STEWART, John (1784-1873), of Belladrum, Inverness
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Family and Educationb. 29 May 1784, s. of Thomas Stewart of Keithmore, Aberdeen and Ann, da. and h. of Francis Gordon of Mill and Kincardine, Aberdeen. m. 15 Dec. 1814, Jamesina, da. of Capt. Simon Fraser of Fanellon, Inverness, wid. of Lt.-Col. William Campbell of 78 Ft., 2s. d.v.p. 2da. d. 5 Mar. 1873.
Stewart was descended from the Stewarts of Drumin, Banffshire, through whom he was related to the prominent East India merchant Charles Forbes*, Member for Beverley in the 1812 Parliament. He was in the same line of business. He told parliamentary select committees in 1830 that between 1800 and 1817 he had visited China seven times and had been to most parts of India as ‘mate and commander of a ship, and agent for the transaction of business connected with the ships I commanded’. He added that he had ‘had other ships, with their cargoes, consigned to me in China’ and that he had for a time traded on his own account to a limited extent.1 Whether he had any connection with John Stewart and Company, East India merchants and agents, of 23 Threadneedle Street, who were listed in the London directories between 1828 and 1831, is not clear. At the general election of 1826 he offered for Beverley, where money was the key to success, with the endorsement of Forbes, Member for Malmesbury since 1818. He also received the active backing of the local landowner Henry Burton Peters*, who waived his own pretensions to a seat. Stewart declared his support for the abolition of slavery, but otherwise confined himself to the customary cant of professing ‘perfectly independent principles’. He spent heavily and topped the poll by a considerable margin.2
Stewart voted in the opposition minority against the grant to the Clarences, 16 Feb. 1827. His vote for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., prompted Burton Peters to accuse him of breaching an understanding that he would oppose relief and to withdraw the future support of ‘the party’ which had returned him. Stewart, who presented but dissented from Beverley corporation’s petition against Catholic claims, 22 Mar., defended himself in a letter to Burton Peters. Their correspondence was made public. On 20 Apr. he issued an address to the freemen of Beverley in which he claimed that he had been influenced in his vote by the ‘able speech’ of Plunket, the Irish attorney-general, and had ‘since seen no cause to regret’ it.3 He voted in Hume’s minority of 44 for information on the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar., but with the Canning ministry against the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June. On 8 June 1827 he presented a Beverley petition for repeal of the Test Acts, but he did not vote for that measure, 26 Feb. 1828. He was in a minority of 15 for reduction of the navy estimates, 11 Feb. He opposed the disfranchisement of East Retford and the transfer of its seats to Birmingham, 25 Feb., and spoke against the Penryn disfranchisement bill, 14, 28 Mar. On 27 June he seconded Tennyson’s motion to defer the East Retford bill till next session, explaining that while he considered the evidence of corruption too insufficient to justify disfranchisement, he did not want the borough to be sluiced by throwing it into the hundred of Bassetlaw, which ‘would be merely transferring it into the hands of the aristocracy’. He divided for Catholic relief, 12 May. He urged the Wellington ministry not to abandon the building of ships of the line at Bombay, 19 May. Supporting Mackintosh’s motion for information on debtors imprisoned in India, 22 May, he stated that four or five years earlier he had been one of a deputation sent to examine the debtors’ gaol in Calcutta, where ‘the scene of misery we beheld surpasses every power of description’. Later that day he warmly supported the pensions for Canning’s widow and son. His attempt to insert in the stamp allowances bill a clause to halve the required commission was unsuccessful, 23 May. He argued for equalizing the duties on East Indian sugar and cotton with those on West Indian produce, 9 June. He divided against the compensation clause of the archbishop of Canterbury’s bill, 16 June, and spoke and voted to reduce the salary of the governor of Dartmouth, 20 June. He drew attention to the ‘enormous’ duties imposed by the United States on British goods, 4 July, but on 18 July welcomed the home secretary Peel’s speech in favour of the relaxation of trade restrictions. On 8 July he raised the issue of Governor Darling’s harsh and fatal treatment of two soldiers accused of theft in New South Wales. He secured a return of information on the revenues and trade of Ceylon, 14 July 1828.
As expected by Planta, the patronage secretary, Stewart supported the concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829. He voted for the principle, 6 Mar., gave the relief bill his ‘most zealous and unqualified approbation’, 16 Mar., and paired for the third reading, 30 Mar. He cast doubt on the credibility of many witnesses in the East Retford inquiry, 10 Apr., and voted for the issue of a new writ, 2 June. He was in the minority for reduction of the hemp duties, 1 June. On 4 June he obtained an account of the civil and military establishment of Ceylon during its administration by the East India Company, 1796-8. He declared his support for allowing native Indians to sit on juries, 5 June. He joined in the successful opposition to the bill to enclose Hampstead Heath, 12, 19 June 1829. He again opposed interference with East Retford, 11 Feb., but his attempt to secure the insertion in the bill of a clause requiring any man returned for the borough in future to swear that bribery had played no part in his success came to nothing, 2, 8 Mar. 1830. He voted against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., but was in the minority of 26 to ban Members from voting in committee on bills in which they had a personal interest, 26 Feb. He was named to the select committee on the East India Company, 9 Feb., after speaking knowledgeably on the affairs of India. He presented a Farsley clothiers’ petition against renewal of the Company’s charter, 29 Mar. On 4 Mar. he moved for inquiry into the dispute between the Company and the Bombay judicature. The motion was defeated by 106-15 on the 8th, when he was a teller for the minority. He pressed for a ministerial statement of intent on the Darling affair, 5 Mar., 13 May. He was in the minority of 16 against the third reading of Lord Ellenborough’s divorce bill, 6 Apr. He endorsed petitions for equalization of the Scottish and English stamp duties, 8 Apr., and reduction of the duties on shipping, 6 May. He voted to reduce the salary of the assistant secretary to the treasury, 10 May, and for reform of the civil government of Canada, 25 May. On 14 May he secured a return of information on the Scottish house tax. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 17 May. His motion for inquiry into the commerce, revenue and administration of Ceylon, which was supported by Forbes, 27 May, was defeated by 82-48. He paired for abolition of the death penalty for forgery offences, 7 June, and on 20 July urged rejection of the measure after its mutilation by the Lords; his amendment was rejected by 74-10. He supported government against a proposal to reduce the consular services grant, observing that they had ‘already effected great reductions in the expenditure of the country’, 11 June; but he objected to the money laid out for propagating the gospels in the colonies being exclusively devoted to the Church of England, arguing that the many Presbyterian inhabitants of Canada were entitled to a fair share. He voted with Hume for inquiry into the conduct of the commissioners of St. Luke’s church, 17 June, when he withdrew his motion for an address on the Darling case after being assured that all the relevant documents would be produced. He called for reduction of the sugar duties to aid the suffering East India interest, 21 June. On 8 July 1830 he defended the report of the East India select committee and urged its reappointment in the next Parliament, with Members not connected with the Company or with shipping and manufacturing interests, but with first hand knowledge of India.
Stewart retired from Parliament at the dissolution later that month. Nothing is known of his long later life. He died at his elder daughter’s London house in Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square in March 1873.4