ROSS, Horatio (1801-1886), of Rossie Castle, nr. Montrose, Forfar.

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



1831 - 1832
1832 - 1834

Family and Education

b. 5 Sept. 1801, o.s. of Hercules Ross of Rossie and Henrietta, da. of John Parish of Hamburg. m. 1 Dec. 1834,1 Justine Henriette, da. of Colin Macrae of Inverinate, Ross, 5s. suc. fa. 1816. d. 6 Dec. 1886.

Offices Held

Cornet 14 Drag. 1820; ensign (half-pay) 59 Ft. 1823-39.


Hercules Ross, this Member’s father, was described thus by Lawrence Hill in his 1788 survey of the Forfarshire electoral roll: ‘A new proprietor. Very rich. Made his money by privateering in the West Indies’.2 His early life remains obscure, but by the 1770s he had been ‘long’ resident at Kingston, Jamaica, where he had prospered as a merchant, carrying on ‘very extensive business with the Spaniards’.3 By 1779 he had become a close friend of Captain Horatio Nelson, who was serving in the Caribbean and whom he evidently helped out of a financial difficulty. He returned to Britain in 1782, and the following year bought the Scott estate of Rossie, near Montrose. He had a castellated house built there in 1800.4 He married Henrietta Parish at North Leith on 18 Apr. 1785, and with her had three daughters and an only son, who was born 16 years later. Nelson, for whom he was named, readily agreed to become his godfather.5 Hercules Ross had been consulted by Lord Grantham†, foreign secretary in the Shelburne ministry, on matters relating to the West Indies and the Spanish colonies, and in 1787 he placed his expertise at the disposal of Pitt’s foreign secretary, Lord Carmarthen†.6 He told William Wilberforce* that his ‘testimony before the House of Commons’, 1789-90, in support of abolition of the slave trade had earned him ‘a plentiful load of abuse’ and cost him ‘all my West India connections’.7 In late August 1805 (56 days before Trafalgar), he wrote to Nelson of his hope that ‘there still remains some great action to be achieved ... worthy of his fame’ and that one day he would be able to introduce ‘my boy Horatio ... as fine a fellow as can be imagined’, to his godfather.8 A story developed that when Horatio was six, his father got him to present colours to the Rossie regiment of yeomanry, but that when they fired a salute the boy fled in terror. His enraged father ordered a servant to fire a musket several times over his head daily. This, unsurprisingly, made him even more frightened; but one day the servant had him fire the gun at a sparrow, which he hit and killed. In that moment he found his metier.9

Hercules Ross died in December 1816, and Horatio was served as his heir general in the Rossie estate in March 1818. He joined the 14th Hussars in October 1820, but had no taste for barracks life and went on half-pay as an infantry ensign in November 1823. He was known thereafter as Captain Ross, though with what justification is not clear. Between 1825 and 1830 he became a notable figure in the world of sport, making and usually winning matches for large sums in steeple chasing, rowing and shooting. He excelled in the last, with both pistol and rifle. He slaughtered thousands of birds and animals for pleasure and to win wagers: in one particularly disgusting episode, he shot dozens of adult swallows as they hovered outside their nests when bringing food for their young.10 In January 1830 he was one of a Whig shooting party at Woburn. His fellow guest Lord Howick* complained that the presence of him and George Anson* made life difficult for less skilful practitioners, for they were ‘always put in the best places, shoot jealously and walk as if they were racing’.11

