CLERK, Sir George, 6th bt. (1787-1867), of Penicuik House, Edinburgh

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



6 July 1811 - 1832
1835 - 1837
1 May 1838 - 1847
1847 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 19 Nov. 1787, 1st s. of James Clerk, E.I. Co. Service, and Janet, da. of George Irving of Newton, Lanark. educ. Edinburgh h.s; Trinity, Oxf. 1806; adv. 1809. m. 13 Aug. 1810, Maria, da. of Ewan Law† of Horsted Place, Suss., 8s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1793; uncle Sir John Clerk, 5th bt., of Penicuik as 6th bt. 1798. d. 22 Dec. 1867.

Offices Held

Ld. of admiralty Mar. 1819-May 1827, Sept. 1828-July 1830; clerk of ordnance May 1827-Feb. 1828; member of ld. high admiral’s council Feb.-Sept. 1828; under-sec. of state for home affairs Aug.-Nov. 1830; parl. sec. to treasury Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835, financial sec. Sept. 1841-Feb. 1845; vice-pres. bd. of trade and master of mint Feb. 1845-July 1846; PC 5 Feb. 1845.


Clerk, whose family’s fortunes had originally been established by the Edinburgh merchant John Clerk, the purchaser of Penicuik in 1616, was appointed a lord of the admiralty in Lord Liverpool’s ministry in March 1819. His departmental chief was the 2nd Viscount Melville, one of the sponsors of his contested returns in 1811, 1812 and 1818 for Edinburghshire, where he was widely regarded as a stopgap for Melville’s nephew Robert Dundas of Arniston. Dundas declined to disturb his re-election or to challenge him at the 1820 general election, when Clerk argued that the government’s recent ‘restrictive’ legislation had produced a state of ‘comparative tranquillity’, despite the ‘evil spirit’ of sedition which still existed.1 He was a ministerial teller in at least 76 divisions during the 1820 Parliament. Most of his speeches were on departmental business, particularly the navy estimates, which he annually moved and defended against Hume and other advocates of economy. One observer, who described him in 1838 as ‘a good-looking man ... above the usual height, and ... rather stout ... [and] bald to a considerable extent’, wrote that

in addressing the House he hesitated a good deal ... His voice is clear, and his articulation distinct. He spoke with some rapidity ... but there was no variety in the tones of his voice or in his gesture. He was a quiet speaker ... not ... anxious to be considered an orator ... His speeches always contained good sense, but never anything brilliant.2

