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:

49 in 1790, 64 in 1803, 74 in 1811


24 July 1790SIR ROBERT LAURIE, Bt.22
 John Johnstone13
13 June 1796SIR ROBERT LAURIE, Bt. 
22 July 1802SIR ROBERT LAURIE, Bt. 
8 Nov. 1804 WILLIAM JOHNSTONE HOPE vice Laurie, deceased 
 Sir John Lowther Johnstone, Bt.26
1 May 1807 HOPE re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

The Duke of Queensberry had the ‘commanding interest’ in Dumfriesshire and his defection from government during the Regency crisis did not damage it, as he gave his heir the Duke of Buccleuch, who also had a considerable interest in the county, the management of it. The latter, at Henry Dundas’s instigation, supported the sitting Member Sir Robert Laurie, who ceased to act with the opposition. Laurie had not been opposed since 1774, when the Johnstone of Westerhall interest put up Alexander Fergusson of Craigdarroch against him. In 1790 this experiment was repeated, with John Johnstone of Alva as their candidate. He canvassed ‘a good deal too late’ in April with the support of Lord Hopetoun, heir to the Annandale estate, whose interest was not then ‘formidable’; the majority was already in favour of Laurie. Buccleuch contrived to preserve the unity of the Queensberry interest in his support despite the recent strain on it, and to prevent either Lord Hopetoun or the family of Westerhall acquiring ‘a superiority in this county from whence it might afterwards be found a difficult matter to remove them’.1 Johnstone went to the poll but was defeated by nine votes. It was reported to Dundas that many of Johnstone’s supporters were enemies of the duke rather than friends of Johnstone’s, and John Bushby, the informant, forecast 24 votes for Laurie and 16 for Johnstone. A symptom of the victory of the established interest was provided later that year by Alexander Fergusson of Craigdarroch’s offer to join it, and Dundas had nothing to fear from Lord Hopetoun after his marriage into that family in 1793.2

Although in the autumn of 1795 Queensberry was alleged to be jealous of Buccleuch’s influence and suspected of being tempted to join Sir William Pulteney and the Westerhall interest in a bargain to divide the county and burghs between them, it was apparent that Dundas, with Hopetoun’s help, could thwart such an arrangement, if only narrowly, Robert Dundas calculating that if Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall stood against Laurie at the next election, Laurie’s majority would be only four.3 In the event, Laurie was unopposed, both in 1796 and 1802.

In 1804, Laurie being at death’s door, a contest seemed likely. Sir Charles Douglas, Buccleuch’s son-in-law, had been earmarked as candidate on the ‘old interest of the county’, but by the ‘culpable negligence’ of his agent, he was not enfeoffed and therefore ineligible. There were several pretenders to replace him: Sir John Heron Maxwell claimed that he was Douglas’s choice and was hurt when he found that he could not obtain the sanction of Buccleuch (whose heir Dalkeith, now lord lieutenant of the county, was acting for his father); but Maxwell was reported not to be popular in the county. James Raymond Johnstone of Alva also applied unsuccessfully for the Buccleuch interest, offering as a government supporter. It was suggested that Laurie’s son should offer, provided he was registered on the day of the poll.4 The right choice was essential as it was reported that Robert Fergusson of Craigdarroch, ‘a man well known for his infamous political tenets’, meant to offer ‘probably supported by Sir William Pulteney and several others ... disaffected to government’ and that he was making underhand applications. The choice fell on Capt. William Hope, Hopetoun’s son-in-law. Buccleuch informed Lord Melville, 26 Aug. 1804: ‘In the present situation of that county I know of no chance of defeating the combination, but by uniting with the Hopetoun interest. Captain William Hope ought to be the candidate.’ Hopetoun himself was reluctant to allow this, but conceded that ‘no consideration must stand in the way, when the question is, whether the county of Dumfries is to fall into the hands of such a man as Fergusson’, and agreed ‘to put forward or to withdraw William [Hope], as may be judged at the time, most conducive for the general interest, and the peace of the county’. Queensberry’s approbation was given and a private canvass was started for Hope before Sir Robert Laurie died on 10 Sept. By 23 Sept. Dalkeith’s agents could report that they had not met with an actual refusal to vote for Hope. Fergusson gave up an unequal contest.5

