Dumfries Burghs

Scottish burgh

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Dumfries (1708), Kirkcudbright (1710), Annan (1713), Lochmaben, Sanquhar, all in Dumfriesshire except Kirkcudbright in the Stewartry


 WILLIAM PATERSON Double return. JOHNSTONE declared elected, 30 Nov. 1708
27 Oct. 1710JOHN HUTTON
9 May 1713SIR WILLIAM JOHNSTONE, Bt. vice Hutton, deceased

Main Article

The burgh district of Dumfries, like the shire itself, witnessed bitter rivalry between the Marquess of Annandale and the Duke of Queensberry. Annandale held sway over his namesake burgh of Annan and also, despite occasional stirrings of resentment, over Lochmaben. Sanquhar was completely under Queensberry’s influence. Competition for control of this five-burgh district therefore centred on the county town of Dumfries and the principal burgh of the neighbouring Stewartry, Kirkcudbright. Neither of these could be fully controlled, judging themselves ‘free and independent’. Dumfries was not only ‘a very thriving town’ with ‘a good face of trade’, but was also the ‘chief hive’ of western Presbyterianism. Kirkcudbright was less developed economically, merely a ‘little town, which consists of a tolerable street’. At the time of the Union, the twin fears of a threat to the established Kirk and to national identity prompted violent opposition to the Union in Dumfries, where the articles of the treaty were publicly burnt as part of a mass demonstration on 20 Nov. 1706. There was more than a trace of the local tradition of covenanting radicalism in this reaction, but Jacobites also hoped to exploit it for their own ends. Yet overt resistance was short-lived; later, during the invasion scare of 1708, the government swiftly neutralized the Jacobite challenge by pre-emptive arrests. Nevertheless, resentment towards the Union, from whatever root cause, probably contributed to the defeat of Queensberry’s nominees for both the county and the burghs in 1708. A backlash of public opinion against ‘the Union Duke’ could not easily penetrate the narrow confines of burghal politics, however, and was mediated in this instance through Annandale’s influence. The Marquess had opposed the Union in the Scottish parliament, and on personal and political grounds was intent on proving to the Whig Junto (his present allies in national politics) that Queensberry had lost all influence in Scotland and was no longer fit to be courted by English ministers.1

At the 1708 election, the commissioners from Annan, Lochmaben and Kirkcudbright supported Annandale’s nominee, William Johnstone, who had previously sat for Annan in the Scottish parliament and had followed his patron’s line on the Union. None of the other former representatives of the five towns put themselves forward. There were, however, challenges to Johnstone from two local men, who lacked previous parliamentary experience but enjoyed national reputations. Both came forward at about the same time, claiming local support and seeking Annandale’s backing. The first to make an approach was William Paterson, a founder of the Bank of England, a prime mover in the Darien scheme, and one of those responsible for calculating the Equivalent. The financial repercussions of Darien and the denial to Paterson of compensation from the Equivalent had forced him, during February and March, to seek redress at Westminster. Soon after this business was successfully completed, he wrote to Annandale, explaining that he had been advised by friends to stand for Dumfries Burghs and therefore sought his ‘countenance’. If it had not been for the delays over the Equivalent, a seat might have been offered to him at ‘a place nearer London’. Instead his hopes now focused on his birthplace, where he ‘should most of all rejoice in being useful’. This approach received no countenance from Annandale, who had already fixed on Johnstone. Indeed, Paterson had previously secured the backing of Queensberry, which would in itself have been sufficient ground for the Marquess to refuse him. The other approach to Annandale came from Dr John Hutton, former physician to William III, who had lost favour at the court of Anne and now sought a parliamentary seat to improve his prospects. Hutton presented himself with ingratiating humility:

Some very good friends of your lordship here [in London] . . . and some of mine own from Dumfries, have been pressing me all this last winter to stand for the five towns, where your lordship commands a very good interest . . . I neglected this on many considerations; first, a man who intends to serve faithfully and honestly must be at a great deal of pains, fatigue and expense, and secondly I understood that the Duke of Queensberry was resolved, and is so still, to have a man of his own, who would and should depend on and serve him entirely [i.e. Paterson]. I have not seen his grace these three last years, and am of opinion that neither myself nor any friend for me should give him any trouble, or apply to him on the subject; and thirdly I knew not your lordship’s inclination on that point, without whose friendship I resolved to make no step, only these friends having at last brought me to be passive, that I have promised to serve if your lordship and they . . . may be satisfied with the choice which will very much depend of your lordship’s own judgment, to which I submit myself entirely, having no self[ish] end of my own, but merely to satisfy my friends, who think I have interest, and many acquaintances in this place.

