30 Nov. 1826, and opposed reductions in the navy, 12 Feb. 1827. He expressed his support for and voted with ministers on the grant to the duke of Clarence, 16 Feb., 16 Mar.31 He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. Having made several interventions on the corn laws, he brought up a Sussex petition against their alteration, 26 Mar.32 He voted for information on the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar., and inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr., when he also divided in condemnation of chancery administration. According to Lord Howick*, he, like some other opposition Members, sided with government against Tierney’s motion to postpone supplies until an administration was appointed, 30 Mar.33 In mid-April, Canning, the likely new prime minister, recorded that Calcraft ‘has been here (at his own request) to offer himself, and with office’. Having urged Lord Lansdowne and other moderate Whigs not to break off negotiations, he condemned their decision to do so, and wrote to Canning, 20 Apr., that ‘having always told my friends that if it went off, I should, notwithstanding, adhere to your government, I now tender my services ... if you think they can be at all useful in completing your arrangements’.34 By the end of the month, with Lansdowne secured for the ministry, Calcraft was expected to receive a place, but a complicated misunderstanding deprived him of the department of woods and forests. On 1 May, when he assured Canning that he still had ‘the most perfect confidence in you’, he took his seat near Henry Brougham on the treasury benches.35 But in mid-May 1827 the duke of Newcastle recorded that Calcraft and Tierney ‘have declared that they will leave the party if something is not done for them’.36 He voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, when he spoke and acted as a teller for the minority against the third reading of Lord Althorp’s election expenses bill. He stated that he would vote for repeal of the Test Acts, 30 May, and the next day brought up two favourable Wareham petitions.37 As William Sturges Bourne*, Lansdowne’s predecessor as interim home secretary, insisted on having woods and forests as compensation, Canning was obliged ‘by his original separate treaty’ to offer Calcraft the paymastership in July, but this also came to nothing.38 On the death of Canning in early August, Calcraft believed that Wellington, if he set aside his command of the army, was the only possible successor. He told Sir Henry Hardinge* that

you must have a mixed government if you want strength and quietness. The late government broke up the Tory party. The difficulties of forming a strong government out of the old materials are insuperable. There is equal difficulty in Lord Lansdowne or Lord Grey acting under Mr. Peel. They can under the duke. You cannot stand by yourselves, the only outlet for the difficulty is to have the duke premier.

Hardinge informed Wellington of the view that he could cheaply obtain individual ‘Whig talkers’, such as Calcraft, whose ‘language is: forget the past, we must all put our shoulders to the wheel, and whichever party uses oil instead of vinegar will succeed’.39 Having acquiesced in Lord Goderich’s succession, Calcraft described the Whigs as ‘mad’ to object to the ‘very proper’ appointment of John Herries* as chancellor.40 James Abercromby* wrote to Lansdowne in September that Calcraft’s joining ministers without the main body of Whigs would have been only ‘useless or discreditable’. Tierney informed Lady Holland, 8 Nov., that Calcraft’s ‘language was quite friendly to government’, and her husband commented to Lansdowne on the 27th that Sir Francis Burdett* was a ‘fellow traveller’ of Calcraft, ‘whom I hardly expect to see quite contented till he is in the Gazette’.41 Calcraft was, however, included in Tierney’s list of the proposed finance committee in late November 1827.

Calcraft expressed cautious support for the address prepared by the new administration under Wellington, 29 Jan. 1828, but was answered by the ‘considerably surprised’ Lord Normanby, who distanced his friends from him. John Croker* recorded that day that

Calcraft said a few words in his ordinary neutral style, and I could see that Normanby, Dr. Lushington and Brougham interchanged sneers at what he said. He is, as he has so long been, only waiting an opportunity to leave the opposition side of the House.42

He had to be persuaded not to give notice of a motion calling for ministerial explanations from Huskisson, which would have overshadowed the motion planned by Normanby for 18 Feb.43 He opposed reductions in the armed forces, 22 Feb., when he responded to Hume’s attack on him by declaring his confidence in the new treasury board, and during the following weeks he repeatedly offered constructive suggestions on how further economies might be made. He divided, 26 Feb., and spoke for repeal of the Test Acts, 28 Feb., and voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. He divided for repealing the Act prohibiting the use of ribbons at elections, 20 Mar., and against extending East Retford into the hundred of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar. He objected to the introduction of poor laws to Ireland, 1 Apr., and Wilmot Horton’s emigration bill, 17 Apr. He brought up a Shaftesbury petition against altering the corn laws, 22 Apr., when, regretting that he had to differ with ministers, he moved to adopt Canning’s pivot price of 60s. (instead of 64s.); it was defeated by 202-58. He stated that he would oppose the usury bill unless it was taken up by ministers, 15 May, and complained that the finance committee had still not reported, 16 May. He criticized the clause in the alehouses licensing bill allowing an appeal to county magistrates, 21 May 1828.

