Stirling Burghs


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

Background Information

Stirling (1790, 1812); Inverkeithing (1796, 1818), Dunfermline (1802), Fifeshire; Culross, Perthshire (1806); Queensferry, Linlithgowshire (1807)


4 May 1791 HON. ANDREW JAMES COCHRANE vice Campbell, deceased3
 James Campbell2
 Sir John Henderson, Bt.2
3 May 1797 WILLIAM TAIT vice Cochrane Johnstone, appointed to office 
24 Feb. 1800 HON. ALEXANDER FORRESTER INGLIS COCHRANE vice Tait, deceased3
 Sir John Henderson, Bt.2
  Double return. COCHRANE declared elected, 28 Feb. 1803 
26 Nov. 1806SIR JOHN HENDERSON, Bt.4
 Hon. Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane1
 Sir John Henderson, Bt.2
 Henry Peter Brougham1
 Hon. Francis Ward Primrose2
  Election declared void, 25 Feb. 1819 
 John McTaggart2

Main Article

This district was considered the most unmanageable in Scotland, the burghs switching their allegiance to the highest bidder. William Robertson wrote of them 15 Jan. 1790:

To attack a set of venal burghs in the possession apparently even of another person is always hazardous, and no man ought to embark in such an adventure unless he has made up his mind to being involved in considerable expense.

Sir Archibald Campbell of Inverneil, who had acquired their representation at enormous expense in 1774 and resumed it in 1789 after nine years’ absence in India, during which his brother James kept the seat warm, was a close friend of Henry Dundas. He had alienated Col. James Francis Erskine of Mar, who claimed Campbell’s promise of the reversion of the seat in exchange for past support and was the focus of opposition between 1784 and 1790. He was unable to shake the Campbell hold and although, in 1789, Sir James St. Clair Erskine* and, early in 1790, William Fullarton* were proposed by the Scottish Whigs as potential candidates, nothing came of it. Erskine of Mar acquiesced in Campbell’s unopposed return, though as he afterwards informed Henry Dundas: ‘Sir Archibald would not have carried the last election if I had not considered him more as your friend than my enemy’.1

This was on 14 Dec. 1790 when Erskine, hearing that Campbell was gravely ill, sought Dundas’s support as his successor, which he regarded as his right according to his former pact with Campbell. To his embarrassment he heard soon afterwards that Sir William Erskine of Torrie wished his son to secure the seat, with Dundas’s support, which would frustrate, so he assured Dundas, ‘the only chance I can have of being of any service to my friends, or of testifying my sense of the favours you have conferred upon me’. On 4 Mar. 1791, hearing that Campbell had had another apoplectic stroke, Erskine pressed Dundas for his decision, but was rebuffed by Dundas’s disinclination to anticipate the death of such a close friend as Campbell. When Campbell died, Dundas informed Erskine that he had decided from respect for his memory to support Campbell’s ‘near relation’, his nephew, James Campbell, younger of Tuerechan. In the same letter he added that, the night before, Capt. Andrew Cochrane had announced his candidature to him and, by way of a postscript, queried Erskine’s eligibility for Parliament on account of his pensions. Erskine was disappointed and complained of betrayal by the Campbells, but promised that he would not desert Dundas if he succeeded. Meanwhile Sir William Erskine, who had rallied to young Campbell, reported difficulties to Dundas, 7 Apr. 1791: the county gentlemen disliked the Campbells and could not see ‘why a family so distant in Argyllshire, should have a hereditary right to our boroughs’, to which young Campbell, who was reported to be in India, was a stranger. On the other hand, James Francis Erskine did not have the purse to carry the burghs and Sir William had refused to assist him, despite his pledge never to vote against Dundas while in office. So the only threat was Cochrane, especially if James Francis Erskine joined him.2

