MACKENZIE, Sir James Wemyss, 5th bt. (1770-1843), of Scatwell and Suddie, Ross.

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



20 Dec. 1822 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 10 Aug. 1770, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Sir Roderick Mackenzie, 4th bt., of Scatwell and Catherine, da. of James Colquhoun (formerly Grant) of Rossdhu, Luss, Dunbarton. educ. privately; Perth acad. (Alexander Gibson) 1784-5. m. 26 Mar. 1810, Henrietta Wharton, da. and eventual h. of William Mackenzie of Suddie, wid. of Capt. Robert Pott of Gallalaw, Roxburgh, 1s. suc. fa. as 5th bt. 11 June 1811. d. 5 Mar. 1843.1

Offices Held

Paymaster 55 Ft. 1808-11.

Ld. lt. Ross 1826-d.


Mackenzie’s family was a senior branch of the Mackenzies of Kintail. Kenneth Mackenzie of Scatwell (d. 1730), who sat for Ross-shire in the Union Parliament, 1702-7, was created a baronet in 1703. His successors were Sir Roderick (?1687-1750) and Sir Lewis (1715-56). The latter’s son Roderick, this Member’s father, was about 16 when he succeeded to the baronetcy. He had a brief army career and in the 1790s rebuilt Rosehaugh House, near Fortrose and removed his family to it from Findon, on the other side of the Black Isle. With Catherine Colquhoun (whose father was created a baronet shortly before his death in 1786) he had two sons, Lewis and James Wemyss, the junior by five years. The first 40 years of James Mackenzie’s life seem to have been almost uniformly wretched. Sir Roderick, a stingy and overbearing father, was at a loss to find a suitable career for him, particularly as most of such money as he was prepared to spend went on buying Lewis, his favourite, a commission in the army. Lewis, who served in the 73rd and 21st Foot, before exchanging into the 6th Dragoon Guards in 1787, eventually became a colonel of militia. He was frequently in hot water for dissipation and heavy spending. He did not mend his ways even after his marriage in 1794, and he was only rescued from arrest for debt by a loan from his uncle Colin Mackenzie, a London insurance broker. James was sent to school in Perth just before his 14th birthday, being, as his father’s agent Alexander Mackenzie of Portmore put it, ‘rather too advanced in life for a public school, and not sufficiently qualified for a university’. He wanted to follow his brother into the army, and ‘did not relish’ Portmore’s attempts to dissuade him: ‘It will be difficult if not in vain to oppose his choice. He is a spirited, fine boy, and unless he changes his mind soon, the earlier he gets into the army ... the better for him’.2 In this ambition he was frustrated, and in the autumn of 1786 he was furnished with an allowance of £40 a year and entrusted to his uncle Colin, with the intention that he should be trained to make him fit to seek a writership in the East India Company. This scheme collapsed when it emerged that ‘nothing less than parliamentary interest can obtain a berth for him to that chosen quarter for fortune’. Nor did anything come of Portmore’s hope that Lord Gower’s uncle, Admiral John Leveson Gower, might provide an opening for him in the navy.3 Early in 1787 Sir Roderick received ‘discouraging accounts’ of James, and his agent commented:

I still hope that when he has sown his wild oats he will act differently. A good education is the great foundation for good conduct through life and I fear poor James has been unfortunate in that respect, and he should still make up for it as much as possible.4

Later that year Portmore tried unsuccessfully to place him with a Wiltshire cloth manufacturer.5 Eventually ‘poor Jamie’ was packed off to Jamaica to work for one Mackay, a plantation owner in the parish of Trelawny; and there he stayed for almost 18 years.6 On 8 Oct. 1794 Andrew Fowler, who had concerns in Jamaica, reported to Sir Roderick:

I visited your son ... and ... I found him doing well, making plenty of good sugar ... and pleasing his employer. From your kind intention to James and the handsome manner you expressed yourself to push him in life when I had the honour of being at Rosehaugh House, I have procured him a lease of a piece of land from a friend of mine gratis ... This land is for a residence for James’s negroes and will give him provisions to feed them in abundance. In consequence of this promising prospect I advised him to add to his gang of negroes and he has actually purchased 11 healthy seasoned negroes for the sum of £700 ... [and] has drawn on you for the purchase money in my favour.

