Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of enrolled freeholders:

37 in 1820; 36 in 1826; 49 in 1830


25 Mar. 1820JAMES DUFF, Earl Fife [I] 
29 June 1826JAMES DUFF, Earl Fife [I]16
 John Morison11
 MORISON vice Fife, on petition, 2 Apr. 1827 
10 Aug. 1830JOHN MORISON 
19 May 1831JOHN MORISON20
 George Ferguson13

Main Article

Banffshire’s agriculture was dominated by sheep and cattle rearing, and oats was the chief arable crop. Fishing, whisky distilling and some small-scale textile manufacturing were other sources of employment. Its royal burghs were the coastal towns of Banff and Cullen. The other significant settlements were Aberchider, Dufftown and Keith and the small ports of Buckie, Macduff and Portsoy.1 The dominant electoral interest was that of the Irish peer James Duff, 4th Earl Fife, lord lieutenant since 1813 and Member since 1818, when he had replaced Robert Abercromby, the eldest son of Sir George Abercromby of Birkenbog. The ambitious and quixotic Fife was appointed a lord of the bedchamber by his personal friend the prince regent in January 1819. The 70-year-old Tory 4th duke of Gordon and his son the marquess of Huntly† (Lord Gordon in the British peerage from 1807) had a significant interest, and there were a number of resident proprietors with a stake.2

Fife chaired the county meeting which unanimously voted a loyal address to the regent in the aftermath of Peterloo, 25 Nov. 1819, when 69 men were present and Sir George Abercromby took a leading role.3 He nominated and Sir Harry Lumsden of Auchindoir, Aberdeenshire, seconded Fife at his unopposed return at the general election of 1820.4 Fife was dismissed from his household place for voting against the Liverpol ministry for repeal of the additional malt duty in March 1821. The noblemen, freeholders, heritors, justices and commissioners of supply petitioned the Commons for the free export of Scottish spirits to England, 29 Apr., and fish curers of the county did so for repeal of the salt tax, 17 June 1822.5 Those involved in the herring fishery petitioned the Commons for reduction of the duty on imported oak barrel staves, 24 June 1823.6 Farmers and landholders petitioned the Commons against relaxation of the corn laws in 1825.7 The inhabitants of Macduff and Portsoy petitioned for the abolition of slavery, 6 Mar. 1826, and that session there was petitioning of both Houses from several places against interference with the Scottish banking system.8

In early April 1825 John Morison of Auchintoul, a native of Aberdeenshire who had bought his Banffshire estate with the profits of his business as a Baltic merchant at Riga, announced that he would stand for the county at the next election. He tried to have Fife expunged from the roll by the court of session, but failed and was found liable for costs.9 At the time of the dissolution in June 1826 Fife was in line for a British peerage, and it was initially thought that this would relieve him of the necessity of personally meeting Morison’s challenge and that he would put up his brother General Alexander Duff*. In the event, however, his promotion was postponed, and he and Morison, who gave no indication of his political views, fought it out. Twenty-six men attended the election meeting, 29 June, when Morison unsuccessfully objected to Fife’s election as praeses, which was proposed by Sir George Abercromby, while Colonel Francis Grant, Tory Member for neighbouring Elginshire and acting head of his clan, nominated George Macpherson Grant* of Ballindalloch, on the ground that Fife was ineligible as a peer. Nine claims for enrolment (two in Fife’s interest, seven in Morison’s) were considered. One of Fife’s claimants withdrew on account of a defective title, but the other was admitted under protest by a majority vote. All Morison’s claimants were rejected. Fife was nominated by Admiral John Maitland of Baldavie, who praised his ‘independent conduct’ on the malt duty and alleged that there was a ‘combination’ against him, and Abercromby. Colonel Grant and Sir John Innes of Balvenie sponsored Morison, whose previously rejected votes were again tendered under protest, but not accepted. Fife secured a majority of five in a poll of 26. At his celebration dinner he claimed that a ‘clannish’ opposition had been raised against him.10 Morison petitioned, 4 Dec. 1826, alleging ‘gross partiality’ by Fife as praeses and claiming a majority of legal votes. Fife meanwhile took legal action against four of Morison’s disputed votes: two were rejected and two validated by the court of session, 9 Mar. 1827. The election committee decided in favour of Morison, 2 Apr. 1827.11 Fife received his British peerage three weeks later.