Calcraft was considered for office at the time of the reshuffle caused by the departure of the Huskissonites and, although he initially and regretfully declined to accept a position, possibly his former place at the ordnance, he was appointed paymaster in the middle of June 1828.44 His adhesion to government was thought to have strengthened Wellington at the expense of the Whigs, and Lord John Russell commented that ‘indeed I believe he only refused at first from a notion that the ministry would not stand’.45 Less charitably, Lord Palmerston*, who had long suspected the move, informed Lady Cowper, 19 June, that

Calcraft told Robert Gordon* ten days ago that he had refused the pay office because there was nobody in the cabinet in whom he felt sufficient confidence; he now says that the duke’s speech on the Catholic question has placed affairs in quite a new position. Nobody is ever at a loss for an excuse for doing a shabby thing, but certainly, excepting always the Flying Yorkshireman at Sadler’s Wells, few people have ever taken a more violent jump than Calcraft has done across the Speaker’s table, candles, clerks, consistency and all.46

At the by-election at Wareham, 20 June, he denied having ‘sacrificed one single principle’ and justified his change of allegiance by telling the electors that

there is such an union of political opinion at present in His Majesty’s government that I hope to see the country as unanimous in their political principles, as all my friends in this room are unanimous in again returning me their Member.47

On the 27th Palmerston noted that Calcraft ‘was a good useful and ready debater’, but foresaw that ‘a man who changes sides so suddenly and singly, fights under great disadvantages and his sharp style of debating will not do in his present position so well as when he fought on his own account only’.48 Speaking for the first time from the government benches, 30 June, Calcraft brushed aside John Wood’s condemnation of him for abandoning the cause of the people, but replied to Sir James Graham’s civil request that he use his new influence with the chancellor to reduce the grant for additional churches by saying that it was a project which he had always supported. He spoke in defence of (and duly divided with his ministerial colleagues on) the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828, when Graham, referring to his gradually preparing the ground for a transition to government, charged him with having ‘exercised a marvellous prescience on most political questions’ and remarked that he, ‘on this occasion acts, with the usual zeal and discretion of a young proselyte’. Calcraft thereafter not only adhered to the ministry, but was occasionally sniped at by one of his former friends in the House, where he was much less active.

As he had promised Lord Holland, in October 1828 he attended the Kent county meeting to speak for Catholic relief and, although barely given a hearing, he condemned the freeholders for giving in to the dictation of the Brunswick Club.49 He was, of course, listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as likely to be ‘with government’ on the Catholic question and duly divided for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He justified the existence and efficient management of the army pay office, 20 Feb. 1830. Despite his former opinions, he recorded votes against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. On 22 Feb. he again defended himself from Hume’s renewed attack on the expenditure of the pay office. He was named chairman of the select committee on the sale of beer, 4 Mar., presented the report, 6 Apr., and on 8 Apr. obtained leave for a bill to throw open the trade, which he again advocated on 4 May; it passed that session.50 He vindicated government policy in the debate on Palmerston’s censure motion regarding Portugal, 10 Mar.; George Agar Ellis* thought he spoke ‘indifferently’ and his wife described the performance as ‘a most absurd wretched sort of speech’, while Lord Howick* noted that his speech was ‘an impertinent and a bad one’.51 Two days later, when he explained to Graham that he had not acted inconsistently on the question of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, he took the opportunity to praise ministers’ achievements on Catholic relief, economies and law reform, and declared that he had been gratified by the invitation to enter office: ‘I did not, however, accede to it in haste. I acceded to it on mature deliberation and, having acceded to it, I defy any man to say that in conduct I have exhibited any dereliction of former principles’. Brought up by Gordon, 26 Apr., he insisted that he still opposed reform of the usury laws. Having been appointed to the select committee on Windsor Castle, 11 June, he reported from it, 9 July, and denied that it had been packed with ministerialists, 16 July 1830.

