Dumfries Burghs


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

Background Information

Annan (1820), Lochmaben (1826), Sanquhar (1830), Dumfries (1831), all in Dumfriesshire; Kirkcudbright in the Stewartry (not the returning burgh in this period)


8 Mar. 1822DOUGLAS re-elected after appointment to office 
4 Mar. 1824DOUGLAS re-elected after appointment to office 
 Matthew Sharpe2

Main Article

The ‘well-built’ county town and port of Dumfries, 92 miles south-east of Glasgow, was situated on the left bank of the River Nith, which separated it from Maxwelltown in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Its population (burgh only) rose from 5,255 in 1821 to 5,883 in 1831. Its council of 25, who received a charter of confirmation in 1827, comprised 18 merchant councillors and the representatives of seven incorporated trades, all generally resident in Dumfries or Maxwelltown, the customary venue for radical mass meetings refused by the provost and magistrates of Dumfries. The annual town debt amounted to over £1,500 by 1820 and the termination of loans in 1827 and 1830 forced the council to dispose of much of its property. The district’s newspapers, the rival Whig Dumfries and Galloway Courier and Tory Dumfries Weekly Journal, were both published in the town.1 Annan, situated on the Solway Firth, 15 miles east-south-east of Dumfries, was described by the 1831 boundary commissioners as ‘clean, neat and very thriving’ with an extensive coastal trade in livestock and bacon for Liverpool, London and Newcastle. Its harbour was greatly improved in this period by the largest employer, the London merchant and local cotton manufacturer John Irving*, the purchaser in 1817 of the Newbie estate. The population (burgh and parish) rose from 4,486 in 1821 to 5,033 in 1831. It had a large burgh debt, no guildry and a ‘self-perpetuating council of 21’, who in 1822 were all resident.2 The declining textile town of Lochmaben, set ‘amid a perfect cordon of lakes’ eight miles north-east of Dumfries and 13 north-north-west of Annan, was described by the boundary commissioners as a place with ‘a few stocking looms’ and ‘little prospect of improvement’. Its population (burgh and parish) was 2,651 in 1821 and 2,795 in 1831. The council of 15 had a history of debts and advantageous property sales to councillors, who in 1822 were all resident within two miles of the burgh.3 The 5th duke of Buccleuch’s seat at Drumlanrig dominated the post town of Sanquhar on the Ayr-Kilmarnock road, approximately 26 miles east-south-east of Dumfries. It had five incorporated trades, but no industry and revenue of only £60 in 1832. The population (burgh only) was 1,357 in 1821 and 1,527 in 1831 and its council numbered 17, of whom only seven were resident in 1822.4 Kirkcudbright, the ‘compactly built’ county town of the Stewartry, where the interest of the earls of Selkirk predominated, was situated on the left bank of the River Dee near its junction with the Solway Firth, 30 miles south-west of Dumfries. Over £1,620 was spent on dredging the harbour between 1822 and 1825, but trade remained ‘stationary’ and the population of the burgh showed only a slight increase from 2,595 in 1821 to 2,690 in 1831. It had a council of 17, of whom 14 were resident in 1822. There were then 120 freemen affiliated to the town’s six incorporated crafts, whose admission charges ranged from 5s. to £6. Successive provosts complained that these incorporations were ‘of little or no benefit to the parties, while they are very injurious to the community, and often prevent respectable tradesmen from settling in the place’.5

The representation of the district, which had long been disputed by the Douglas, Hope and Johnstone families, had last been contested in 1806, and following the death in 1810 of the 4th duke of Queensberry (‘Old Q’) the controlling interest had passed to his coheirs the 4th duke of Buccleuch and his cousin the 6th marquess of Queensberry of Kinmount Castle (lord lieutenant of Dumfriesshire from 1819), who together controlled Annan, Dumfries and Sanquhar. Their nominee, Queensberry’s youngest brother Keith Douglas, a pro-Catholic Tory merchant and competent public speaker, sympathetic to Scottish burgh reform, had overcome local resistance to his return in 1812 and 1818; and the succession as 5th duke in 1819 of Buccleuch’s 12-year-old son, whose affairs were managed by his uncle Lord Montagu and second cousin Charles Douglas*, posed no threat to his re-election in 1820, when ‘a political economist’, writing in the Dumfries and Galloway Courier, repeatedly urged him to promote free trade.6 Douglas’s canvassing notices and his speech on being returned at Annan, 31 Mar., promised ‘fidelity’, ‘impartiality’ and ‘unremitting attention to the local interests of the district’; but on national issues, he remained unpledged.7 Both local papers welcomed his endorsement of the London merchants’ petition advocating a dual currency and lower taxes as remedies for commercial distress, 8 May, and approved his independent stance on the unpopular and precipitate appointment by Lord Liverpool’s ministry of an additional Scottish exchequer baron, 15 May 1820.8