The county’s Farmers’ Club petitioned the Lords against further relaxation of the corn laws, 13 Feb. 1827, and a county meeting in March petitioned both Houses for enhanced protection for oats and barley.12 Macduff and Portsoy fish curers petitioned the Commons for continuance of the bounties, 12 May 1828, 5 June 1829, and the inhabitants of those towns did so for the abolition of slavery, 4 July 1828.13 The Catholics of Aberchider and Portsoy petitioned the Commons in favour of emancipation, which Morison, who was otherwise a virtual cipher in Parliament, supported, 2 Apr. 1829.14 At the county’s annual meeting, 30 Apr. 1830, Sir George Abercromby retired as convener and was replaced by Colonel Thomas Gordon of Park. The meeting condemned the proposed additional duty on corn spirits and instructed Morison to oppose it.15 He did not, but at the general election of 1830 he was returned unopposed.16

The inhabitants of Portsoy petitioned both Houses for the abolition of slavery in February 1831.17 Agriculturists of the lower districts petitioned the Lords, 22 Mar., and the Commons, 23 Mar., in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme.18 Morison abstained from the division on the second reading of the English reform bill, 22 Mar., and thereby infuriated Colonel Grant, its opponent, and Macpherson Grant and his son John, who favoured it. The last, who subsequently spoke to Morison in London, believed that he was afraid of offending both sides and had proved his unfitness for the representation. He urged his father to consider standing at the next election.19 At a county meeting called to petition in favour of the Scottish reform bill, Morison’s only son Alexander, a non-practising English barrister, moved the resolutions.20 In the second week of April, George Ferguson† of Pitfour, Aberdeenshire, a naval officer and nephew of James Ferguson*, who had sat for Banffshire, 1789-90, announced his candidature for the next election. Morison, who avoided the division on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr., confirmed his intention of standing again.21 John Macpherson Grant told his father that Ferguson ‘does not state what his politics are to be’, but ‘from his being the duke of Gordon’s man’ (Huntly had succeeded as 5th duke in 1827) considered it ‘very evident that he will be a[n] Ultra Tory and anti-reformer’:

There is no discovering what Morison’ sentiments are, or rather he may be said to have none; but I dare say if Pitfour gets the duke’s support and perhaps Colonel Grant’s ... [Morison] may be inclined to start his son on the opposite side on the faith of his heading the petition at the late meeting. It is a great pity that no better person of liberal and fair views could be got. Morison is a perfect cipher. His son is indolent and careless, and Pitfour will be an ultra-going duke’s man. By joining the Fife party we might ... return a proper Member: yourself, for instance, would have an excellent chance of success. I shall certainly pledge myself to neither ... at present; and I know that Colonel Grant has given no promise to Pitfour.22

When Parliament was dissolved, 22 Apr., Morison and Ferguson declared themselves, but remained coy as to their politics.23 Five days later George Macpherson Grant replied to John:

I take the same view as you do as to the possibility of government securing Banffshire through the influence of Lord Fife’s party, had they looked out for a good man. But I find ... from Robert Abercromby that he and his father are to support Morison against Pitfour, though Abercromby has written him a sad tirade as to his not voting ... on the great question. My own determination at present is not to commit myself to either party. I do not feel satisfied with the manner in which the one discharged his duties, and I am ignorant of the course which the other will pursue on ... reform ... As a supporter of the measure ... it is a question whether one should not prefer returning a Member who will pledge himself not to vote against rather than one who will decidedly oppose it, while for the credit of the county one must be averse to support[ing] an inefficient and undecided representative ... If you had wished to be in Parliament I should have been well pleased to see you proposed for Banffshire; but as to myself I feel that neither my health nor my private concerns would admit of the sacrifice.24

