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:

72 in 1790, 68 in 1811, 64 in 1817


16 July 1790WILLIAM ADAM 
1 May 1794 FRANCIS HUMBERSTON MACKENZIE vice Adam, vacated his seat 
28 Nov. 1809 HUGH INNES vice Mackenzie Fraser, deceased23
 Sir Charles Lockhart Ross, Bt.19
 Sir Charles Lockhart Ross, Bt.12
25 Oct. 1814 CHARLES MACKENZIE FRASER vice Mackenzie, deceased 
 Alexander Fraser23

Main Article

The dominant interest in Ross-shire was that of the earls of Seaforth, restored to supremacy in 1784 and subsequently strengthened through further creations of life-rent votes by the Whig Francis Humberston Mackenzie, chief of the clan. In 1788 Lawrence Hill credited Seaforth with 24 votes under direct control and estimated that he could probably rely on a further 20. His most likely antagonists were thought to be David Ross, SCJ (Lord Ankerville); James Stuart Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, lord privy seal of Scotland; and Kenneth Mackenzie, heir of John Mackenzie of Cromarty (‘Lord Macleod’), a cousin of Henry Dundas whom Seaforth had defeated in 1784.1

Seaforth decided not to seek re-election himself and offered the seat at the next election to William Adam, the Whig man of business. He was sure of success but not of a quiet election, until Adam was able to confirm the allegiance of the sheriff, Donald Macleod of Geanies, by procuring an Indian writership for his son through the Prince of Wales, thereby thwarting Dundas’s attempts to win him over. Early in 1790 Mackenzie of Cromarty tried to assert his claims, but Seaforth, who saw behind his move ‘the workings of the great Leviathan Harry the 9th’, dismissed his pretensions as ‘ridiculous’, as he had only succeeded to the Cromarty estates the previous April. In his view, both Sir Hugh Munro of Foulis and Charles Lockhart Ross of Balnagown, nephew of Dundas’s son-in-law Robert Dundas, the lord advocate, were ‘much better entitled to expect the seat’. Although Seaforth suspected Lockhart Ross’s father Sir John (who died a month before the election) of scheming against him and persistent ‘surmises and whispers’ of opposition prompted him and Adam to muster the ‘most powerful and reputable attendance’ possible, the election went off quietly. In view of the recent House of Lords ruling against ‘parchment barons’, Seaforth made sure that Adam’s qualification was legally sound, but he thought that the effects of the judgment might damage his interest in the long term.2

Seaforth told Adam, 28 Feb. 1791, that ‘Sir Hugh and the Munros are making a push in the county but will miss’. The ‘very serious attack’ which he reported to be ‘brewing’, 24 Sept., he considered by 9 Oct. to have been effectively repelled. Yet Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Coul, for one, was unhappy with the ‘foolish ideas of chieftaincy, long since abandoned by men of sense’, by which Seaforth seemed to set so much store:

The present Member is personally in character and fortune very eligible, but still he is a foreigner without connection or property in the county. Nor do I esteem the mode of his introduction to reflect much honour upon the independent freeholders ... A chieftain willed it, and Mr Adam was elected to please him. I hope Seaforth will not repeat this experiment, and thereby expose the nakedness of Ross-shire.3

Although Seaforth supported the French war and Adam remained loyal to Fox, he waved aside Adam’s offer to surrender the seat in 1793. He accepted it the following year, when Adam thought he was sure of an alternative berth at Banbury. In the event this eluded him, but Seaforth, though uncomfortable ‘at the idea of forcing’ Adam ‘out of Parliament’, felt obliged to implement the change and came in himself.4

Some months before the dissolution of 1796 Seaforth, aware that he was to receive a peerage (he became Lord Seaforth in 1797) had decided to retire from the Commons. When Mackenzie of Cromarty reminded him of an earlier conversation concerning his desire to enter Parliament, Seaforth stated that he had no objection to his coming in, provided he could win the seat on his own bottom, but rejected the implied assertion that he was obliged to give him a personal endorsement. He told Cromarty that he was to be made a peer, and went on:

I have more than once spoken of you to Mr Dundas ... and on this prospect of a vacancy I proposed you to him ... till lately I had little reason to think Sir Charles [Lockhart Ross] looked northward ... All I know is that Mr Dundas had stated to me strongly that Sir Charles’ representing Ross-shire would be a great accommodation to him and upon every consideration of common-sense and common gratitude I feel myself bound to support his wishes.