Cochrane still hoped that Dundas would prefer him. He had the support of Lord and Lady Hopetoun, of his cousin Sir Charles Preston, 5th Bt., of Valleyfield, who had a strong interest at Culross and Queensferry, of his cousin Sir John Henderson of Fordel, who had secured the provostship of Inverkeithing on the death of Sir Archibald Campbell, and of Allan Maconochie who, on 11 Apr. 1791, reporting Cochrane’s good prospects to Dundas, asked him to refute rumours that Cochrane was in opposition and James Francis Erskine the ministerial candidate. From his sick-bed Dundas replied reproachfully that Campbell alone was the object of his choice, and to Cochrane he wrote to say that only if Campbell desisted could he support him. Maconochie thereupon dropped Cochrane but hinted that it was widely believed that Cochrane would have received Dundas’s support had he not applied too late, and that with ‘almost unanimity’ at Culross and Queensferry and ‘a decided majority’ at Inverkeithing, Cochrane would be difficult to beat. He felt the less compunction about it, in that during the last winter Dundas’s espousing the Campbell cause was thought so unlikely that he had, at the lord advocate’s request, interviewed Sir Charles Preston about his wish for the seat and urged him to look elsewhere because of ‘merely domestic circumstances’. The Campbells’ dilatoriness damaged their prospects. Apart from Inverkeithing and Culross, which he obtained on a second precept of doubtful validity, Cochrane secured Queensferry, where Campbell had a majority, by carrying off two of his supporters. Campbell secured Stirling, the returning burgh, and Dunfermline, which was expected to fall to him but which was instead bestowed on him by James Francis Erskine, who, after deciding that he was himself ineligible for Parliament, allegedly carried off ten councilmen to Alloa House, where they were kept in ‘constant intoxication’ to secure his election as delegate (by 12 votes to ten). A compromise was proposed to divide the Parliament, but it was declined by Cochrane, as well as by his ally Sir John Henderson. Cochrane was returned; James Francis Erskine was snubbed by Dundas and a petition against the return, postponed by the House, was dropped in 1792.3

In 1796 Cochrane, who had meanwhile married Lord Hopetoun’s daughter and assumed the name of Cochrane Johnstone, was the ministerial favourite and was opposed by his cousin Sir John Henderson of Fordel, whose politics were Whig and who had retained control of Inverkeithing. He also obtained, through Henry Erskine*, the support of James Francis Erskine at Dunfermline, after pledging himself to support the repeal of the sedition bills. Cochrane Johnstone was returned on the strength of the other three burghs, but Henderson challenged the commission of delegates for Culross and Queensferry and petitioned against the return. He was toasted for this at Fox’s birthday dinner at Edinburgh in January 1797, but on 30 Mar. the House decided against him. His cause had not been helped by a notorious incident in which six Dunfermline councilmen opposed to his interest had been imprisoned, on the pretext of a riot at Kinghorn, to facilitate the election of his friend William Wemyss of Cuttlehill as delegate. Thus an opportunity hoped for by James Francis Erskine to expose ‘the interference of ministry and the whole court of judiciary’ against Henderson was lost.4

A day after Henderson’s petition failed, a new writ was issued on the appointment of Cochrane Johnstone to a colonial governorship. Dundas sprang his legal agent William Tait on the district, Tait being chosen burgess at Dunfermline on 13 Apr. 1797. There was no effective opposition, though Henderson, as delegate for Inverkeithing, absented himself from the election. On Tait’s death in 1800, Henderson again came forward, against the ministerial candidate, Alexander Cochrane, brother of Andrew Cochrane Johnstone. This time too he was defeated by three to two and nothing came of a threatened petition. Dundas was warned, on the advice of Cochrane’s agent, James Horne, that in future ‘three times at least the sum you once pointed out, will be necessary to carry the seat’, 6 June 1800.5

Dundas declined to come to terms with Henderson, who had an old grudge against him for disappointing his aspirations to a county seat for Fife, and the same opponents contested the election of 1802, from which Addington’s ministry averted its eyes. This time Henderson redoubled his efforts. On 26 June he informed William Adam that the fate of the election depended on Capt. William Elphinstone’s ability to wean a Stirling councilman named Michael Connal from Cochrane:

In Stirling the council is equally divided and the casting vote only against us. In Queensferry I am within one. Inverkeithing and Culross continue irremovably with me. Dunfermline utterly hostile.