The incorporated trades of Annan and Dumfries forwarded addresses to Joseph Hume* for presentation to Queen Caroline in October 1820 and the ‘town council of Annan’ congratulated her on the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties the following month, which they celebrated with a grand dinner and illuminations, notwithstanding the objections of the lawyer John Little, who as provost presented their address.9 Kirkcudbright, Lochmaben and Sanquhar were partly illuminated and there was scuffling in Dumfries, where Rankine’s foundry was brilliantly lit. The Female Benevolent Society issued notices denouncing such ‘frivolous’ expense. A grand committee of the seven trades of Dumfries convened by Robert Grainger dispatched addresses to the queen’s partisan Lord Archibald Hamilton*, 24 Nov. 1820, and on 13 Jan. 1821 they forwarded petitions to both Houses protesting at her exclusion from the liturgy and treatment by ministers. It was received by the Lords, 25 Jan. and the Commons on the 26th, two days after a virulently anti-ministerial one from Annan.10 Echoing their Member’s views, in December 1820 Dumfries council sent a loyal address to the king ‘filled with complaints against the licentiousness of the press’.11 Both Houses received petitions against Catholic relief from the burgesses and inhabitants of Dumfries in April 1821.12

The deliberations and reports of the 1818-22 select committees on Scottish burgh reform aroused great interest and although Dumfries, where in 1821 John Kerr replaced Thomas Wilson as provost, remained quiet, trade and council elections in Annan and Kirkcudbright that Michaelmas were hotly contested.13 The Commons received petitions from the incorporated trades of Kirkcudbright complaining of the current system of electing the town council and magistrates and the want of proper control of public funds, 1 Mar., and one on 17 May 1822 from Little, as praeses of an Annan public meeting opposed to the lord advocate’s burghs regulation bill, with which Douglas had assisted.14 His re-election at Annan in March, shortly before the abolition of the junior admiralty lordship to which he had been appointed the previous month, had been a formality.15 His flirtation with political economy had ceased when he resigned from that Club soon after joining it in 1821; and subsequently he became one of the principal spokesmen of the West India planters and merchants’ committee, whose meetings he first attended in 1823 as the agent for Tobago, where he was entrusted with the management of his father-in-law Christopher Irvine’s estates.16 He opposed the equalization of the duties on East and West Indian sugars advocated from July 1822 by the Dumfries Weekly Journal, and for which Kirkcudbright petitioned, 7 May 1823; likewise the precipitate abolition of slavery for which Annan petitioned that month. Petitions presented to the Commons, 7 May 1823, from public meetings in Dumfries and Kircudbright urged gradual abolition.17 Douglas issued notices pleading pressure of work and declined to canvass the individual burghs when his reappointment to the admiralty in February 1824 necessitated a second by-election at Annan, where the five provosts as delegates returned him unopposed. He, however, chaired the dinner at Benson’s, where the provost of Annan, the boat builder Benjamin Nicholson, praised his parliamentary conduct. James Scott, the guest speaker, had established a commercial bank in Annan in 1823 and the table talk was of banking, commercial pressures, legislation affecting trade and agriculture, and local hostility to the Scottish fisheries bill, which Dumfries and the county petitioned against, 23 Mar. 1824.18 Petitions from Annan opposing the hides and skins bill and the Scottish poor bill were received by the Commons, 24 May 1824.19 Editorials in the Dumfries Weekly Journal the following month advocated inquiry into the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith for encouraging a slave rebellion and criticized Douglas for failing to support it, but any resulting petitions went unpresented.20 The fish curers of Annan, Dumfries and Kirkcudbright sent separate petitions to the Commons against a bill to establish the society to regulate deep sea fishing off the Scottish coast, 26 Apr. 1825, and the merchants and tradesmen of Dumfries petitioned against levying stamp duty on receipts, 10 May 1825, 4 Mar. 1828.21 Dumfries had fêted their former provost John Kerr in May 1824 for obtaining a £400 grant from the convention of royal burghs for harbour improvements, and plans were laid for a street-widening programme, which was opposed by the residents of Bank Street affected by it (many of them Queensberry’s tenants) and ratepayers previously hostile to the abortive 1823 Dumfries police bill. They secured the withdrawal of the 1825 Dumfries improvement bill on a technicality, but by September 1825, when Kerr again became provost, support for street widening, paving the cattle market and the new mechanics’ institute was reported to be bipartisan.22 Plans to use Dr. James Crichton (d. 1824) of Friars Carse’s £100,000 legacy to establish a university in Dumfries languished.23 At Dumfries, Lochmaben and Kirkcudbright, the incorporated trades, magistrates, councils and inhabitants met separately to maximize the impact of their petitions to both Houses against interference with the Scottish banking system in the wake of the 1825-6 crisis, and the select committee’s report that reform of the Scottish currency (abolition of one and two pound notes) was unnecessary was popularly acclaimed.24 The distress of the Sanquhar weavers and complaints of evictions and rent increases facing Buccleuch’s and Queensberry’s tenants were locally important at the general election of 1826. Buccleuch deliberately set out for Amsterdam and Douglas, who issued canvassing notices from the admiralty, 27 May, enlisted the assistance of Robert Henderson, the provost of the returning burgh of Lochmaben, dined his friends in each burgh and rallied to Sir William Johnstone Hope* in Dumfriesshire, so ensuring the election of favourable delegates and an unopposed return, which he celebrated with the county gentry at Mitchell’s Inn.25 A fortnight later drought and crop failures led to a grain riot in Dumfries market.26

