SHAW STEWART, Sir Michael, 6th bt. (1788-1836), of Ardgowan; Blackhall, Renfrew and 14 Carlton Terrace, Mdx.

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



16 Oct. 1827 - 1830
1830 - 19 Dec. 1836

Family and Education

b. 4 Oct. 1788,1 1st s. of Sir Michael Shaw Stewart (formerly Stewart Nicolson), 5th bt., of Carnock, Stirling and his cos. Catherine, da. of Sir William Maxwell, 3rd bt., of Springkell, Dumfries; bro. of Patrick Maxwell Stewart*. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1807; L. Inn 1810; grand tour 1814-15. m. 16 Sept. 1819, Eliza Mary, da. of Robert Farquhar of Newark, Renfrew., 3s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 6th bt. 3 Aug. 1825. d. 19 Dec. 1836.

Offices Held


Shaw Stewart, whose father had succeeded his uncle to the baronetcy and estates of the old Renfrewshire family of Shaw Stewart in 1812, was probably the ‘Mr. Stewart Nicholson’ who joined Brooks’s Club on 11 July that year. He unsuccessfully contested Stirlingshire on the Whig interest in 1818. Yet his ‘early friend’ at Oxford was Robert Peel*, to whom he wrote in 1822 that, ‘being free from all public political connection’, he regarded him as ‘the first public man of your day’.2 He inherited extensive estates in Renfrewshire, including property in the port of Greenock, along with plantations in Trinidad and Tobago, from his father in 1825. Shortly afterwards it was suggested to Lord Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager, that he might be a suitable candidate for Renfrewshire, if he would ‘give us something like a pledge that he would not systematically oppose the government’.3 In the event, he was returned for Lanarkshire at a by-election in October 1827 on the interest of the Whig 10th duke of Hamilton. His brother John, who represented him in his absence in Florence, stated that his ‘general principles’ were ‘similar’ to those of the deceased Whig Member, Lord Archibald Hamilton, and that he would accordingly support ‘the present liberal and constitutional policy’ of Lord Goderich’s coalition ministry. In a subsequent address confirming his ‘cordial support’ for the government ‘as ... at present constituted’, he added that ‘I deplore Mr. Canning’s death every day’.4

