Aberdeen Burghs

Scottish burgh

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Brechin (1820), Arbroath (1826), Forfarshire; Inverbervie, Kincardineshire (1830);

Aberdeen (1831); Montrose, Forfarshire (not the returning burgh in this period)


31 Mar. 1820JOSEPH HUME3
 John Mitchell2
3 July 1826JOSEPH HUME 
23 Aug. 1830SIR JAMES CARNEGIE, bt.3
 Horatio Ross2
23 May 1831HORATIO ROSS 

Main Article

Aberdeen, situated on the Dee at its entrance to the North Sea, was a major fishing port and shipbuilding and industrial centre, where the large-scale manufacture of cotton, linen, sailcloth, woollens and hosiery was carried on. There were also extensive iron works and manufactories of rope, leather, paper, soap and candles. The royal burgh, or ‘New Town’, contained Marischall College (1593), while the ‘Old Town’, a separate burgh of barony, was the location of King’s College (1494). The population (burgh and parish) rose from 44,796 in 1821 to 58,019 in 1831. The ‘entirely irresponsible’ and self-electing council, which had 19 members, all resident, had reduced the town to bankruptcy in 1817. The ensuing power struggle between the council, the burgesses and the incorporated trades (one effect of which was the burgh’s disfranchisement at the time of the 1818 general election) ended in victory for the old ruling oligarchy.1 At the other end of the spectrum was the ‘very small’ Kincardineshire coastal town of Inverbervie, about 21 miles south of Aberdeen, which was described by the municipal corporations commissioners as ‘never ... a place of any consequence’, possessing ‘no natural advantage of any kind’. Its population (burgh and parish) was 1,092 in 1821 and 1,137 in 1831, and its self-electing council had 15 members, of whom only five were resident in 1822.2 The three Forfarshire burghs were all flourishing places. The most southerly, Arbroath, a seaport 23 miles south-south-west of Inverbervie, manufactured linen and sailcloth on a substantial scale. The linen trade was hit by the commercial crash of 1825-6, but it recovered, and by 1832 the burgh contained 16 flax-spinning mills, several of them steam powered. There was some fishing and shoemaking. The population (burgh and parishes of Arbroath and St. Vigean) was 11,400 in 1821 and 13,795 in 1831. Some of the 19 councillors (all resident) had backed a local campaign for parliamentary and burgh reform in 1817.3 Brechin, an inland town on the South Esk, 12 miles north of Arbroath, was ‘a thriving place’, where the main employment was the production of bleached linens. Its population (burgh and parish) was 5,906 in 1821 and 6,508 in 1831. The council numbered 13 men, of whom 11 were guild brethren and two tradesmen. The dean of guild was chosen annually by the guildry and the trades councillors were elected by the members of the six incorporated trades.4 Montrose, a seaport eight miles eat of Brechin, was also a centre of linen manufacture and had a ‘considerable commerce’ through its ‘very commodious harbour’. Its ‘industrious and intelligent population’ (burgh and parish) numbered 10,338 in 1821 and 12,055 in 1831. It had 19 councillors, all required to be resident. After its disfranchisement in 1817 the privy council, responding to the petition of the burgesses and inhabitants, had somewhat inadvertently granted it a new and much more liberal sett, with a significant element of popular participation in municipal elections.5