At the general election of 1830 Ross stood for Aberdeen Burghs (of which Montrose was one). In his address, he observed that as ‘parties have of late been so confounded and mingled with each other’, he would not call himself ‘either Whig or Tory’; but he advocated the enfranchisement of large manufacturing towns, while denouncing ‘schemes of universal suffrage, annual parliaments, etc.’, a cautious application of free trade theories, the promotion of ‘liberty and its blessings’ abroad and the implementation of rigid economy and retrenchment in public expenditure. On this, he claimed that his views were ‘quite as decided’ as those of Joseph Hume, the popular radical sitting Member who had decided to stand for Middlesex. Hume gave Ross his blessing, but he was able only to secure the votes of Arbroath and Montrose, while his Tory opponent, Sir James Carnegie, who had Aberdeen and Inverbervie, won the decisive backing of Brechin.12 On the introduction of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme, which proposed to give Aberdeen a Member of its own and add Peterhead to the other four burghs, in March 1831, Ross attended Aberdeen reform dinners and announced his intention of offering for the new district as ‘a sincere friend of reform and an admirer of the constitutional measure ... divested as it was of all revolutionary tendency’. On the dissolution which followed the defeat of the English reform bill, 19 Apr., he started for the existing district, claiming a well nurtured ‘knowledge of trade’ which qualified him to represent it. Support for the reform proposals was overwhelming, Carnegie, who had opposed them, gave up, and Ross was returned unopposed at Aberdeen amid celebratory scenes. Returning thanks, despite feeling unwell, he repudiated both ‘moderate’ and ‘radical’ reform and pledged himself, as ‘a supporter of Whig principles’, to back the government’s ‘middle course’, whereby the franchise was to be confined to ‘those who, from their station in life, must have had the means of acquiring a good education, and who, from the necessary qualification as to property, must have such a stake in the country as ... to make it their interest to preserve the constitution ... from revolutionary demagogues’. On other issues, he promised to ascertain his constituents’ views before committing himself, but he advocated burgh reform and economy and retrenchment.13

Ross duly joined Brooks’s Club on 30 July 1831. In the House, 27 June he endorsed the argument of William Maule, Member for Forfarshire, that the county’s anti-reform petition did not reflect majority opinion and that many former local advocates of radical reform had received the ministerial scheme with ‘unbounded satisfaction’. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against the adjournment, 12 July, and generally for its details, though he was in the minority on the case of Saltash, 26 July. On 13 Aug. he brought up a petition from Arbroath complaining of delays in the bill’s progress, but said that its language made him doubt whether it could be received. He nevertheless quoted its reference to ‘frivolous and vexatious discussions’, before the Speaker accused him of trying to air these views ‘by a side-wind’ and shut him up. He voted for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept. He presented a petition from the council and householders of Forfar asking for the burgh to be substituted for Peterhead in the new Montrose district, 28 Sept. On 27 July he presented and ‘cordially supported’ a petition from Aberdeen woollen manufacturers against extension of the bill to restrict children’s cotton factory hours to Scotland, where ‘children were not hardly treated’: if it was, it would ‘facilitate the introduction of poor laws into Scotland, which were considered as a curse’. He conceded that some Glasgow cotton factories might need regulation, but argued that the woollen and flax trades did not. He was in the ministerial majority against the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug. He presented a Montrose merchants and ship owners’ petition for compensation for losses sustained by cholera quarantine restrictions, 6 Sept., when he divided in the minority of 20 against quarantine duties. He voted for the motion of confidence in the government after the reform bill’s defeat in the Lords, 10 Oct. 1831.

Ross voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, steadily for its details, and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. (but not in July), and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb.; but he was in the minority of 51 for printing the Woollen Grange petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 16 Feb. Next day he presented and endorsed a Dundee merchants and manufacturers’ petition for equalization of the duties on flax and a drawback on bonded hemp. He brought up and supported petitions from Aberdeen mill owners and Montrose textile manufacturers against the factories bill, 20 Feb., insisting that men who had invested heavily in such enterprises were entitled to consideration, while admitting, following discussions with masters and operatives, that children required humane protection. He was put on the committee on the bill, 16 Mar. He had been named to the select committee on malt drawback, 5 Sept. 1831; and on 29 Feb. 1832 he seconded and was a minority teller for Dixon’s wrecking amendment to the second reading of the drawback bill, which he condemned as a ministerial concession to the ‘clamour’ of Irish distillers and the precursor of renewed smuggling and illicit distillation. When he opposed the motion to go into committee on the measure, 30 Mar, he said:

I can hardly speak with temper of the conduct of government with regard to this bill. I have hitherto been one of their steady supporters; but ... my confidence in them is very much shaken ... They are about wantonly to ruin a great many individuals.