It was apparently with reluctance that Sir Roderick parted with the cash, under pressure from Portmore, who thought ‘it may be the means of making his fortune, and the not honouring it would be undoing all you have done and ruin him’.7

Mackenzie returned to Scotland in the summer of 1806, but was back in Jamaica by March 1807.8 The chief object of his visit, it seems, was to press his suit with the widow Henrietta Pott, an old flame of 20 years standing, who had married a soldier in 1792. More pertinently, she was the only sister of Colonel John Randoll Mackenzie, who was returned for Tain Burghs in 1806 and whose Suddie estate lay near the Scatwell property. While Suddie had reservations, he was not hostile to the match; but Sir Roderick had strong objections, based chiefly, though not exclusively, on financial grounds. On his arrival in Jamaica James Mackenzie, who, in return for the sum of £1,877 which his father had advanced him over the years, had waived all his claims on Sir Roderick’s estate, sought Suddie’s help. Although he was determined to marry Henrietta regardless of his father’s views, he felt the way would be smoothed if he could secure a regular income; and he asked Suddie to get him a place in the Jamaican customs, ‘worth at least £2,000 per annum’ or, as a preferable alternative, an equivalent permanency in Britain. As a Member of Parliament supporting government, and politically connected with the Staffords and Seaforth, Suddie, he naively believed, could ‘easily procure’ such provision for him. Pending Suddie’s reply, he promised to ‘enter into no speculation of lands of any sort, or purchasing slaves’, but to ‘keep perfectly clear of encumbrance of any kind, ready to march at a moment’s notice’. By the time his letter arrived the Grenville ministry had fallen and Suddie was in opposition, unable ‘to assist him in the way he alluded to’, but still kindly disposed towards him.9

In the spring of 1808 Suddie, who was about to transfer to the Sutherland county seat, secured Mackenzie the vacant paymastership of the 55th regiment, which was currently stationed in Jamaica. He and General Alexander Mackenzie, Member for Ross-shire, who had been given the nomination, stood surety for £1,000 each. The post was doubly attractive to Mackenzie because the regiment was expected to return to Britain within a few months. Calculating that it would produce a guinea a day, and banking on receiving overdue payment for his slaves, ‘long since’ sold, he assured Henrietta that ‘we have no occasion to care as to ... [Sir Roderick’s] will and pleasure now’, as her brother had ‘made us independent so far’:

I trust ... that a few months will now complete all we ever wished for. Oh, happy day, how my heart at this moment beats with raptures of joy on the thoughts of being united to my Dearest Hen ... I am figuring to myself Sir Roderick’s astonishment when he reads my appointment gazetted. It may produce a good effect. A bad one it can’t. I know he likes gain, now the paymastership is equal to your bringing me £10,000 portion at least. Money or bank notes, you know, was declared before you was born his psalm book; indeed, I might well add his God, for all I have seen of him.

At the same time, he warned her to be careful lest his father, whose ‘spies are everywhere’, got wind of her clandestine correspondence with his sister Kate. As it happened, he was far from being out of the wood. Not only did his Jamaican debtors continue to default, but the prospects of his regiment’s early return to Britain rapidly receded. All his attempts to obtain leave of absence failed, and he was equally unsuccessful in his application to have his commission as paymaster antedated by two months. Relief came through tragedy. Suddie was killed in action at Talavera, 28 July 1809, and, thanks to the recent death of his niece Mrs. Ramsay, his estates devolved on Henrietta Pott. Through the intervention of his kinsman Sir George Mackenzie of Copul, Mackenzie obtained a year’s leave. He left Jamaica in January 1810, having set in train legal proceedings for the recovery of his debts there.10