This had played a significant part in the surprising capture of the district at the general election of 1818 by the radical Joseph Hume, a native of Montrose and by then a friend of Francis Place and James Mill. He had been materially assisted by the wealthy Foxite Whig William Maule* of Panmure and Brechin Castle, Member for Forfarshire, who owned extensive estates in the county. With Aberdeen out of the equation, Hume had won the three Forfarshire burghs, leaving the ministerialist sitting Member James Farquhar* of Johnstone Lodge with only his stronghold of Inverbervie.6 In late 1819 the provost of Aberdeen, Alexander Brebner, and the magistrates sent to the prince regent a loyal address condemning the seditious activities of ‘evil-minded and disaffected men’.7 A week after the death of George III in late January 1820, one James Leighton of Montrose wrote to an unknown man encouraging him to start for the district at the impending general election, asserting that it was ‘extremely probable, as the magistrates and council of this burgh are at present disposed from the experience of their present Member’s conduct, a majority of them could be procured to support either your own views or that [sic] of any other friend of the present [Liverpool] administration’. He reckoned that 11 of the 19 councillors could be seduced from Hume.8 Later in February it was reported that Alexander Shand, an Aberdeen merchant, planned to start, but he did not do so.9 Ministers were keen to unseat Hume, who had become a nuisance in the House, but the lord advocate, Sir William Rae*, who was in Edinburgh, wrote pessimistically to Lord Melville, the Scottish manager, 22 Feb.: ‘I was sorry to find that my information regarding the Montrose district was incorrect, and that unless Farquhar does something I fear Hume will be again returned’. Charles Arbuthnot*, the patronage secretary, suggested that Hugh Arbuthnott*, who was embroiled in a wrangle with Farquhar over their claims to ministerial support in Kincardineshire, might be persuaded to offer for the burghs, but Arbuthnott’s brother Lord Arbuthnott had already vetoed this. A ministerial candidate did emerge by 26 Feb. in the person of the London Russia merchant John Mitchell* of 42 Charles Street, Berkeley Square, a native of Brechin. Rae, who saw him on his way north, hoped he would ‘at least give Mr. Hume some trouble’, but he was ‘doubtful’ of Mitchell’s chances, and the early indications were ‘unfavourable’.10 Hume was secure at Montrose and Arbroath, while Mitchell could count on Aberdeen and Inverbervie, so the election hinged on the allegiance of Brechin. It was at first falsely reported that Mitchell had carried it by 7-4, but Hume was immensely popular with the inhabitants, some of whom went on the rampage, 10 Mar., burning effigies and smashing windows of councillors thought to be hostile to him. The magistrates enrolled special constables and sent for troops from Aberdeen and Dundee. Despite their presence from 12 Mar., a mob brandishing Hume’s yellow colours and reinforced, it was said, by contingents from Arbroath and Montrose, continued to roam the streets and commit acts of violence. Meanwhile, Hume had tried to force Mitchell publicly to retract his allegation that he, a known free trader, was adverse to the continuance of the linen bounties. Mitchell stuck to his guns, though he denied personal responsibility for originating the tale. He also claimed that Hume’s friends had circulated ‘the most gross and malicious falsehoods’, to the effect that he had ‘come down with money from the treasury’. Hume eventually secured Brechin, where it was reported that a number of councillors reneged on an earlier promise to support Mitchell. Rae told Melville:

Mitchell says that this has been accomplished by intimidation, but though I have little doubt that this was the case, it will be difficult to make it appear so as to void the election, seeing there was a large body of troops in the town at the time of the election of delegate ... Mitchell seems to have managed the matter badly. The day of election was too long delayed and he himself appears to have been living at Montrose instead of countenancing his voters by his presence at Brechin.

Rae later heard that Maule’s ‘influence’ had ‘prevailed’ at Brechin: ‘he was at first rather indifferent, but afterwards threatened to deprive the town of water’ if they did not support Hume.11 Hume made a triumphal visit to Aberdeen, where he addressed a large and enthusiastic crowd in favour of reform and retrenchment. He had by then explained to the councils of the Forfarshire burghs that while, as a political economist, he was in the abstract ‘adverse to bounties of any kind’, he and his political associate John Maberly, Member for Abingdon, who owned a large linen factory in Aberdeen and a bank in Montrose, would do their utmost to secure a continuance of the linen bounties in view of the industry’s current problems. At the election at Brechin, 31 Mar., he was returned with three votes to Mitchell’s two.12 On 11 May Mitchell petitioned against the return, alleging that the Brechin delegate in Hume’s interest had been elected as a result of the intimidation of at least eight councillors by a mob ‘aided and abetted, if not instigated’ by Hume and his supporters; that the defeated candidate, David Blair, who had tendered his vote for Mitchell, had therefore been the legally chosen delegate; that the Arbroath delegate had been ineligible to vote because of the council’s departure from the ‘known legal sett’, and that Hume had committed acts of bribery. The election committee confirmed Hume’s return, 12 July 1820.13