He attended meetings of the West India planters and merchants,5 and was presumably the ‘Sir Matthew Stewart’ who argued that if the duties on East and West Indian produce were equalized, an ‘extensive’ market for British manufactures ‘would be thrown open’, 16 June 1828. He voted against the duke of Wellington’s ministry to reduce the grant for the Royal Cork Institution, 20 June, condemn the misapplication of public money for building work at Buckingham House, 23 June, and reduce the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. He similarly divided against the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 27 June, and the additional churches bill, 30 June 1828. He presented petitions from Glasgow, Greenock and elsewhere in favour of Catholic emancipation, 4, 25 Mar., 7 Apr., and voted for the government’s bill, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He denied that a hostile petition from Greenock reflected the ‘undivided opinion of the more respectable and intelligent part of the community’, 16 Mar., and deplored the efforts by Church of Scotland ministers to ‘excite a strong and prejudicial feeling throughout their congregations’ by ‘addressing them on this as a purely religious subject, both in and out of their pulpits’. He admitted that a ‘great proportion’ of the ‘less well-informed’ inhabitants in the West of Scotland were ‘undoubtedly hostile to concession’, 19 Mar., but observed that the ‘lower orders’ were ‘ever ready to do anything ... [to] depress and keep back the Irish Catholics’, who ‘pour in upon them almost with every tide ... to compete with them in all their occupations ... materially lowering the rate of wages throughout the district’. He thanked ministers for their ‘truly sanative, beneficent and just’ decision to act, on which depended ‘the tranquillity of the empire’. He objected to the Member for Perth Burghs being appointed to the committee on the Perth waterworks bill, 23 Mar., as this would be in ‘violation’ of the ‘excellent rule’ made by the House in the previous session. He successfully moved the second reading of the Lanarkshire roads bill, 16 Apr., and brought up the report of the committee on the Garturk and Garion railway bill, 4 May. He presented petitions from Hamilton cotton weavers and Glasgow out-pensioners for assistance to emigrate, 7 May, 1 June 1829, when he asked the government to state their intentions. He divided with them against Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830. However, he voted with the revived Whig opposition for tax reductions, 15 Feb., to get rid of the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., and for returns of privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May, but was against Hume’s amendment to reduce judges’ salaries, 7 July. He presented more Glasgow petitions for assistance with emigration, 10 Mar., 14 May. When presenting a Glasgow weavers’ petition for relief from distress, 18 Mar., he observed that ‘thousands’ were ‘suffering the severest privation from the extremely low rate of wages’, but doubted whether it was ‘in the power of the House’ to help, ‘unless it be by opening the vast markets of India and China to the enterprise of their employers’. He presented petitions from Greenock, Port Glasgow and elsewhere against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 25 May, 11 June. He thought the Greenock petition for reduction of the duty on molasses ‘well deserving’ of government attention, 1 July, lamented that ‘on many occasions the West India interest has been greatly overlooked’ and hoped that ‘Members ... connected with it will assert its claims more strongly in future’. He divided for Lord Blandford’s reform bill, 18 Feb., and to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He declared that the ‘direct proof of corruption’ at East Retford ‘calls for complete correction’, 26 Feb., and voted to transfer its seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr. He expressed ‘much satisfaction’ with the Scottish judicature bill, 1 Apr., and attributed the ‘liberal ... improvements and curtailments in the system of expenditure’ to the ‘enlightened mind’ of Peel. He made several suggestions for the reduction of fees and the extension of trial by jury. He said he had received many contradictory communications on this bill, 18 June, but offered it his ‘decided support’ as a ‘preliminary measure’. He presented Greenock petitions against the Port Glasgow harbour bill and the Clyde navigation bill, 3 May. He voted for inquiry into the state of Newfoundland, 11 May, and Labouchere’s motion regarding the civil government of Canada, 25 May. He presented but dissented from the Glasgow petition for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, given ‘the vast and ever undulating paper circulation of this country’, 24 May, and argued that ministers had gone ‘as far as ... prudent’; he paired against abolition, 7 June 1830. At the general election that summer he offered for Renfrewshire, in accordance with an agreement with John Maxwell, the retiring Member, and was returned unopposed. As a man of ‘independent circumstances’, he promised to pursue an ‘independent’ course and claimed to have ‘supported ministers nine times out of ten’. He expressed the ‘highest admiration’ for Wellington and Peel, whose ‘places could [not] be supplied’, and hoped the ‘free and spontaneous support of Parliament’ would be given to them and that they would be ‘strengthened by a union of their friends’. He pledged support for economy and retrenchment, ‘as far as it could safely be done’.6

The ministry regarded him as one of the ‘good doubtfuls’, who was a friend ‘where not pledged’. However, he voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. He was reportedly ‘rather censured for not voting with ... Peel’, who had apparently given ‘something [of] late’ to his brother Patrick.7 He welcomed the Grey ministry’s ‘highly beneficial’ plan to remove the expense of Scottish enfeoffments, 2 Dec. 1830. He joined a deputation of Scottish Members to the chancellor of the exchequer, Lord Althorp, regarding the proposed tax on steam vessels, 5 Mar., which he described to the House, 29 Mar. 1831, as ‘gravely detrimental’ to a trade that was ‘in its infancy’.8 He presented a petition from the West India planters and merchants of Glasgow, Greenock, Port Glasgow and Johnstone for compensation to slave owners, 28 Mar. He presented petitions for parliamentary reform from Greenock, Paisley, Eastwood and Stirling, 11 Feb. He supported the ‘principle’ of the government’s English reform bill, which gave the ‘franchise to wealth and population’, 19 Mar., although he might ‘perhaps disapprove of some of the details’; he divided for the second reading, 22 Mar. He claimed that there was a ‘most decided and unanimous feeling in the West of Scotland’ in favour of reform, 25 Mar., and considered its ‘general policy’ to be ‘expedient and likely to produce the most beneficial effects to Scotland’. He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was again returned unopposed for Renfrewshire, as an ‘independent Scotsman’ and a ‘friend of the great measure of reform’. He explained that he had supported Wellington’s ministry in expectation of ‘a reform of some kind’, but had ‘heard with astonishment and dismay’ the duke’s anti-reform declaration. He described the Grey ministry’s budget as ‘an ill-digested measure’, which had thankfully been ‘thrown aside’, and he favoured opening the East Indian trade, which was ‘manifestly due to this part of the country’.9