He argued that impressment, 10 June 1824, and flogging, 9 June 1825, could not be safely dispensed with. He voted with his Oxford contemporary and friend Robert Peel against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, but without explanation he divided for it, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. When the Grenvillites joined the ministry (and Peel became home secretary) in January 1822 there was talk of his transferring to the board of control, but in the event he remained where he was.3 Peel obliged him by authorizing the appointment of his recommended candidate to an Edinburgh ministry in 1824.4 He sat on numerous select committees, including those on the Scottish royal burghs, 4 May 1820, the Scottish malt duty, 12 Apr. 1821, foreign trade, 25 Feb. 1822, public accounts, 18 Apr. 1822, and Scottish and Irish small bank notes, 16 Mar. 1826. He presented and endorsed a Leith merchants’ petition calling for the relaxation of commercial restrictions, 9 May, and one from his county for reduction of the malt duty, 2 June 1820.5 He told Lord Archibald Hamilton that it was ‘not practicable’ to distinguish between real and parchment superiorities in his requested return of Scottish county freeholders, 25 May 1820. At the Edinburghshire meeting called to vote a loyal address to the king, 22 Dec. 1820, he defended the government’s treatment of Queen Caroline and deplored ‘the existence of a seditious spirit among individuals of a certain class’; and at the Scottish Pitt Club annual dinner, 12 Jan. 1821, he said that whenever ‘the radicals’ resumed ‘their dirty work’, the authorities ‘could brush them off as they would troublesome insects’.6 He said that the minutes of the royal burghs committee’s proceedings, which Hamilton wanted printed, would provide no additional information, 14 June 1821.7 Successfully moving the previous question against Hamilton’s motion for reform of the Scottish county representation, 2 June 1823, he asserted that ‘it would be impossible to make any operative alteration ... without entirely changing the municipal law and the tenure of property’; and he opposed reform of Edinburgh’s restricted parliamentary franchise, 9 Mar., 13 Apr. 1826. He opposed the Scottish juries bill, 10 May 1821, considered its ‘modified form’ less objectionable, 28 June 1822, but was a teller for the hostile minority, 20 June 1823.8 In 1824 he introduced and carried a measure to establish uniformity in weights and measures, which received royal assent, 17 June (5 Geo. IV, c. 74).9 He presented an Edinburgh petition for repeal of the house and window taxes, 15 Mar., but urged the advocates of repeal of the wool duty to stop ‘reading lectures to the chancellor ... on political economy’, 25 Mar. 1824.10 He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 8 Apr. In accordance with the wishes of his constituents, he opposed an attempt to reform the Scottish poor laws, 7, 14, 24 May 1824. He presented constituency petitions against the hides and skins bill, 26 May, the Scottish judicature bill, 18 June 1824, and interference with the corn laws, 25, 28 Apr. 1825. He defended the Leith docks bill and was a teller for the minority when it was thrown out, 20 May 1825. He was in favour of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith railway bill, 30 May 1825.11 He presented Edinburghshire and Musselburgh petitions against alteration of the Scottish banking system, 8 Mar., 7 Apr., and one from the University of St. Andrew’s for the abolition of slavery, 10 Apr. 1826.12 After the formalities of his unopposed return for Edinburghshire at the general election in June, he argued that distress in the manufacturing districts, though lamentable, was ‘temporary’ and beyond the reach of legislation. He hoped for a ‘permanent’ settlement of the corn laws to ensure adequate protection for domestic producers and fair and steady bread prices, and reckoned that the inquiry into the Scottish banking system had confirmed its basic ‘solidity’.13

Clerk professed willingness to consider suggestions for the improvement of his Weights and Measures Act, 5 Dec. 1826.14 He defended the navy estimates, 12 Feb., and impressment as an emergency resource, 13 Feb. 1827. He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He secured a minor technical amendment to the government’s corn bill, 23 Mar. He apparently offered to resign with Melville rather than serve in Canning’s coalition with the Lansdowne Whigs, despite their common pro-Catholic views, but Melville did not insist on it, and he accepted Canning’s offer of the ‘better place’ of clerk of the ordnance. Canning was angry to hear in early May that Clerk, in Edinburgh for his re-election, ‘goes about ... holding a most disparaging language of the government, declaring that it cannot stand, and fixing even a short period for its downfall’.15 Clerk’s divergence from Melville’s line certainly made things awkward for him in his county; but at his re-election, 15 May, when the leading local Whigs made a point of endorsing him, he insisted that he had abandoned no principles by joining Canning, ‘an elevee of Mr. Pitt’. Lord Binning*, charged by Canning with the task of ascertaining what Clerk had to say in response to the ‘indictment’ against him, completely exonerated him:

He utterly denies the fact. He says, ‘Firmly believing that the government will be permanent, and ... most anxious for its success, nothing short of insanity could tempt me to take so novel a method of recommending myself to the freeholders ... as that of disparaging the administration ...’ He has not ... uttered a word to the Whig party on the subject ... To Lord Melville’s friends he has expressed his regret at his resignation, and the hope that he might again be connected with the government ... [and] that Melville had no ground of complaint against you ... For the first three days that he was at Edinburgh, he was occupied in visiting his constituents, and satisfying their doubts about the Popish question. The next five days he was at ... [Penicuik] and this ... must he says have been the period when he was represented as talking so improperly. He ... is ... a sensible and an honest man, and I felt quite sure that he had been grievously misrepresented to you. It turns out to be a gross calumny.16