On 26 May and 12 June 1820 the Commons received petitions for continuance of the linen bounties from merchants and manufacturers of Arbroath, the trades, manufacturers, merchants, weavers, burgesses, guild brethren and citizens of Montrose and the merchants and linen manufacturers of Aberdeen.14 Montrose merchants petitioned the Commons for relaxation of the timber duties, 5 June.15 The council, burgesses and inhabitants of Montrose petitioned the Commons against the prosecution of Queen Caroline, 18 Sept.; and there were celebrations of its abandonment in Aberdeen, Brechin and Montrose in November. Aberdeen council sent a loyal address to the king in December 1820.16 The following month the incorporated trades of Arbroath and the guildry and trades of Brechin petitioned Parliament for restoration of the queen’s name to the liturgy.17 Merchants and ship owners of Aberdeen petitioned the Commons against interference with the timber duties, 26 Feb., and brewers of Aberdeen, Arbroath, Brechin and Montrose did so for repeal of the Excise Act, 20 June, 2 July 1821.18 In February 1822 Mitchell was voted thanks by Brechin linen merchants and manufacturers for his part in persuading the government to continue the bounties.19 Supporting inquiry into the royal burghs, 20 Feb., Hume criticized the wastefulness and irresponsibility of Aberdeen council, who he said could rely on ministerial backing whatever their transgressions, and pointed to his own return as an example of what could happen if burgesses were given a share in the election of councils, as in Montrose. He repeated his criticism of Aberdeen council, 26 Mar. 1823, when William Gordon, Tory Member for Aberdeenshire, spoke in their defence. Brechin council petitioned the Lords against the Catholic peers relief bill, 21 May, and Arbroath linen bleachers petitioned the Commons for repeal of the salt tax, 11 June.20 On 15 July 1822 the incorporated trades of Montrose awarded their freedom to Maberly in recognition of his ‘independent conduct’ in the Commons.21 In April 1823 merchants and manufacturers of Arbroath and Brechin petitioned the Commons against equalization of the duties on East and West India sugars, and the provost of Aberdeen did so for repeal of the coastwise duties on stone and slate.22 The following month Aberdeen linen manufacturers and operative weavers, Arbroath linen spinners and Brechin manufacturers and merchants petitioned the Commons for relief from the linen stamping regulations.23 The magistrates, burgesses and inhabitants of Montrose petitioned the Commons for repeal of the beer duties, 9 June, and an Associate Congregation of Brechin did so for the abolition of slavery, 20 June 1823.24 More anti-slavery petitions were sent to the Commons from Brechin and Montrose in March 1824.25 That month merchants, bankers, manufacturers and inhabitants of Arbroath and Montrose, and the council of Montrose petitioned for inquiry into salmon fisheries.26 Journeymen boot makers of Montrose and Aberdeen petitioned for repeal of the Combination Acts (which Hume successfully promoted, with ministerial backing), 23, 25 Mar.27 The Commons received petitions for repeal of the duty on notaries’ licences from lawyers of Aberdeen, Arbroath and Montrose in April, and one for lower duties on the sale of spirits from Aberdeen victuallers and spirits dealers, 14 May 1824.28 Arbroath lawyers and Montrose attorneys petitioned the Commons for repeal of the duty on their licences, 3 Mar., 22 Apr. 1825.29 Montrose merchants petitioned the Commons against unrestricted Canadian wheat imports, 22 Apr., and owners and occupiers of land in the districts of Arbroath, Brechin and Montrose petitioned both Houses against interference with the corn laws (of which Hume was a resolute opponent), 28 Apr. 1825.30 In 1826 the trades and guildry of Brechin and the council and trades of Arbroath petitioned both Houses for their repeal.31 There was heavy petitioning from all the burghs except Inverbervie against alteration of the Scottish banking system.32 The inhabitants of Aberdeen and Montrose and the council and inhabitants of Arbroath petitioned for the abolition of slavery in February and March 1826.33

After the 1820 council elections in Montrose, Patrick Mason, a merchant and Mitchell’s ‘known agent’, asked the Edinburgh attorney John Innes (Farquhar’s brother-in-law) to instigate an action in the court of session challenging their validity. According to Innes, Mason was ‘speedily intimidated from proceeding ... and made an arrangement ... whereby he was to withdraw his action on obtaining payment of his expenses’. This, however, was ‘not completed’, and Mason directed Innes, who guaranteed his expenses, to proceed in his name. Innes explained to Melville, 20 Oct. 1821:

The effect of the complaint, if successful, would have been to amend the election and disfranchise the burgh, whereby ... government would have had the power of reconsidering the measure adopted by them in 1817 of altering the political constitution of the burgh. But the action was so far defective in its form, that it merely brought to trial the question how far the election of Michaelmas 1820 had been conducted regularly under the new sett, but did not bring to trial the more important question [of] how far the king in council or the convention of burghs has a general power to alter the political constitution of Scottish burghs so as to make them more or less popular. To try this general question it would have been necessary to raise a process of reduction of the new sett of 1817. From fear of the mob and of the insults to which himself and his family might be exposed from the radical party, Mr. Mason declined to authorize me to use his name in raising a process of reduction.