Like Paterson, Hutton was unsuccessful, but continued to promote his interest, Johnstone reporting to Annandale soon after the writs of election were issued that Hutton was being heavily canvassed at Dumfries and Kirkcudbright and that ‘the Duke of Queensberry had declared for him’. All manner of arguments were used in favour of Hutton: one supporter suggested that the doctor would be an ideal mentor for Annandale’s son, Lord Johnstone (James*), as he embarked into London society. Hutton, moreover, could prove himself useful by procuring ‘favours to the places he represents’ and by sending ‘the Parliament news thrice a week’ at his own expense. This lobbying came to nothing at this juncture, but laid groundwork for the future.2

Hutton evidently withdrew prior to the election, for no mention is made of him in Johnstone’s detailed account of the six-and-a-half-hour meeting. The commissioners for Dumfries and Sanquhar suggested that Queensberry would approve of the election of Sir Patrick Johnston* (a Court nominee to the first Parliament of Great Britain and a former member for Edinburgh who had given way to another merchant at this election). Letters recommending Sir Patrick ‘as a man most acceptable to Queensberry’ were presented, but the candidacy of an outsider without any personal connexion with the constituency proved a non-starter. In response to this half-hearted attempt at compromise, William Johnstone, in his capacity as commissioner for Annan, launched a detailed assault upon the validity of the commissions from Dumfries and Sanquhar.

I first protested that the precept by the sheriff of Dumfries to the burghs of Annandale should infer no jurisdiction of the sheriff over Annandale, to which commissary [William] Alves [for Sanquhar] answered that . . . in all elections the sheriff is in use to direct his writs to the stewart for convening the freeholders. I objected next against [William Copland of] Coliston’s commission [for Dumfries] on three grounds, viz. that the essential part of the commission is null; secondly by the Act of Parliament anent elections of barons and burghs in the last session of the B[ritish] Parliament the burghs are ordered to elect their commissioner as they used to do to the Scots parliament, like as by the several acts of parliament I read to them, electors are obliged to take and swear the oath of allegiance and sign the same with the assurance, but . . . this was omitted, therefore the commission [was] null and consequently their commissioner could not vote. The third was that no regard was to be had to the commission because that the Act of Parliament required expressly the several magistrates to qualify before the justices of the peace before acting; or otherwise the commissions to be void, and that their qualifying before themselves could not save them because there were actually a quorum of the justices qualified and acting who at least before their qualifying themselves ought to have been refused by the justices. And [I] objected against commissary Alves . . . that his commission was not in the terms of the platform of the burghs as wanting that he was a resident or had 3,000 merks worth of land holding burgage of the town; secondly that by the British law no sheriff was capable to be elect or be elected, and he was sheriff-depute of the place . . . thirdly repeated the same objection against his commission that I had made against the other, both as the not having taken the allegiance and assurance, and the last objection against Copland.

Alves, who had considerable experience as an agent for Queensberry, replied point by point: the commissioners had endeavoured to qualify and had even followed the lord advocate’s advice; as for the failure to take the oaths of allegiance and assurance ‘the abjuration was come in place of it’, he insisted, ‘besides that they never used to do it’. Alves also refuted the accusation that he was not qualified to be a commissioner for Sanquhar, stating simply that ‘what he produced was all was required in the Scots parliament’ (a reference to the fact that he had represented that burgh from 1702 to 1707). He likewise denied that his status as sheriff-depute made any difference to his eligibility, for ‘whatever was the practice in England, yet the same was not the practice of Scotland’. Moving from defence to attack, Alves accused his opponent of being ‘an utter enemy to government’, who was guilty of ‘treating’ and using ‘indirect methods’. These were ‘the basest lies ever coined’, maintained Johnstone, ‘false, irrelevant and not to the purpose’.

In fine, we brought each party two notaries more into the tollbooth and read over our protests and took instruments . . . at last we put it to the question, when Fullarton [commissioner for Kirkcudbright] and Lochmaben and I voted for myself without any objecting against it, and Dumfries and Sanquhar for the projector [Paterson]; I required my name to be returned immediately to the sheriff upon the clerk’s peril and thereon protested, and commissary Alves against it, and that it should only be returned the names of the voters pro and con . . . They are mightily concerned upon this occasion and had industriously way laid poor Fullarton, and thought to have frightened him with a warrant that was out to apprehend him, and would have persuaded him to stay [away], but he behaved firm like an oak without ever flinching and came in timously.