The hope of Charles Mackenzie of Kilcoy, that the Mackenzies would unanimously support Lockhart Ross to show ‘that they wish to forget the old dissensions and feuds twixt the East [Cromarty] and West [Seaforth] ends of the county’, was realized, but there were signs that some members of the clan had misgivings about the arrangement.5

In 1800 Seaforth was appointed governor of Barbados, but before he left Britain, Dundas secured Lockhart Ross’s re-election for Ross-shire in 1802 by ceding the Cromartyshire seat to Seaforth for his brother-in-law Alexander Mackenzie Fraser. Cromartyshire was not due to return a Member at the next election, and in April 1805 Mackenzie Fraser warned Lockhart Ross that he intended to stand for Ross-shire. Although Lockhart Ross was accommodated at Linlithgow Burghs in 1806, he also canvassed Ross-shire, where he had earlier been suspected of ‘working underground to secure himself’ against Mackenzie Fraser, but did not go to a poll. Seaforth’s complaints to Melville of his kinsman’s vexatious behaviour in the county and in Tain Burghs were met with a plea that he was not responsible for Sir Charles’s actions, together with a general expression of goodwill. Mackenzie Fraser was re-elected in 1807, but again Lockhart Ross canvassed against him and drew back only at the last minute. Later in the year the baronet asked Melville—though with what success is not known—for an unspecified favour, by which ‘my future success in this county will be secured’.6

When Mackenzie Fraser died in 1809, Lockhart Ross solicited Melville’s support and, professing confidence in his success, ruled out acceptance of any compromise which Seaforth might offer in order to safeguard the seat for his son when he came of age in 1812. His agent James Horne asked Melville to use his influence with Seaforth on Sir Charles’s behalf, but Melville refused. As he explained to Robert Dundas:

You will recollect the letter from Lord Seaforth ... expressive of his unalterable attachment and adherence to me, which ... would render it impossible for me to take any active part against him ... and the utmost length I could go would be a non-interference of any kind ... This to Sir Charles Ross would perhaps be a matter of no moment, as in fact I have no interest whatever in Ross-shire. I have however a sincere regard for Sir Charles Ross, and should be extremely sorry if he involved himself in an enterprise of this kind ... he certainly ought to consider well before he runs his head against so formidable an opponent. It has always struck me that during the life of this Lord Seaforth Sir Charles has not the chance of beating that powerful clan.

Undeterred, Lockhart Ross told Melville that as he had a genuine following in the county, composed of ‘almost three-quarters of the landed property’, on some of whom Seaforth had ‘recently vented his spleen’, he had no qualms about persevering. Portraying himself as the champion of the ‘independent’, anti-Seaforth interest, he argued that any obligations he was under as a result of his former tenure of the seat were to Melville rather than to Seaforth. Seaforth, who deeply resented Lockhart Ross’s recent conduct, rejected his request for support, but his assertion that he was bound in the interests of his son ‘to keep the door open for another turn’ seems to have been meant as a hint that he was willing to compromise. Although Sir Charles returned a defiant answer he later tried, through Horne, to persuade Melville to represent to Seaforth that it would be in his long-term interests not to obstruct his return. Horne, professedly on his own initiative, additionally told Melville that Lockhart Ross was in a strong position and that Seaforth had been ‘hunting over the county for a candidate’, finally pitching upon Hugh Innes, a London merchant, who had bought an estate from him. He maintained that Sir Charles’s hostility to compromise reflected the views of his supporters rather than his own inclinations, and suggested that Melville could settle matters by proposing his unopposed return, on the understanding that he would cede the seat to young Seaforth when he came of age, and that while he sat for the county he would place his interest in Tain Burghs at Seaforth’s disposal, provided that the compliment was returned when he vacated. When Melville wrote to Seaforth he admitted his embarrassment, but said that he had reason to believe that ‘if I had interfered I might have been an instrument of forming a political connexion betwixt your family and Sir Charles Ross, not prejudicial to the honour or interest of either’. Seaforth agreed, but replied that Lockhart Ross’s flat rejection of a compromise, offered through Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch, had given him no choice but to safeguard his son’s prospects. He dismissed Sir Charles’s alleged claim that he would have parleyed had not Seaforth’s enemy Sir George Mackenzie of Coul threatened to desert him if he did so. In a bid to keep the door open for an accommodation, Melville laid Horne’s full proposal before Seaforth, though he clearly felt that Lockhart Ross’s strength had been exaggerated and that it was unrealistic to try to involve the burghs in the arrangement. Seaforth would have none of it: the baronet had spurned a fair offer, had no chance of winning the county either then or in the near future, when several new Seaforth votes would come on the roll, and could not reasonably expect Seaforth to hamstring himself in Tain Burghs. Two weeks before the election, Lockhart Ross wrote to Melville denying the story of his bargain with Sir George Mackenzie, complaining that it was being put about that Melville and government were hostile to him and asking him to intervene as an umpire. It was too late, and Innes was returned by four votes, though it was claimed on behalf of Lockhart Ross that his supporters were ‘by far the most independent and respectable in point of fortune’.7