The court in July 1821 decreed, ‘contrary to expectation’, that the 1820 election had been ‘regularly conducted in terms of the new sett and dismissed the complaint’, but in its interlocutor noted that the legality of the royal warrant of 1817 was still open to question. In September 1821 Innes persuaded two burgesses of Montrose, John Mill, a flax dresser, and David Purvis, a fish curer, to lend their names to ‘a process of reduction of the new [1817] sett’. Arguing that it was in government’s interest to have the wider issue settled, for in consequence of the 1817 Montrose decision all Scottish burghs were ‘more or less in a state of ferment’, Innes asked Melville to secure ministerial financial aid in order to pursue the case effectively. Melville replied that neither as individuals nor as departmental heads could he and his senior colleagues subsidize such litigation.34 In early 1822 the court of session pronounced in favour of Mill’s right to proceed, which the magistrates of Montrose had challenged.35 In September 1822 Mitchell renewed an earlier application to Melville for financial compensation for his expenses in the business, arguing that while the sett of Montrose ‘continues as at present the neighbouring burghs will never have power, nor can the government interest ever again get the ascendancy’. Melville thought the matter had been settled with Arbuthnot to Mitchell’s ‘satisfaction’, but promised to attend to it. Yet six months later Mitchell and Innes were still awaiting Melville’s decision. Mitchell was worried that Montrose magistrates’ tactic of protracting the business by repeated legal appeals would discourage and eventually deter Mill; and Innes observed that ‘the affairs of Scotland appear to be sadly neglected’ by the ministry. In early January 1824 Mitchell told Innes that while the case was due for further consideration on the 13th, it had been ‘most unaccountably retarded’, that ‘both parties’ in Montrose were ‘quite sick of it’ and that if it was ‘not finally decided on in the present meeting it may as well be abandoned for any practical good that I shall derive from it’.36 Innes, who also wanted financial compensation or a salaried place, welcomed the court’s decision of 28 Jan. 1824 in favour of Mill’s right to proceed and argued that if the magistrates’ immediate appeal to the Lords was to be opposed, it was essential that he ‘should stand upon some sure and certain ground in regard’ to past and future costs. Leighton (whom Melville, at Mitchell’s request, had nominated to the situation of distributor of stamps at Montrose, only for the incumbent vindictively to withdraw his resignation) encouraged Mitchell to persevere with his candidature and support for the attempt to overturn the 1817 sett. Mitchell, reckoning that about £700 had already been spent and that a further £800 would be needed to see the case through to an almost certainly favourable conclusion, told Melville at the end of March 1824 that some of the councillors were inclined to concede defeat

as there appears a disposition to make the individuals pay the expenses, and not to allow them to be taken from the funds of the town. Without Montrose I have the strongest assurances of support from three burghs, therefore consider my election secure; but for the peace of all the neighbouring burghs it is much to be desired that the present sett should be overturned and the old one restored; indeed, it is the wish of all the people of any respectability in that town.37

The magistrates’ appeal to the Lords dragged on into 1825, when the interlocutors of the court of session in favour of the complainants were reversed (28 June). Innes and Mitchell were still pestering Melville for compensation in the summer of 1826.38 On 12 July 1821 the convention of royal burghs granted the prayer of a petition from some Arbroath reformers to allow the guildry and trades each to nominate four candidates for the council, from whom the existing council would select two.39

On 5 Sept. 1822 Hume was fêted by over 100 Aberdeen townsmen and lairds, under the chairmanship of Alexander Bannerman†. He advocated parliamentary reform as the essential solution to the country’s problems, called on the Whigs to pledge themselves to promote it and attacked self-electing burgh councils. Toasts were given to the councils of the Forfarshire burghs and to Maberly.40 On 20 Sept. 1822 William Anderson, the dean of guild, presided over a Montrose council dinner for Hume. The speakers included Maule, and Provost Burnes, who urged those qualified to elect to the council ‘respectable men of all parties’ in order to ‘preserve their new constitution’ against the machinations of the old ‘junto’. Two days later Hume, who was accompanied by Maule and Sir James Carnegie of Southesk, the 22-year-old son of the late Whig Member for the burghs and Forfarshire, was presented at Arbroath with a piece of plate subscribed for by the guildry, trades and inhabitants of the Forfarshire burghs.41 Hume canvassed his ‘three burghs’ in the autumn of 1825 and ‘found all right’.42 By the time of the 1826 general election Mitchell had faded from the scene. There was a fanciful report that Rae intended to stand, while the 12th earl of Cassilis (whose property lay in Ayrshire) claimed later that he had been ‘offered Mr. Maule’s town, Brechin, at his very door, last election’. Hume was ‘enthusiastically received’ at a meeting of the Brechin trades, where he reviewed his parliamentary conduct and claimed to have redeemed all his pledges. His campaign was interrupted by a summons to Berwick-upon-Tweed (where he was a freeman) to vote for the radical candidate and the sudden death (while reading a letter from him) of his sister Mrs. Glen of Montrose. The Angus burghs unanimously elected delegates in his interest, and he was returned unopposed.43

Several petitions for repeal or revision of the corn laws were sent to Parliament from Aberdeen, Arbroath, Brechin and Montrose in the 1826-7 session; while landowners and tenants of the Arbroath, Brechin and Montrose areas petitioned for their enhancement.44 Merchants and ship owners of Aberdeen petitioned the Lords, 12 Mar., and the Commons, 12 Apr. 1827, against relaxation of the navigation laws.45 The incorporated trades of Arbroath and the council of Montrose petitioned for repeal of the Test Acts in 1828. The inhabitants of Aberdeen and Montrose sent up anti-slavery petitions, while West India proprietors resident in Aberdeen petitioned the Commons for compensation for loss of legal property in the event of abolition, 20 June. The dean and guildry of Montrose petitioned the Commons for repeal of the stamp duty on small receipts, 2 Apr. 1828.46 In 1829 petitions in favour of Catholic emancipation were produced by the guildry of Arbroath, Catholics of Aberdeen, the trades, clergymen, landholders, ship owners, merchants and inhabitants of Aberdeen and the council of Montrose; and hostile ones were received from Aberdeen general church session, its trades, burgesses, merchants, manufacturers, householders and inhabitants, and ministers, merchants, manufacturers and inhabitants of Montrose.47 Aberdeen brewers petitioned the Commons for reduction of the Scottish beer duties, 16 Apr. 1829.48 The councils of Arbroath and Montrose, the trades and burgesses of the former and the merchants, manufacturers and ship owners of Aberdeen petitioned Parliament in March and April 1830 for an end to the East India Company’s trade monopoly.49 Aberdeen bankers petitioned the Commons for mitigation of the punishment for forgery, 24 May, and candle makers for repeal of the duty on tallow candles, 7 June 1830.50