On the change of ministry in 1806, another contest was imminent, to the dismay of Hope, who at once tried to secure government aid. Patrick Miller* had written to Fox offering to stand. Sir John Lowther Johnstone of Westerhall appeared in the field and it was supposed that Sir John Heron Maxwell of Springkell, the disappointed aspirant of 1804, would also come forward ‘and in the event of his not being likely to succeed on his own bottom, will be joined by Sir John Lowther Johnstone. This will render the contest keen and election near run.’ Maxwell did not persevere, however, and it was Johnstone who stood, promising to cultivate the county and seeking government support, which Hope thought he should not get. Johnstone was unable to separate Queensberry from Buccleuch, to whom the former gave freedom of action to stand by Hope; and neither the blessing of Lord Grenville, which he obtained, nor the efforts of Lauderdale and William Adam on his behalf enabled him to pick up enough votes to overtake Hope, whose only concession to the government towards which he was supposed unfavourable was, as he said on his election, ‘to support such measures that bid to keep the enemy from our gates etc.’. About 16 freeholders contrived to absent themselves and Hope succeeded by eight votes in a poll of 60.6 Sir John Lowther Johnstone was confident that he could do better, but declined to stand at the by-election caused by Hope’s promotion to the Admiralty board in April 1807, and, contrary to his assurance, did not contest the ensuing general election.7

Under Dalkeith’s management, the county was uncontested in 1812. In 1814, by now Duke of Buccleuch, he wrote of ‘that union of strength which will always set the enemy at defiance, who though quiescent now, are not the less awake to take advantage of any schism’. Hope was secure with the duke’s support in 1818, and despite the latter’s death in 1819, which raised some anxieties, never fought for his seat again.8

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 97; H. Furber, Henry Dundas, 247; Buccleuch mss, Sir W. Maxwell to Buccleuch, 27 Apr. 1790; R. C. Reid, ‘Some Letters of Patrick Miller’, Trans. Dumfries and Galloway Antiq. Soc. (ser. 3), ix. 125.
  • 2. SRO GD51/1/198/7/1; NLS mss 6, f. 1.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/198/7/5, 6; Furber, 263.
  • 4. SRO GD224/580, Dalkeith to Sir J. Maxwell, 8, 15 Sept., replies 12, 18 Sept., Johnstone to Dalkeith, 12 Sept., Sharpe to same, 12 Sept. 1804.
  • 5. SRO GD51/1/198/7/13, 14; GD224/580, Murray to Dalkeith, 6 Sept., Gillon to same, 24 Sept.; 224/582, Hope of Granton to Buccleuch, 28 Aug., Queensberry to same, 31 Aug., Sharpe to same, 10 Sept. 1804.
  • 6. HO102/19, f. 302; Add. 51469, f. 110; Spencer mss, Scottish election list; Edinburgh Advertiser, 21-25 Mar., 8-11 Apr.; SRO GD51/1/198/7/15; GD224/580, Dalkeith to Gillon, 21 Nov.; Fortescue mss, Grenville to Lauderdale, 25 Oct.; Blair Adam mss, Miller to Adam, 26 Oct., Gibson to same, Fri. [Oct.], 27 Oct., Lauderdale to same, 6 Nov., Mansfield to same, 16 Nov., Sir J. L. Johnstone to same, 4 Dec. 1806.
  • 7. Edinburgh Advertiser, 2-5 Dec. 1806, 21-24 Apr., 5-8 Aug. 1807.
  • 8. SRO GD51/1/198/24/17; 51/5/364/21; NLS mss 1056, f. 111.