Dumfries Burghs


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

Background Information

Dumfries (1790, 1812), Kirkcudbright (1796, 1818), Annan (1802), Lochmaben (1806), Snaquhar (1807), all in Dumfriesshire except Kirkcudbright in the Stewartry


 Sir James Johnstone, Bt.2
22 May 1800 WILLIAM JOHNSTONE HOPE vice Hope, vacated his seat 
30 July 1802CHARLES HOPE 
24 Jan. 1803JAMES GEORGE STOPFORD, Visct. Stopford, vice Hope, vacated his seat 
 Alexander Dirom2

Main Article

The 4th Duke of Queensberry, an absentee, had the principal interest in these burghs, but he was opposed by Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall. Queensberry’s heir, the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch, who aspired to the management of his Scottish interests, had a small but significant interest, as did the Earl of Hopetoun and Alexander Fergusson of Craigdarroch. After a disastrous defeat in 1784 Queensberry, with Henry Dundas’s support, had improved his interest in the burghs. Johnstone and his brother William Pulteney* of Solwaybank made up for what they lacked in local interest by their wealth.

Johnstone, the sitting Member in 1790, was opposed by Queensberry’s candidate, Patrick Miller, younger of Dalswinton, who had the additional support of Fergusson. Hopetoun, who managed the once substantial interest of the Marquess of Annandale, supported Johnstone. This election, ‘more contested than any election remembered in Scotland’, was remarkable for its corruption, costing Queensberry at least £8,000 and Johnstone over £12,000. John Bushby, the sheriff-clerk of Dumfries and Dundas’s election agent for south-west Scotland, explained the course of the canvass a week before the election:

I told you when I saw you that Sir James Johnstone could have no chance for these boroughs. I grounded my opinion upon a knowledge that Dumfries and Sanquhar were decidedly for the duke’s friend and that at Lochmaben Mr Miller had 11 against 4, at Kirkcudbright 11 against 6 and at Anan [sic] 11 against 10. Lochmaben they found means to operate upon till they reduced the numbers to 8 against 7, and on Sunday ... they publicly carried off one of our friends by force, so that having thus reduced the votes to 7 and 7, by the provost’s casting vote they expected to carry this delegate ... At Anan the next day they got one of the 11 off, so that the provost there, if no change happens, will also by his casting voice name the delegate.1

Johnstone next attacked Kirkcudbright, but in spite of some success could not make sufficient headway. He offered £4,000 to two of Miller’s councilmen, but resolute action by Bushby and Fergusson ensured the election of Alexander Blair as delegate in Miller’s interest by 9 votes to 7. Johnstone therefore obtained only the votes of Lochmaben and Annan. Although John Bushby had to call in the military to prevent trouble, being sure there were four thousand in town ‘one half at least armed with bludgeons’, his stratagem of spending the night before the election in the courthouse with the three delegates friendly to Miller succeeded, and Miller was returned. Protests were lodged against the elections for delegates at Lochmaben and Annan: at Lochmaben the kidnapped councilman William Walls had been rescued at Leatherhead and brought back to vote, but mob violence obliged Miller’s friends to boycott the provost’s election and hold their own, which was a year later upheld by the court of session. Johnstone petitioned against the return and, in particular, against the election of the Kirkcudbright delegate. Miller was also accused of corruption, but as his father pointed out to William Adam: ‘There never went a Member into the House of Commons purer than my son from bribery and corruption. Indeed, he was with his regiment in Ireland during the time of the contest.’2 John Bushby was sure Johnstone’s petition was a formality, without ‘the shadow of a chance of success’. The committee found in favour of the sitting Member on 1 Apr. 1791.3

After the election the Johnstones’ interest, assailed on all sides, began to decline, although they retained control of Annan. Hopetoun’s interest became considerable. Fergusson of Craigdarroch offered to support Queensberry. Queensberry turned over his interest to Buccleuch, who obtained control over Lochmaben, but the Earl of Selkirk entered the arena and removed Kirkcudbright from Queensberry who, however, retained Sanquhar. Dumfries, in 1794, pursued a more independent line of conduct. In 1795 Dundas, with Buccleuch’s connivance, intended to bring in his secretary, William Garthshore, but Queensberry objected, chiefly from jealousy of Buccleuch, who was establishing his own interest in the burghs at Queensberry’s expense. A rumour was soon substantiated that Queensberry had come to an accommodation with his erstwhile opponents to combine their interests in the burghs and Dumfriesshire and to share the two constituencies. This so alarmed Dundas that Garthshore’s candidature was dropped and, to accommodate Queensberry, Hopetoun’s brother, Alexander Hope of Craighall, was proposed. He was returned unopposed in 1796.4

In 1800 Hope resigned his seat to sit for Linlithgowshire. Dundas obtained the consent of Queensberry and Buccleuch to bring in William Johnstone Hope, Hopetoun’s brother-in-law.5 The burghs docilely accepted this arrangement and returned another Hope without opposition in 1802. As, however, Charles Hope was destined by Dundas for another seat, it was settled beforehand that the vacancy should be for the accommodation of Buccleuch’s son-in-law Viscount Stopford, and this was agreed between Dundas, Buccleuch and Hopetoun. At the end of the year Hope resigned and Stopford was returned unopposed.6