Having thus secured a double return, Paterson hoped to take advantage of ministerial support to obtain his seat on petition, or at least to have the election declared void. Petitions were presented on 23 Nov., Paterson complaining of Johnstone’s ‘diverse illegal methods’, which the latter countered with the accusation that having been ‘elected by three of the said five burghs’ that this double return was ‘maliciously made . . . to put the petitioner to charges, who used all possible means with them to make such just return, as the law required’. The case was deferred till 30 Nov., when Johnstone triumphed on a crucial adjournment motion, which, judging by the identity of the tellers, was a defeat for the Court. Despite an immediate resolution that Paterson’s name be erased from the return, he petitioned again, but was defeated by a final decision in favour of Johnstone on 27 Jan. 1709.3

The town council of Dumfries lost no time in making its disappointment known. Letters were despatched to the representatives of the neighbouring shires, William Grierson and John Stewart, as well as to the failed candidates, Paterson and Hutton. All were requested to aid Dumfries, in view of the fact that William Johnstone was ‘no friend to this town’s interest’. The council feared that Annan and Kirkcudbright might gain privileges to the detriment of Dumfries, in particular that Johnstone might seek parliamentary ratification of a new charter for Annan ‘with the addition of several new privileges’, including ‘a heavy imposition or custom on all who pass by the bridge of Annan’. It was also suspected that ‘Captain Fullarton will be proposing some advantages for Kirkcudbright’, which, considering his role in the recent election, was a reasonable supposition. A degree of paranoia, however, was evident in the credence given by the council to a potential threat posed by Lochmaben, where large numbers of burgesses were reportedly being admitted in order to outvote Dumfries, should the qualification of electors be amended from the Scottish to the English model. None of these fears was justified: the interests of Annan and Kirkcudbright were not promoted in Parliament, and no change was mooted for the Scottish electoral system. The lack of a representative favourable to its interests induced the council of Dumfries to use Hutton to promote ‘the establishment of a post betwixt Carlisle and this town’. Hutton duly consulted (Sir) Thomas Frankland I*, the joint postmaster-general, reporting back that Frankland was ‘their friend’, but advised them to ‘leave him to manage things by his own method’.4

At the 1710 election William Johnstone stood down in favour of his brother Sir John* of Westerhall. In response to reports that the latter was making preparations in advance of the dissolution, commissary Alves informed Queensberry’s nominee for the shire, Grierson, that

if the writs come out so as there be time that the shire can elect before the burghs, I shall endeavour that the shire be first and I doubt not but in that case Sir John Johnstone and his brother with their friends will either join for you [or] at least not oppose, for Sir John is setting up to be for the burghs.

This was a tactical subterfuge, rather than a genuine alliance. Some credibility attached to the plan on account of Sir John’s earlier services to Queensberry in the Scottish parliament. Yet, implicit in the suggestion to Grierson, was the intention of Queensberry’s burghs to default on any reciprocal gesture. This plan was never put to the test because the election for the burghs preceded that of the shire. There was, nevertheless, a connexion between the two elections, which arose from the candidacy of Lord Stormont’s son, Hon. James Murray*. Annandale had agreed to support Murray for the county and, as part of this arrangement, Stormont attempted to persuade the Earl of Galloway to bring his influence to bear on Kirkcudbright. This proved ineffective and Sir John’s prior withdrawal from the contest can perhaps be deduced from the failure of Lochmaben (the burgh with which he was most closely linked) to attend. There was, moreover, a lively struggle between Paterson and Hutton for Queensberry’s support. Hutton appears to have gained the initiative, by building on his earlier efforts in the locality and by persuading Queensberry that his success was a foregone conclusion. Having obtained some measure of sanction, duplicitously according to Paterson, Hutton spread a rumour that his rival had forfeited Queensberry’s good opinion. Despite efforts on Paterson’s behalf by John Montgomerie I* and William Steuart*, the campaign by Hutton proved too strong. The key to this election was held by the presiding burgh of Kirkcudbright. Paterson asserted that Hutton’s claims to have secured it were groundless, informing Queensberry on 12 Oct. that

as for Kirkcudbright . . . the Doctor himself pretends now to no interest there, but what some particular persons in Dumfries may perhaps be able to make, and that can be no otherwise but by representing him to be your Grace’s favourite in opposition to me, and how unlikely they are to accomplish it even by that means is plain from several letters I have lately received from thence.

