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

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
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. educ. Eton 1753-6; St. Andrews 1756. m. 14 May 1764, Lady Charlotte Fitzwilliam, da. of William, 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 the Prince of Wales 1783- d.; ld. lt. and v.-adm. of Orkney and Shetland 1794- d.


Dundas was an amiable, unassuming young man, completely dominated by his ambitious father, who, having purchased control of Richmond, offered Lord Ancram £4,000 to vacate his seat in favour of Thomas.1 Marriage in 1764 to Rockingham’s niece had little effect on Thomas’s politics; dutifully following his father, he was a silent supporter of the Grenville Administration; and voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766. During the winter of 1766-7 he, like Sir Lawrence, was counted among the Bedfords, voted with Opposition on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, but was chiefly concerned in furthering his father’s Scottish interests, notably in connexion with the Forth and Clyde canal. He supported the Grafton and North Administrations.

In 1766 Sir Lawrence, shortly after purchasing the controlling interest in Orkney, proposed his son as candidate at the next election;2 at the same time he was creating a powerful interest in Stirlingshire, which secured Thomas’s return in 1768, when Orkney was turned over to Sir Lawrence’s brother Thomas.

In 1774 Thomas was returned for Richmond, but having secured re-election for Stirlingshire relinquished Richmond to his cousin Charles. Both he and Charles had been indirectly involved in a controversy in the burgh of Stirling resulting in the exposure of a system of corruption which occasioned the town’s disfranchisement.3 The case was still before the courts when Thomas was elected chairman of the parliamentary select committee on the notorious Hindon election, and made his first recorded speech on 27 Apr. 1775 for an inquiry into the corruption of witnesses.4

This probably marks the beginning of Dundas’s interest in parliamentary and burgh reform, despite his father’s notoriety in election affairs. In 1777 Sir Lawrence, violently attacked in Edinburgh by Henry Dundas and the Buccleuch interest, deputed Thomas to vindicate his conduct, and even the scurrilous pamphleteers found little to defame in ‘Tommy’s’ personal conduct.5

In Parliament he supported Administration until 1779, when his father became disgusted with North’s mismanagement of the war. During the summer Thomas helped to raise a regiment, with Lord Fauconberg as colonel and himself as lieutenant-colonel.6 Absent from the division on pensions of 21 Feb. 1780, Thomas voted with his father against Administration over economical reform on 8 Mar. His family connexion with Rockingham now became a political alliance; he voted with Opposition in every recorded division to the end of the Parliament.

Re-elected unopposed for Stirlingshire, on a compromise with Lord Graham, Thomas assisted and advised his father in Edinburgh and the other contested elections in which the family interest was engaged. In the new Parliament Sir Lawrence, while remaining hostile to North and Henry Dundas, sought to maintain his personal connexion with Sandwich, to whom Thomas wrote on 22 Sept. 1781, immediately after his father’s death:7 ‘May I flatter myself with the continuance of that friendship, the good effects of which I have so often experienced from the earliest part of my life.’ Rumour suggested that ‘Tommy Dundas’ when at Windsor had been ‘so distinguished by the civility of both the King and Queen, that when Sir Lawrence died the Opposition had very little hopes of his continuing to vote against the Court’.8 These suspicions proved unfounded: Sir Thomas took over his father’s policies, and the direction of the family interest; voted with Opposition on 12 Dec. 1781 on Lowther’s motion against the war, but from friendship to Sandwich voted with Administration on the censure of the Admiralty on 7 and 20 Feb. 1782. This incurred comment that ‘the Dundasses’ were ‘veering about very fast’,9 but Thomas voted with Opposition on Conway’s motion on 22 Feb. and in every further recorded division until North’s fall.

After Rockingham’s death Sir Thomas adhered to Fox, and voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. He voted for Pitt’s parliamentary reform bill on 7 May 1783, and thereafter directed his main efforts to the internal reform of Scottish burghs.

