Company, from its origin in 1600 to the Present Times: vol. i. containing the Affairs of the Carnatic, in which the Rights of the Nabob are explained, and the Injustice of the Company proved,’ London, 1779. It is possible that one or both of the last two works may have been from the pen of his kinsman, Sir John Macpherson, who preceded him as agent to the nabob.
[There is no good contemporary account of Macpherson. Most of the information here gathered is founded on authorities mentioned in the text or on facts supplied by descendants. See also the European Magazine, March 1796, xxix. 156, 305, which gives the date of his birth as ‘the end of 1738,’ and is closely followed by the Annual Register, 1796, p. 366, and by Chalmers's General Biog. Dict. xxi. 75; also Gent. Mag. 1796, pt. i. p. 256, Allardyce's Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century, Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, ed. Thomson, iii. 72. Some information has been obtained from the Registrars of Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities. Allibone's Dict. of English Literature, s.v. 'James Macpherson', gives a fair list of works bearing on the controversy.]
MACPHERSON, Sir JOHN (1745–1821), governor-general of India, was born in 1745 at Sleat in the Isle of Skye, where his father, John Macpherson (1710–1765), was minister. His mother was Janet, daughter of Donald Macleod of Bernera. The father, son of Dugald Macpherson, minister of Duirinish, distinguished himself in classics at Aberdeen University (M.A. 1728, and D.D. 1761), and was minister of Barra in the presbytery of Uist (1734–42), and of Sleat (1742–65). He published, ‘Critical Dissertations on the Origin, Antiquities, Language, Government, Manners, Religion of the Ancient Caledonians, their Posterity, the Picts, and the British and Irish Scots,' London, 1768, 4to, and paraphrased the Song of Moses in Latin verse in 'Scots Magazine' vols. i. ix. xi. He upheld the authenticity of the poems assigned to Ossian, and Dr. Johnson declared that his Latin verse did ‘him honour.’ ‘He has a great deal of Latin and very good Latin’ (Scot, Fasti Eccl. Scot. pt. v. pp. 129, 137). Martin Macpherson (1743–1812), Dr. Macpherson’s elder son, succeeded him at Sleat, and won Dr. Johnson's regard when the doctor visited the highlands.
John, the younger son, was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, and at the university of Edinburgh. In March 1767 he sailed for India, nominally as purser of an East India ship, commanded by his maternal uncle, Captain Alexander Macleod. Macpherson landed at Madras, where he obtained an introduction to Mohammed Ali, nabob of the Carnatic. The latter, whose affairs were in great disorder, had borrowed sums of money at enormous interest from the East India Company's officials at Madras. Hard pressed by his creditors, be entrusted Macpherson with a secret mission to England, with the object of making representations on his behalf to the home government. Macphereon arrived in England in November 1768. He had several interviews with the prime minister, the Duke of Grafton, who eventually despatched Sir John Lindsay, as king's envoy extraordinary, to effect a settlement of the nabob's claims. This commission being novel and unwarrantable, the company protested, and Lindsay was recalled.
Macpherson returned to India in January 1770 with the position of a writer in the company's service. He remained for six years at Madras occupied with administrative work. He also renewed his acquaintence with the nabob, for whom, as he himself confesses, be occasionally procured loans of money. In 1776 Lord Pigot, the governor of Madras, obtained possession of a letter addressed to the nabob by Macpherson, in which details were given regarding the latter's mission to England. The paper contained severe reflections on the company's action, and indicated that Macpherson had engaged in a plot to set the home government against them. He was thereon dismissed the service. He returned to England in 1777 having previously furnished himself with fresh despatches to the home government from the nabob. Macpherson remained in England for four years. From April 1779 to May 1782 he sat in the House of Commons for Cricklade, and was one of six members suspected of being in receipt of a salary from the nabob of Arcot in return for pressing the latter's claims on the legislature.
Macpherson had appealed to the court of directors against his dismissal by the Madras council. The former were by no means satisfied with the intrigues indulged in by their servants in the Carnatic, and reinstated him. In June 1781, however, before he could return to Madras, he was appointed by Lord North, whose government he had supported, to the seat on the supreme council at Calcutta vacated by Richard Barwell [q. v.] The appointment was severely criticised in public; and in 1782 a committee of the House of Commons declared that Macpherson's conduct in supporting the pretensions of the nabob had tended to endanger the peace of India.