Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sinclair, George (1790-1868)

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SINCLAIR, Sir GEORGE (1790–1868), author, eldest son of Sir John Sinclair (1754–1835) [q. v.] of Ulbster, and Diana, only daughter of Alexander Macdonald, first lord Macdonald, was born in Edinburgh on 28 Aug. 1790. His brothers John [q. v.] and William [q. v.] and sister Catherine [q. v.] are noticed separately. He entered Harrow, under Dr. Drury, at the age of ten, having for fellow scholars Lord Byron and Sir Robert Peel. Byron described Sinclair as ‘the prodigy of our school-days. He made exercises for half the school (literally), verses at will, and themes without it. He was a friend of mine, and in the same remove.’ At the age of sixteen Sinclair quitted Harrow and went to Göttingen. Arrested as a spy, he was brought before Napoleon, who examined him and ordered his release. In 1826 Sinclair issued a privately printed ‘Narrative’ of the interview (Edinburgh, 1826, 8vo). He returned to England, and in 1811 succeeded his father in the whig interest as M.P. for the county of Caithness, which he represented at intervals for many years. On the invitation of Spencer Perceval [q. v.] he moved the reply to the address from the throne during his first session, and soon achieved success as a speaker. He was re-elected to parliament in 1818. In the House of Commons Sinclair formed a close friendship with Joseph Hume and Sir Francis Burdett. He strenuously advocated catholic emancipation and the emancipation of the West India slaves, and he severely criticised the pension list. While a member of parliament Sinclair found time to attend the Edinburgh lectures of Dr. Hope on chemistry, of Dr. Knox and Dr. Monro on anatomy, and also a course on botany. He took a great interest in the misfortunes of Charles X, and had numerous interviews with the royal exile when resident in Holyrood. One of these he described in a racy pamphlet, ‘Comme Charles X,’ 1848.

In 1831 Sinclair was again returned for Caithness-shire to the House of Commons, and sat continuously till 1841, being re-elected in 1833, 1835, and 1837. He supported the Reform Bill of 1832, and in the same year he attracted public attention by refusing William IV's invitation to dine with him on a Sunday. In 1835 he joined the new ‘constitutional’ party of Lord Stanley and Sir James Graham, who had seceded in 1834 from the government of Earl Grey. On 21 Dec. 1835 he succeeded his father as second baronet. He took an active part, as chairman of Sir Francis Burdett's committee, in the famous Westminster election of 1837. At this time a writer in ‘Blackwood’ characterised him as ‘one of the manliest and most uncompromising of the constitutional members of the House of Commons; a friend to the church, the king, and the people.’ He retired from parliament in 1841.

Sinclair was a faithful supporter of the anti-patronage society with reference to the church of Scotland. He afterwards joined the free church. His last years were passed in seclusion at Thurso Castle or Torquay. He spent the winter of 1867 at Cannes, and, dying in Edinburgh on 23 Oct. 1868, was buried at Harold's Tower, Thurso.

Sir George married, on 1 May 1816, Lady Catherine Camilla, sister of Lionel Tollemache, sixth earl of Dysart, and by her had three sons and three daughters. She died on 17 March 1863. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest son, John George Tollemache Sinclair, M.P. for Caithness, 1869–85.

Sir George was a voluminous writer for the press and author of many pamphlets. His earliest work, ‘Travels in Germany,’ in two volumes, describing his visits to the continent, was printed for private circulation. Only one copy is known to exist. Among his other publications were: 1. ‘Selections from the Correspondence carried on during recent Negotiations for the Adjustment of the Scottish Church Question,’ 8vo, Edinburgh, 1842. 2. ‘A Letter on the Church Question,’ 8vo, Edinburgh, 1843. 3. ‘Comme Charles X: an Essay on the Downfall of Louis-Philippe,’ 8vo, 1848. 4. ‘Observations on the new Scottish Poor Law,’ 8vo, Edinburgh, 1849. 5. ‘Letters to the Protestants of Scotland,’ 12mo, Edinburgh, 1852. 6. ‘Miscellaneous Thoughts on Popery, Prelacy, and Presbyterianism,’ 8vo, Edinburgh, 1853. 7. ‘Two Hundred Years of Popery in France,’ 12mo, Edinburgh, 1853. 8. ‘Popery in the First Century,’ 12mo, Edinburgh, 1855.

[Memoirs of Sir George Sinclair, by James Grant, 1870, with portrait; Times, 31 Oct. 1868; Foster's Members of Parl. of Scotland; Christian Observer, 1870, pp. 521–9; Advocates' Library Cat.; Blackwood's Mag. xli. 780.]

G. S-h.