On 27 Nov. 1810 Seaforth, who sided with opposition on the Regency question, asked Adam to ascertain whether a Whig ministry would support or oppose him in Ross-shire:

The only antagonists I can have are Sir C. Ross and Sir G. Mackenzie. The first I will beat do what he can and if favoured I shall distance him out of sight, for his party is very rattish ... as to Sir George you and I and Sir C. Ross together could not bring him in for Ross-shire.

In 1812 Innes made way for Seaforth’s son and Lockhart Ross’s renewed challenge was comfortably held off. On William Mackenzie’s death in 1814 Seaforth returned his nephew Charles Mackenzie Fraser. Seaforth died without surviving male issue in 1815 and his estates and interest passed to his daughter Mary, widow of Sir Samuel Hood*, who in May 1817 married James Alexander Stewart (afterwards Stewart Mackenzie) of Glasserton, Wigtown, reputed to be ‘a violent oppositionist’.8

In April 1817 Thomas Mackenzie, younger of Applecross, who had come to the fore in the county since taking charge of the extensive family estates, announced his intention of standing at the next election. His ‘independent’ line was overtly hostile to the Seaforth interest. Both Sir Alexander Muir Mackenzie of Delvin and Colin Mackenzie of Kilcoy commended him to Robert Dundas and the 2nd Lord Melville as deserving ministerial support. He was opposed by Alexander Fraser of Inchcoulter, a relative newcomer to the county who had bought his stake in it with the proceeds of his partnership in the Bristol-based West India trading house of Evan Baillie* and James Evan Baillie*. The Baillies had an electoral interest in Inverness Burghs and landed property and business concerns in their native northern Scotland. Mrs Stewart Mackenzie backed Fraser, possibly with a view to his acting as locum until her husband had established a following in the county, but mismanagement and serious financial difficulties, which encouraged rumours that the Seaforth estates would have to be sold, hampered their cause, and they discovered that Applecross had already secured engagements from several prominent members of the clan.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Avoch, for example, told Mrs Stewart Mackenzie that by espousing Fraser her husband was overturning the uniform practice of her predecessors and jeopardizing the unity of the Seaforth interest. She replied that the decision had been hers alone, and argued that Applecross’s hostility, contrasted with Fraser’s attachment to her late brother, invalidated such considerations. At the 1817 freeholders’ meeting both candidates declared their adherence to government, although Fraser was widely believed to have favoured parliamentary reform in recent years. Melville declined to interfere on either side.9

