Steuart, Henry Seton (DNB00)


STEUART, Sir HENRY SETON (1759–1836), of Allanton, Lanarkshire, author of ‘The Planter's Guide,’ born on 20 Oct. 1759, was the second but eldest surviving son of James Steuart, tenth of Allanton, an agriculturist and scholar. His mother was a daughter of Henry Steuart-Barclay, esq. of Collernie, Fifeshire. The family claimed descent from Sir John Steuart of Bonkill, lord high steward of Scotland, who was killed at Falkirk in 1298, and whose sixth son, Sir Robert of Daldowie, was asserted to have been the progenitor of the Stewarts of Lennox, Darnley, and Castlemilk. Sir Henry Steuart supported this claim in a pamphlet issued in 1799, in opposition to Andrew Stuart's ‘Genealogy of the Stuarts,’ published in the preceding year, and the controversy was afterwards revived on the one side by George Robertson (‘Candidus’)—who, in his edition of Crawfurd's ‘History of Renfrewshire’ (1818), printed the manuscript history of the family, on which the Steuarts of Allanton based their pedigree—and on the other by John Riddell (Blackwood's Mag. i. 349–52, 476–83, iii. 439–46).

Steuart completed his education at Hamburg, and returned to Scotland when about seventeen. In 1778 he entered the army as a cornet in the 13th light dragoons. Three years later he exchanged into the 10th light dragoons, and accompanied to Ireland his kinsman, General Sir James Steuart of Coltness, in the capacity of aide-de-camp. In 1787 he retired from the army. He settled at Allanton, and devoted the rest of his life to literary pursuits and the improvement of his estate. His winters he usually spent at Edinburgh, where he enjoyed the society of Erskine, Tytler (Lord Woodhouselee), and Henry Mackenzie, whose father Steuart's mother had married as her second husband. In 1801 Steuart published a pamphlet advocating the construction of a canal from the Lanarkshire coalfields to Edinburgh in order to cheapen and improve the coal supply of that city. He had also projects for supplying Ireland, the Isle of Man, and even some foreign ports with fuel from the same district. In 1806 he obtained some credit for a competent edition of Sallust's works (2 vols. 4to). He was rewarded by the degree of LL.D. from Edinburgh University, and was also elected F.R.S.E. He occasionally contributed to the ‘Anti-Jacobin’ and other periodicals, and at his death left in manuscript fragments of a ‘History of the Rebellion of 1745’ and of a history of Scotland. He handed over to Chambers the materials he had collected for a history of the Rebellion.

Owing to bad health Steuart abandoned most of his literary work, and experiments in arboriculture became the chief interest of his life. In September 1823 a deputation from the Highland and Agricultural Society, which included Sir Walter Scott and Lords Belhaven and Corehouse, visited Allanton, and reported on the improvements effected there by Steuart's system of transplanting large trees. Though he had had to contend with an unfavourable soil and an exposed position, he ‘attained at no extraordinary expense the power so long desired of anticipating the slow progress of vegetation, and accomplishing within two or three seasons those desirable changes in the face of nature which he who plants in early youth can, in ordinary cases, only hope to witness in advanced life.’ From this time Steuart frequently corresponded with Sir Walter, who imitated several of Steuart's experiments at Abbotsford. When, in 1828, Steuart published his ‘Planter's Guide; or a practical essay on the best method of giving immediate effect to wood by the removal of large trees and underwood,’ Scott reviewed it enthusiastically in the ‘Quarterly’ (March). When Scott visited Allanton in January 1829, in company with Lockhart, he noted in his journal: ‘Sir Henry is a sad coxcomb, and lifted beyond the solid earth by the effect of his book's success. But the book well deserves it.’

‘The Planter's Guide’ was also favourably reviewed by Southwood Smith in the ‘Westminster Review,’ by Professor Wilson (‘Christopher North’) in ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ (April 1828), and in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ (March 1829). It had a large circulation in America. In his preface to the second edition Steuart claims to have made the first attempt to apply the principles of physiology to practical arboriculture, and to have created the new science of phytology. W. Billington, formerly of the woods and forests department, asserted, however, that he had anticipated, in a work published in 1825, some of the author's discoveries (Facts, Observations, &c., being an Exposure of the Misrepresentation of the Author's Treatise on Planting, 1830). It was also criticised by W. Withers (Letter to Sir H. Steuart on the Improvement in the quality of Timber by the High Cultivation and Quick Growth of Forest Trees, 1829). Steuart's method of transplanting was tried with great success on estates in England and Ireland.

A posthumous edition of the ‘Planter's Guide’ was issued in 1848, with dedication to Queen Victoria. A portrait of the author, engraved by Edward Burton from the painting by Raeburn, is prefixed.

Steuart was created a baronet of Great Britain on 27 Dec. 1814. He died on 11 March 1836, and was buried in the family vault at Camnethan. He married Lilias, daughter and heiress of Hugh Seton, esq. of Touch-Seton, Stirlingshire. His only daughter, Elizabeth, succeeded to her mother's estates in 1835. Her husband, Reginald Macdonald Steuart-Seton (1778–1838), originally Reginald Macdonald of Staffa, assumed the name of Steuart, and subsequently that of Steuart-Seton when he succeeded to the baronetcy. He was a friend of Scott, was sheriff of Stirlingshire for twenty-six years, and for thirty-nine acted as ruling elder of the presbytery of Moll in the general assembly. He was also for many years secretary of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. He died in Edinburgh, aged 60, on 15 April 1838. He left three sons and two daughters. The eldest, Sir Henry James Macdonald Steuart-Seton (1812–1884), succeeded to the baronetcy, and was succeeded as fourth baronet by his nephew, Sir Alan Henry Seton-Steuart (b. 1856).

[Burke's Peerage and Baronetage; Memoir (signed R.) prefixed to 3rd edit. of the Planter's Guide; Lockhart's Scott, 1845, pp. 510, 511, 694; Scott's Journal, ii. 40, 90, 221; Biogr. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816 (which attributes to Steuart a history of Catiline's conspiracy, with the four orations of Cicero, published under pseudonym Geo. Fred. Sydney in 1795); Quarterly Rev. March 1855; Irving's Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Gent. Mag. 1838, i. 658.]

G. Le G. N.