In early October 1829 Carnegie informed Hume that he intended to stand for the burghs at the next election on the strength of his substantial landed property near Brechin and Montrose. He did the rounds of the district, reportedly brandishing a ‘written declaration of neutrality’ from Maule. He concentrated his efforts on Brechin, where Hume’s hold was most tenuous. Hume, who was considering invitations to stand for Westminster or Middlesex at the next election, but was reluctant to commit himself at this stage, consulted Place. Place said it would be ‘insane to throw away a certainty for an uncertainty’ and suggested that Hume should write to his constituents in general terms, contrasting Carnegie’s inexperience and so far indeterminate politics with his own long service and clear opinions and hinting that the interests of Carnegie as a landowner might not be compatible with those of a district with such a strong industrial and commercial element. In the event, Hume merely acknowledged receipt of Carnegie’s letter, primed a ‘warm friend’ in Montrose with his ‘view’ of the business and decided not to embark on a personal canvass ‘lest it should appear I make too much of the matter’. Douglas Gordon Hallyburton* of Pitcur, a younger son of the 4th earl of Aboyne, who had succeeded to large Forfarshire estates, was also reported to be interested in the seat.51 In June 1830, as the king’s life petered out, Carnegie entertained the councils of Aberdeen, Brechin, Inverbervie and Montrose at his residence at Kinnaird Castle, but he was rebuffed by Arbroath council. Hume was initially inclined to stand again, but an invitation to offer for Middlesex, for the acceptance of which he got the blessing of Place, John Cam Hobhouse, the radical Whig Member for Westminster (who wanted him out of the way there) and the Whig Commons leader Lord Althorp, threw him into a quandary. After much equivocation and prevarication, he was prevailed on to start for the county, which he did as soon as the king died on 26 June.52 This created turmoil in the burghs, where Carnegie was joined in the field by the Whig Horatio Ross of Rossie Castle, near Montrose, a celebrated gambler and sportsman; the young John Kennedy Erskine of Dun House, near Montrose, Cassillis’s son and husband of the new king’s bastard daughter Lady Augusta Fitzclarence, and the Whig George Robert Smith* of the London banking house of Smith, Payne and Smith, who was put forward in his absence abroad by his father-in-law Maberly.53 Kennedy Erskine soon dropped out, and Carnegie’s canvass seemed to prosper. Ross also persevered, though Thomas Gladstone* reckoned that he was not personally popular with his peers.54 It was reported in the Aberdeen press that on 8 July Brechin council, having filled a vacant magistrate’s place with one of Maberly’s friends, had decided in principle to back Hume in case he failed in Middlesex.55 On the 19th Montrose council resolved not to pledge themselves to any candidate until the outcome of the Middlesex election (scheduled for 5 Aug., almost three weeks before that for the burghs) was known. It was reported that Smith would shortly be introduced by Maberly to canvass in person and explain his political views. In his address of 19 July Ross advocated rational parliamentary reform, a sensible application of free trade theory and economy and retrenchment, on which he claimed to be a loyal disciple of Hume. He had a good reception in Montrose on 23 July, when he dined with the respectable inhabitants and distributed beer to the populace. He did likewise in Arbroath and Brechin. A majority of Montrose council were said to have signed a declaration of support for Ross, while the other councillors withheld their votes until Hume’s fate in Middlesex was known. On 23 July Maberly addressed the burghs on behalf of Smith, who was still abroad, observing that as Hume seemed almost sure of success, he had decided to ‘draw closer those ties which unite me with your interest’ by proposing his son-in-law, a man of business who favoured reform, retrenchment and free trade. Four days later Carnegie issued an address in which he declared his support for the duke of Wellington’s ministry while paying lip service to his own intended independence.56 Hume came in unopposed for Middlesex. Things looked promising for Ross, but Carnegie, who was sure of Aberdeen and Inverbervie, made a concentrated attack on Brechin in an attempt to break the ‘union’ of the Forfarshire burghs which had sustained Hume, its progenitor. There was a report that a joint deputation from Arbroath and Montrose had invited Farquhar to stand, but that he had declined, being committed to Carnegie as delegate for Inverbervie. Brechin council, ignoring appeals from their counterparts in Arbroath and Montrose, a letter from Hume (2 Aug. 1830) pleading with them not to destroy ‘the Angus union’ and the `popular clamour’ in favour of Ross, voted by 8-2 to back Carnegie through their delegate Provost James Speid. Replying publicly to Hume, Speid argued that the ‘union’ had no legal validity; that on the only matter concerning Brechin in which Hume had interested himself, the Montrose road bill, he had allowed Brechin’s interests to be damaged, and that only two Brechin councillors had preferred Ross. Maberly, meanwhile, had withdrawn Smith, condemning as he did so Brechin council’s treachery.57 At the election at Inverbervie, Carnegie was duly returned by three votes to two, after various legal objections and protests had been lodged on both sides. At his celebration dinner he thanked Maule for his ‘honourable and determined neutrality’.58 On 25 Aug. 1830 Hume and Ross attended a meeting of the guildry of Arbroath which voted Hume thanks for his services and obtained his agreement to present petitions which they would not wish to entrust to Carnegie. Ross was also thanked and given the freedom, and at a later dinner promised to stand again at the first opportunity.59