Calcraft, who was returned unopposed for Wareham at the general election that month, witnessed the death of Huskisson in September 1830.52 Although he told Charles Arbuthnot* that summer that ‘he was sick of the House of Commons and would be very glad to go’, by October he ‘had no thought’ of making way to enable Wellington to broaden his government. Mrs. Arbuthnot, who believed that he ought to be made to speak more, recorded him as saying that

our misfortune was, that the cabinet in the House of Commons were below par ... and then for those not in the cabinet, it was almost impossible to speak for they were kept completely in the dark; but that, however, all must try and he, for one, was most anxious to do any thing he could.53

He denied that government would rescind its recent regulation regarding officers’ half-pay, 4 Nov. He, who was naturally listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, spoke for and voted with them on the civil list, 15 Nov. Lord Grey, who succeeded Wellington as premier, would not have retained Calcraft, who in any case took his seat on the opposition benches on the 22nd.54 He commented adversely on ministerial proposals on various duties and economies, 8, 9, 14, 23 Dec., and vindicated at length the conduct of the former government, 21 Dec. 1830. On 4 Feb. 1831 he justified Wellington’s policy on the civil list; according to Greville, ‘Calcraft, who could do nothing while in office, found all his energies when he got back to the opposition benches, and made (everybody says) a capital speech’.55 Thomas Gladstone*, who noted that he ‘was amusing beyond measure’, felt that the speech had ‘created considerable sensation in his and the ex-ministers’ favour’, and the now ex-minister Goulburn reported to his wife the following day that ‘our friends were remarkably well satisfied both with Calcraft and myself and we all went home in great glee’.56

Calcraft denounced the ballot, 28 Feb., and made a major speech against parliamentary reform, 4 Mar. 1831, when, astounded at the scale of the government’s proposals, he criticized the doctrine of superseding the rights of patrons and electors, as at Wareham, particularly as it was a capitulation to intimidation by the people. He stated that ‘I have often voted in this House for reform; I am still a reformer’, but concluded that the measure would ‘interfere with the balance of the constitution, and throw such a preponderating power into this estate as must be fatal to the two others’. He continued to attack government, for instance on the timber duties, 19 Mar.; yet on 22 Mar. he was cheered when he announced that he would vote, as he duly did that day, for the second reading of the reform bill. The majority of one in the bill’s favour was widely credited to his ‘11th hour’ conversion,57 and Denis Le Marchant† observed that

no vote perhaps caused more surprise as Calcraft delivered one of the best speeches against the bill, which was perhaps more against his conscience than his vote, for he had always been a strong advocate for parliamentary reform, though I doubt whether he would have made any personal sacrifice for it.58

Indeed, it was suspected that his allegiance had been bought by ministers at the price of saving Wareham from schedule A. Calcraft denied this in the House and said that he would continue to fight on its behalf, 23 Mar., when he told Colonel Sibthorp that he would stay on the opposition benches as he thought his ‘musical voice’ sounded better from there. His comment that day in defence of Portman, the other Member for Dorset, that a moderate reformer who had divided for the second reading was not obliged to support the bill’s details, encouraged the opponents of reform to believe he would follow this course.59 In fact, this was a false hope, as Creevey reported to Miss Ord from Brooks’s on the 23rd:

Here is Jack Calcraft by my side, who after all voted with us last night, and was of the greatest service, and he tells me the enemy certainly will fall off between this and the committee, if we don’t go on blundering as heretofore in our finance matters. Never man has more evidently made up his mind to take office under Lord Grey than Jack provided he can get it.60

Having made another comment on the need to settle the civil list, 28 Mar., and presented the Wareham petition against the bill, 13 Apr., he divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, which precipitated a dissolution. The Whigs failed to entice him into office, but Holland reported to the prime minister in late April that

I have seen Calcraft and nothing can be more satisfactory and gratifying, indeed so much so that I am almost overwhelmed by it. He says he is determined to support us and pleased and gratified at a thorough renewal of old habits. He says that he fully intended to give us every assistance in his power.61

As part of his new pledge of allegiance, he brought in his younger son Granby Calcraft and another reformer for Wareham at the ensuing general election. He himself accepted a requisition to stand for Dorset as a reformer against his old adversary Bankes. After a severe contest and a six-day poll, he was returned in second place, behind Portman, and he saw his triumph as a vindication of his opinions in favour of reform, further economies and retrenchment and the abolition of slavery.62