He reached London on 1 Mar. 1810, called on his uncle Colin and, coached by Portmore’s successor William Mackenzie of Muirton, wrote a fawning letter to his father in which he expressed filial piety, announced his intention of marrying Henrietta forthwith, and asked for Sir Roderick’s blessing.11 Before the marriage took place in Edinburgh later that month Mackenzie, concerned at the prospect of having to find fresh securities (and perhaps having something to hide in his administration of the 55th’s accounts), sought Seaforth’s intervention with the premier Spencer Perceval to get him ‘some government situation ... where the responsibility is less’, but which would ‘bring in a comfortable subsistence’.12 Nothing came of this, but Muirton encouraged Mackenzie, who was pursuing through Seaforth a pension for Henrietta on account of her father’s military services, to be optimistic ‘of such an arrangement being formed as to enable you with prudent economy to remain at home’. There was a debt of £5,000 on the Suddie estate, to which Henrietta Mackenzie’s right was unexpectedly disputed by Thomas Mackenzie of Ord. Muirton took legal advice, which suggested that her title was ‘unchallengeable’, and Ord dropped his claim.13 In August 1810 the harassed Mackenzie was pressed by the commanding officer of the 55th to come to a final decision on the paymastership, which he still wished to be rid of; otherwise, he was to rejoin the regiment at headquarters.14 In the end, his father insisted that he should return to Jamaica, and in his chagrin Mackenzie expressed himself strongly to his uncle, who betrayed him to a furious Sir Roderick. After an unsatisfactory attempt to explain himself verbally, Mackenzie wrote, 17 Sept. 1810:

I do confess that being obliged to go to Jamaica for a second time after expectations from various quarters, that through their interests I would be under no such necessity, did rouse my feelings, and in confidence [I] might in opening my mind express with too much warmth that had you chose, there was no necessity for my return to that fell climate. But ... the very supposed friends who used to ... condole with me that nothing could be done to prevent my recrossing the Atlantic were ... the very first who roused your passions against me by holding out my expressions of you as undutiful, ungrateful, and in every degree unworthy of a son ... The whole you have been told is a mass of falsehood and lies ... Give that matter a fair and impartial hearing ... but don’t condemn me otherwise and withdraw your countenance from me undeservedly.15

Mackenzie was dramatically saved by the death without issue of his brother Lewis only three days later. On the advice of Muirton he raised no objections to the terms of his father’s resettlement of his affairs, which entailed on him and his heirs not only the Scatwell estates, but those acquired by Sir Roderick since his marriage. Yet he resented his father’s refusal to lend him £2,500 to pay off the outstanding debt on the Suddie estate (such a gesture, he complained, ‘would cut too deep in his confined ideas of friendship’); and he considered himself entitled to at least half as much again of his proposed allowance of £200 a year. He was disappointed, too, by the amount of the pension conferred on his wife in December 1810: at £100 a year, it was worth only £70 after stoppages. Seaforth shared his ‘indignation’ and was hopeful of doubling it by creating a public fuss; but Mackenzie decided that ‘situated as we are at present, that pension secured is a good lift up’, and settled for what was offered.16 His tortured relationship with his father was ended by Sir Roderick’s death in June 1811. Even so Mackenzie, who resigned his paymastership, discovered that, in a last act of vindictiveness, his father had severely restricted his access to the personal estate and obliged him to support his sister to the tune of £200 a year: he was, he moaned, ‘left stripped of everything which Sir Roderick could take, even of the rents for 18 months after his death’. For some years he was ‘a good deal pinched’, but matters slowly improved as rents came in, and in 1816 he was able to fulfil a pledge to his widowed sister-in-law by providing her with an annuity of £100. When his sister died in 1819 Mackenzie, still perturbed by the ‘beggarly jointure’ left by Sir Roderick to his wife in the event of her surviving him, was astonished by her ‘extraordinary’ and ‘reproachable’ bequests, totalling £1,105, to various relatives: ‘nothing can account for them, and many other odd acts of her life, but that her mind was from inebriety never correct’.17