The Grenville ministry in 1806 were supported by Sir John Lowther Johnstone and by Lord Selkirk, though both pitched their pretensions high. Queensberry also offered to aid the administration candidate in the burghs, but his personal influence had declined and his interest was divided in its allegiance between him and Buccleuch. So when Buccleuch and his son Lord Dalkeith brought forward Gen. Alexander Dirom, the Queensberry interest could not be effectively mustered against him. Dirom, who addressed the burghs on 3 May 1806, appealed to Lord Melville for support, declaring his intention, with Buccleuch’s consent, to avoid party as he was pledged to Lord Moira, though apparently disowned by him. The Scottish Whigs clearly regarded Dirom as an ‘enemy’. As Lord Grenville considered it essential to have Henry Erskine, then lord advocate, in Parliament, the burghs were reserved for him in the event of his canvass in Linlithgowshire proving unsuccessful. On 27 Oct. Erskine admitted defeat in that county and stood for the burghs. Meanwhile Dumfries, where disillusionment with Queensberry’s agent David Haig had reached a climax, had offered its vote to Lord Armadale, who promptly gave it to Erskine (to whom David Haig capitulated). Lord Selkirk provided the vote of Kirkcudbright, and the Whigs had ‘the greatest hopes of being able to make two others’. Buccleuch, Dalkeith and Melville exerted themselves for Dirom, who could rely on the vote of Annan. A severe struggle ensued for the remaining two burghs. Dirom obtained the vote of Sanquhar with considerable difficulty. Erskine obtained that of Lochmaben with equal difficulty and only after some Edinburgh Whigs had gone to the burghs to aid him. Having thus won three of the burghs, Erskine was returned. He subsequently requested church livings for relatives of the provosts of Dumfries and Lochmaben, who had ensured his return.7

In 1807 the Whigs did not contest the burghs. Erskine fell back on Linlithgowshire, as in the burghs he could rely only upon Dumfries. Selkirk had turned coat: in any case, Lord Galloway was making a bid for the control of Kirkcudbright. Dirom hesitated so long in coming forward that Buccleuch and Dundas eventually returned Sir John Heron Maxwell, son-in-law of Patrick Heron*, for whom Sir Charles Douglas, Buccleuch’s son-in-law, made way. There was no opposition, despite some mischief-making by Crichton of Friars Carse at Sanquhar and the restiveness of the ‘trades’ of Dumfries, who still wished to overthrow Haig.8

Queensberry died in 1810 and thereafter the burghs fell to Buccleuch. William Robert Keith Douglas of Kelhead, the youngest brother of Sir Charles Douglas, now Marquess of Queensberry—and not another brother Henry as first suggested9—was returned unopposed for the burghs in 1812 and there was no further contest until 1831. Before the election of 1818, David Haig, the despot of Dumfries, had surrendered his interest to Douglas, who was aware of the burgh’s financial problems and allayed discontent.10

Author: D. G. Henry


  • 1. SRO GD51/1/198/7/1, 6; GD46/17/7, Bushby to Stewart, 20 July 1790; J. B. Wilson, ‘Lochmaben Burgh Politics’, Trans. Dumfries and Galloway Antiq. Soc. (ser. 3), i. 91.
  • 2. Blair Adam mss, Miller to Adam, 14 Dec. 1790.
  • 3. CJ, xlvi. 19, 46, 371; Caledonian Mercury, nos. 10,737; 10,740; 10,743.
  • 4. SRO GD51/1/198/7/6, 7; NLS mss 1, ff. 29, 43; 6, f. 1.
  • 5. SRO GD51/1/198/7/11, 12; NLS mss 8, f. 95.
  • 6. SRO GD224/581, Dundas to Buccleuch, 28 July, 13 Aug.; Sidmouth mss, Dundas to Addington, 10 Aug. 1802.
  • 7. A. Fergusson, Henry Erskine, 457; Blair Adam mss, Adam to Grenville, 24 Oct., Erskine to Adam, 27 Oct., Gibson to same, 28 Oct., [Nov.], 10 Dec., Gillies to same, 30 Oct.; Spencer mss, Erskine to Spencer, 17 Nov.; SRO GD224/580, Dalkeith to Gillon, 18 Nov.; ‘View of Politics in Dumfries’, 24 Nov. 1806; GD51/1/198/7/16; Caledonian Mercury, no. 13,245; Arundel Castle mss, Erskine to Norfolk, 16 Apr. 1809.
  • 8. SRO GD51/5/365/14; GD224/580, Dalkeith to Gillon, 28 May 1807, Gillon’s memo. [June 1812].
  • 9. SRO GD224/580, Otto to Dalkeith, 17 May 1811.
  • 10. SRO GD46/17/48, Maitland to Stewart Mackenzie, 10 Nov. 1817.