Yet, satirized in public prints as well as in private, Calcraft’s having twice switched parties meant that he was no longer respected; as Bankes put it, his ‘shameless inconsistency’ ensured that ‘no man was less considered in the House of Commons as to character and principle’.63 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, but made no other votes or speeches, as ‘severe indisposition’ prevented him from attending Parliament thereafter.64 He was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 2 Aug. According to Joseph Jekyll†, writing in late July, ‘they say Calcraft has fallen into a state of such nervous hypochondriasis that he cannot be persuaded to enter the House of Commons. To be sure he is no ordinary girouette, so ratting cannot have depressed his spirits’.65 In fact, it was only too apparent that he had lapsed into a state of physical exhaustion and increasing mental illness caused by his terror of receiving, from either Tories or Whigs, any further real or imagined slights; Mrs. Arbuthnot imagined that he ‘could not bear the contempt which he felt he deserved and fancied his old associates treated him with’.66 Although the family had been warned to watch him closely, his daughter Arabella returned from church on the afternoon of 11 Sept. 1831 to find him lying in a pool of blood. He had evidently used a razor to make ‘a wound across his throat, dividing the principal arteries and laying bare the vertebrae of the neck’. The inquest found that Calcraft, who for months had suffered from a ‘deep and settled melancholy’ and had ‘latterly fancied that he was continually watched by a man sitting on the top of a house’, had committed suicide while in a state of ‘temporary mental derangement’.67 This ‘sad catastrophe’ was blamed by Lady Holland on ‘over-excitement’, and Hobhouse observed that although ‘the Tories attribute this to remorse, I believe politics had nothing to do with the matter. He had lost his head from excessive worrying I hear’.68 The original malaise no doubt first derived from his ‘pointedly cool’ reception by his former friends in the Commons, but it was reported in the Observer, Calcraft’s regular Sunday paper, that it was his disappointment at the omission of his name from the list of coronation peerages printed in the issue of 11 Sept. that determined him to take his life that day.69 The vacancy caused by his death led to the intensely fought Dorset by-election, which was narrowly won by the anti-reformer Lord Ashley, so that Calcraft’s final action can be said to have increased the difficulties faced by the Grey ministry in carrying its reform bill.

By his will, dated 5 Aug. 1831, Calcraft, who was buried in St. James’s church, Piccadilly on 17 Sept., left his entire estate, including personal wealth sworn under £6,000 (re-sworn under £8,000 in 1833), to his elder son.70 Le Marchant wrote that Calcraft was a man

of great quickness of apprehension and possessed considerable readiness and fluency of speech, so that he was no mean debater. He had been a person of some figure in his day. A handsome fortune and handsome person had gained him a rich heiress. The duke of Wellington had pressed him earnestly to be a member of his administration, but Calcraft answered that he preferred his honour to any post the duke could give him, and refused, and told everybody what he had done. Whether it was that he conceived his heroism not to be sufficiently appreciated or that he repented it, he afterwards accepted the paymastership from the duke. He was a very agreeable man, very convivial, and very good-natured, and unfortunately, very extravagant and unprincipled. His amours were indecently public - taste for the drama - the Dorsetshire election - his suicide [sic].71

In a statement that looked back to the eighteenth century, Holland’s judgement on John Calcraft the younger was that

with all his faults, public and private, he was an amiable, useful and clever man. He has not left a more ready debater behind him. And if he had much of the appearance and some of the faults, he had all of the merits, of that race of unprincipled politicians who formed the majority of our leading public men during the greater part of the last century. He was frank, bold, friendly and honourable to his party, as long as he professed to belong to it, though incapable perhaps of choosing or adhering to it from any public virtue.72

