James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton

The Earl of Morton
Portrait of Douglas with his family by Jeremiah Davison, 1740
16th President of the Royal Society
In office
Preceded byGeorge Parker
Succeeded byJames Burrow
Personal details
Born1702 (1702)
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Died12 October 1768(1768-10-12) (aged 65–66)

James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton, KT, FRS (1702 – 12 October 1768) was a Scottish peer and astronomer who was president of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh from its foundation in 1737 until his death in 1768. He also became president of the Royal Society on 24 March 1764, and was a distinguished patron of science, and particularly of astronomy.

He was born in Edinburgh as the son of George Douglas, 13th Earl of Morton and his second wife Frances Adderley. He graduated MA from King's College, Cambridge, in 1722. In 1746 he visited France, and was imprisoned in the Bastille, probably as a Jacobite. He had a long lasting tendency to protest against the actions of the British government.


He was twice married: firstly to Agatha, daughter of James Halyburton of Pitcur, Forfarshire, by whom he was the father of three sons, two of whom died young, and three daughters. The second son, Sholto Douglas, 15th Earl of Morton, succeeded him. Secondly, on 31 July 1755, at St James's Church, Piccadilly, he married Bridget, daughter of Sir John Heathcote, Bt., of Normanton, who bore him a son, John (b. 4 July 1756), and a daughter, Bridget (b. 3 May 1758). His wife, Bridget, outlived him by thirty-seven years.


Moreton Bay in Queensland, Australia, was named after Lord Morton by Lieutenant James Cook (the spelling being an error in the published account of Cook's voyage in HMS Endeavour). Lord Morton had been influential in obtaining a grant of £4,000 to finance the voyage. With regards the native populations of the places he might visit, Cook was instructed by the Earl, with what are now called his "Hints":

"To check the petulance of the Sailors, and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms.

To have it still in view that sheding the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature – They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European perhaps being less offensive; more entitled to his favor.

They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit.

No European nation has the right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent. Conquest over such people can give no just title: because they could never be the Aggressors."

In popular media

Actor Brian Cox was cast as Lord Morton in the TV series, Longitude in 2000.

See also

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