Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Alternated with Kinross-shire

Number of voters:

16 in 1788 rising to 19 in 1811


26 Feb. 1798 SIR ROBERT ABERCROMBY vice Abercromby, vacated his seat
7 Aug. 1815 SIR JOHN ABERCROMBY vice Abercromby, vacated his seat
11 Apr. 1817 HON. ALEXANDER ABERCROMBY vice Abercromby, deceased

Main Article

The Abercrombies of Tullibody monopolized the county representation, Sir Ralph, his brother Sir Robert and sons George, John and Alexander occupying the seat in turn. What opposition there was came from the Erskines of Alloa and Mar, defeated in their bid for a seat in 1774, who endeavoured to enlist the support of Sir Thomas Dundas*. On a vacancy in 1788, Sir Ralph Abercromby’s brother Burnet (d.1792) had been chosen with the acquiescence of Sir Thomas, whose father had joined in a pact in 1774 with the Abercrombies, Cathcarts and Robert Bruce (Lord Kennet, SCJ) to exclude the Erskines. With the encouragement of Henry Dundas, who had the disposal of the Cathcart interest, Col. James Francis Erskine again aspired to the seat, but as Ralph Abercromby informed Sir Thomas Dundas, 19 Oct. 1788:

if your son had been on the roll, you should have dictated, but till the Alloa family are more accommodating to their neighbours, I believe they will meet with little support in the county. Their claims are a load, and their political weight not an ounce.1

On 17 Aug., 27 Nov. and 21 Dec. 1795 John Francis Erskine requested Sir Thomas (now Lord) Dundas’s support at the next election, provided that Dundas had no member of his own family to return, which was in fact the case; claimed that the then state of the roll favoured his pretensions, which was apparently so; and that Dundas should have the nomination according to the pact of 1774, which was dubious, as the course of politics had meanwhile rendered it meaningless, and disingenuous, the pact being specifically intended to keep out the Erskines. In the last of these three letters Erskine complained that, not wishing to make his intentions known till he had heard from Dundas, he had since been canvassed by James Mayne of Powis Logie. Dundas pointed out that Erskine stood no chance unless he conciliated the Abercrombies and Lord Kennet (by wiping out a protest against Kennet instigated by the Erskines and entered ‘in the books of the county’). Erskine did nothing, but Lord Dundas agreed in the spring of 1796, ‘as a favour, not as a right’, to intercede for Erskine, believing that the Abercrombies might not offer: Sir Ralph had informed him before sailing for the West Indies that he would not, and his eldest son George had been enfeoffed only in November 1795. He met with a refusal from George Abercromby, who had meanwhile persuaded his father to stand, and from Sir Ralph’s aged father, who repudiated the alleged pact of 1774. Dundas then offered to return Sir Ralph for Richmond on his return from the West Indies, but this too was refused. Col. James Francis Erskine, his brother’s keeper, who had intended to replace him as candidate, was informed of this state of affairs by George Abercromby and asked for the Richmond seat instead, but Lord Dundas declined. This satisfied Erskine that Dundas meant to ‘dupe’ him and he remonstrated with him and appealed to Fox and William Adam to arbitrate. Adam agreed to do so, a thankless task as recourse to the sword was threatened on both sides, but through procrastination permitted the affair to blow over.2

Before giving up the contest, Erskine had still thought he might succeed with Mayne of Powis Logie’s support, but a forecast sent to Henry Dundas, who meant to ensure Sir Ralph Abercromby’s return, assuming that James Mayne would be Abercromby’s opponent, indicated that the six effective voters would tie for praeses, whereupon Mayne, by his casting vote as last praeses would choose Erskine, who would proceed to disfranchise two of Abercromby’s friends, leaving him in the minority. Nevertheless four out of five claimants for Abercromby and only one for Mayne would then be admitted, giving Abercromby the majority.3

On 5 Feb. 1806 Lord Dundas informed Earl Fitzwilliam that he proposed recovering his influence in the county. George Abercromby, elected Member for Edinburgh city the year before under the aegis of his father-in-law Lord Melville, was obliged, as the latter reported, 4 Apr. 1806, to give up that seat to meet the ‘great conspiracy going on against his political influence in the county of Clackmannan, and it will be necessary for himself in person to meet the attack in the character of candidate’.4 To face the challenge, Abercromby made all the votes that his valuation could afford. Lord Dundas had secured five votes from Alexander Bruce of Kennet and seems to have reckoned on the Erskines, despite their former feud; but he could not obtain two necessary objects to ensure success: namely, the reinstatement of Carrick, the brother-in-law of Duncan Glassford of Tillycoultry, as a collector of excise by government influence; and the neutralizing of Crawford Tait, without which Glassford would not create votes and Crawford Tait would support Abercromby with three or four votes of his creation.5 Thus it was that Abercromby was returned unopposed in the presence of four freeholders. He met with no challenge in 1812.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. N. Riding RO, Zetland mss ZNK X2/1/678.
  • 2. Blair Adam mss, John F. Erskine to Adam, 17 Aug., 27 Nov., 21 Dec. 1795, James F. Erskine to same, 22 May, 1 July, 22 Aug., 20 Sept. 1796, 20 Feb., 2, 29 Oct., 20 Nov., reply 14 Nov. 1797; Ld. Dundas to Adam, 19 Sept. 1796, 2 Jan. 1797; Fitzwilliam mss, box 50, Ld. Dundas to Fitzwilliam, 27 May, Fox to same, 15 Sept. enc. Adam to Fox, 10 Sept. 1796.
  • 3. NLS mss 1, f. 47; 1053, ff. 73, 75.
  • 4. Fitzwilliam mss, box 68, Ld. Dundas to Fitzwilliam, 5 Feb.; SRO GD224/668/12/9, Melville to Buccleuch, 4 Apr. 1806.
  • 5. Zetland mss X2/1/1524, 1525, 1527, 1529, 1534.