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


16 June 1790HENRY DUNDAS 
15 June 1791 DUNDAS re-elected after appointment to office 
28 June 1793 DUNDAS re-elected after appointment to office 
26 May 1796HENRY DUNDAS 
2 June 1800 DUNDAS re-elected after appointment to office 
12 July 1802HENRY DUNDAS 
4 Jan. 1803 CHARLES HOPE vice Dundas, called to the Upper House 
28 Jan. 1805 HON. GEORGE ABERCROMBY vice Hope, appointed to office 
 Hon. George Abercromby8
26 Mar. 1817 WILLIAM DUNDAS vice Murray, vacated his seat 
10 Aug. 1814 DUNDAS re-elected after appointment to office 
29 July 1819 DUNDAS re-elected after appointment to office28
 James Mansfield3

Main Article

Edinburgh was the only single burgh constituency in Scotland and its return throughout this period antedated the others from Scotland. Its government lay in the council of 25 members which, for the election of magistrates and the Member of Parliament and for certain other purposes, was augmented by eight additional or ‘extraordinary’ deacons. The principal influence in 1790 was that of Henry Dundas, the government manager for Scotland, who acted in conjunction with the Duke of Buccleuch.

Dundas’s control weathered the sporadic challenges it encountered. In 1791 he cemented an alliance with William Ramsay of the Royal Bank, ‘one of the richest men of business in Great Britain’, which reinforced his hegemony. It became a catastrophe for a man to be considered Dundas’s enemy in the city. The provost submitted the list of magistrates elect to his scrutiny. Reports of opposition were vigilantly scanned for him by his nephew the chief baron. Opposition efforts to promote a peace petition in 1797 were hamstrung: ‘We are only strong in numbers, few of the better sort having subscribed’, and the trade incorporations proved unco-operative. Rumours of disaffection in 1798 and 1799, when Provost Stirling was suspected of encouraging the minority on the council, proved exaggerated, and Dundas’s family henchmen, Robert and William Dundas and Charles Hope, soon brought the recalcitrant to heel. As a last resort, if an unsuitable nominee were favoured by the council for the assessorship, as in March 1802, Dundas might wheedle them into preferring his as ‘the only favour that he had ever asked of the town’.1

Dundas was thus able to return himself unopposed until he was created Viscount Melville in December 1802. Thereafter, until his death in 1811, he returned close family connexions. Charles Hope of Granton and Sir Patrick Murray of Ochtertyre were brothers-in-law of Melville’s wife, and George Abercromby of Tullibody was his son-in-law. His political setback in 1805 did not undermine his influence: the Edinburgh magistrates converted a celebration dinner into a consolation feast, ‘and report says that though they were down in the mouth, their appetites were up as high as ever’. On Melville’s acquittal a year later, he was fêted in Edinburgh.2

In 1806 it was intended to return Abercromby again, but apart from his conscientious objection to his father-in-law’s political course in 1805, which led him to wish to give up the seat, he had to come in for his family’s constituency of Clackmannanshire, owing to a threat to their interest there. William Dundas declining on account of the expense, Murray was brought forward instead. The Grenville ministry wanted to oppose Melville, whose interest was still ‘prevalent’; in February 1806 it was thought they would support Henry Erskine or William Adam, but the latter would not stand and Lord Grenville declined Sir John Sinclair’s offer. James Mansfield was then considered, but would not declare ‘unless Lord G[renville] will take such measures as shall satisfy every one in the council here that Lord G. and Lord M[elville], so far from understanding one another, have no connection, and that Lord G. is determined to have no connection with him’. Measures were delayed too long, Melville having agreed with Buccleuch that they must keep the government out and that ‘it only requires the first onset to be manfully resisted in order to discomfit all future views’, while giving the council the impression that he stood well with ministers. Murray was therefore not opposed. Dundas thought that Murray could ill afford the seat and had at first toyed with the idea of supporting ‘young Ramsay’, or even Henry Erskine, had the latter agreed to keep out of local affairs. Upon the failure of the Edinburgh Whig regulars to do so, their excuse being that people were ‘still terrified at the effects of the Melville influence’, Henry Allan, deacon of the Fleshers, petitioned against the return on the grounds of Murray’s ineligibility and his having used improper means to secure election; but on 17 Apr. 1807 the committee found in Murray’s favour and condemned the petition as ‘frivolous and vexatious’.3 Murray was re-elected in 1807. Abercromby was proposed in case the Member returned should be found to have been ineligible due to the possession of an office of Exchequer.