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. For the family background, see J. Hutchins, Dorset, i (1861), 534; R.D. Ryder, Calcrafts of Rempstone (typescript, 1975) in Dorset RO, Ryder mss D/RWR Z7; M. Davey, Calcrafts, Their Times and Reform.
  • 2. M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, x. 14429; Add. 57938, Lady to Lord Spencer, 5 Nov. 1827.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 355-9; Kentish Chron. 29 Feb., 21 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. ii. 51.
  • 5. Black Bk. (1823), 144; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 454.
  • 6. Essex RO, Barrett Lennard mss D/DL C60, Barrett Lennard to fa. 19 Sept. 1820.
  • 7. Creevey Pprs. i. 333-4.
  • 8. Add. 51579.
  • 9. Phipps, ii. 63-64.
  • 10. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 37.
  • 11. The Times, 7, 9, 15 June 1821.
  • 12. Grey Bennet diary, 99, 111, 113.
  • 13. The Times, 22 Feb. 1822.
  • 14. Add. 52445, f. 49; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 146.
  • 15. The Times, 29 June 1822.
  • 16. Western Flying Post, 13 May 1822.
  • 17. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 327.
  • 18. The Times, 15 June 1822.
  • 19. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Calcraft to Bankes, 13 Feb., Scott to same, 15 Feb.; Western Flying Post, 24 Feb., 3 Mar. 1823.
  • 20. The Times, 5, 12 Mar., 31 May 1823.
  • 21. Buckingham, i. 446.
  • 22. The Times, 28 June 1823.
  • 23. Ibid. 27 Oct. 1823; Ryder mss F16.
  • 24. The Times, 6 Apr. 1824.
  • 25. Add. 40373, f. 187.
  • 26. The Times, 22, 23 Apr. 1825.
  • 27. NLW, Coedymaen mss, bdle. 18, Williams Wynn to Fremantle [18 Apr. 1825].
  • 28. The Times, 29 Mar. 1825.
  • 29. Dorset Co. Chron. 6 Oct.; Bankes mss HJ1, W.J. to H. Bankes, 22 Dec. 1825.
  • 30. Life of Wilberforce, v. 272.
  • 31. Creevey Pprs. ii. 106.
  • 32. The Times, 27 Mar. 1827.
  • 33. Grey mss GRE/B24/2/103; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1299.
  • 34. Canning’s Ministry, 171, 180, 190, 202; Creevey Pprs. ii. 114, 160; Add. 51584, Tierney to Holland [22 Apr. 1827].
  • 35. Canning’s Ministry, 273, 274, 281, 282; Wellington mss WP1/887/43, 49; Nottingham Univ. Lib. acc. 636, Denison diary.
  • 36. Unrepentant Tory ed. R.A. Gaunt, 28.
  • 37. The Times, 31 May, 1 June 1827.
  • 38. Add. 52447, f. 105.
  • 39. Wellington mss WP1/895/10, 13; Durham CRO, Londonderry mss D/LO/C83/4, 5.
  • 40. Add. 40394, f. 216; Parker, Peel, ii. 21.
  • 41. Lansdowne mss; Add. 51586.
  • 42. Croker Pprs. i. 406; Add. 52453, f. 172.
  • 43. Hatherton diary, 16 Feb. 1828.
  • 44. Wellington mss WP1/933/11; 939/10, 16; 980/30; Ellenborough Diary, i. 111, 112, 119, 125, 127, 129, 149; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 189, 190, 193.
  • 45. Add. 51669, Bedford to Lady Holland, 18 June; Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Carlisle, 18 June 1828; Russell Letters, ii. 87.
  • 46. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 206; Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss BR23AA/5/3.
  • 47. Dorset Co. Chron. 26 June 1828.
  • 48. Broadlands mss PP/GC/TE/201.
  • 49. Add. 51834, Calcraft to Holland, 29 Sept.; Kentish Chron. 28 Oct. 1828; Unrepentant Tory, 64.
  • 50. PP (1830), x. 9.
  • 51. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary; Howard Sisters, 125; Grey mss, Howick jnl.
  • 52. Creevey Pprs. ii. 213.
  • 53. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 391, 393, 395-6, 398.
  • 54. Blair Adam mss, Brougham to Adam, 17 Nov. 1830; N. Gash, Secretary Peel, 654.
  • 55. Greville Mems. ii. 112; Three Diaries, 46.
  • 56. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 5, 7 Feb. 1831; Surr. Hist. Cent. Goulburn mss acc 304/67B.
  • 57. Greville Mems. ii. 133; Le Marchant, Althorp, 303; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 177.
  • 58. Three Diaries, 17-18.
  • 59. Wellington mss WP1/1179/19.
  • 60. Creevey mss.
  • 61. Add. 51562, Brougham to Holland [Apr.]; Grey mss, Holland to Grey, 23 Apr. 1831.
  • 62. Dorset Co. Chron. 28 Apr., 5, 12, 19, 26 May; The Times, 5, 7 May 1831.
  • 63. George, xi. 16685; Greville Mems. ii. 147; Bankes mss, Bankes jnl. 174 (6 May 1831).
  • 64. The Times, 20 July; Bankes jnl. 175 (11 Sept. 1831).
  • 65. Jekyll Corresp. ed. A. Bourke, 274.
  • 66. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 432; Three Diaries, 128.
  • 67. The Times, 13 Sept. 1831; Unrepentant Tory, 163.
  • 68. Agar Ellis diary, 13 Sept. 1831; Lady Holland to Son, 116; Broughton, Recollections, iv. 131.
  • 69. Gent. Mag. (1831), ii. 466; Observer, 11, 18 Sept. 1831; J.A. Phillips, Great Reform Bill in Boroughs, 295.
  • 70. PROB 11/1791A/566; IR26/1253/517; DNB; Oxford DNB.
  • 71. Three Diaries, 17-18.
  • 72. Holland House Diaries, 53.