The incorporated trades of Dumfries belatedly addressed the king following the death of the duke of York, but most political activity was suspended pending Canning’s succession as prime minister in May 1827. The main local issue was the enfeoffment that month, at a cost of £144 15s., of a charter confirming the rights of the magistrates and increasing the powers of the dean of guild of Dumfries, where the council’s accounts had been found to be defective. To service the town’s debt, on 19 July 1827 the Kingholm estate was sold to John Hannah of Hannahfield for £6,300, James Black paid £800 for the northern half of Milldamhead and John Richardson £1,120 for the southern.27 The Michaelmas elections (trades and council) were contested throughout the district in 1827, but fears that rioting would erupt when Annan, Dumfries, Lochmaben and Sanquhar celebrated Buccleuch’s coming of age (25 Nov. 1827) proved unfounded.28 Douglas was out of office when a public meeting in Dumfries court house, 21 Mar., chaired by Robert Jardine of Cresswell, with the agent of the British Linen Company Bank James Commelin as the main speaker, forwarded a petition for Test Acts repeal to Robert Cutlar Fergusson, Member for the Stewartry, for presentation, 27 Mar. 1828. Commelin had exploited Douglas’s failure to vote for repeal, 26 Feb. (he had left the House early), and, unimpressed by the Member’s readiness to present and endorse a similar petition from the provost, bailies and town council of Dumfries, 24 Mar., he instigated a critical review of his parliamentary conduct.29 Both Dumfries petitions were entrusted to Lord Lauderdale and presented to the Lords, 28 Mar., and Annan sent similar petitions to Parliament that month.30 The town council and magistrates of Dumfries joined the parish in petitioning against altering the settlement laws in Scotland, 6 May, and local opposition to establishing an additional Glasgow circuit under the Scottish courts bill was voiced in petitions to the Commons from Dumfries council and the provost of Annnan, William Douglas, 15 May 1828. Annan petitioned similarly, 7 May 1829.31 Party dinners marked Buccleuch’s visit to Dumfriesshire in October 1828, and on 11 Mar. 1829 the Dumfries and Galloway Club of London was revived at the Freemasons’ Tavern, under the chairmanship of the 8th earl of Galloway’s heir Lord Garlies*.32 The strong anti-Catholicism of the populace was evident throughout the district when emancipation was conceded in 1829, and the Dumfries and Galloway Courier reported that petitions adopted by the incorporated trades, family heads and inhabitants of Kirkcudbright, Lochmaben and Dumfries were ‘swelled by names from the surrounding countryside’.33 At Dumfries, where opinion in the presbytery was divided, a moderately hostile petition carried by the merchant M’Whirr, 17 Feb., and presented to the Commons, 5 Mar., was superseded by a strongly worded anti-Catholic one which the Lords rejected and returned as ‘it was not written on parchment, and because, from the manner in which it was attested, it would have been received as the petition its signatories, the moderator and clerk only’. On 30 Mar. Douglas, who equated the status of Scottish synods and presbyteries to English archdeacons’ courts, had the same petition accepted by the Commons as representative of the views of the 1,900-2,500 signatories to the petition before returning it to the Lords, who also received anti-emancipation petitions from Annan, Kirkcubright, Lochmaben and the town council of Sanquhar.34 A pro-emancipation petition from Dumfries was presented to the Commons by Douglas, 20 Mar., and to the Lords by Lord Haddington, 31 Mar. 1829.35 The incorporated trades and ‘remanent members of the common council’ of Dumfries and the magistrates of Annan petitioned Parliament in April and May 1830 for an end to the East India Company’s trade monopoly.36 Annan’s bankers and inhabitants petitioned for mitigation of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 22 June 1830.37

