- Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet
Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet (
May 10 1754– December 21 1835) 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 Glasgowand Trinity College, Oxford, he was admitted to the Faculty of Advocatesin Scotland, and called to the English bar, but never practised.
In 1780, he was returned to the
British House of Commonsfor Caithness constituency, and subsequently represented several English constituencies, his parliamentary career extending, with few interruptions, until 1811. Sinclair established at Edinburgha 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, Pittissued the "loyalty loan" of eighteen millions for the prosecution of the war.
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.
He was a member of most of the continental agricultural societies, a fellow of the
Royal Society of Londonand the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as of the Antiquarian Society of London, and president of the Highland Societyin London. 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."
Sir John Sinclair, who was created a
baronetin 1780, was twice married, first to a daughter of Alexander Maitland, by whom he had two daughters, and secondly to Diana, daughter of the first Lord Macdonald, by whom he had thirteen children. His eldest son, George Sinclair (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, the 3rd Baronet, was member for the same constituency from 1869 to 1885. The first Baronet's third son, also John (1797-1875), became Archdeaconof Middlesex; the fifth son, William (1804-1878), was Prebendaryof Chichesterand was the father of William Macdonald Sinclair (b. 1850), who in 1889 became Archdeacon of London; the fourth daughter, Catherine Sinclairwas an author.
* Sinclair, John. "The Correspondence of the Right Honourable Sir John Sinclair, Bart. With Reminiscences of the Most Distinguished Characters Who Have Appeared in Great Britain, and in Foreign Countries, During the Last Fifty Years." 2 Vols. London: H. Colburn & R. Bentley, 1831. [http://books.google.com/books?id=98IEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA404&dq=Correspondence+of+the+Right+Hon.+Sir+John+Sinclair,+Bart&ei=Ero4R6yxC4XkiQGs97j9AQ#PPA404,M1 googlebbooks.com] Accessed November 12, 2007
* Sinclair, Rev. John (Sir John's Sinclair's son). "Memoirs of the Life and Works of the Late Right Honourable Sir John Sinclair, Bart." 2 Vols, Edinburgh: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1837. [http://books.google.com/books?id=PlQEAAAAQAAJ&pg=RA2-PA396&dq=Memoirs+of+the+Life+and+Works+of+the+Right+Hon.+Sir+John+Sinclair&ei=B704R-bgAaXQiQGj0LDuAQ#PPA1,M1 googlebooks.com] Accessed November 12, 2007
* R. Mitchison, "Agricultural Sir John: The life of Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster," London: Geoffrey Bles (1962).
Rosalind Mitchison, "Sinclair, Sir John, first baronet (1754–1835)", "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography," Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 16 July 2005.
* "Sinclair, John", pp. 70–72 in "Leading Personalities in Statistical Sciences from the Seventeenth Century to the Present, " (ed. N. L. Johnson and S. Kotz) 1997. New York: Wiley. Originally published in "Encyclopedia of Statistical Science."
* R. L. Plackett (1986) The Old Statistical Account, "Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, A," (149), 247–251.
* Urban, Sylvanus. "Obituary" "The Gentleman's Magazine." London: 1836. (pp. 431-433) [http://books.google.com/books?id=FweHXLAGGa0C&pg=PA432&dq=alexander+maitland+john+sinclair&ei=x7E4R7GNNoLKiQHhqPWHAg googlebooks.com] Accessed November 12, 2007
* [http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqSearch=RefNo='EC/1784/06'&dsqDb=Catalog Royal Society citation] For a biography published in 1856 see
* [http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/sinclair_john.htm "Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen"] For a description of the "Old Statistical Account" (and the "New") see
* [http://www.electricscotland.com/webclans/statistical_accounts.htm Statistical Accounts of Scotland.] For more on the history of the term "statistics", see the entry in
* [http://members.aol.com/jeff570/s.html Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics: S] .
The National Portrait Gallery has 7 images of Sir John Sinclair, 1st Bt (1754–1835), Agriculturalist
* [http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?search=ss&sText=john+sinclair&LinkID=mp04122 Search the collection]
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