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Charles Grant (1746-1823)

This article was written by Edward James Rapson and was published in 1890

Charles Grant, statesman and philanthropist, belonged to a branch of the family of Grant Castle in Inverness-shire. He was born at Aldourie in the parish of Dores, N.E. Inverness-shire, on 16 April 1746, the date of the battle of Culloden. [1] A few hours after his birth his father, Alexander, was killed at Culloden fighting for Charles Edward. Grant was adopted by an uncle, was educated at Elgin, and in 1767 was sent to India in a military capacity. On his arrival, however, he obtained a post in the civil service through the patronage of Richard Becher, a member of the Bengal council.

In 1770 he returned to Scotland, and married Jane, daughter of Thomas Fraser, younger son of the family of Balnain in Inverness. He received the promise of an appointment as writer on the Bengal establishment, and again left Scotland in 1772. While the ship was waiting at the Cape a companion, Lieutenant Ferguson, was killed in a duel with Captain Roche. Grant insisted on an investigation. Roche, though released by the Dutch authorities at the Cape, was through Grant's action subsequently seized at Bombay and sent to England, where his case created much excitement. It was in 1775 referred to the king in council. During the voyage Grant began a lifelong friendship with the Danish missionary, Christian Frederick Swartz, on whose death in 1798 the company, on Grant's proposal, erected in St. Mary's Church, Fort St. George, a monument to commemorate his services during the wars with Hyder and Tippoo.

Grant arrived at Calcutta in June 1773, and was shortly afterwards made a factor. He was subsequently secretary to the board of trade, and in 1781 became commercial resident in charge of the silk manufactory at Malda. He was promoted in June 1784 to the rank of senior merchant. His position at Malda was very lucrative, and he rapidly acquired a large fortune. His notable integrity gained him the respect of the governor-general, Cornwallis, who in February 1787 made him fourth member of the board of trade at Calcutta. The immediate superintendence of all the company's trade in Bengal was thus placed in his hands. Family reasons compelled him to return to England in 1790.

In 1792 Grant wrote a pamphlet entitled Observations on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain. This was a plea for the toleration of missionary and educational work in the East. In 1797 it was laid before the court of directors, and in 1813 before the House of Commons, by whose orders it was printed. It was regarded as the ablest answer to the arguments of the anti-missionary party headed by Major Scott Waring (‘Asiaticus’) and Sydney Smith.

In 1802 Grant entered parliament as member for Inverness-shire, and in 1804 became member for the county which he represented till 1818. He was first chosen deputy-chairman of the court of directors of the East India Company in 1804, and chairman in 1805. He was four times re-elected to one or other of these offices. His knowledge of the company's commerce enabled him to introduce a reform in the system of freight, which produced a large saving. Representing the court of directors in parliament, he took a prominent part in all questions relating to the company's privileges. At the time the system of patronage was grossly abused, and grave suspicions of the direction were entertained. At Grant's request a select committee of the House of Commons was appointed to investigate the matter. The inquiry cleared the court of all complicity.

Grant disapproved of the warlike policy pursued by Lord Wellesley as governor-general, and opposed it in the debates (1805-1808) on the Mahratta war, the government of Oude, and the affairs of the Carnatic. Lord Folkestone's unsuccessful motion to impeach Lord Wellesley received Grant's support (March 1808). In January 1806 he seconded the address to George III for a public monument in St. Paul's to the memory of Cornwallis, who died shortly after succeeding Wellesley in 1805, and whose pacific policy Grant approved. Grant also defended in the House of Commons (February 1811) the military reforms pressed forward by Sir George Barlow, governor of Madras. In March 1811 he opposed as premature a proposal to allow freedom of the press in India.

Grant was a member of the deputation appointed in 1808 by the court of directors to confer with the ministry as to the renewal of the company's charter, which expired in 1813. He sought to secure the company's commercial interests, and, with his friend Wilberforce, to further the progress of Christianity and education in India. In the latter object he was successful. The Charter Act received the royal assent on 23 July 1813, and, while curtailing the commercial privileges of the company, increased the ecclesiastical establishment in India, and assigned an annual sum of a lac of rupees for purposes of education.

Failing health obliged Grant to retire from parliament in 1818. He had been for some time commissioner for the issue of exchequer bills, and now became chairman, an office which he held till his death. He also served on the commission for appropriating the £1,000,000 voted by parliament in 1818 for the building of churches. When it was proposed to open the trade with China (1820-1) he gave evidence before committees of the lords and commons. For many years he was a director of the South Sea Company; and in Scotland, where he possessed an estate at Waternish in Inverness, he promoted the construction of the Caledonian Canal and roads and bridges in the highlands.

Grant originated the scheme of education for the company's servants fulfilled by the establishment of the East India College at Haileybury. He introduced Sunday schools into Scotland, and for twenty years personally supported two of them. While in India he was chiefly instrumental in building the church of St. John at Calcutta, now known as the Old Cathedral, which was consecrated in June 1787. When, in the same year, the mission church built by the Swedish missionary, John Zachariah Kiernander, was seized for debt together with the rest of Kiernander's estate, Grant redeemed it by paying ten thousand rupees. He also, while in India, supported a mission at Malda.

Grant was an energetic member of the evangelical party known as the Clapham sect, which included Zachary Macaulay, the Thorntons, John Venn, and Wilberforce. For some years he had a house on Henry Thornton's estate at Battersea Rise, but subsequently removed to Russell Square. He was one of the first directors of the Sierra Leone Company, chartered in 1791 for the purpose of providing a refuge for freed slaves, and one of the first vice-presidents of the British and Foreign Bible Society on its institution in 1804. He was also one of the promoters of the Church Missionary Society, and an active member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. As chairman and deputy-chairman of the court of directors he used his patronage to send out as chaplains many who afterwards became famous as missionaries, like Claudius Buchanan in 1796, Henry Martyn in 1805, and Thomas Thomason in 1808.

He died suddenly at his house in Russell Square on 31 October 1823. There is a monument erected to his memory by the East India Company in St. George's, Bloomsbury. A funeral sermon preached at St. John's, Bedford Row, by his friend Daniel Wilson, afterwards bishop of Calcutta, is to be found among Wilson's works.

Grant had three sons: Charles, lord Glenelg; Robert, who was knighted and became governor of Bombay; and Thomas William, who died 15 May 1848. One of his two daughters (Charamelle) was married to Samuel March Phillips, sometime under-secretary of state for the home department, and the other to Patrick Grant of Redcastle, Inverness-shire. Grant's widow died 23 January 1827.

I am grateful to Graham McKelvie for the following information:

Grant’s father, who was nicknamed ‘the swordsman” was wounded in the head at Culloden but he escaped. He helped others in their escape as well. He remained in hiding for two years and his property was ruined during the highland clearances. He later took service under the Government he had resisted at Culloden. He took a commission and joined one of the two Highland regiments that were raised to reinforce the army in America. He was at the siege of Havanna where he held a small fort until he was relieved.  There is no record of his death though it is believed that he died abroad.  [back]

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