These included endorsements from the provost of Kirkcudbright and its former commissioner, Fullarton, both of whom Paterson claimed would ‘declare for me, if permitted (much more were they encouraged) to pursue their inclinations’. The hollowness of the ‘uncertain hopes or conjectures’ of Hutton’s supporters was revealed by these ‘stronger proofs’, which therefore absolved Queensberry from his ‘conditional obligation to the Doctor, since he not only had not Kirkcudbright, as was then pretended, but hath not yet no ground to hope for it’. All that was required was for the Duke to avow that Paterson was equal to Hutton ‘in your esteem . . . and give directions to the burgh of Sanquhar to join with Kirkcudbright to prevent that burgh’s going over to Annan and Lochmaben’. If Paterson’s assessment was accurate, it must be inferred that Queensberry declined to ditch Hutton. There is no further evidence of a contest, and, according to the return, Hutton was elected ‘unanimously’ by the four burghs present. It remains unclear why Dumfries was subsequently given a punitive tax assessment by the convention of royal burghs (see GLASGOW BURGHS), or indeed whether there was any truth in this instance of allegations that such punishments followed electoral disobedience to the Court. Alternatively, the simple fact that Hutton was neither a merchant nor a resident in the district may have incurred disapproval, and similarity with the election for Ayr Burghs lends circumstantial support to this hypothesis.5

The death of Queensberry in July 1711 transformed the electoral situation. William Johnstone, who had recently succeeded his brother to the baronetcy and estates of Westerhall, now stirred up trouble for the sitting Member for Dumfriesshire in preparation for usurping his place as Annandale’s nominee. But prior to the dissolution, the death of Hutton in December 1712 created a vacancy in the district of burghs, to which Johnstone easily succeeded. No challenger appeared and Dumfries did not even bother to send a commissioner. At the general election later that year he was unanimously re-elected by all five burghs, and so provided with a valuable insurance against possible defeat in the shire. Sir William proved strong enough to gain both, and (in the absence of any determination by the House) retained them for the duration of the 1713 Parliament. At the 1715 election, he opted for the shire, while allowing the burghs to pass uneventfully to his nephew by marriage, Alexander Ferguson. During the Jacobite rebellion, Sir William demonstrated his worth to Dumfries by rallying the town’s defences, thereby earning the respect of the inhabitants, whose ‘antipathy to the Union was feeble as compared with their sense of the wrongs done to them by the Stuart race’.6

Author: David Wilkinson


Unless otherwise stated, this article draws on the account of elections given in Sunter thesis, 1-22.

  • 1. Annandale mss at Raehills, bdle. 396, John Johnstone and John Irving to Annandale, 26 Sept. 1700, magistrates and councillors to same, 30 Apr. 1700; bdle. 403, J. Carruthers to [same], 14 Sept. 1702; bdle. 524, George Kennedy of Halleithes to John Kennedy of Broadholme, 4 Oct. 1704, Whyte to Robert Carstairs, 21 Oct. 1704, George Kennedy et al. to Annandale, 16 Nov. 1704; bdle. 602, Hutton to Annandale, 22 Apr. 1708; J.B. Wilson, Royal Burgh of Lochmaben, 64; J. Macky, Journey through GB, 1-2; W. McDowall, Hist. Dumfries, 484, 505-10.
  • 2. DNB (Paterson, William); McDowall, 494; Trans. Dumfries. and Galloway Natural Hist. and Antiq. Soc., ser. 3, xxxii. 124-31; Sir W. Fraser, Annandale Fam. Bk. ii. 240, 345; Annandale mss, bdle. 602, Hutton to Annandale, 22 Apr. 1708, W. [?Welch] to same, 3 May 1708; bdle. 826, William Johnstone to same, [aft. 15 Apr. 1708].
  • 3. Annandale mss, bdle. 397, William Johnstone to [Annandale], [26 May 1708]; Edinburgh Courant, 28-31 May 1708; C219/110; Case of William Johnston (1708).
  • 4. Dumfries Arch. Centre, Dumfries burgh recs. RB2/2/30, 34, 39-40, council to Grierson, 9 Feb., same to Paterson, 9 Feb. 1709, Hutton to council, 24 Mar., 21 May 1709; Trans. Dumfries. 130.
  • 5. Ewart Lib. Dumfries, Grierson mss 14D/GroupB9/3, William Alves to Grierson, 2 Aug. 1710; Mansfield mss at Scone Palace, bdle. 1248, Stormont to Alexander Barclay, 3 Sept. 1710; Add. 70292, Paterson to [Robert Harley*], 14 Oct. 1710, same to Queensberry, 26 Sept. 12 Oct. 1710; C219/110, 114; Case of the Royal Burghs [1712]; Extracts Glasgow Recs. 461, 466; T. Pagan, Convention of R. Burghs, 64-65.
  • 6. C219/114; McDowall, 521.