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Updated 04/30/2020


Sir John Sinclair's Farewell to Caithness

Sir John Sinclair (May 10, 1754  December 21, 1835) was a British politician, a writer on both finance and agriculture, and the first person to use the word statistics in the English language.

Sinclair was the eldest son of George Sinclair of Ulbster (d.1770), a member of the family of the Earls of Caithness, and his wife Lady Janet Sutherland. After studying law at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and Trinity College, Oxford, he completed his legal studies at Lincoln's Inn in London in 1774. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland in 1775, and also called to the English bar, although he never practiced. He had inherited his father's estates in 1770 and had no financial need to work.

In 1780, he was returned to the House of Commons for the 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 18 million for the prosecution of the war.

He died at home, 133 George Street, in the center of Edinburgh's New Town. He is buried in the Royal Chapel at Holyrood Abbey. His stone sarcophagus lies towards the north-east.

Caithness, in extreme northern Scotland, has a land boundary with the historic county of Sutherland to the west and is otherwise bounded by sea. The borders of Caithness are the Pentland Firth to the north, and Moray Firth to the east.

For a time Caithness was firmly integrated into the Scottish kingdom by William the Lion (reigned 11651214), but the Norse earls of Orkney held the earldom of Caithness until 1231. It passed in the Middle Ages to several noble Scottish families, including the Sinclairs and later the Campbells of Glenorchy. The estates were subsequently sold to several Caithness families, including the Traills of Castletown, who encouraged agricultural advances during the 18th century. In the 19th century the county enjoyed a measure of prosperity from its herring industries and the export of flagstones. During the 20th century, tourism, fine glass manufacturing, and a nuclear power and research facility at Dounreay supplemented the traditional economy. Wick and Thurso are the most important towns.