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:

76 in 1790 reduced to 70 in 1811


26 Nov. 1795 HEW HAMILTON DALRYMPLE vice Hamilton, appointed to office
12 May 1800 HON. CHARLES HOPE vice Dalrymple, vacated his seat
21 Mar. 1816 SIR JAMES SUTTIE, Bt., vice Hope, vacated his seat
30 June 1818SIR JAMES SUTTIE, Bt.

Main Article

Although there were numerous freeholders and no commanding interests, the county proved amenable to management almost throughout the period and there was no actual contest. John Hamilton of Pencaitland, the sitting Member in 1790, was married to Henry Dundas’s niece and was supported by the Earls of Haddington and Hopetoun, the leading local ministerialists, who were allied by marriage.1 George, 7th Marquess of Tweeddale, brother-in-law of the prominent Whig Lord Lauderdale, was regarded as potential leader of the opposition interest in the county.

In March 1795, when John Hamilton circulated his intention of resigning the county for a Scottish place, Tweeddale, whose sons were infants, induced his ‘nearest relation’ available, Robert Baird* of Newbyth, to stand on the understanding that he would secure the approbation of Henry Dundas, with whom Baird was connected. He wrote to Dundas for the purpose on 26 Mar., and on 30 Mar. Baird wrote to Dundas assuring him that he would never do anything contrary to his interest, requested his support and promised to reciprocate it, if elected. Dundas, who had already espoused, for his father’s sake, the cause of Hew Hamilton Dalrymple, younger of North Berwick, was displeased at a manoeuvre that had taken place ‘without any previous communication’ with him, and replied on 8 Apr. that he could not let the county representation be ‘frittered away without his own concurrence’, as he had ‘an interest founded partly on private friendship, partly on family connexions, partly on the gratitude of friends whom he has had it in his power to oblige, and partly ... on grounds of a still more public nature’. He deprecated ‘intrigues ... exercised against my interest that I had neither the means of watching nor counteracting’ and hinted that Baird was making an ungrateful return for past favours to his family if he did not concur in Dundas’s choice of Dalrymple. Dalrymple, who had found Dundas unable to believe his report of Baird’s candidature, circularized the county on 2 Apr., claiming: ‘Previous to my leaving London I received a very friendly letter from Mr Dundas, and from the assurances I have had from such of his friends as are now there, I have every reason to rely on their support’. Privately he informed Dundas the same day that due to an oversight his enrolment did not become valid until the end of August 1795, and requested him to join with his father in inducing John Hamilton to hold on to his seat until then. Next day Tweeddale renewed his application to Dundas on Baird’s behalf, adding that the old friends of the Tweeddale interest in the county had offered their support to his nominee on his succession to the title in 1787 and that he was aware of the fact that Dalrymple was not qualified. On perceiving Dundas’s letter to Baird to be ‘most friendly to him, only hostile to me’, he wrote again on 15 Apr. that had he known Dundas had a friend in nomination, he would have supported him, but as none had at first appeared, he felt that Baird, ‘the nearest relation I had, likewise your relation and a man I conceived perfectly agreeable to you’, was a proper candidate, and believed he would succeed. Baird, in a letter of 20 Apr., assured Dundas that there was no hostile intention, that he had hoped to ‘unite the whole county’ in Dundas’s favour, and that although Dundas had thrown ‘a considerable damp on my operations’ it was too late to withdraw. Both he and Tweeddale promised Dundas, who had his suspicions on the subject, that George Buchan Hepburn of Smeaton, an old school friend of Dundas’s, with a ‘pretty good interest’ in the county, whose wish to become chief baron of the Exchequer Dundas had satisfied and whose wife was related to Lord Lauderdale, was not involved in Baird’s candidature and had agreed to support him only on the understanding that he was a friend to government. Dundas replied to Tweeddale, 23 Apr., that as he had overlooked ‘relationship or private friendship’ in securing Tweeddale’s appointment as lord lieutenant of the county, he was relieved to hear, though so late in the day, that Tweeddale professed friendship, but thought it very suspicious that he had put up Baird so precipitately without his knowledge. He added that though Baird had surprised some of the electors into rash promises, he doubted if he would succeed. Meanwhile Dalrymple’s father had purchased a superiority for him behind his back, on discovering which he arranged for an equivalent restitution to the vendor from the Winton estate, whose owner was under an obligation to Dundas, in case his qualification was scrutinized at the election.2