Clerk voted silently with his colleagues against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, 7 June, and for the grant for Canadian water defences, 12 June. Discontent with him persisted among some Edinburghshire Melvillite Tories, and Melville himself conceded that there was ‘a very strong feeling here against Sir George’, though he resisted pressure to put up his own son for the county.17 On Canning’s death in August 1827 Harriet Arbuthnot delighted in ‘the consternation in which our rats’, including Clerk, ‘must be’; but he had no compunction about staying in office under Lord Goderich.18 When the duke of Wellington, Peel and Melville returned to power in January 1828, Binning heard that Clerk was ‘likely to be thrown overboard ... because he adhered to Canning’. Binning alerted his fellow Canningite Huskisson, who was to stay on as colonial secretary, and at his behest Wellington offered Clerk, whom Melville was unwilling to have under him at the board of control, a place on the council of the lord high admiral, the duke of Clarence. Assured by Melville that no other place was available, Clerk accepted, but through the patronage secretary Planta he let Huskisson know that above ‘all others’ he would like the post of colonial under-secretary, not least because it would not require him to seek re-election. Huskisson was not unwilling to oblige him if pressed, but he preferred Lord Francis Leveson Gower*, and Clerk had to settle for the admiralty.19 Robert Dundas of Arniston half-heartedly considered opposing his re-election, but encouraged Melville to start one of his sons. Melville refused, though he was prepared to back Dundas against Clerk. In the event the other leading county Tories decided not to risk provoking a damaging contest.20 In a private conversation, Clerk assured Dundas that if he decided to stand for the county at the next general election he would not oppose him, but expressed a hope that such forebearance would induce Melville to provide him with another seat, perhaps that for Edinburgh, ‘for the loss of a parliamentary situation would be to him the loss of office’.21 At the election Clerk again defended his conduct in taking office under Canning and insisted that there was ‘no inconsistency’ in his doing so in the present circumstances.22 He moved and explained the navy estimates, 25 Feb., 16, 19 May 1828. He was a teller for the minority against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., but voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. He was a teller for the ministerial majorities against action on chancery delays, 24 Apr., and inquiry into small note circulation, 3 June. In the reshuffle necessitated by the resignation of the Huskissonites in late May, he was initially mentioned as a possible but unlikely replacement for Lord Palmerston* as secretary at war.23 Lord Anglesey, the Irish viceroy, considered him to be ‘the very best’ man to succeed William Lamb* as chief secretary, and told Wellington: ‘I did not know him till I went to the ordnance. There I found him able, intelligent, indefatigable, gentlemanlike. I believe he would do admirably for your countrymen notwithstanding his being a Scot’. Wellington was determined to have Leveson Gower, who ‘stands higher in the public estimation ... than Sir George Clerk’ (and whose father, Lord Stafford, ministers were courting), and he forced the appointment on a reluctant Anglesey.24 Clerk was a government teller for the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 24 June, and on 4 July argued that abolition of the office of lieutenant-general of the ordnance, as opposition proposed, would produce ‘the greatest possible inconvenience’. He presented Scottish solicitors’ petitions against the stamp duties bill, 7 July 1828.

Before leaving town a few days later, Clerk let Wellington know that he would make ‘common cause’ with his colleague Sir George Cockburn* in his wrangle with Clarence and would resign with him if necessary. When the admiralty board was reconstituted under Melville on Clarence’s departure in September 1828 Clerk was retained there, despite Peel’s slight doubt as to whether Melville could work with him.25 The appointment obliged him to seek re-election, which took place in his absence (pleading pressure of departmental business), 24 Feb. 1829, when his younger brother John stood in for him and at least four freeholders repudiated him on account of his support for the ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation.26 He duly voted for this, 6, 30 Mar., and was a teller against amendments to the relief bill, 23, 30 Mar., and for the Irish franchise bill, 20, 26 Mar. On 24 Mar. he refuted a Scottish Member’s argument that emancipation violated the Act of Union. He presented and defended the navy estimates, boasting of ‘a considerable reduction in the amount of expense’, 27 Feb., and maintained that the admiralty was not liable to pay compensation for the accidental sinking of the Rosanna brig by a ship of the line, 22 May. He was a ministerial teller against Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 2 June 1829.