In August 1783 he obtained from Portland the office of lord advocate for his boyhood friend Henry Erskine,10 with whom he maintained an intimate and semi-official correspondence on political and electoral affairs, and, as a fellow councillor of state to the Prince of Wales, transmitted to him the Prince’s instructions on his Scottish establishment.11 Strongly supporting Fox’s East India bill, he was consulted by Portland and Fox on countering Pitt’s attacks, and at their direction urged Erskine to ‘send up’ every Government supporter for the debate of 27 Nov. Enraged by the Lords’ rejection of the bill and by Pitt’s assuming office, Dundas, anticipating an immediate dissolution, concerted with Erskine plans for a general election, confident that ‘the game was up with this still-born Administration’. When Pitt, nevertheless, maintained his minority Government in office, Dundas diligently prepared for his election campaign, and procured from Erskine and others detailed ‘states’ of the situation, sharing in effect the Scottish Opposition management with William Adam.12

At the general election he secured Stirlingshire for himself, Orkney for his cousin Thomas, and Tain Burghs for Charles Fox. Patrick Graeme, the sheriff of Orkney, wrote to a friend:13

I know Sir Thomas from being at College with him. I regard and esteem him and both his cousins as among the most gentlemanly and good-tempered people I ever knew ... he has it not in his nature a wish to oppress or injure any one.

Sir Thomas, in conformity with his liberal views, was ‘very well inclined’ to bring on to the electoral roll the hitherto unrepresented freeholders of Shetland, whatever their political attitude.14 In the new Parliament, distressed by reports of the famine in Scotland, which he himself had done his best to alleviate, he moved on 1 July 1784 for a committee of inquiry.15

He voted for Pitt’s reform proposals, 18 Apr. 1785, but otherwise opposed his measures, voted against his Irish propositions, 13 May 1785, as detrimental to Scottish interests, and against Richmond’s fortifications plan, 27 Feb. 1786. An active committee man, Dundas rarely spoke in the House, and then only on Scottish or Yorkshire concerns.16 He strongly supported, on 17 June 1788, Sheridan’s motion to bring in a bill to reform Scottish burghs.17 During the Regency crisis Dundas, as a close friend of the Prince of Wales, was intimately concerned in consultations for a new Administration.18

‘Beloved by men of all parties in Scotland’ for his ‘respectable and independent character’,19 Sir Thomas went over to Pitt with Portland in 1794 and was rewarded with a peerage.  He died 14 June 1820.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Newcastle to Devonshire, 23 Dec. 1762, Add. 32945, f. 345.
  • 2. P. N. Sutherland Graeme, Parlty. Rep. Orkney and Shetland 1754-1900 (Orkney Misc. 1953), p. 66.
  • 3. Stirling Guildry Bk. 115, 117, 137; Scots Mag. 1775, pp. 163, 731.
  • 4. Almon, i. 443, 444.
  • 5. Edinburgh Pamphlets 1776-7, e.g. A letter ... to Thomas Dundas of Castlecary, 9 Sept. 1777.
  • 6. Fortescue, iv. 407, 408, 551.
  • 7. Sandwich mss.
  • 8. James Hare to Ld. Carlisle, 5 Jan. 1782, HMC Carlisle, 564.
  • 9. Same to same, 11 Feb 1782, ibid. 575.
  • 10. Portland to Erskine, 15 Aug. 1783, Alex. Fergusson, Hen. Erskine, 239.
  • 11. Dundas to Erskine, 1 Dec. 1783, ibid. 260.
  • 12. Ibid. 248-9, 250-3, 254-7.
  • 13. Orkney Misc. 1953, 70.
  • 14. Ibid. 71.
  • 15. Debrett, xv. 309.
  • 16. Stockdale, xiii. 177, 183; xiv. 95.
  • 17. Ibid. xv. 191-2.
  • 18. M. I. Dundas, Dundas of Fingask, 92-93.
  • 19. Pol. State of Scotland , 243, 322.