He was defeated by 74-36. His wrecking amendment to the third reading, 2 Apr., when he was again a minority teller, was beaten by 82-41. He rallied to ministers on the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. He was, however, a conspicuous absentee from the division on Lord Ebrington’s motion for an address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform, 10 May. According to Raikes, this prompted Hume to write to Ross’s constituents alleging that he had ‘deserted his duty to them, and was become lukewarm in the cause’. Ross gave him the lie, and Hume retracted.14 His absence from the division did not pass unnoticed in the burghs, and he was later called to account for his ‘equivocal’ conduct’.15 He presented Montrose petitions for supplies to be withheld until reform was secured and one from Arbroath council for the chief magistrates of burghs to be designated as returning officers, 23 May. He paired against a Conservative attempt to increase the Scottish county representation, 1 June. On 15 June he argued against the separation of Paisley and Port Glasgow and said that making Elgin the poll burgh for its district would cause inconvenience. He wanted ministers to retain the proposed property qualification for burgh Members, 27 June, when he voted for Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament. He presented a Banff petition for Scottish burgh reform, 6 July. He was granted six weeks’ leave on urgent private business that day, but was credited with a vote in the minority of 17 against the Irish education grant, 23 July 1832.

Ross successfully contested Montrose Burghs against another Liberal at the general election of 1832, but he was already on friendly terms with the Conservative leader Peel, and by the time of the 1835 election had transferred his political allegiance to him. He stood for Paisley, but was beaten by one of ‘the enemies of the constitution’, as he now termed Liberals and Radicals.16 He sold the Rossie estate in 1845 and bought one near Stonehaven, Kincardineshire. After living a quiet laird’s life with his family for about 18 years he came again to public notice in 1862 as the captain of the Scottish rifle-shooting team which competed against England for the Elcho shield; he continued to shoot with great skill well into his old age. He died at his shooting lodge in Inverness-shire in December 1886 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Horatio Seftenberg John Ross.17

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. IGI (Scotland).
  • 2. Pol. State of Scotland, 1788, p. 158.
  • 3. Add. 28062, f. 202.
  • 4. Nelson Dispatches ed. N.H. Nicolas, i. 29, 32, 59, 80, 97, 273; iv. 269, 280-1, 348-9, 488; v. 13, 38; A.J. Warden, Angus, iii. 144.
  • 5. Nelson Dispatches, iv. 404, 487-8.
  • 6. Add. 28062, f. 202.
  • 7. Life of Wilberforce, i. 354.
  • 8. Add. 34930, f. 253.
  • 9. Sportascrapiana ed. C.H. Wheeler (1868), 54.
  • 10. Oxford DNB; Squire Osbaldeston: his Autobiog. (1927), 69-72, 82-84, 94-104, 231, 234; The Times, 16 June 1830.
  • 11. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 1 Jan. 1830.
  • 12. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 9 July; Aberdeen Jnl. 28 July, 4, 11, 18, 25 Aug. 1830.
  • 13. Aberdeen Jnl. 9, 30 Mar., 6, 13, 27 Apr., 4, 11, 25 May 1831.
  • 14. Raikes Jnl. i. 34-36.
  • 15. Aberdeen Jnl. 18 July 1832.
  • 16. Ibid. 26 Dec. 1832; Add. 40403, f. 103; 40420, ff. 16, 18; Gladstone Diaries, ii. 141; Scottish Electoral Politics, 222, 227-8, 259.
  • 17. Warden, iii. 144; Oxford DNB.