DOUGLAS, James (1703-87), of Springwood Park, Roxburgh, and St. Olla, Orkney.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1703, s. of George Douglas of Friarshaw, Roxburgh by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Patrick Scott, 2nd Bt., of Ancrum. m. (1) 1753, Helen (d. 1766), da. of Thomas Brisbane of Brisbane, Ayr, 4s. 3da.; (2) 25 Sept. 1768, Lady Helen Boyle, da. of John, 2nd Earl of Glasgow [S], s.p.  Kntd. 16 Oct. 1759; cr. Bt. 27 June 1786.

Offices Held

Entered R.N. 1715; lt. 1732; capt. 1744; r.-adm. 1762; c.-in-c. West Indies 1763-5; v.-adm. 1770; c.-in-c. Portsmouth 1773-6; adm. 1782.


James Douglas sat on the Earl of Morton’s interest for Orkney and Shetland, a constituency which supplied many recruits to the Royal Navy. Absent from Parliament for long periods on naval duty, he followed his patron’s line and was counted by Dupplin in 1754 among the Scots Members attached to Newcastle rather than to Argyll.

In 1756 he was one of the three naval M.P.s appointed to the court martial on Admiral Byng, and like Morton had no qualms of conscience on the sentence. When on 2 Mar. 1757 the members of the court were examined at the bar of the House of Lords, he emphatically answered ‘No’ to the questions as to whether he knew of anything which would show the sentence to be unjust, and whether he wished the bill dispensing with the oath of secrecy to pass into law.1 During the negotiations for a new ministry after Pitt’s dismissal, Newcastle listed him among the Scots Members personally attached to himself.2 He voted on 2 May with Newcastle’s friends on the Minorca inquiry.3

Thereafter until nearly the end of the war he was almost continuously absent from Parliament on active service: in 1756 at Rochfort; 1759, at Quebec; 1761, in command of the squadron which captured Dominica; 1762, with Rodney at Martinique and with Pocock at Havana. He was absent at the general election of 1761 when the Morton interest in Orkney and Shetland had to face a contest.

He returned from the West Indies in time to attend the opening of the parliamentary session in November 1762.4 Although his name does not appear in Fox’s list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries, he did not vote against them. In 1763 he was again posted to the West Indies. He had apparently returned by the summer of 1765, when Rockingham counted him among his supporters. After a division on 7 Feb. 1766 (on Grenville’s motion to address the King to enforce all laws in America) James West reported to Newcastle:5‘I perceived no Scots with us but Sir Alexander Gilmour and Sir James Douglas.’ Again in a division list of 18 Feb. (almost certainly about America) sent by Gilmour to Newcastle he is numbered among the Scots voting with the Administration.6 But in the crucial division of 22 Feb. on the repeal of the Stamp Act he voted with the Opposition. During the Chatham Administration, although listed by Charles Townshend in January 1767 as a Government supporter, he voted against the Administration in the land tax division on 27 Feb.

In 1766 Morton sold Orkney and Shetland to Sir Lawrence Dundas, and at the 1768 election the seat passed into the control of the Dundas family. Douglas did not apparently attempt to re-enter Parliament, but devoted himself to his naval career.

He died 2 Nov. 1787.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Walpole, Mems. Geo II, ii. 364.
  • 2. Add. 32995, f. 383.
  • 3. Add. 33034, f. 232.
  • 4. CJ, 26 Nov. 1762.
  • 5. Add. 32973, f. 375.
  • 6. Add. 32974, f. 24.