Greater interference by Buccleuch, the presenter of recent Dumfriesshire petitions to the Lords, was anticipated at the general election of 1830. It was preceded in the local press by a series of articles from ‘Presbyter’, explaining and disputing Douglas’s stance as a spokesman for the West India Association on slavery, manumission and the use of molasses in distilling; and in Kirkcudbright by celebrations led by the provost John Sanders Shand to mark the 6th earl of Selkirk’s coming of age.38 Douglas, citing his wife’s imminent confinement, hoped to keep his attendance and canvass minimal, but the town council of the returning burgh, Sanquhar, initially refused him their support and Alexander Harvey, James Mair and John Bramwell wrote to Buccleuch and his agent Thomas Crichton of Dabton on their behalf, complaining of the Member’s inattention to their needs.39 In the event, Buccleuch ‘put forth all his culinary strength on the occasion’ and Douglas, who also kept a high profile at the county election, dined the council and trades in each burgh and was returned unopposed, proposed by Crichton, as the Sanquhar delegate, and seconded by the Tory provost of Dumfries, John Fraser.40

All the burghs sent petitions for the abolition of slavery to the 1830 Parliament.41 The 1830 Michaelmas elections were closely contested throughout the district, and a double return of councillors at Lochmaben, where John Irving Henderson succeeded Robert Henderson as provost, was referred to the court of session, which on 17 Dec. ruled that the covert rescheduling of proceedings to the early morning to prevent the election of reformers had been illegal.42 Rivalry also persisted between the supporters of the former provost James Little and the procurator fiscal George Dalgleish in Annan, where actions for debt and damages were prosecuted against the council by the shoemaker John Richardson. The moderate reform petition adopted in Annan, 25 Nov., by the provost (John Irving), magistrates and council, was countered by another from the heritors, burgesses and inhabitants demanding the ballot, annual parliaments, manhood suffrage (from the age of 21, if of sound mind), a population-based franchise by district and elections held nationally on the same day, with voting organized by parish and subject to a six-month residence qualification.43 A petition in the name of William Beek, a burgess of Lochmaben, urged the Lords to

abolish the magistrates and council of the said burgh, in example to others, and in particular as the town is in bankrupt circumstances, and nothing left to support a magistracy of any description; and to empower the burgesses and free inhabitants of this burgh in every right that the magistrates and council had in time past of electing a Member to serve in Parliament, either by their property to a certain extent, or by inhabiting a house and land at a certain yearly rent, or otherwise as ... [they] judge for the good of the burgh and the welfare of the country.44

Fraser, by ‘shilly-shallying’, succeeded in postponing to 2 Dec. the Dumfries reform meeting he chaired in a packed court house. Their unanimously adopted petition was confined to reform of the Scottish burgh representation and specifically sought an end to the system ‘where self-elected councils elected delegates uncontrolled by their nominal constituents ... the inhabitants’. A reform committee, with the attorney Robert Murray as its convener, was appointed to secure their objectives. An account of the proceedings sent to Francis Jeffrey*, the new Grey ministry’s lord advocate, by Adam Rankine was publicly hailed as exemplary by the Edinburgh reformer Gibson Craig.45 As at Annan, some of the original requisitionists were excluded from the official reform committee and subsequently supported local branches of the political union.46 Among the many pro-reform petitions forwarded from the district to Parliament between November 1830 and March 1831 were those from a meeting chaired by Shand in Kirkcudbright, 11 Dec., where, as at Dumfries, the trades, householders and inhabitants petitioned the Commons separately for a common franchise in Scottish counties and burghs and an end to election by delegate, 12, 23 Dec.; and Sanquhar, where on 17 Dec. 1830 Bailie Harvey chaired a reform meeting in the parish church that called for ‘such extension of the elective franchise in the counties and burghs of Scotland as shall give that part of the United Kingdom a due share in the representation’. Douglas was routinely asked to support their petitions, but most were forwarded for presentation to the Commons by Hume, Thomas Kennedy and the county Members.47 A petition to the Lords from certain Dumfries burgesses, merchants and householders specifically requested a ‘salutary reform’ which would not ‘injure the frame of the constitution’.48

The ministerial reform scheme announced in March 1831 introduced a £10 franchise but left the district unchanged. Favourable petitions were adopted at short notice and forwarded from each burgh, and Dumfries, Annan, Kirkcudbright and Sanquhar also petitioned Parliament in support of the English measure and celebrated the passage of its second reading by a single vote, 22 Mar., with illuminations.49 Douglas voted against it, and with two of its committed supporters, the Dumfries agent of the National Bank, David Hannay of Carlinwark House, and the convener of Dumfriesshire, General Matthew Sharpe of Hoddam Castle, Annan, openly canvassing the district and Queensberry (who aspired to an English peerage) veering towards administration as a reformer, he issued a notice on 23 Mar. complaining that the clamour for precipitate reform was unprecedented and unexpected, the ministerial bill (which he duly faulted) sweeping and untried and claiming that his own support for reform of the burgh representation unchanged:

My duties in Parliament do not admit of my visiting my constituents at present. If General Sharpe and Mr. Hannay proceed with their canvass, either by addressing themselves to the corporations or to such individuals as may probably form the constituency that are [sic]to be created under the bill now before Parliament, I trust I may rely on the kindness of my friends not to cast an unfair stigma on my conduct by making any premature declaration of their sentiments against me.50

Annan petitioned afresh in favour of the enfranchisements, disfranchisements and franchise qualifications that the English bill proposed and urged its extension to the three kingdoms, and a notice from Sharpe, 28 Mar., confirmed his candidature and commitment to the reform bills, retrenchment and abolishing ‘all monopolies’. He also claimed that he had ‘always been ready to oppose Douglas’.51 Hannay, who had joined the Dumfries reform committee, declared, 6 Apr., as an ‘agriculturist and a reformer’ opposed to monopolies.52 A recent public spat over a slight to a Dumfries trades’ deputation, anxious to present an address they had adopted on 4 Mar., thanking the king for the ‘liberal, safe, equitable and comprehensive bill of reform’, further undermined Douglas, who also failed to secure the services of Broom, the pro-reform town clerk of Dumfries, as agent. On 1 Apr. he acknowledged privately to Buccleuch, to whom he had applied personally on 23 Mar. for assistance, that Hope Johnstone and Queensberry’s declarations for reform and his brother Henry’s political aspirations had compounded his problems, leaving him with ‘delicate cards to play’.53 A mob of 150 tarred, feathered and burnt him in effigy as he ‘dined the trades’ in Sanquhar, 7 Apr. 1831, during the Easter recess.54 Crichton reported to Buccleuch afterwards that their early canvass showed that Sharpe, who claimed Hope Johstone’s support, was likely to secure Annan, that the returning burgh Dumfries remained uncertain, that Douglas had been ‘kindly received by the whole council’ of Lochmaben and was ‘quite satisfied with his reception at Kircudbright’ and that Sanquhar remained ‘staunch’. However, it would be impossible for them to carry Douglas’s election should the reform bill pass.55

Douglas chose not to vote on the amendment which wrecked the English bill, 19 Apr. 1831, precipitating a dissolution, and commenced his personal canvass as a reformer and advocate of ‘a great extension of the elective system in Scotland’ and likely supporter of an amended bill.56 From Dumfries, 3 May, he informed Bucleuch:

I have had a very busy time of it since I came here. The system of terrorism that prevails is kept up by systematic arrangement, and the democratic influence that is spreading is great beyond all bounds. The hatred of General Sharpe is universal, still there is a sulky jealousy of me, and for no better reason that that my connections in life are of that class to be a favourite mark to shoot at. I think I have ascertained today that this town are against me, whilst the inhabitants probably and privately express strong feelings of personal regard to me. The struggle is now for Lochmaben and nothing but money will carry it. I am also afraid that carrying it may make a petition, for there was an irregularity at the last election. I shall fight to the last, but my hopes of success are very doubtful.57

Hannay had desisted and Sharpe, ably assisted by Robert Murray, had secured Annan and Dumfries, where the reform committee chaired by the merchant Robert M’Harg, and of which the merchant John Rankine, Dr. M’Cracken, M’Whirr and the editor of the Courier John M’Diarmid were prominent members, had succeeded in turning the trades council against Douglas. Responding on 9 May to his public protest, the convener of the trades James Thomson declared that they had appreciated Douglas’s ‘services not his politics’ and pointed to the inconsistency of ‘sending him to Parliament to defeat the object they’ve been contending for’.58 The possibility of returning another of Queensberry’s brothers had again been broached, but Douglas, having first learnt of it through John, who ruled himself out as a candidate, succeeded in preventing a deal being brokered between Buccleuch and Henry, who had coveted the seat in 1812 and had now taken rooms at the King’s Arms, Dumfries, where he professed himself a reformer.59 Douglas’s prospects and handling of what he termed the ‘chicanery and diplomacy of plotting and counterplotting in a little town council’ improved as his relations rallied to him;60 and from Lochmaben, which The Times described as the ‘East Retford of the south of Scotland’, he informed Buccleuch, 12 May:

I have pitched my tent here and I shall not move till the delegate is chosen, which is fixed for Tuesday the 17th. If I can keep my forces firm till then and can induce them to face the intimidation that is industriously circulated on every side I shall carry this burgh and secure my return. We are threatened with 4 or 500 people from Dumfries, the whole parish of Haddam, the radicals of Annan and Ecclefechan to overcome us and threatening letters and every other device are in circulation. I have taken measures to swear in 200 respectable farmers as special constables and Lord Q[ueensberry] has written to the commander-in-chief to send a troop of dragoons into the neighbourhood, so a little blood may be let, if the fever seems as high as we are threatened it may. My brother John is to be proposed as my delegate. If he is elected there will be no ground for after-alarm.61

Crichton appointed himself the Sanquhar delegate. The Kircudbright vote was entrusted on 9 May to Provost Shand, who when challenged declared that he would ‘not vote for any candidate who will not promise to support the extension of the elective franchise to the people of Scotland, an increase in Scottish Members and separate representation for Dumfries’. On 13 May Annan council elected as delegate Sharpe’s henchman, the banker James Scott, and directed that he should travel to Dumfries with the provost John Irving in a coach and four decked in blue.62 The plan to impose John Douglas on Lochmaben, where William Douglas complained that ‘every sort of low device and contrivance was put into execution to fail me’, was abandoned and the election was eventually carried for the anti-reformers by the provost John Irving Henderson, who, having been proposed by Bailie Mitchell and Wright of Courance, defeated the reformer William Cruickshank of Trailflats, the nominee of the ‘turncoat’ Murrays of Henderland, by seven votes to six after the weaver John Smith declined to vote. Troops were in attendance throughout and according to Douglas his ‘friends had to pay debts of my voters to the extent of £5 or £600 to prevent them being carried away’.63 Both candidates attended the delegate’s election at Dumfries, 20 May 1831, but the town and trade councils complained of the disruption to business caused by electioneering and refused to dine with either. The public, admitted to witness the proceedings for the first time, saw the council vote unanimously for Fraser.64 The parliamentary election three days later was preceded by popular demonstrations of support for reform and the trades and inhabitants displayed banners as they drew Sharpe and Scott’s carriages into the town. Douglas, whose advocate Patrick Robertson successfully countered Murray’s protest against admitting the votes of the Sanquhar and Lochmaben delegates, was formally returned by three votes to two, but he was heckled and refused a hearing and obliged to effect his escape to a waiting carriage by a back door with Crichton, Irving and Henderson, while Sharpe, who promised ‘victory within the next six months’, was fêted by the populace and dined his supporters.65

Talk of a petition against Douglas’s return evaporated, but his influence locally and in Parliament, where he remained a committed and voluble West Indian and anti-reformer, was weakened by persistent reports that his ‘future political connection with the Dumfries district must cease’.66 The ‘provost, bailies and councillors of Kirkcudbright’ petitioned Parliament requesting a transfer to the Wigtown district, 23 Aug. 1831, but, like Dumfries’s abortive bid for separate representation, which reformers and anti-reformers alike conceded, in letters to the press, looked foolish when compared to Perth’s, nothing came of it.67 Each stage in the bill’s progress was monitored and marked in Annan, Kirkcudbright and Dumfries, where the reformers and corporation met in September and petitioned the Lords urging its passage.68 Anticipating a dissolution, local preparations for an ‘election under the old system’ were well under way when defeat in the Lords, 8 Oct., again placed reform at risk; and the trades, magistrates and councils of Annan and Dumfries and the trades of Lochmaben met promptly to confirm their support for reform and the ministry in addresses to the king.69 Presentation of a similar address from Sanquhar was delayed until 6 Feb. 1832.70 Writing to Buccleuch, 4 Oct. 1831, after the Michaelmas elections, Douglas surmised:

Everything is safe at Lochmaben and I believe the Dumfries authorities are desirous to find a good opportunity of getting back into their old position. The desire which Mr. John Threshire mentions to be expressed by some parties to put forward my brother Henry has arisen from Lord Queensberry having been very diligent in giving currency to such a project; Henry, who has expressed his feelings in support of the government; and the Dumfries authorities [who] may be desirous to sustain their own consistency by some course of this sort. But, if matters remain quiet for two or three months, all that has passed will be forgotten.71

Crichton agreed: ‘Lochmaben in quite secure, at least as much so as that place can be. Two of the opponents are turned out and two friends introduced’.72 Possibly to undermine Douglas, the anti-slavery campaign was revived in Annan in the winter of 1831-2, and their church elders petitioned for prompt abolition, 17 May 1832.73