All the burghs sent petitions for the abolition of slavery to the 1830 Parliament.60 In March 1831 Aberdeen ship owners petitioned both Houses against the Grey ministry’s proposed alteration of the timber duties, and the proprietors of steam vessels did so against the planned levy on passengers.61 There was heavy petitioning from the district in favour of Scottish burgh and parliamentary reform and reform of the whole representative system between November 1830 and February 1831; as promised, Hume took charge of many of these.62 Arbroath council set up a reform committee, and the petition of the burgh’s mechanics, artisans and labourers, which reached the Lords on 17 Dec. 1830 and the Commons next day, included a prayer for the ballot, the abolition of sinecures and monopolies, tax reductions and economies. The ballot also featured in the petition of the citizens, burgesses and inhabitants of Brechin, which was received by the Lords on 25 Nov. 1830.63 In Aberdeen the provost, James Hadden, refused a requisition signed by 121 men for a meeting of burgesses to petition for burgh reform and welcome the new government’s pledge to introduce parliamentary reform. The requisitionists went ahead regardless, and on 11 Dec. 1830 Bannerman chaired their meeting, which got up petitions and appointed a managing committee of 19. At a meeting of the working classes of Aberdeen two days later, a ‘red hot radical petition’ for universal suffrage, annual parliaments, the ballot and repeal of the corn laws was carried.64 When the ministerial reform scheme, which initially proposed to give Aberdeen a Member of its own and replace it in the group with the Aberdeenshire fishing port of Peterhead, was unveiled in early March, the Aberdeen reform committee called a meeting to endorse it for the 10th. Ross attended it, and at the subsequent dinner announced that he intended to start immediately as a candidate for the reformed district. There was steady petitioning from the inhabitants and trades of all the burghs in favour of the plan, and Montrose council petitioned the Commons likewise, 14 Mar.65 By the end of March Ross had canvassed many of the prospective £10 householders and secured an ‘almost unanimous pledge of support’ in Arbroath. He appeared at the Aberdeen county and city reform dinner. 4 Apr., when a number of prominent Whig lairds were also present.66 Carnegie opposed the English reform bill, and on the dissolution which followed its defeat on 19 Apr. the Aberdeen reform committee requisitioned the council for a public meeting on the crisis, condemned Carnegie’s conduct and appealed to the council to back a man pledged to support the reform bills without reserve. Hadden replied that the council had declined to commit themselves in advance, as he did to a like request from the incorporated trades, who addressed the king in support of the dissolution. The committee of the Aberdeen working classes took similar action. Ross immediately started for the existing district as ‘a decided advocate’ of the ministerial scheme, but Carnegie withdrew, acknowledging that he was at odds with most of his constituents.67 Ross secured Arbroath, Montrose and Brechin, whose delegate was Maule and, with no challenger, walked over. The reformers made his formal return at Aberdeen a gala celebration, which was organized by the committees of the burgesses, trades and working classes. Ross’s carriage was drawn in by volunteers from the crowd, accompanied by a procession with banners and music. Some 40,000 people were reckoned to be in the streets. The Aberdeen reform committee gave a dinner for 170 guests in the evening, when the chairman of the working classes’ committee, one Warden, explained that he and his associates had set aside their radical agenda to secure the ministerial plan, for which they petitioned the Commons, 24 June 1831.68

