Calcraft, John (1726-1772) (DNB00)

CALCRAFT, JOHN, the elder (1726–1772), politician, was the son of a solicitor at Grantham, who acted as town clerk of the borough, and manipulated its parliamentary contests in favour of the Duke of Rutland a nominees. Through the influence of the Marquis of Granby he obtained a small clerkship in the pay office or commissariat department, but his astounding rise into wealth and power was due to the patronage of Henry Fox, the first lord Holland, of whom Calcraft was by some writers said to be the cousin, and by others insinuated to be the natural son. When Fox became the paymaster-general he reposed implicit confidence in this young official, made him the medium in his communications with the chiefs of the army, and appointed him agent for as many regiments as ne could. Through the aid of the same unscrupulous politician Calcraft was placed in the lucrative position of deputy commissary-general of musters, and in the eyes of the multitude, who were then unacquainted with his keenness and talents, he was considered to hold his position in trust for Fox. After a time Calcraft withdrew from the civil service and devoted himself entirelv to his business as army agent or quasi-banker and contractor for the lorces, in which position he found his official knowledge of the greatest utility, and speedily secured a 'revenue superior to any nobleman's estate in the kingdom.' He 'riots in the plunder of an army' was the expressive phrase in which Junius afterwards summed up the general estimate of his profits. In 1763 Calcraft deserted the cause of Fox for his more illustrious rival, throwing himself with characteristic energy into the task of reconciling Pitt with the other discontented politicians. His first attempt was to reconcile Pitt to the Duke of Bedford, and for that purpose he was closeted with the great commoner for three hours on 15 Aug. 1763; but the effort proved a failure, and he was denounced by the Bedford faction for having deceived them as to Pitt's views. Early in the same year (1763) he had been talked of as a possible Irish peer; in its closing month he was ejected from his post of deputy commissary-general. In December 1765 Calcraft contested Rochester against Grey Cooper, but he had the mortification of being defeated, probably through Cooper's influence as secretary of the treasury. He was M.P. for Calne 1766–8. At the general election of 1768 he was returned to parliament for Rochester, and continued to represent it until his death. As he possessed the ‘best head for intrigue in the whole party’ of Pitt's followers, he was the medium in restoring in 1768 the friendly relations which had existed in previous years between Lord Chatham and Lord Temple, and he tried, though with less success, to connect Henry Conway with them. Long before this date his earliest patron, the Marquis of Granby, had been indebted to Calcraft for considerable loans, and through his agency the marquis was detached from the court. Calcraft had now acquired much borough influence, had ingratiated himself with the proprietors of the chief London newspapers, and had won over to his side many of the leading members of the London corporation. His activity was thrown into the cause of the ‘liberty of the subject and parliamentary reform,’ and he exerted himself with Philip Francis (the reputed author of the ‘Letters of Junius’), whom he patronised as a boy and a man, in the task of forcing Lord Chatham into power. In October 1771 Calcraft fell under the lash of Junius, although Francis was then his professed friend; but it has been suggested that this was a ‘blind’ to divert suspicion of the authorship of the letters from Francis. Large purchases of landed property had from time to time been made by Calcraft, and he was now reported to possess estates worth 10,000l. per annum. He had acquired the estate of Rempston, Corfe Castle, in 1757, and had become the owner of the manor of Wareham in 1767, which he followed up by gradually purchasing the chief part of the town. An English peerage was now the object of his ambition, and the title which he coveted was that of Earl of Ormonde; but in April 1772 he was seized by a fatal illness. On 21 Aug. in that year he wrote to Lord Chatham, that he had conquered the disorder which troubled him, and that ‘by gentle exercise and a warm climate’ he would be quite restored; but on 23 Aug. he died at Ingress Abbey, Belvedere, Kent, aged 46, leaving four sons. He was buried at St. Mary's, Wareham, and there is a monument to his memory in the chancel. Calcraft was a free liver, and had several children by Mrs. George Anne Bellamy [q. v.] and by Miss Bride, both of them actresses. The former had presided at Calcraft's table, but her habits were too extravagant for him, and after he had repeatedly paid her debts she was dismissed with a pension. The letter to him which she advertised for publication in October 1767, but afterwards suppressed, is printed, with an address to the public, in ‘The Apology for her Life’ (1785), v. 87–144. The sums of money which he left to his children by these women are set out in a note to Tooke's edition of Churchill's ‘Poems’ (1804), i. 346–7. To Philip Francis he left 1,000l. in cash, and ordered that if Francis died without leaving his widow 300l. a year she should be provided with an annuity of 200l. per annum. He also expressed his desire that Francis should be returned to parliament for Wareham. Numerous letters to and from Calcraft will be found in ‘The Grenville Papers,’ ii. 90–2, and the ‘Correspondence of the Earl of Chatham,’ ii. 245, &c.

[Parkes's Sir P. Francis, i. 13–363; Correspondence of fourth Duke of Bedford, iii. 236–237; Walpole's Letters (Cunningham's ed.), iv. 69, 140, 199, v. 207; Walpole's Last Ten Years of George II, i. 400; Walpole's Memoirs of Reign of George III, i. 264, 294, 332, and iii. 208, 274; Hutchins's Dorset (1861 ed.), i. 82, 111, 113, 534; Satirical Prints at British Museum, iii. 1171, 1184, iv. 588, 593, 610.]

W. P. C.