The political unionists made little headway at a great reform meeting in Dumfries, 27 Apr. 1832, when Robert Murray defended the English and Scottish bills and the £10 vote and the provost James Corson and his allies now succeeded in carrying resolutions, previously adopted by the council, for petitions to Parliament objecting to the Scottish bill’s proposals to transfer control of registration and parliamentary elections in the burghs to county officials.74 Kirkcudbright petitioned similarly, 31 May, 4 June, while the seven trades of Dumfries and the ‘inhabitants at large’ of Annan petitioned urging the Lords to carry the reform bills unchanged, 7 May 1832.75 When in May a further Lords’ defeat, ministerial resignations and the king’s overture to the duke of Wellington placed reform in jeopardy, Annan and Dumfries met spontaneously and their provosts, councils and inhabitants addressed the king calling for the Grey ministry’s reinstatement and adopted petitions to the Commons urging the withdrawal of supplies pending the reform bill’s ‘unimpaired’ passage. Planned celebrations in honour of the king’s birthday were cancelled and the ‘usual cheer at the meeting for the king and royal family was dispensed with’. The Dumfries petition received over 2,000 signatures in ten hours, but the ministry’s reinstatement rendered its presentation ‘unnecessary’.76 The bill’s passage in June 1832 was publicly celebrated at rallies and dinners throughout the district and a reform jubilee in Dumfries, 11 Aug.77 A Dumfries meeting chaired by Corson petitioned the Commons against the Maynooth grant, 4 June (after the corporation had petitioned in its favour, 7 May), and the presbytery of Annan petitioned objecting to the government’s scheme for non-sectarian education in Ireland, 8 June 1832.78

The district, now dominated by Dumfries, to which Maxwelltown had been added as the boundary commissioners had advised, had 967 registered electors in December 1832: Dumfries 610; Annan 170; Sanquhar 45; Lochmaben 31; Kircudbright 111. Douglas, a staunch Conservative, was forced to stand down and in 1832 and 1835 Sharpe secured majorities of 118 and 52 over his fellow Liberal Hannay, who accused him of electoral malpractices. The constituency remained intact until after the First World War and Liberal throughout. The Conservatives, who sounded Douglas in 1839 and 1841, failed to field a candidate until 1874, and seven of the nine contests between 1832 and 1885 were between two Liberals.79

