DUNDAS, Sir Thomas, 2nd Bt. (1741-1820), of Castlecary, Stirling and Aske, nr. Richmond, Yorks.

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



16 Mar. 1763 - 1768
1768 - 13 Aug. 1794

Family and Education

b. 16 Feb. 1741, o.s. of Sir Lawrence Dundas, 1st Bt., of Kerse, Stirling by Margaret, da. of Brig.-Gen. Alexander Bruce of Kennet, Stirling. educ. Eton 1753-6; St. Andrews 1756; Grand Tour 1763-4. m. 24 May 1764, Lady Charlotte Fitzwilliam, da. of William Fitzwilliam, 1st Earl Fitzwilliam, 6s. 5da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 21 Sept. 1781; cr. Baron Dundas of Aske 13 Aug. 1794.

Offices Held

Lt.-col. Fauconberg’s regt. 1779-83; councillor of state [S] to Prince of Wales 1783-d.; ld. lt. and v.-adm. Orkney and Shetland 1794-d.

Lt.-col. N. Yorks. militia 1779, 1789, col. (brevet) 1797.

Member, board of agriculture 1796.


Dundas, ‘whose respectable and independent character’ was ‘above eulogium’,1 was the son of an overbearing and ambitious father, who had aroused the enmity of Henry Dundas. He inherited a fortune of £900,000, an estate worth £16,000 p.a.2 and a substantial electoral interest in Stirlingshire, Orkney, Tain Burghs, Clackmannan and Richmond, Yorks., as well as being the greatest lay patron in Scotland. This he used to oppose Pitt on every measure but parliamentary reform. (He joined the Whig Club on 4 Apr. 1785.) Consequently his Scottish interest was under attack from Henry Dundas. Temperamentally Henry Dundas had the advantage, as Sir Thomas lacked perseverance in defence of his interest.

Lawrence Hill of Barlanark (author of the Political State of 1788) warned William Adam in 1789 that Sir Thomas might lose Orkney:

I think that there are other counties in Scotland that will be lost from want of care. Professional men, when they are connected with party, have their attention occupied with business—and men of fortune will not give themselves the trouble to do the drudgery of opposition.3

In 1790 Dundas was returned for Stirlingshire after a severe contest with Sir Alexander Campbell of Ardkinglas, who had the support of Henry Dundas and petitioned unsuccessfully, but he lost Orkney to Henry Dundas’s friend, John Balfour of Trenaby. Balfour accused Sir Thomas of vindictively pursuing a legal action against his mother and, in a circular, maintained that on his arrival from India he found that many Orkney freeholders ‘had been united in opposing the interest of Sir Thomas Dundas, for several years back, on public as well as private motives’.4 Sir Thomas’s interest in the Tain Burghs could not prevail against Henry Dundas’s relation, Sir Charles Lockhart Ross, and although Clackmannan was unrepresented in 1790, Sir Thomas’s interest there was fettered by an agreement with the other interests. Indeed, nearly two years before the general election, Henry Dundas had outlined his intended course of action to Pitt:

I must observe to you that nothing can be farther from my wishes than to disturb Sir Thomas Dundas, for I have a personal regard for him ... but if it is meant to make a struggle in every quarter, I am ready to forgo these considerations and fight everywhere on the common public bottom.5

The Dundas interest had thus declined from the ‘eight or nine dead votes’6 returned by his father in 1768 to the three (two of them in England) returned by him in 1790.

Dundas had hitherto been the most respectable sponsor of parliamentary reform in Scotland, but after 1789 he was less attentive to it. Although he was chairman of the London committee for burgh reform, he failed to second Sheridan’s parliamentary campaign for that object in 1792; and in the same year, while he spoke out for reform at the convention of the Scottish counties, his line was studiously moderate.7 In the House he had voted against Pitt, as usual, on the Russian armament, 12 Apr. 1791, 1 Mar. 1792. He was also, as expected, in the minority in favour of the relief of Scotland from the Test Act, 10 May 1791. But he was listed a Portland Whig in December 1792, thought of for Windham’s ‘third party’ in February following and joined the minority, as far as is known, on only one further occasion, the suspension of habeas corpus, 16 May 1794. His only known speech in the Parliament was on the Aberdeen police bill, 28 Apr. 1794. He subsequently went over to the government with Portland, receiving as his reward a peerage, which had been his father’s chief ambition. He ‘declined any further concern in Scotch politics’ and left his interests to their fate.8

Dundas remained aloof with his brother-in-law Earl Fitzwilliam until the formation of the Grenville ministry in 1806. He then became a partisan and started, rather late in the day, to revive his electoral influence in Scotland.9 He secured his son’s return for Orkney in 1818, but had little success elsewhere. He died 14 June 1820.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: D. G. Henry


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 243.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1781), 444; in 1806 he was worth £17,814 p.a., N. Riding RO, Zetland mss ZNK X4.
  • 3. Blair Adam mss, Hill to Adam, 6 Apr. 1789.
  • 4. Caledonian Mercury, No. 10,736.
  • 5. PRO 30/8/157, f. 43.
  • 6. A Rhapsody (1777).
  • 7. SRO GD22/1/315, Fletcher to Graham, 26 Apr.; Grey mss, Macleod to Grey, 4 July, 30 Nov. 1792.
  • 8. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F115/30; Blair Adam mss, Laing to Adam, 5 Nov. 1806.
  • 9. HMC Fortescue, ix. 263; x. 111, 447.