In June 1795 reports reached Dundas that Buchan Hepburn, whose reasons for discontent he believed he knew, was beginning to regret the role he had played: though he would not now withdraw his support from Baird, on whose behalf he had been active in the shrieval election, he wished still to be regarded as Dundas’s friend. The first fruit of this was a ‘jocular’ proposal for a compromise to Dundas from Baird’s friends at the end of June: ‘that Mr Dalrymple should have the election on the first vacancy on condition that Mr Baird was joined by Mr Dalrymple’s friends at the general election’.3 In mid September Robert Dundas met Tweeddale and Buchan Hepburn to arrange a compromise whereby Baird came in for Haddington Burghs with Dalrymple’s support and Dalrymple for the county. At first Tweeddale had found a pretext for suggesting that it should be the other way round and reinforced it with a disingenuous appeal for Henry Dundas’s arbitration, but Baird reluctantly consented to the arrangement and Buchan Hepburn claimed credit for inducing Tweeddale to accept it. Henry Dundas was satisfied, though he warned that if Tweeddale’s brother-in-law Lauderdale opposed Baird in the burghs, he would force Dalrymple to contest them and put up another candidate— probably his brother-in-law Hope— for the county at the general election. A ‘thorough union’ then took place, Baird drafting his withdrawal at Robert Dundas’s dictation on 24 Oct. 1795, Buchan Hepburn rejoicing ‘that we are all one man’s bairns again’ and the agreement being sealed at Pencaitland ‘with a plentiful dose of claret’ on 26 Oct. Soon afterwards John Hamilton vacated his seat and Dalrymple was returned unopposed then and at the ensuing general election. Tweeddale proceeded to ask for a British peerage.4

In 1800 Dalrymple resigned his seat under the strain of encumbered inheritance and marriage, and Henry Dundas secured the return of his brother-in-law Charles Hope unopposed. ‘A mere Dundas Member’, Hope met with no opposition. On the death of Tweeddale in 1804, leaving a teenage heir, Lord Elcho (heir to the Earl of Wemyss) whom Dundas had weaned from opposition, warned him that Buchan Hepburn was ‘grasping at a little too much sway in our county’, but nothing came of it, even in 1806 when the Grenville ministry made it clear that they had no interest in supporting Hope’s return. In 1807, Lauderdale thought that opposition stood no chance.5 In 1810 the comment on the county was: ‘The present Member safe while he stands, but on an opening by his retiring a doubtful contest’.6 Sir George Warrender* found that he stood no chance in 1812.

When Gen. Hope retired in 1816, Sir James Suttie of Balgone was returned unopposed on the same interest, but Lord Tweeddale was now of age to assert his family’s pretensions and in December 1816 declared his brother in the navy, Lord John Hay, as prospective candidate. The canvass then was not particularly favourable, but he renewed it the following autumn. His uncle Lauderdale was readily credited with being the chief instigator, despite which it was speciously claimed that Lord John was a friend to government.7 Tweeddale was obliged to admit, 10 Sept. 1817: ‘His opponents have been the cause of his not getting home, to my certain knowledge; if that will be of any advantage it is but mean work taking advantage of his profession’. Nevertheless, Lord John Hay was ‘detained abroad in the service of his country longer than was expected’.8 He had to be withdrawn at the election of 1818, though he promised to stand next time, when he came within a vote of defeating Suttie.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 160.
  • 2. SRO GD51/1/198/9/3; NLS mss 1, ff. 58, 60, 64, 67, 69, 75, 77, 79, 83, 85; Dundas of Arniston mss, Melville to Sir A. Fergusson, 13 Jan. 1807; SRO GD267/3/16, G. to P. Home, 10 Apr. 1795; GD51/1/198/9/5, 17.
  • 3. NLS mss 1, ff. 87, 91; SRO GD51/1/198/9/10.
  • 4. See HADDINGTON BURGHS; NLS mss 7, ff. 27, 41, 49, 51, 59, 61; H. Furber, Henry Dundas, 253; SRO GD51/1/39.
  • 5. Fortescue mss, Sir. H. Dalrymple Hamilton to Grenville, 9 Oct.; NLS mss 1055, f. 117; Spencer mss, memo, 16 July 1806, Dalrymple Hamilton to Spencer, 21 May 1807.
  • 6. NLS mss 1, ff. 206-9.
  • 7. NLS Tweeddale mss, box 29F2, canvassing letters; Add. 51644, Lady Holland to Horner, 27 Dec. 1816; NLS mss 2, ff. 15, 17.
  • 8. Tweeddale mss, box 29F2, Tweeddale to Walker, 10 Sept. [1817]; Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 June 1818.