Nevertheless Stirling supported Cochrane and by 12 July Henderson, who meanwhile had secured a counter-delegate in his interest, had had to pay £900 for a bankrupt councilman at Queensferry to retain the edge. This manoeuvre was thwarted when Cochrane had one of Henderson’s supporters arrested by Allan Maconochie’s warrant and secured the majority; but on escaping, the arrested man, Arbuckle, gave Henderson the majority on a fresh election. A double return from Queensferry ensued on 12 Aug., the clerk of Dunfermline, as returning officer, leaving the House to decide the issue, though Cochrane’s name was placed on the return, believed to be the first double return from Scotland. The Commons committee decided that it was a double return and not a ‘special’ return. Henderson engaged William Adam* and John Clerk as his counsel, and Cochrane, David Boyle*. The petitions of both candidates were presented and on 28 Feb. 1803 the House decided in Cochrane’s favour, though Henderson had had the satisfaction of exposing Maconochie to ridicule.6

Henderson tried again in 1806, when his prospects were greatly enhanced by his friends being in power: Fox had acted as his nominee in one of his unavailing petitions. By April 1806 Lord Lauderdale reported that, as Henderson was sure of four burghs and the fifth was offered him by Lauderdale’s connexion Lord Breadalbane, he deserved every encouragement government could give him. Dunfermline had just declared unanimously for him, despite a letter to the provost from Cochrane intended to damage Henderson’s prospects. There was some doubt about Cochrane’s standing as he was on active service; his nephew Lord Cochrane arrived with his brother Maj. Basil Cochrane in case of this impediment. Cochrane decided to stand, though unable to attend, further relying on the services of his brother Andrew. An attempt was made by the Cochrane party to discredit Henderson for opposing his cousin german (which Cochrane was) while on active service, but in the event only Culross (where Sir Robert Preston was too appalled at the venality to interfere effectively on Henderson’s behalf) voted for Cochrane. At Queensferry, where the Hopetoun interest was not exerted for Cochrane, Henderson was favoured with 16 votes to 2, but the legality of his supporters’ votes was questioned. His success at Stirling and Inverkeithing was much more questionable and a petition was made against the return by various councilmen, but Henderson discovered an informality in it and the petition was discharged, 16 Apr. 1807. Henderson had maintained that the hostility to him was ‘pointed more against his purse than his political principles’.7

By then Henderson was confident of success at the fresh dissolution, though it had taken him by surprise. He informed William Adam, 28 Mar.: ‘All my four burghs, even including Stirling, remain steady’. He noted that although his late opponent’s brother the nabob Basil Cochrane had promised not to oppose him, the other brother Andrew was again doing so, at the instigation of the lord justice clerk, Charles Hope. So sure was he of re-election, however, that he declined the county. Lord Melville now intervened to substitute his friend Gen. Alexander Campbell of Monzie for Sir Alexander Cochrane, meaning to apply election funds to the purpose. Campbell was in Ireland, but arrived in time for the contest. On 10 May Melville reported, ‘We have totally recovered Stirling’. That burgh had the day before bestowed its freedom on Campbell, who went on to obtain the suffrages of Queensferry and Culross. Lord Cochrane, feeling that Melville had ‘abandoned’ his family ‘after inducing Sir A[lexander] C[ochrane] to spend much money’, tried in revenge to subvert Masterton, the Culross delegate, through his brother Basil, but in vain, and the returning officer at Queensferry rejected a substitute commission from Culross in Henderson’s interest. So reports of another double return proved false. Henderson petitioned, claiming four of the burghs and complaining of a peer’s interference, but on 28 Mar. 1808 Campbell’s return was confirmed by the House. Meanwhile James Horne, the former Cochrane agent, now acting for Campbell, set about recapturing Dunfermline, proposing to enlist the Cochranes’ former ally Sir William Erskine of Torrie.8

