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

Background Information

Number of voters:

150 in 1790 reduced to 118 in 1811


1 July 1790PATRICK HOME 
16 June 1796GEORGE BAILLIE47
 Sir Alexander Don, Bt.17

Main Article

The contention between the Earls of Marchmont and Home for the county representation, which had given Berwickshire elections their bite for more than a generation, ended ostensibly in 1784. Thereafter, with Marchmont disdaining to take an interest and Home a minor, only echoes of it remained. Patrick Home of Wedderburn, the sitting Member returned by Henry Dundas who, with the Duke of Buccleuch, assumed the management of Lord Home’s interest, was warned in January 1788 that ‘the independent friends ... mean to try Sir Alexander Don against you’. His informant added:

They will no doubt carry any connections of Mr Scott of Harden’s, Sir James Pringle and his friends, Mr Renton, George Home, Drummond Stuart of Allanbank and one or two more in the east country personal friends of Sir Alexander Don such as young Robertson and Marshall ... but it will be all to no purpose except to give you a little plague.

A month later, Home was informed by the same correspondent that George Baillie, younger of Jerviswoode, would like to offer for Berwickshire, ‘but he will try in vain if you oppose him and have Mr Pitt’s and Mr Dundas’s hearty support which I am sure you will have’. In August 1788, on the assumption that Patrick Home meant to retire, Sir Alexander Don solicited Buccleuch’s support against another candidate unnamed, presumably Baillie, requesting it ‘in preference only to an individual of any family, who have uniformly opposed your Grace’s friends, who still continue to do so, and who (had a certain considerable interest in this county still existed), would have looked to that influence only for support and success’. Soon afterwards, Don was reported to be consulting Henry Dundas and Patrick Home on the subject.1

It was clear that Patrick Home would not be opposed if he stood in person, but that if, as was supposed, he wished his younger cousin Ninian Home to replace him, the latter would face a doubtful contest. Patrick was therefore urged not to retire until a convenient moment during the next Parliament, when he might secure Ninian’s unopposed return. In January 1789 Sir Alexander Don began a secret canvass, Ninian advised Patrick Home to declare that he meant to stand again, and when the latter avowed his wish that Ninian might replace him, received for reply, 14 Feb. 1789:

I have been so little in this country that I am hardly known in the county, and against two opponents, I would have little chance of succeeding just now, but were my success certain, I should not feel comfortable being so entirely persuaded that your continuing will be of the utmost benefit to yourself and to us all ... if you decline just now, the county will be lost to us for ever, and if you allow yourself to come in at the general election, you can give it up ... at any time when perhaps too there may be more likelihood of my coming in.

But before receiving this advice Patrick Home had already decided to stand again. According to his cousin George Home, clerk of session (Ninian’s brother), Baillie had offered to support Patrick Home unsolicited, in the belief that Home really meant to retire, ‘but not until he had previously secured the votes of those he supposed to be the leaders of the eastern division of the county, in case of your retiring’. Baillie might in any case have been played off against Hugh Scott of Harden, Marchmont’s grandson, who had formerly been county Member and who also looked to Patrick Home’s support after his retirement and might be expected to support Home against Baillie. Marchmont himself, who had disinherited Hugh Scott, was expected to take no part unless there was any ‘well grounded hope’ of shaking Home in the county, but when Home’s opponents, whose cri de guerre was his ‘connexion with Mr Dundas’, had tried to persuade Lords Lauderdale and Tweeddale to make votes for their purpose, they had failed.2