In the ensuing canvass Applecross, who apparently had the good wishes of the sitting Member, continued to draw most of his support from the Mackenzies, while Fraser was backed by Innes, Henry Davidson of Tulloch, Hugh Rose of Glastullich, William Robertson of Kindeace and Duncan Munro of Culcairn, all of whom had West Indian or mercantile connexions. Innes alleged that the Duke of Atholl had interfered on behalf of Applecross, whose candidature he believed to have originated in a ‘London conspiracy’ in which the sitting Member might have been implicated, and maintained that the government’s neutrality had not harmed Fraser’s cause. Another of Mrs Stewart Mackenzie’s correspondents stated that Melville’s cousin William Dundas* was a sympathizer and that Fraser would have ministerial support, notwithstanding Melville’s declaration; but Mackenzie of Kilcoy, who saw the contest as one ‘between the landed interest and a West India interest’, confronted William Dundas with this rumour and appears to have been assured of his strict neutrality. At the same time, Innes reported in May 1818 that Melville had responded satisfactorily to his inquiries as to how much countenance government would give Stewart Mackenzie’s claims to a fair share in county patronage, especially when told that reports of the impending sale of the Seaforth estates were false. Fraser’s optimism of August 1817 evaporated and in June 1818 he confessed in private that his only hope lay in capturing the uncommitted or in desertions from the other side. Applecross, who received the votes of 19 Mackenzies to his opponent’s four, took the election by six votes.10

Fraser and the Stewart Mackenzies sought to increase their strength for the next election and prepared a number of new votes; but late in 1819 Mackenzie of Kilcoy successfully asked Melville to secure for Applecross the open support of government:

my conviction ... is that he cannot be shaken out of his seat, unless an alliance which is whispered to be now negotiating take place between those who dissent from his political sentiments and the party who supported Mr Fraser at the last election on an understanding for dividing the Parliament between Mr Fraser and a Member of Whig principles. Stewart Mackenzie has no influence beyond a very few votes ... but he will join any party against the present Member from pure spite. The party to which I allude is composed of a set of West India merchants ... who are evidently combined in the endeavour by dint of wealth, buying estates and votes, creating life rents etc. to convert the county of Ross into an apanage of the West India interest ... Several of the parties concerned and still more some of the new freeholders ... would shrink from the contest if the present Member were known to possess the declared wishes of government in his favour.11

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, pp. 294-301.
  • 2. Ginter, Whig Organization, 118-19, 123, 181; Blair Adam mss, Seaforth to Adam, 20 Jan., 26 Feb., 20 May, Adam to Seaforth [Feb.], to J. Adam, 27 Mar., [3] May, to Ankerville, 7 July, Macleod to Adam [Mar.], A. Mackenzie to same. 8 June, Erskine to same, 5 July 1790.
  • 3. Blair Adam mss; Add. 39195, f. 41.
  • 4. Blair Adam mss, Adam to Seaforth, 12 Feb., replies 26 Feb. 1793, 31 Mar., 10 May 1794; SRO GD46/4/119/2; NLS mss 11138, f. 63.
  • 5. SRO GD46/4/119/3, 5, 7.
  • 6. Blair Adam mss, Lockhart Ross to Adam, 24 Mar. 1802, 12 Apr. 1805, 27 Apr. 1807; NLS mss 1, f. 107; 1001, f. 91; 1053, f. 126; 9370, f. 110; Add. 39196, ff. 163, 169, 178-81, 186; Edinburgh Advertiser, 24-28 Apr. 1807.
  • 7. NLS mss 1054, ff. 21-67 passim; SRO GD46/4/4/4; Bristol Univ. Lib. Pinney mss, Watson to Baillie, 16 Nov. 1809.
  • 8. Blair Adam mss; Edinburgh Advertiser, 13, 20 Oct., 10 Nov. 1812; SRO GD51/1/198/23/6.
  • 9. SRO GD46/4/120/3, 39, 40; 46/17/47, W. Mackenzie to Mrs Stewart Mackenzie, 26, 28 May; 46/17/48, Young to Stewart Mackenzie, 18 June 1817; GD51/1/198/23/5-7; Add. 39192, f. 172.
  • 10. SRO GD46/4/120/7, 27, 49, 53, 57, 59, 83; NLS mss 1496, f. 144; The Late Elections (1818), 457; Edinburgh Advertiser, 19, 30 June, 14 July; Inverness Jnl. 10, 17 July 1818.
  • 11. SRO GD46/4/122, Innes to Mrs Stewart Mackenzie, 10 Feb. 1819; GD51/5/749/1, p. 170; NLS mss 1054, f. 174.