By 1810 Gen. Campbell, disappointed of his wish to resume his post as second in command in Scotland and disillusioned by the expense of the burghs, was prepared to wash his hands of them. On 14 Aug. he informed Melville’s son: ‘it will therefore be necessary for government, unless they mean to give up the burghs to Sir John [Henderson], to look out for a successor who, I promise him, will not find it a sinecure’. He was dissuaded from resignation. In the election of 1812 Henderson decided to waive his pretensions. He had carried Culross however, and, although Campbell claimed that he had the other four burghs, was confident that a declared opposition candidate could carry Inverkeithing and Stirling, with the help of William Fleeming Elphinstone; if Inverkeithing failed, Dunfermline must be attacked, so he urged William Adam, 11 Oct. 1812. The candidate Henderson had in mind was Charles Fleeming, who had lost the Stirlingshire election. Adam was sceptical about this notion from the outset and, minimizing his own capacity to assist, advised William Fleeming Elphin-stone that the burghs were not worth the trouble they would give to Charles Fleeming. Elphinstone had already realized that though they might get Culross, two other burghs must be bought to ensure success.9 Lord Lauderdale, having ‘offered the thing to every man of the party in Scotland’ to no avail, eventually put up his brother Gen. Thomas Maitland*, who was chosen delegate for Inverkeithing. Maitland was meanwhile returned for Haddington Burghs and, at Earl Grey’s request, Lauderdale substituted for him Henry Brougham, who had lost his election at Liverpool. Brougham carried Culross, but in Maitland’s unavoidable absence did not obtain the suffrage of Inverkeithing, where Campbell had fetched up a voter from Chatham, though the commission was reserved for Maitland, supported by a seceding minority.10

Brougham was urged to petition against the return on the grounds of the illegality of the vote cast by a non-resident tailor at Stirling, which Campbell had carried by 11 votes to ten. The tailor was a deacon of a trade and not a merchant, in which case his vote would certainly have been invalid. Brougham maintained that though law and fact might support him (which, with the dim view he took of the legal opinion of John Clerk of Eldin, the current Whig manager in Scotland, he doubted), the petition would only lead to a counter-petition against the Inverkeithing commission. Besides, he disliked the prospect of spending £500 p.a. as Member for the burghs. He offered, instead, to back up an electors’ petition. Lauderdale, who was ready to foot the bill for petitioning, accepted Clerk of Eldin’s view that the odds were 20 to one in favour of Brougham. Brougham had the last laugh when Clerk and his Edinburgh cronies changed their minds and agreed that the case for petition was doubtful, and when an electors’ petition, submitted to his scrutiny, arrived a day too late to be implemented. The whole business illustrated, in Lord Rosslyn’s view, the generation gap between the antediluvian Whigs and the Edinburgh Review Whigs in Scotland.11

In August 1817, it being understood that Gen. Campbell would retire at the dissolution, Lord Melville was lobbied by Col. John McLeod on behalf of John Campbell of Blairhall, a wealthy East India merchant, who desired to contest his native district with ministerial support. Robert Hutton, writer in Dunfermline, acted as his agent. His opponent had already emerged in the person of Francis Ward Primrose, younger brother of Lord Rosebery, the provost of Queensferry, and he was at pains to emphasize his independence of government. Before he died in December 1817 Sir John Henderson bestowed Culross on Primrose, who also secured Inverkeithing. Campbell secured Stirling and Dunfermline, both amenable to ministerial management, despite ‘a disposition to riot’ at the latter. It was Queensferry that was most keenly contested. Twelve councillors had declared for Campbell in advance and he secured the delegate by 11 votes to seven: but a delegate was sent to Inverkeithing in Primrose’s interest and, on his petition, the election was declared void by the committee of the House, which on 25 Feb. 1819 decided by ten votes to two that Campbell had been guilty of bribery.12

Thus thwarted, Campbell nursed his grievances, while in the fresh election Primrose was opposed by John McTaggart of Ardwell, Wigtown, a wealthy London banker. He proved a feeble candidate, whose ‘want of zeal to canvass personally’, even with the assistance of the former Member Sir Alexander Cochrane, lost him the burgh of Stirling by three votes and with it the seat. Lord Advocate Maconochie, who was blamed for this fiasco, would have preferred ‘McLeod of Harris’ as the ministerial candidate. McTaggart petitioned, but the House found for Primrose, 12 May. The Scotsman commented that this was

the only instance in the memory of man in which this district has returned to Parliament a Member opposed by the administration of the day. Yet on this occasion and the general election last July, the Treasury influence was most liberally exerted.

