Open main menu

Shaw, James (DNB00)

SHAW, Sir JAMES (1764–1843), lord mayor of London, son of John Shaw, an Ayrshire farmer, whose ancestors had occupied the property of Mosshead for three centuries, and of Helen, daughter of David Sellars of the Mains, Craigie, Ayrshire, was born at Mosshead in the parish of Riccarton in 1764. On his father's death, about five years later, the family moved to Kilmarnock, where James Shaw was educated at the grammar school. When seventeen years old he went to America to join his brother David, who held a position in the commissariat service, and by his interest was placed in the commercial house of Messrs. George and Samuel Douglass at New York. Three years later he returned to Britain, and was made a junior member of the firm in London. In 1798 he was elected alderman for the ward of Portsoken, in 1803 became sheriff of London and Middlesex, and in 1805 was chosen lord mayor. He distinguished himself in this office by reviving the right of the city to precedence on public occasions, and exercised his privilege at the funeral of Lord Nelson, when many of the royal family took part in the procession.

From 1806 to 1818 Shaw sat in parliament as member for the city of London as an independent tory (Official Returns of Members of Parliament, ii. 233, 247, 261). Having been created a baronet in September 1809, Sir James continued an alderman till 1831, when he was elected chamberlain of London. In this position he was threatened with a serious misfortune. He inadvertently invested 40,000l. held by him as banker to the corporation in the spurious exchequer bills with which the market at that time was flooded. On discovering his error he made immediate preparations to sacrifice almost his entire private fortune to make good the loss. A government commission, however, completely exonerated him, and he was repaid the full amount. In May 1843 he resigned the office of chamberlain, and on 22 Oct. of the same year he died, unmarried, at his house in America Square.

Sir James was peculiarly zealous in aiding his fellow-countrymen. Among other kindnesses he succeeded in procuring a provision for the widow of Robert Burns and commissions for her sons. In 1848 a statue of him, by Fillans, was erected at the Kilmarnock Cross. A portrait also, by James Tannock, was presented to the borough.

The baronetcy, by a special patent granted in 1813, descended to his sister's son, John MacGee, who took the name of Shaw. On his death, without issue, in November 1868, it became extinct.

[Times, 25 Oct. 1843; Gent. Mag. 1843, ii. 654; M'Kay's Hist. of Kilmarnock, p. 230; Lodge's Peerage and Baronetage, 1859, p. 816.]

E. I. C.