In March 1789 Lawrence Hill, making his electoral survey for the Whig opposition, assured a Berwickshire freeholder ‘that there certainly would be opposition in the county, though he did not think Sir Alexander Don would be the candidate’. George Home’s comment was: ‘Depend upon it the opposition will come to nothing. My suspicions fall upon Mr [Robert] Hay of Drumelzier for the candidate.’ On hearing of a number of non-declarants, he placated Patrick Home: ‘the opposition here have the merit of industry, which in politics is not a small one, but I cannot say much for their judgment’. By May 1790 Patrick Home was so secure that the thought of retiring in favour of Ninian seems again to have occurred to him: but George Home calculated that Baillie would carry the county against him, ‘and that easily against anybody but yourself’, unless Ninian could secure the support of Lord Home, ‘an unknown quantity’. Baillie had Buccleuch’s confidence and encouraged the belief that when Patrick Home retired it would be in his favour. Meanwhile Ninian’s prospects were not improved by Patrick’s reclusive habits, which prevented him from either cultivating the county or seeking favours from Dundas for potential supporters, and George Home urged him to give up if the only incentive left him were an ‘uncertain gratification’ for Ninian.3 Patrick Home stood and was elected unopposed. Ninian Home was at Dundas’s instigation spirited off to Grenada as governor in 1792, and his murder in a slave uprising in 1795 closed that chapter.

On 27 Nov. 1795 Patrick Home informed Henry Dundas that he would not offer at the next election and would retire immediately, if preferred. Soon afterwards, George Home advised Dundas that George Baillie would be the best candidate ‘and if government interfere I am sure it ought to be in his favour’. Baillie on 21 Dec. solicited Dundas’s support as a friend of government and received the reassuring reply, ‘Nobody appears to me to have better pretensions to represent that county than you have’. When Sir Alexander Don made the same application on 3 Jan. 1796 he was too late. Don’s candidature, so Baillie’s uncle Lord Haddington informed Dundas, ‘is owing to Mr [Alexander] Renton [of Lammerton]. He wishes to make himself of importance, and finding that it would not do in his own person, made a handle of Sir Alexander.’ John Renton assured Patrick Home:

Had your health permitted I have every reason to believe you would have met with no opposition at the next general election for I never heard of any murmur or even innuendo of your having fallen short of your duty as our representative. It’s true your quondam Coldinghame friends seemed to take umbrage at your not giving their choice of a minister, I mean Messrs Johnston, Darling and Bogue. I really believe they meant to oppose you if they had any probable view of success.4

In the contest of 1796 Baillie easily defeated Sir Alexander Don, who was ‘supposed to entertain similar principles with his father-in-law the Earl of Selkirk’, a radical Whig.5 He was now secure in his seat for as long as he chose to occupy it and there was no effective opposition to him. In March 1806, with the Whigs in power, there was a surmise ‘that Mr Robertson or some one of that democratical set means to set up in opposition’, but nothing came of it. The government noted ‘No opposition. The interest in this county is much scattered and divides itself into small parcels. Mr Baillie possesses in himself as much as anybody and will be supported by all the respectable freeholders.’6 In 1811, when Baillie’s standing at the next election was confirmed, the prospects of an opposition from Sir Alexander Don or from William Hay of Duns Castle (Drumelzier’s heir) were discounted, unless the Parliament lasted longer. In February 1812 Walter Scott (the novelist) urged Lord Melville to support his relation Scott of Harden if Baillie retired, as Robertson of Ladykirk was privately canvassing ‘and has gone some length in combining a party chiefly among the wealthy farmers many of whom have lately acquired freeholds ... and have for obvious reasons a strong disposition to democracy’.7