Shaw Stewart criticized the sheriff of Lanarkshire for resorting to military force at the recent election, 29 June 1831. He presented a Greenock petition that day against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, and ones from Greenock and Plymouth for repeal of the duty on marine insurance policies, 30 July. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, steadily for its details and for its third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept. He presented, without comment, a petition from the Renfrewshire political union for modifications to the Scottish bill, 20 Sept., and divided for the second reading, 23 Sept. He expressed support for the bill, while reserving his opinion on details, 3 Oct., and described it as ‘an act of common justice to Scotland’, which had grown in wealth and population since the Union and whose ‘present system of popular representation’ was ‘utterly inadequate’. However, he hoped it would be ‘a final measure ... for our generation’ and that ministers would ‘take their constitutional stand’ on it. He divided for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He attended the Lanarkshire county meeting, 7 Nov., when he argued that Ebrington’s motion had ‘preserved the peace of the country’ and expressed confidence that, ‘backed by the irresistible power of the people’, the reform bills would ‘shortly become ... law’.10 He voted with ministers to punish only those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, its details in committee, the third reading, 22 Mar., and the motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May 1832. He informed The Times that he had paired for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May.11 He divided against a Conservative amendment for increased Scottish county representation, 1 June, but advised ministers to postpone the registration clause to take account of various objections, 5 June. He opposed Cutlar Fergusson’s motion to unite Port Glasgow with Greenock, 15 June, on the grounds that Greenock was ‘the first seaport in Scotland’ and ‘fully entitled to ... one Member to itself’, and that its interests were ‘in constant conflict’ with those of Port Glasgow. He moved that day, as a matter of ‘common sense and common justice’, to transfer Kilmarnock from the Renfrew to the Ayr Burghs, as the present arrangement effectively gave ‘three Members to Ayrshire’; he was defeated, 67-35, acting as a minority teller. He divided with ministers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July, but voted in the minorities to reduce the sugar duties, 7 Mar., and against the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr. He urged the postponement of Morton’s patent ship bill, 28 Mar., warning that if the patent was renewed it would give an unfair advantage to foreign shipbuilders. He presented two Greenock petitions for protection to the West Indian colonies, 25 May 1832.

He offered again for Lanarkshire at the general election of 1832 on the ‘same liberal and salutary principles which have hitherto guided me’. He advocated abolition of trading monopolies, retrenchment, a ‘more equitable’ distribution of the tax burden, municipal reform, a revised system of punishments, ‘not only to take away their anomalous severity, but likewise to render them more effective, both for repressing crime and for reclaiming the criminal’ and ‘some wise and efficient scheme’ to liberate the slaves. He was returned ahead of a Radical.12 He sat until his death in December 1836, from ‘an inflammation of the spine’ apparently caused by ‘a fall from his horse about a twelvemonth ago ... to which, at the time, he paid no attention’. He was succeeded by his eldest son Michael Shaw Stewart (1826-1903), Liberal-Conservative Member for Renfrewshire, 1855-65.13

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. J. and S. Mitchell, M.I. in Renfrewshire, 137-40.
  • 2. Add. 40353, f. 223.
  • 3. NAS GD51/5/140.
  • 4. Glasgow Herald, 3 Sept., 19, 26 Oct.; Lansdowne mss, Goderich to Lansdowne, 6 Sept. 1827.
  • 5. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4.
  • 6. Glasgow City Archives, Maxwell mss T-PM 117/3/1; Glasgow Herald, 2 July, 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 7. Hopetoun mss 167, f. 202.
  • 8. Glasgow Herald, 11, 28 Mar. 1831.
  • 9. Ibid. 13 May 1831.
  • 10. Ibid. 11 Nov. 1831.
  • 11. The Times, 29 May 1832.
  • 12. Glasgow Herald, 30 July, 24, 28 Dec. 1832.
  • 13. Gent. Mag. (1837), i. 317; PROB 11/1886/800; IR26/1468/1032.