In 1830 Clerk was a government teller in two dozen divisions. He said that the authorities would be glad to end the practice of compelling convicted smugglers to serve in the navy for five years, 11 Feb. Moving the estimates, 1 Mar., he claimed that the plan to separate the offices of treasurer of the navy and president of the board of trade would save £1,000 a year. He led the defence of this, 12 Mar., when he drew attention to the government’s significant reductions in public salaries. He gave way to Hume’s insistence on having the details of the estimates considered seriatim, but resisted an attempt to have the paymastership of marines subsumed in another office, 22 Mar. He vainly defended the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., after admitting that he was to blame for the accidental omission of their holders’ lengths of service from the printed votes. He explained the decision to build a new naval hospital at Malta, 29 Mar., and why the two London ordnance establishments could not reasonably be merged, 2 Apr. He presented Scottish petitions for equalization of the duties on beer and spirits, 17 Mar., and against the unfair duty on Scottish spirits as against that on rum, 28 Apr.; he spoke in favour of rectifying this, 7 Apr. On 5 July he expressed his concern that any increase in the duty on Scottish corn spirits would encourage a revival of illicit distillation. He handled the third reading of the divorce bill of the president of the India board Lord Ellenborough, his wife’s cousin, 6 Apr., deploring a ‘studied attempt’ by the opposition press to blacken his name. He presented a constituency petition against the Scottish court of session bill, 11 June, but defended the measure, 18 June 1830. His transfer from the admiralty to become Peel’s under-secretary at the home office was timed to coincide with the general election that summer, when Dundas made no move and he came in unopposed. He praised the ‘extraordinary moderation’ of the French revolutionaries, said that ministers were working to alleviate the ‘heavy burdens which long protracted war had entailed upon the country’ and expressed his hope that his support for Catholic emancipation would be accepted as an act of conscience.27

Clerk, who in early September reported to Wellington the despatch of cavalry to quell disturbances in Oxfordshire,28 divided with his colleagues on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, and of course went out with them after their defeat. From the opposition benches he objected to Kennedy’s proposals for reform of the Scottish entail laws, 7 Dec. On the 13th he defended against Hume Melville’s achievement as first lord of the admiralty in eradicating abuses in naval promotions and, noting the late ministry’s record of retrenchment, doubted that the Grey administration would be ‘able to satisfy the extravagant ideas that have gone abroad as to the amount of reductions they will be able to effect’. He complained of the proposed cut in the duty on foreign barilla, 20, 23 Dec. 1830, when he deplored the ministerial threat of a dissolution if their planned parliamentary reform measures were impeded. He visited Peel at Drayton in early January 1831 and was one of the ex-ministers who met regularly to keep the opposition up to the mark.29 He said that reduction of the barilla duties would cause ‘distress and misery’ in the Western Isles, 7 Feb. 1831. He recurred to this topic and presented a petition from distressed Irish kelp manufacturers, 16 Mar. He mocked the chancellor Lord Althorp’s discomfiture over the enforced abandonment of some of his budget proposals, 17 Feb., when he was named to the public accounts committee. On the navy estimates, 25 Feb., he refuted the first lord of the admiralty Graham’s charge that the Wellington ministry had been guilty of ‘an unconstitutional expenditure of public money’ and criticized the merger of the treasurership of the navy with the presidency of the board of trade. Ellenborough thought his speech was ‘excellent’, but Graham’s colleague Smith Stanley reckoned that the debate had been ‘damaging’ to Clerk.30 He made some detailed criticisms of the estimates, 25 Mar., and became involved in an angry argument with Graham and others over the late admiralty board’s supposed responsibility, which he denied, for the misapplication of money voted for timber and stores. He supported Lord Chandos’s attempt to disfranchise Evesham for corruption, 18 Feb. On 7 Mar. he declared that the government’s Scottish reform bill, as yet only sketched out to the House, appeared to be ‘founded upon the most objectionable principles’, that the ‘revolutionary’ English bill proposed ‘extraordinary and violent changes’ and that the £10 borough franchise would lead to ‘something like universal suffrage’. On the 9th he said that the government consisted of ‘injudicious officers and [an] unskilful crew, who ... are ready, by way of remedying a defect, to swamp the vessel’. On the second reading of the English bill, 22 Mar., he claimed that most informed and respectable Scots were hostile to reform. He had anticipated ‘a majority of 30 or 40’ against the second reading of the bill, but found himself a teller for the opposition minority of 301 (to 302) later that day.31 On 25 Mar. he presented and endorsed the Edinburgh merchants’ and bankers’ petition against the Scottish bill, which he said was ‘calculated to overturn the just and proper influence of the aristocracy’ and ‘create a desire for still further innovation’. He also presented petitions against the proposed union of Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire, complained of the reduction in the number of Scottish county Members and predicted that the proposed extension of the franchise would ‘give the real power to the householders residing in the small towns’. He claimed that by supporting Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the English bill, 19 Apr. 1831, he did not preclude seeking an increase in the Scottish representation, and professed to favour the enfranchisement of large towns at the expense of corrupt boroughs; he was a teller for the opposition majority. He did his share of electoral work at the Charles Street committee rooms before going to Edinburgh for his own election. At the annual county meeting which preceded it by a fortnight, he denied that the date had been brought forward to thwart his potential rival, the reformer Sir John Hamilton Dalrymple†, and boasted that he had been repeatedly returned ‘by the unbiased votes of the great majority of those who held property’ in the county. After his unopposed return (the reformers having decided to let him walk over for the last time), he reiterated his objections to the extent and details of the reform bills, especially the proposed £10 Scottish county voting qualification, and disparaged the government’s record on retrenchment in comparison with that of their predecessors.32

