John Sinclair, 1st Baronet (1754 - 1835) MP

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Birthplace: Thurso Castle, Caithness, Scotland
Death: Died in Edinburgh, Scotland
Managed by: Margaret, (C)
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About John Sinclair, 1st Baronet

Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet (10 May 1754 – 21 December 1835) was a Scottish politician, writer on finance and agriculture and the first person to use the word statistics in the English language, in his vast, pioneering work, Statistical Account of Scotland, in 21 volumes.

Sinclair was the eldest son of George Sinclair of Ulbster, a member of the family of the Earls of Caithness, and was born at Thurso Castle, Thurso, Caithness. After studying at the University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow and Trinity College, Oxford, he was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, and called to the English bar, but never practised.

In 1780, he was returned to the British House of Commons for Caithness constituency, and subsequently represented several English constituencies, his parliamentary career extending, with few interruptions, until 1811. Sinclair established at Edinburgh a society for the improvement of British wool, and was mainly instrumental in the creation of the Board of Agriculture, of which he was the first president. His reputation as a financier and economist had been established by the publication, in 1784, of his History of the Public Revenue of the British Empire; in 1793 widespread ruin was prevented by the adoption of his plan for the issue of Exchequer Bills; and it was on his advice that, in 1797, Pitt issued the "loyalty loan" of eighteen millions for the prosecution of the war.

Family

Sir John Sinclair, who was created a baronet in 1780,[1] was twice married. He had two daughters by his first wife. He married, secondly, to Diana, daughter of the first Lord Macdonald, by whom he had thirteen children. His eldest son, Sir George Sinclair, 2nd Baronet (1790–1868) was a writer and a Member of Parliament, representing Caithness at intervals from 1811 until 1841. His son, Sir John George Tollemache Sinclair, 3rd Baronet, was member for the same constituency from 1869 to 1885. The first Baronet's third son, also John (1797–1875), became Archdeacon of Middlesex; the fifth son, William (1804–1878), was Prebendary of Chichester and was the father of William Macdonald Sinclair (b. 1850), who in 1889 became Archdeacon of London; the fourth daughter, Catherine Sinclair was an author.

Scientific agriculture

Sinclair's services to scientific agriculture were no less conspicuous. He supervised the compilation of the valuable Statistical Account of Scotland (21 vols., 1791–1799) which was drawn up from the communications of the Ministers of the different parishes'. This is generally known as the "Old Statistical Account." In volume XX (p. xiii) Sinclair explained the choice of name and the purpose of the inquiry: "Many people were at first surprised at my using the words "statistical" and "statistics", as it was supposed that some in our own language might have expressed the same meaning. But in the course of a very extensive tour through the northern parts of Europe, which I happened to take in 1786, I found that in Germany they were engaged in a species of political enquiry to which they had given the name "statistics," and though I apply a different meaning to that word—for by "statistical" is meant in Germany an inquiry for the purposes of ascertaining the political strength of a country or questions respecting matters of state—whereas the idea I annex to the term is an inquiry into the state of a country, for the purpose of ascertaining the quantum of happiness enjoyed by its inhabitants, and the means of its future improvement; but as I thought that a new word might attract more public attention, I resolved on adopting it, and I hope it is now completely naturalised and incorporated with our language." For Sinclair, statistics involved collecting facts of a particular kind or with a particular end in mind; the facts were not necessarily, or even typically, numerical.

Sinclair was a great proponent of new agricultural methods, and large tracts of land on his Caithness estate were let out to tenants who kept new breeds of livestock such as Cheviot sheep. Unfortunately this meant evicting the sitting tenants and giving them smaller plots of land to work, often in harsh coastal areas such as Badbea. Eventually many of the displaced tenants were forced to emigrate.

He was a member of most of the continental agricultural societies, a fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as of the Antiquarian Society of London, and president of the Highland Society in London. In 1796, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Originally a thorough supporter of Pitt's war policy, he later on joined the party of " armed neutrality." In 1805 he was appointed by Pitt a commissioner for the construction of roads and bridges in the north of Scotland, in 1810 he was made a member of the privy council and, next year, received the lucrative sinecure office of Commissioner of excise. When the Statistical Society of London (now the Royal Statistical Society) was founded in 1834, Sinclair at 80 was the oldest original member. In the same year he presented a paper on agriculture to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, but this was found to lack "facts which can be stated numerically."

Archaeological recording

Sinclair's works sometimes were the first recording of details of archaeological monuments of Scotland. For example, the first recorded mention of the Catto Long Barrow in Aberdeenshire was made by Sinclair in 1795.

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Rt Hon Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, 1st Baronet's Timeline

1754
May 10, 1754
Caithness, Scotland
1776
1776
Age 21
1781
April 17, 1781
Age 26
London, England
1788
1788
Age 33
1790
1790
Age 35
1796
1796
Age 41
1797
August 20, 1797
Age 43
1804
1804
Age 49
1835
December 21, 1835
Age 81
Edinburgh, Scotland
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Edinburgh, Scotland