The inhabitants of Aberdeen petitioned the Commons for termination of the Maynooth grant, 23 June 1831.69 The council of Montrose and the inhabitants and trades of all the burghs except Inverbervie petitioned the Lords in support of the English reform bill, 30 Sept.-4 Oct.70 In Arbroath some burgesses met to arrange a scheme to institute popular election of the council, which came to nothing.71 After the Lords’ rejection of the bill, Bannerman chaired an Aberdeen public meeting which addressed the king in support of the ministry and reform, 22 Oct. 1831, when the platform collapsed.72 The clergy, elders and inhabitants of Aberdeen, the provincial synod and the presbytery petitioned Parliament against the government’s scheme for non-sectarian Irish education in 1832, when ministers, elders, and inhabitants of Aberdeen petitioned the Commons against the Maynooth grant, 11 Apr.73 On 14 May the reform committees of Aberdeen, including that of the working classes, called a public meeting to consider the ministerial crisis for the 18th, when the trades processed to the venue with bands and banners. Sir Michael Bruce of Stenhouse, Stirlingshire took the chair. The meeting petitioned the Commons to withhold supplies until reform was secured, as did the inhabitants and council of Montrose.74 According to Raikes, Hume wrote to the local reformers alleging that Ross’s failure to vote for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform (10 May) was tantamount to desertion of the cause, but Ross forced him to retract. He was, however, later called to account for his absence by some of his constituents.75 Arbroath council petitioned the Commons for simplification of the Scottish system of conveyancing, 23 May 1832.76

In the final Scottish reform bill Peterhead was removed to the Elgin district and replaced with Forfar. In the House, 15 June, Robert Adam Dundas moved unsuccessfully to add the Kincardineshire port of Stonehaven to the Montrose district. There was a grand jubilee in Aberdeen on 8 Aug. 1832 to mark the enactment of reform, and one in Arbroath a week later.77 At the general election of 1832, when the new district had 1,494 registered electors, Ross, still nominally a Liberal but gravitating to Peel’s Conservative party, defeated Patrick Chalmers of Auldbar, an advocate of radical reform, by 337 votes in a poll of 1,303.78 Chalmers came in unopposed in 1835, Hume sat again for the district from 1842 until his death in 1855, and the seat remained in Liberal hands until the redistribution of 1950.79