In November 1819 Mackenzie was one of the promoters of a Ross-shire meeting to vote a loyal address to the regent in the wake of Peterloo, but he was unable to attend it.18 He came in unopposed for his county on a vacancy in December 1822. Two months later his second cousin George Sinclair* introduced him to Peel, the home secretary, as ‘one of the most respectable and excellent men whom Scotland ever sent to Parliament’.19 He proved to be a consistent, if silent supporter of the Liverpool ministry, though he was not the most assiduous of attenders. He divided with them on the national debt reduction bill, 3, 13 Mar., and the assessed taxes, 10 Mar., and against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. In the autumn he asked Peel, to whom he particularly attached himself, for a piece of church patronage in Cromarty, but it is not clear whether he was successful.20 On the eve of the 1824 session he sought Peel’s permission to linger in Scotland to deal with ‘a considerable acquisition’ to his property, though he was prepared, when required, to ‘leave all private business, and attend Parliament for the express purpose of giving the present administration my firmest support’. Peel indulged him, but, as he later reported, ‘seeing that your majorities were not so large as I could wish’, he set out for London on 23 Feb., only to be struck down at Perth ‘with the severest fever I ever had’; he was forced to return to Rosehaugh. He anticipated being able to attend after Easter, was in London by 5 May, and voted with government on the case of the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June.21 Peel could not personally comply with his request of 20 Sept. 1824 for promotion in the excise for an influential constituent, but he passed it on the patronage secretary.22 In 1825 Mackenzie went up early to vote for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. He was threatened with an opposition in Ross-shire at the next election, and again sought a favour for a constituent from Peel, who could only refer him to the treasury.23 He presented petitions for an extension of the jurisdiction of magistrates in the recovery of small debts and for amendment of the Scottish judicature bill, 15 Mar., and against any relaxation of the corn laws, 26 Apr., 5 May.24 He voted against the Catholic relief bill, 21 Apr., and paired against its third reading, 10 May. He was in the minority for the Leith docks bill, 20 May. A week later he punctiliously sought, and duly received, Peel’s permission to return to Scotland.25 He was in pursuit of provision for a cousin, possibly his uncle Colin’s son, to whom he wrote in December 1825 that there was

no question as to my success next Parliament ... It might be wise was I not so; a deal of money, and nothing for it but the honour. I want nothing for myself ... the ministry are but a time-serving set, and they keep their loaves and fishes for those who support them. I have done so and will continue to do so, if they deserve it ... My former application ... [for you] will be attended with more effect (if ever to have any at all) after I take my seat again.26

Early next month he received Canning’s circular requesting attendance but, not wishing to go up so soon, on account of his wife’s ‘delicate health’, he asked Peel whether ‘you really wish for the attendance of your supporters immediately as Parliament opens’:

May I ask if the first week of March will be suited to your purpose; but if you wish me earlier please say so, and I shall attend. There are two questions which may be brought on early (the Catholic question and the corn bill). From neither of them would I like to be absent ... Although my county don’t at all interfere with my hostile views to the former ... [it is] deeply interested in the latter.

While Peel did not press him, Mackenzie ‘proceeded a considerable way’ towards London in mid-February, but he was again taken ill and forced back to Ross-shire.27 He was present to bring up petitions against alteration of the Scottish banking system, 7, 10, 25 Apr.,28 and to vote against reform of Edinburgh’s representative system, 13 Apr. 1826. Shortly before the general election, when the threatened opposition came to nothing, he was appointed lord lieutenant of his county.29

Mackenzie, for whatever reason, had become a convert to Catholic relief by the time of the division of 6 Mar. 1827. He voted for the duke of Clarence’s annuity, 16 Mar., and presented county petitions for increased agricultural protection, 19 Mar., 2 Apr. 1827.30 He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb.,31 but paired in favour of Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He divided with the Wellington ministry on chancery delays, 24 Apr., the ordnance estimates, 4 July, and the silk duties, 14 July. He presented Ross-shire petitions against the revised corn duties and the Scottish entail bill, 6 May, and for further protection against foreign wool, 30 June 1828. His only known vote in 1829 was for Catholic emancipation, 30 Mar. He sided with government against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and for the grant for South American missions, 7 June 1830. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He presented petitions against the proposed increase in spirit duty, 24 May, and in favour of the Scottish court of session bill and repeal of the inventory duty, 8 June 1830. Four days later the Irish secretary informed Wellington that Mackenzie, ‘one of the most sedentary and steady supporters of government’, was engaged to give up his seat at the next election to Colin Mackenzie of Kilcoy, who ‘would forego the benefit of this engagement if, through Sir James’s influence, he could obtain a baronetcy’. Although he did not expect Wellington to comply, he pointed out that

the advantage to your administration would be the retaining Sir James Mackenzie, who would be a safer supporter than a gentleman whose politics are now of the same stamp, but who will probably come into Parliament with the full intention of trafficking for the attainment of this particular object of his ambition and perhaps of some others.32