Clerk joined in criticism of the omission from the king’s speech of any reference to ‘the blessings of Divine Providence’, 22 June 1831. On 23 June he got leave to introduce a bill to amend the laws governing Scottish turnpikes, which he steered through the Commons (in altered form) by the end of August and which received royal assent on 15 Oct. 1831 (1 & 2 Gul. IV, c. 43). He was named to the select committee on the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 30 June, having described the ‘great alarm’ which existed in Scotland over this; he presented a constituency petition against permitting it, 3 Aug. He also sat on the select committees on steam carriages, 20 July, malt drawback (on which subject he presented a distillers’ petition complaining of ‘frauds’, 3 Sept.), 5 Sept., and steam navigation, 6 Sept. On 27 June he praised the sheriff of Stirlingshire for calling in the military to quell disturbances at the election and suggested that ‘the violent proceedings’ which had occurred there and elsewhere in Scotland had not been ‘very much disapproved of by government’. He wanted more troops to be deployed to keep the peace. That day he demanded to know why the naval force had been increased, but welcomed measures planned for ‘amelioration of the condition of the navy’. He begged ministers to phase repeal of the barilla duty over three years to aid distressed kelp producers, 1 July. He spoke and was a minority teller for postponement of the Liverpool writ, 8 July, 29 Aug. He thought a Glasgow clergyman’s petition against the Maynooth grant should be received, even though he dissented from it, 19 July, but he opposed printing the Waterford one for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug., when he was a teller for the hostile majority. He helped to force the withdrawal of the bill to exclude the recorder of Dublin from the Commons, 12 Aug.; condemned the Caledonian Canal project as ‘a mere whim of one or two English Members’, 15 Aug.; opposed reception of the Deacles’ petition alleging assault by William Bingham Baring*, 22 Aug., and voted to censure the Irish administration for interference in the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He was a teller for the minorities for inquiry into the state of the West India sugar interest, 12 Sept., and against the bankruptcy bill, 28 Sept., 7 Oct. 1831.