On 17 Nov. 1817, hearing that Baillie wished to retire and had failed to persuade William Hay of Duns Castle to be his successor, Sir John Marjoribanks of Lees, encouraged by William Dundas*, called on Baillie to tell him that he would offer if Baillie resigned, though he had no thoughts of opposing him if he meant to continue, nor did he suppose he had any chance of turning Baillie out. Baillie told Marjoribanks that he thought he would offer again. Marjoribanks doubted it and made a bid for Lord Melville’s support and, through that channel, for the interest of George Home of Paxton, now heir of the deceased Member, who ‘possesses a stronger personal influence than any person connected with the county of Berwick’. Baillie would not commit himself to retirement, though Marjoribanks, ‘nibbling but not biting ... very handsomely offered to Mr Baillie to resign the county to young Baillie when of age if it were given up to him now!’. It would appear that Marjoribanks, having failed to persuade Baillie through the latter’s brother Charles to meet his wishes, was prepared to look for a borough seat, or give up all thoughts of Parliament, when the sudden news of the dissolution brought him post-haste to Scotland. Finding on 6 June that Baillie was now willing to retire in his favour if Hay of Duns would not stand, Marjoribanks pursued the latter into East Lothian and secured his abdication, though not his positive support. When Baillie announced his retirement and it was clear that Marjoribanks would be the beneficiary there was some discontent. Sir John Riddell, who had hoped that Hugh Scott of Harden might be put in nomination in absentia with Buccleuch’s concurrence, thought that, failing this, Marjoribanks must be opposed by William Robertson of Ladykirk or George Buchan of Kello. The latter announced his candidature, but on 9 June declined, after a meeting with Marjoribanks, who claimed Melville’s and thereby secured George Home’s support. In fact Melville had personally preferred Buchan and, while vetoing Robertson, thought government should not adjudicate between Marjoribanks and Buchan, both being friends of administration; but he acquiesced in the choice of Marjoribanks, who was not confident of success and whose address of 20 June contained no mention of politics. He noted that Baillie’s procrastination was causing ‘increasing displeasure’ and that the following paper was being circulated:

It being essential that the public independence of this county should be maintained, and it being our determination to do so by every proper means, we the undersigned do hereby agree that we shall not, on occasion of any future canvass for the representation of the county of Berwick, give a vote or interest without a previous mutual explanation.8

Yet at the county meeting, with 47 freeholders present, opposition took only the negative shape of a vote against Baillie as praeses, Buchan of Kello making ‘a very bitter speech’ against him and being followed in the same vein by Sir Alexander Don, who chose to regard Baillie’s postponement of his retirement until the last minute as a ruse to dash his own prospects. But apart from Buchan and ‘his own party of saints, five in all’ and Don and Hay of Duns, Baillie received a vote of confidence and Marjoribanks’s return was a foregone conclusion.9

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. SRO GD267/3/15, G. to P. Home, 10 Jan., 21 Feb.; GD224/31, Don to Buccleuch, 28 Aug. 1788; NLS mss 11047, f. 5.
  • 2. SRO GD267/1/3, Coutts to Home, 12 Nov. 1788; 267/1/2, N. to P. Home, 2, 9, 14 Feb., 9 Mar.; 267/1/14, G. to P. Home, 8, 17 Mar. 1789.
  • 3. SRO GD 267/1/14, G. to P. Home, 18, 23 Mar. 1789, 17, 18, 23, 26 May 1790.
  • 4. NLS mss 1, f. 41; 1053, f. 63; SRO GD51/1/198/5/1, 4; 51/1/198/24/1; GD267/3/16, Renton to Home, 12 Jan. 1796.
  • 5. True Briton, 11 Jan., 23 May, 22 June 1796.
  • 6. SRO GD267/1/8, G. to P. Home, 14 Mar.; Spencer mss, Scottish list, 1806.
  • 7. NLS mss 11084, f. 238; SRO GD267/17/4, ? to Wauchope (copy), 28 Sept., Wauchope to G. Home, 1 Oct. 1811; Scott Letters ed. Grierson, iii. 85.
  • 8. NLS mss 13434, Baillie to Minto, Sunday [17 Nov. 1817], n.d.; 1054, f. 158; 1496, f. 141; SRO GD224/580, Riddell to Buccleuch, 18 May, 9, 13, 19 June; GD267/16/8, Melville to G. Home, 10, 12 June; GD 51/1/198/5/7; GD267/17/3, Marjoribanks to same, 10, 20, 29 June; Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 June 1818.
  • 9. NLS mss 13434, Baillie to Minto [7 July], anon. to Baillie [9 July 1818].