As it happened, Kilcoy and two other potential candidates stood aside for Mackenzie at the general election.33 Ministers of course listed him among their ‘friends’, and he was in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He was granted periods of leave to attend to militia business, 8 Feb., 15 Mar., and was absent from the divisions on the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831. Even before the dissolution he announced his intention of retiring, ostensibly because of ill health; and at the 1831 general election he unsuccessfully backed Kilcoy, a very moderate reformer, against James Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth, an enthusiastic advocate of reform.34 When Peel asked him to support Hugh Munro of Novar against Seaforth in 1832 Mackenzie, still plagued by illness, professed his unbroken allegiance to ‘the Conservative cause’, but made difficulties on account of his wife’s close family friendship with the Seaforths.35

He was mortally ill by the summer of 1842, and he died in March 1843.36 His son and successor Sir John James Randoll Mackenzie (1814-84), the defeated candidate for Inverness Burghs in 1837, found the Suddie estates encumbered with debts of £21,000, which had mostly been spent on improvements. In return for settling these and other fee simple estates on the heirs of entail, he secured the passage in 1843 of a private Act enabling him to borrow money on the security of the entailed estates to pay off the debt. He subsequently disentailed the Scatwell estates and alienated or sold them.37

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Add. 39193, f. 171. CB and Burke PB incorrectly give 8 Mar.
  • 2. Add. 39191, ff. 29, 81, 92, 100, 104, 106, 108.
  • 3. Add. 39191, ff. 131, 133, 148.
  • 4. Add. 39191, f. 143.
  • 5. Add. 39191, ff. 149, 151, 153.
  • 6. Add. 39191, ff. 155, 157.
  • 7. Add. 39191, ff. 171, 173, 175; 39192, f. 112.
  • 8. Add. 39192, f. 52; 38198, ff. 10, 54.
  • 9. Add. 39198, ff. 10, 14, 54, 75; 39200, f. 82.
  • 10. Add. 39192, ff. 69, 73; 39198, ff. 165, 166; 39199, ff. 198, 200; 30204, ff. 20-31.
  • 11. Add. 39192, ff. 75, 77, 78.
  • 12. Add. 39192, ff. 79, 80, 81; 30204, ff. 32, 33.
  • 13. Add. 39192, ff. 81, 87, 94, 96.
  • 14. Add. 39192, f. 92.
  • 15. Add. 39192, f. 98.
  • 16. Add. 39192, ff. 100-115; 39199, ff. 207, 210.
  • 17. Add. 39192, ff. 116, 119, 121, 128, 130, 137, 139, 146, 162, 164, 186, 192; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 4229.
  • 18. Inverness Courier, 4, 11 Nov. 1819.
  • 19. Add. 40354, f. 184.
  • 20. Add. 40358, ff. 306, 307.
  • 21. Add. 40360, f. 247; 40362, 256; 40364, f. 265.
  • 22. Add. 40368, ff. 236-8
  • 23. Add. 39192, ff. 56, 57; 40374, f. 401.
  • 24. The Times, 16 Mar., 27 Apr., 6 May 1825.
  • 25. Add. 40378, f. 279.
  • 26. Add. 39193, f. 76.
  • 27. Add. 40385, ff. 40, 261.
  • 28. The Times, 8, 11, 26 Apr. 1826.
  • 29. Inverness Courier, 5 July 1826.
  • 30. The Times, 20 Mar., 3 Apr. 1827.
  • 31. Ibid. 3 Mar. 1828.
  • 32. Wellington mss WP1/1119/10.
  • 33. Inverness Courier, 21, 28 July, 4, 18 Aug. 1830.
  • 34. Ibid. 30 Mar., 6, 13 Apr., 4 May, 1 June 1831.
  • 35. Add. 40403, f. 54.
  • 36. Add. 39193, ff. 156, 171, 173.
  • 37. Add. 39193, ff. 126, 199, 210; A. Mackenzie, Clan Mackenzie, 389, 429-30.