Early in 1811 Melville and Buccleuch determined to return William Dundas, Melville’s nephew, at the next general election. It was thought desirable to have Dundas as representative, and the decision was warranted by the discovery that a Whig friend of William Adam, ‘James Gibson, was near getting a majority of the town council but his plans were in time discovered and the council is this day filled up with almost the whole of them friendly to Lord Melville and Sir P. Murray’. Murray was very reluctant to discontinue his connexion with the city, but on 22 Feb. 1812 he announced his resignation, in order to contest Perthshire. William Dundas was returned at the by-election and at the general election six months later. After Melville’s death his son Robert, 2nd Viscount, had decided to ‘surrender’ the city to Buccleuch who, although he had no member of his own family to bring in, was to ‘incur the expense of it’. In a letter to Murray on 18 Feb. 1812, Melville explained:

With the duke’s money and my father’s name and the influence which his [Buccleuch’s] family really possess ... in the town ... I think the interest may be upheld against any attack. Such I know also were my father’s ideas on the subject.4

In 1818 Dundas was again returned. On this occasion two deacons, Lawrie and Anderson, abstained, and complained that as the council members had been adjudicated by the court of session illegally elected, the election was null and void.5 The magistrates failed to reverse this ruling on petition. Despite a similar protest against the proceedings by Deacon Gillespie, Dundas was again returned in 1819. Mansfield was proposed and received three votes to 28; by another account two to 25. A description of the election meeting in the Caledonian Mercury ran as follows:

... he [deacon Alexander Lawrie] had not the smallest doubt but that right honourable gentleman [Dundas] would be returned, yet he could not conscientiously give him his support. Treasurer Manderston remarked that he was somewhat surprised at the confidence expressed by Deacon Lawrie that Mr Dundas would be elected, when only two members of the council had as yet declared themselves in his favour. Deacon Lawrie sarcastically replied he should be happy to find himself mistaken, which observation excited a general laugh and a slight disposition to applaud.6

Author: D. G. Henry


  • 1. PRO 30/8/126, f. 72; Morning Chron. 7 July 1791; SRO GD51/5/5; 51/5/18/1; 51/5/71/2; Blair Adam mss, J. Clerk jun. to Adam, 22 Mar., 12 Apr. 1797; Add. 51691, Lauderdale to Holland, 18 Sept. 1798; NLS mss 7, ff. 98, 153, 190; 8, ff. 23, 31, 55; HMC Laing, ii. 671; Brougham and his Early Friends, i. 313.
  • 2. NLS mss 11097, f. 3; Add. 59263, Douglas to Grenville, 25 June 1806.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/195/16, 17; Fortescue mss, Sir J. Sinclair to Grenville, 5 Oct., reply 9 Oct.; SRO GD224/668/12/9; Buccleuch mss, Hope to Melville, 30 May, Melville to Dundas, 3 June; Blair Adam mss, Adam to Gibson, 1 Oct., Grenville to Adam, 24 Oct., Sandilands to Adam, 27, 28 Oct., 13 Dec., Gibson to Adam, 17, 27, 28, 29 Oct., 27 Dec. 1806, 7 Jan. 1807; CJ, lxii. 48, 336.
  • 4. SRO GD51/1/198/21/41, 45, 46; GD267/17/4, Wauchope to Home, 1 Oct. 1811.
  • 5. Edinburgh Advertiser, 13 Mar., 9, 19 June, 3 July 1818.
  • 6. Caledonian Mercury, no. 15, 274; Edinburgh Advertiser, 30 July 1819.