McTaggart declined to renew the struggle, and although Campell was plotting revenge it was not he who regained the seat from the Whigs at the election of 1820. By then the expense of carrying the burghs was thought so great that ministers hesitated to encourage any man to embark on it. On 24 Feb. 1820 George Abercromby informed Lord Melville: ‘The Stirling burghs may be had at an easier rate than for many years past, but they are a sad set and I pity the man who has anything to do with them’.13

Authors: D. G. Henry / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. N. Riding RO, Zetland mss ZNK X2/1/600, 667; Ginter, Whig Organization, 125, 149; SRO GD51/1/198/26/1.
  • 2. SRO GD51/1/198/10/15, 16, 18-21.
  • 3. NLS mss 1053, f. 7; SRO GD51/1/198/10/23, 25-27, 29-32, 39; GD46/17/7, Cochrane to Stewart, 12, 14, 24 Apr., 5 May 1791; CJ, xlvi. 567; xlvii. 27; xlviii. 50.
  • 4. Blair Adam mss, Sir J. Henderson to Adam, 28 Sept., [30 Sept.] 1794, Erskine to Adam, 1 July, 22 Aug.; Edinburgh Advertiser, 31 May-3 June, 10-14, 14-17, 17-21, 24-28 June 1796; Morning Chron. 31 Jan. 1797; CJ, lii. 22, 441; J. Kay, Edinburgh Portraits, ii. 254.
  • 5. H. Furber, Henry Dundas, 268-9; The Times, 3 Mar. 1800; NLS mss 8, f. 106.
  • 6. Furber, 276; Sidmouth mss, Montrose to Addington, 13 July; Blair Adam mss, Henderson to Adam, 26 June, 12, 28 July, 15 Aug., Mary Loch to same, 14 July; Edinburgh Advertiser, 13-16 July, 30 July-2 Aug., 6-10, 13-17 Aug. 1802; CJ, lviii. 50, 209, 216; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections, i. 1; Brougham and his Early Friends, ii. 41.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, Lauderdale to Grenville, 18 Apr.; Blair Adam mss, Henderson to Adam, 6 Sept., Sir R. Preston to same, 20 Sept.; Edinburgh Advertiser, 8-11 Apr., 28-31 Oct., 31 Oct.-4 Nov., 4-7, 11-14, 14-18, 25-28 Nov.; Caledonian Mercury, 10 Nov. 1806; CJ, lxii. 28, 41, 347.
  • 8. Blair Adam mss, Henderson to Adam, Tues. 28 [Mar.], Innes to same, 5 May, Keith to same, 25 May; SRO GD51/1/195/27; 51/1/198/10/61; 51/1/198/27/4, 6, 7; NLS, Melville mss (Acc. 6409), Melville to Saunders Dundas, 12 May; Edinburgh Advertiser, 8-12, 12-15, 19-22 May, 2-5 June; Edinburgh Evening Courant, 1 June; Morning Chron. 5 June 1807; CJ, lxii. 637; lxiii. 22, 217.
  • 9. SRO GD51/1/752/9; Blair Adam mss, W. F. Elphinstone to Adam, Tues. [29 Sept.] [10 Oct.], reply 16 Oct., Henderson to same, 11 Oct., reply; Edinburgh Advertiser, 13 Oct. 1812.
  • 10. Add. 51691, Lauderdale to Holland, Sat.; 51826, Stair to Holland, 17 Nov.; SRO GD51/2/458; Edinburgh Advertiser, 3 Nov. 1812.
  • 11. Blair Adam mss, Sandilands to Adam, 31 Oct.; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, [Nov.], 25 Nov., 17 Dec.; Grey mss, Rosslyn to Grey, 18, 27 Dec. 1812, 1 Jan. 1813.
  • 12. NLS mss 1054, ff. 147, 151; SRO GD51/1/198/10/71, 72; 51/1/198/26/33, 34, 38; Edinburgh Advertiser, 23, 26 June 1818; CJ, lxxiv. 26, 161; Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary, 25 Feb. 1819.
  • 13. NLS mss 10, ff. 124, 126; 1054, ff. 168, 170; Morning Chron. 11 Mar. 1819; SRO GD 51/1/198/26/36, 38, 40, 42; CJ, lxxiv. 330, 439; The Scotsman, no. 115.