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), i. 6-7, 13-15; PP (1819), vi. 20-28, 271-373; (1823), xv. 695; (1831-2), xlii. 13-14; (1835), xxix. 118-19, 124; W. Kennedy, Annals of Aberdeen, i. 347-74, 425-35.
  • 2. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, i. 150-1; PP (1823), xv. 695; (1831-2), xlii. 61; (1836), xxiii. 191-2.
  • 3. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, i. 56-60; PP (1823), xv. 696; (1831-2), xlii. 55; (1835), xxix. 105-6; G. Hay, Hist. Arbroath (1899), 390-1.
  • 4. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, i. 187-9; PP (1823), xv. 697; (1831-2), xlii. 57; (1835), xxix. 223, 228; D.D. Black, Hist. Brechin, 199-200.
  • 5. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, v. 51-52; PP (1823), xv. 696; (1831-2), xlii. 63; (1836), xxiii. 341; D. Mitchell, Hist. Montrose, 90, 123-6; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 592.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 592.
  • 7. Aberdeen Jnl. 24 Nov., 15 Dec. 1819.
  • 8. NAS GD51/1/198/2/26.
  • 9. Aberdeen Jnl. 23 Feb. 1820.
  • 10. NLS mss 11, ff. 14, 17, 24, 41, 50; Inverness Courier, 9 Mar. 1820.
  • 11. Aberdeen Jnl. 15, 22 Mar.; Inverness Courier, 16 Mar.; NLS mss 11, ff. 77, 79; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 20 Mar. .
  • 12. Aberdeen Jnl. 22, 29 Mar., 5, 12 Apr. 1820.
  • 13. CJ, lxxv. 194-5, 408-9, 411, 442.
  • 14. Ibid. 242, 301.
  • 15. Ibid. 274.
  • 16. Ibid. 481; Aberdeen Jnl. 13 Sept., 22 Nov., 13 Dec. 1820.
  • 17. CJ, lxxvi. 5, 13; LJ, liv. 13.
  • 18. CJ, lxxvi. 454, 496.
  • 19. Aberdeen Jnl. 13 Feb. 1822.
  • 20. LJ, lv. 189; CJ, lxxvii. 334.
  • 21. Aberdeen Jnl. 11 Sept. 1822.
  • 22. CJ, lxxviii. 189, 202.
  • 23. Ibid. 292, 345.
  • 24. Ibid. 377, 412.
  • 25. Ibid. lxxix. 173, 203.
  • 26. Ibid. 116, 136, 143-4.
  • 27. Ibid. 204, 211.
  • 28. Ibid. 242, 254, 365, 366.
  • 29. Ibid. lxxx. 157, 331.
  • 30. Ibid. 331-2, 350; LJ, lvii. 657.
  • 31. CJ, lxxxi. 86, 152.
  • 32. Ibid. 101, 106, 120, 130, 135, 165, 176, 211; LJ, lviii. 58, 94, 102, 107, 113, 155; Aberdeen Jnl. 22 Feb., 1 Mar. 1826.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxi. 101, 145; LJ, lviii. 70; Aberdeen Jnl. 15 Feb. 1826.
  • 34. Aberdeen Jnl. 6 Dec. 1820, 3 Oct. 1821; NAS GD51/5/123.
  • 35. Aberdeen Jnl. 6 Mar. 1822; LJ, lvi. 16.
  • 36. NAS GD51/1/198/2/28; 51/5/126.
  • 37. NAS GD51/5/133/1-3, 5-8.
  • 38. LJ, lvi. 16-17, 70, 399; lvii. 649, 784, 793, 851, 1178; NAS GD51/1/198/29.
  • 39. PP (1835), xxix. 108; Hay, 392.
  • 40. Aberdeen Jnl. 11 Sept.; The Times, 12 Sept. 1822.
  • 41. Aberdeen Jnl. 25 Sept., The Times, 25 Sept. 1822.
  • 42. Add. 37949, f. 160.
  • 43. Aberdeen Jnl. 14 June, 5 July; Inverness Courier, 28 June; Caledonian Mercury, 26 June, 1 July 1826; Add. 40395, f. 64.
  • 44. CJ, lxxxii. 32, 74, 113, 134-5, 141-2, 198; LJ, lix. 25, 26, 28, 36, 55, 107.
  • 45. LJ, lix. 155; CJ, lxxxii. 413.
  • 46. CJ, lxxxiii. 193, 231, 456, 502, 512; LJ, lx. 154, 617.
  • 47. CJ, lxxxiv. 94, 146, 182; LJ, lxi. 110, 144, 234, 258, 353, 365; Aberdeen Jnl. 18, 25 Mar., 1, 15 Apr. 1829.
  • 48. CJ, lxxxiv. 238.
  • 49. Ibid. lxxxv. 183, 261, 282; LJ, lxii. 121, 190, 199.
  • 50. CJ, lxxxv. 463, 522.
  • 51. Add. 37950, ff. 45, 46, 47, 51; R.K. Huch and P.R. Ziegler, Joseph Hume, 60-61.
  • 52. The Times, 16 June 1830; Huch and Ziegler, 64-68; Hopetoun mss 167, f. 142.
  • 53. Aberdeen Jnl. 7 July 1830; Black, 209; Add. 40395, f. 64.
  • 54. Aberdeen Jnl. 14 July; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 9 July 1830.
  • 55. Aberdeen Jnl. 21 July 1830.
  • 56. Ibid. 28 July, 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 57. Add. 51836, Goodwin to Holland [Aug.]; Aberdeen Jnl. 11, 18 Aug. 1830.
  • 58. Aberdeen Jnl. 25 Aug. 1830.
  • 59. Scotsman, 1 Sept. 1830.
  • 60. CJ, lxxxvi. 53, 132, 147, 175, 194, 254, 255, 445, 455, 487; LJ, lxiii. 30, 39, 99, 100, 145, 165, 172, 177, 178, 210, 433, 474; Aberdeen Jnl. 9 Feb. 1831.
  • 61. CJ, lxxxvi. 367, 395; LJ, lxiii. 360.
  • 62. CJ, lxxxvi. 74, 83, 188, 195, 211, 310; LJ, lxiii. 119, 147, 189, 240.
  • 63. Aberdeen Jnl. 24 Nov. 1830; LJ, lxiii. 128, 182; CJ, lxxxvi. 83, 188.
  • 64. Aberdeen Jnl. 8, 15 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 310.
  • 65. Aberdeen Jnl. 9, 16, 23 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 371, 405, 406, 415, 423; LJ, lxiii. 337, 346, 358.
  • 66. Aberdeen Jnl. 30 Mar., 6, 13 Apr. 1831.
  • 67. Scotsman, 30 Apr.; Aberdeen Jnl. 4, 11 May 1831.
  • 68. Aberdeen Jnl. 18, 25 May 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 557.
  • 69. CJ, lxxxvi. 549.
  • 70. Aberdeen Jnl. 28 Sept. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1022, 1025, 1026, 1035, 1037, 1043, 1044.
  • 71. Aberdeen Jnl. 28 Sept. 1831.
  • 72. Ibid. 26 Oct. 1831.
  • 73. CJ, lxxxvii. 174, 268; LJ, lxiv. 170, 190.
  • 74. Aberdeen Jnl. 16, 23 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 332, 488.
  • 75. Raikes Jnl. i. 34-36; Aberdeen Jnl. 18 July 1832.
  • 76. CJ, lxxxvii. 333.
  • 77. Aberdeen Jnl. 15 Apr. 1832; Hay, 390.
  • 78. Aberdeen Jnl. 18, 25 July, 26 Dec. 1832.
  • 79. Scottish Electoral Politics, 222, 227-8, 243, 269, 276.