On 4 May Morison wrote to The Times, which that day described him as being ‘against’ reform and Ferguson ‘in favour’, claiming to be ‘decidedly in favour of it’, citing his son’s role at the county meeting and suggesting that Ferguson was ‘adverse to the bill, as the party by whom he is supported are hostile to it’. Ferguson responded next day with a comment on Morison’s failure to vote on the reform bill and portraying himself as ‘a reformer ... prepared anxiously to consider the probable effects of every clause’.25 Thirty-four freeholders attended the election meeting, 19 May. Maitland and Ferguson proposed Gordon of Park as praeses, which was unanimously carried. John Macpherson Grant’s brother James and Thomas Alexander Fraser of Lovat, supporters of Morison, were added to the roll. In the election proceedings, Morison was nominated by Robert Duff of Auchinderran and John Macpherson Grant, who professed to be ‘sure’ that he would support reform. Ferguson was sponsored by Sir James Duff of Kinstair and Patrick Steuart of Auchlunkart, who accused Morison of neglecting his duty as Member, derided his sudden ‘conversion’ to reform and predicted that he would slavishly support ministers, and described Ferguson as a sensible reformer friendly towards an extension of the franchise designed to give property its due stake in the constitution. Under questioning from Archibald Duff of Towie, Morison insisted that he approved of many of the essential details of the government’s scheme. Ferguson duly expressed support for an extension of the franchise, the abolition of unwarranted pensions and assistance for the deserving poor. Morison defeated Ferguson by seven votes in a poll of 33, with James Rose Innes of Netherdale abstaining.26 He supported the reform bills, though his attendance remained spasmodic. A meeting of Banffshire landholders petitioned the Commons against the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 30 Aug., and the inhabitants of Keith petitioned the Lords in support of reform, 6 Oct. 1831.27

Morison retired from Parliament at the dissolution in December 1832, and at the general election, when Banffshire had 560 registered electors, Ferguson, standing as a Conservative, easily beat the Liberal Gordon of Park in a poll of 423.28 Fife’s Liberal nephew and eventual successor James Duff defeated Ferguson in 1837, and the county remained a Liberal stronghold for the rest of the century.29

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), i. 122-4.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 522; Add. 38284, f. 81.
  • 3. Aberdeen Jnl. 1 Dec. 1819.
  • 4. Ibid. 29 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. CJ, lxxvii. 215, 351.
  • 6. Ibid. lxxviii. 420.
  • 7. Ibid. lxxx. 379, 391.
  • 8. Ibid. lxxxi. 129, 176, 211, 301; LJ, lviii. 81, 113, 155.
  • 9. Aberdeen Jnl. 20 Apr. 1825, 14 Mar. 1827.
  • 10. Caledonian Mercury, 8, 10, 17, 22 June, 3, 6 July; Aberdeen Jnl. 14, 21, 28 June, 5 July 1826.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxii. 70, 361, 363, 378; Caledonian Mercury, 5 Apr. 1827.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxii. 375; LJ, lix. 68, 210.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxiii. 340, 502; lxxxiv. 387.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxiv. 192; Aberdeen Jnl. 25 Mar., 1 Apr. 1829.
  • 15. Aberdeen Jnl. 5 May 1830.
  • 16. Macpherson Grant mss 690, Morison to G. Macpherson Grant, 7 July; Aberdeen Jnl. 11 Aug. 1830.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxvi. 222; LJ, lxiii. 199-200.
  • 18. LJ, lxiii. 352; CJ, lxxxvi. 423.
  • 19. Macpherson Grant mss 361, J. to G. Macpherson Grant, 2/4 Apr. 1831.
  • 20. The Times, 5 May 1831; CJ, lxxxvi 5; LJ, lxiii. 45.
  • 21. Aberdeen Jnl. 13, 20, 27 Apr. 1831.
  • 22. Macpherson Grant mss 361, J. to G. Macpherson Grant, 19 Apr. 1831.
  • 23. Inverness Courier, 4 May 1831.
  • 24. Macpherson Grant mss 118.
  • 25. The Times, 4-6 May 1831.
  • 26. Caledonian Mercury, 23 May; Aberdeen Jnl. 25 May 1831.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxvi. 795; LJ, lxiii. 1067.
  • 28. Inverness Courier, 27 June, 26 Dec. 1832.
  • 29. Scottish Electoral Politics, 220, 234, 246, 249.