Clerk was one of the ‘principal speakers’ at an opposition meeting at Peel’s to determine tactics for resisting the reform bills, 18 June 1831.33 He was a steady opponent of the English bill that summer, acting as a teller against its second reading, 6 July, third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., and in numerous other division on its details. He demanded a clear explanation of the principles on which the disfranchisement schedules were based, 14 July, considered Agnew’s proposal to group schedule A boroughs to return a Member each on the Scottish model a ‘great improvement on the original measure’, 15 July, and spoke for the transfer of Plympton Erle from A to B, 22 July. He saw no justification for giving the Isle of Wight a Member as a county, 16 Aug., and criticized as ‘obscure’ the amended clause regarding borough and county voters, 20 Aug. In early September he joined Peel’s shooting party at Drayton, so missing the coronation on the 8th.34 He had presented a Peeblesshire petition against its proposed electoral union with Selkirkshire, 3 Aug., and briefly put the case for giving two Members to the larger Scottish counties, 12, 13 Aug. On 13 Sept. he suggested that to avoid any suspicion of gerrymandering, all the boundary commissioners should be barred from sitting in the first reformed Parliament. On 23 Sept. he spoke against the Scottish reform bill, which he said would be ‘prejudicial to the interests of property’ and would ‘destroy the whole consequence and interest of the small resident proprietors’; he was a teller for the minority of 94 against the second reading. He disapproved of the ‘obnoxious’ establishment of ‘a new court of appeal’ to rule on disputed votes, 4 Oct., when he deplored the proposal to throw the burghs of Peebles and Selkirk into their respective ‘important grazing counties’ and spoke and was a minority teller for an amendment to allocate two Members to the eight largest counties. He was an opposition teller against the motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct., the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, schedule B, 23 Jan., the provisions for Amersham, 21 Feb., Helston, 23 Feb., Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and Whitby, 9 Mar., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He supported attempts to confine urban freeholders’ votes to their boroughs, 1 Feb., and to give the vote to freemen by marriage, 7 Feb., and argued that Scotland was entitled to 62 Members, 2 Mar. He was a teller for the opposition minority on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. He was named to the committee on the Scottish exchequer court bill, 27 Jan., and secured the addition to it of two out of six nominated Members, 2 Feb. He quizzed Graham on details of the navy estimates, 13 Feb., and next day attacked his navy civil departments bill, as he did again, 27 Feb., when he condemned it as ‘novel ... wild and ... impracticable’. He commended Graham for making savings in the estimates, 16 Mar., but insisted that the late ministry deserved a share of the credit. He called for speedy action to keep Scotland free of cholera, 14 Feb. He supported a motion to reduce the malt drawback duty, 17 Feb., and was one of only three Scottish Members who supported the third reading of the drawback bill, 2 Apr., when he also argued that the holders of Scottish voting superiorities were entitled to financial compensation for their abolition. He was in a minority of 13 against the Irish arrears of tithes bill, 9 Apr. He approved the scheme to bring Cleopatra’s needle to England, 13 Apr. One of the original committee members of the Carlton Club, he was a teller for the opposition minority against the motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform, 10 May. According to Ellenborough, he was one of the Conservatives at the Carlton who ‘complained they had had no information, and did not know what to do’ in the humiliating debate of 14 May; and on the 17th Ellenborough sent him to Peel ‘to ascertain what he would do’ if the king still refused to create peers to carry reform. He was one of the Conservatives’ Scottish election management committee.35 On the second reading of the final Scottish reform bill, 21 May, Clerk predicted (correctly) that the new county franchise would encourage ‘the creation of nominal and occasional votes’ on a major scale. He also forecast that it would ‘nearly ... annihilate the agricultural interest’ and ‘give undue weight to the owners of houses in large towns’. On 1 June he presented petitions claiming compensation for holders of superiorities and against the merger of Nairnshire with Elginshire, and spoke and was a minority teller for Murray’s attempt to secure two Members for the larger counties. He criticized details of the bill, 4, 5, 6, 15 June, when he was a teller for the minority of 26 against the junction of Elginshire and Nairnshire. He claimed that many Scottish reformers were anticipating a further extension of the franchise by a reformed Parliament, 25 June. He divided against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and was a majority teller for Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 30 May, when he called for the Scottish exchequer court bill to be recommitted for alteration. He was a minority teller for the third reading of the Edinburgh police bill, 4 June, and presented a petition against the government’s Irish education plan from the presbytery of Dalkeith, 15 June. He was given a month’s leave to deal with urgent business, 12 July 1832.

Clerk lost to Dalrymple by 65 votes in a poll of 1,137 Edinburghshire electors at the general election of 1832. He largely blamed ‘the active interference of the Dissenting ministers’ and took a gloomy view of future Conservative prospects in Scotland.36 He spent over £4,000 in a bid to recover the seat, which he did by 31 votes in a poll of 1,099 in 1835, after being made a rather ineffectual chief whip in Peel’s first ministry. Hampered by mounting financial problems, he was defeated in 1837 and abandoned the county.37 He sat for Stamford, 1838-47, and Dover, 1847-52; he lost at Dover in 1852 and 1857. He held three offices in Peel’s second ministry, remained loyal to him in 1846 and was one of the pallbearers at his funeral in 1850.38 One commentator damned him with faint praise as

a man of fair talent ... [and] sound judgement, rather than of a masculine mind. He is incapable of grappling with first principles. It was on matters of little interest that he appeared to advantage ... He was much respected by all parties, and always listened to with attention.39

Clerk, who owned a colliery at Loanhead, died at Pencuik in December 1867.40 He was succeeded in the baronetcy by the eldest of his six surviving sons, James Clerk (1812-70).

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Arniston Mems. 313-14; Caledonian Mercury, 16 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Lords and Commons (1838), i. 292-3.
  • 3. Buckingham, Mems. Geo IV, i. 275; NLW, Coedymaen mss 618.
  • 4. Add. 40368, ff. 164, 165.
  • 5. The Times, 10 May, 3 June 1820.
  • 6. Caledonian Mercury, 23 Dec. 1820, 13 Jan. 1821.
  • 7. The Times, 15 June 1821.
  • 8. Ibid. 11 May 1821, 29 June 1822.
  • 9. CJ, lxxix. 99, 112, 181, 499, 502.
  • 10. The Times, 16, 26 Mar. 1824.
  • 11. Ibid. 31 May 1825.
  • 12. Ibid. 9 Mar., 8, 11 Apr. 1826.
  • 13. Caledonian Mercury, 22 June 1826.
  • 14. The Times, 6 Dec. 1826.
  • 15. Arniston Mems. 341; Canning’s Minstry, 122, 156, 293.
  • 16. Canning’s Ministry, 314.
  • 17. Arniston Mems. 334; Canning’s Ministry, 349.
  • 18. Shelley Diary, 160-1; Croker Pprs. i. 388.
  • 19. Add. 38754, ff. 223, 253, 259, 282; 40307, f. 29; Arniston Mems. 336-7, 341; Wellington Despatches, iv. 217-18, 221-2, 228.
  • 20. Arniston Mems. 339-43; NLS mss 2, ff. 111-17.
  • 21. NLS mss 2, f. 119.
  • 22. Edinburgh Evening Courant, 21 Feb. 1828.
  • 23. Arniston Mems. 346.
  • 24. Ellenborough Diary, i. 133; Arbuthnot Jnl., ii. 191; Wellington mss WP1/936/2, 7, 22; 939/14, 15, 24; 976/7, 8; Add. 51567, Anglesey to Holland, 5, 7 June 1828.
  • 25. Ellenborough Diary, i. 163; Wellington Despatches, iv. 530, 620; Wellington mss WP1/947/30; Add. 40320, f. 66.
  • 26. Caledonian Mercury, 21, 26 Feb. 1829; NLS mss 2, f. 137.
  • 27. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 323; Caledonian Mercury, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 28. Wellington mss WP1/1140/3.
  • 29. N. Gash, Sir Robert Peel, 7; Three Diaries, 35, 45-47.
  • 30. Three Diaries, 60; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/31D/25, Smith Stanley to Anglesey, 26 Feb. 1831.
  • 31. Three Diaries, 67.
  • 32. Ibid. 85; Caledonian Mercury, 25, 30 Apr., 2, 5, 12 May 1831.
  • 33. NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/F, p. 186.
  • 34. Parker, Peel, ii. 188; Hatherton diary, 8 Sept. [1831].
  • 35. Three Diaries, 257, 261, 266.
  • 36. Add. 40403, f. 150.
  • 37. Scottish Electoral Politics, 3-6, 18, 60-61, 63, 101-3, 126-7, 131, 137-8; Disraeli Letters, ii. 643.
  • 38. Gash, 111, 196, 277, 716.
  • 39. Grant, i. 293.
  • 40. The Times, 25 Dec. 1867; Gent. Mag. (1868), i. 246-7.