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), ii. 390-7; PP (1831-2), xlii. 139, 140; (1835) xxix. 307-14; W. McDowall, Hist. Dumfries (1972 edn.), 679, 703, 712.
  • 2. PP (1823), xv. 711; (1831-2), xlii. 137; (1835), xxix. 160, 161; J.A. Thomson, Hist. Anan and District (1999 edn.), ii. 122, 179.
  • 3. PP (1823), xv. 711; (1831-2), xlii. 143; (1836), xxiii. 335-8; Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, iv. 538-44.
  • 4. PP (1823), xv. 710; (1831-2), xlii. 145; Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, vi. 320, 321.
  • 5. PP (1823), xv. 711; (1831-2), xlii. 141; (1836) xxiii. 269-73; Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, iv. 419.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 594-6; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 18 Jan., 1, 8, 12, 29 Feb., 14 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 22 Feb., 7 Mar., 4 Apr. 1820.
  • 8. Ibid. 16, 23 May; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 16, 23 May 1820.
  • 9. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 26 Sept., 14 Nov.; Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 31 Oct., 14, 28 Nov.; Perth Courier, 30 Nov., The Times, 5 Dec. 1820.
  • 10. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 21, 28 Nov. 5 Dec. 1820, 23 Jan. 1821; The Times, 5 Dec. 1820; CJ, lxxvi. 5, 12; LJ, liv. 15.
  • 11. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 26 Dec. 1820, 9 Jan. 1821.
  • 12. CJ, lxxvi. 224; LJ, liv. 176.
  • 13. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 18 Sept., 2, 9, 16 Oct. 1821.
  • 14. CJ, lxxvii. 73, 276.
  • 15. Caledonian Mercury, 14 Mar.; The Times, 18 Mar. 1822.
  • 16. Hist. Pol. Economy Club (1921 edn.), 353.
  • 17. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 2 July 1822, 6, 13 May 1823; CJ, lxxviii. 292, 293; LJ, lv. 678.
  • 18. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 3 June 1823, 10, 24 Feb., 9, 23 Mar. 1824; CJ, lxxix. 204.
  • 19. CJ, lxxix. 404, 405.
  • 20. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 1, 8, 15 June 1824.
  • 21. CJ, lxxx. 342, 385; lxxxiii. 123.
  • 22. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 29 Apr. 1823, 18 May 1824, 31 May, 7 June, 16 Sept., 4 Oct. 1825; CJ, lxxx. 63, 225, 292; McDowall, 709, 710.
  • 23. Brougham mss, Douglas to Brougham, 26 Sept. 1826, Rosslyn to same, 7 Aug. 1829, 28 Aug. 1830, Jeffrey to same, 22 Oct., 3 Dec. 1832.
  • 24. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 7, 28 Feb., 9, 23 May; CJ, lxxxi. 203, 223, 270; LJ, lviii. 144, 166, 191, 192, 225, 240, 255; The Times, 8, 26, 28 Apr. 1826.
  • 25. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 30 May, 6, 13, 20 June, 4 July; Caledonian Mercury, 15 June 1826.
  • 26. McDowell, 713, 714; The Times 21 July 1826.
  • 27. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 13 Mar., 1 May; Berwick Advertiser, 5 May 1827; McDowall, 704, 712.
  • 28. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 2, 9 Oct., 6, 13, 27 Nov., 4 Dec. 1827.
  • 29. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 25 Mar., 8 Apr.; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 25 Mar., 1, 15 Apr. 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 197, 205.
  • 30. LJ, lx. 145, 178; CJ, lxxxiii. 242.
  • 31. CJ, lxxxiii. 320, 352; lxxxiv. 271.
  • 32. Kelso Mail, 26 Oct. 1828; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 10, 17 Mar. 1829.
  • 33. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 17 Mar. 1829.
  • 34. Ibid. 10, 17, 24 Mar. 1829; LJ, lxi. 207, 234, 375.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxiv. 154; LJ, lxi. 186, 210, 250, 322; The Times, 21 Mar., 1 Apr. 1829.
  • 36. CJ, lxxxv. 449; LJ, lxii. 216, 259.
  • 37. CJ, lxxxv. 463; LJ, lxii. 759.
  • 38. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 22, 29 Dec. 1829, 5, 12, 19, 26 Jan., 2, 9 Feb., 27 Apr., 4 May; Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 20 Apr.; The Times, 28 May 1830.
  • 39. NAS GD224/507/3/28-33.
  • 40. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 13, 27 July, 3, 10, 17, 24 Aug. 1830.
  • 41. CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 160, 194, 367, 455; LJ, lxiii. 176.
  • 42. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 5, 12 Oct., 21 Dec. 1830; J.B. Wilson, ‘Lochmaben’s Sham and Pretended Councils’, Trans. Dumfries and Galloway Nat. Hist. and Antiq. Soc. (ser. 3), lxxii (1997), 117, 118.
  • 43. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 5 Oct., 30 Nov., 14 Dec. 1830; PP (1835), xxix. 161; LJ, lxiii. 170.
  • 44. LJ, lxiii. 254.
  • 45. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 30 Nov., 7 Dec. 1830; McDowall, 720, 721.
  • 46. McDowall, 727.
  • 47. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 14, 21 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 169, 193, 202, 209, 211, 212, 310; LJ, lxiii. 170, 240, 264.
  • 48. LJ, lxiii. 264.
  • 49. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 8, 15, 22, 29 Mar. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 336, 337, 353, 354, 363, 498; CJ, lxxxvi. 406, 416.
  • 50. NAS GD224/507/3/27; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 22, 29 Mar. 1831; McDowall, 722.
  • 51. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 29 Mar. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 501.
  • 52. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 29 Mar., 5, 12 Apr. 1831.
  • 53. Ibid. 29 Mar., 5, 12 Apr. 1831; NAS GD224/507/3/24, 27.
  • 54. McDowell, 721; The Times, 18 Apr. 1831.
  • 55. NAS GD224/507/3/25.
  • 56. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 19, 26 Apr. 1831.
  • 57. NAS GD224/507/3/22.
  • 58. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 3, 10 May 1831.
  • 59. NAS GD224/507/3/14-16, 19, 20.
  • 60. NAS GD224/507/3/20, 21.
  • 61. NAS GD224/507/3/18; The Times, 25 May 1831.
  • 62. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 17 May 1831.
  • 63. NAS GD224/507/3/12,13; Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 24 May; Stirling Advertiser, 27 May 1831; Wilson, Royal Burgh of Lochmaben (2001 edn.), 67, 68.
  • 64. NAS GD224/507/3/2.
  • 65. Glasgow Herald, 27 May 1831; McDowall, 723-5; NAS GD224/507/3/1.
  • 66. NAS GD224/507/3/9.
  • 67. CJ, lxxxvi. 778; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 27 Sept., 4 Oct. 1831.
  • 68. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 6, 13, 20, 27 Sept.; The Times, 19, 23, 30 Sept., 7 Oct. 1831; McDowall, 726; LJ, lxiii. 1022, 1023, 1036, 1046.
  • 69. NAS GD224/507/3/6-9; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 11, 18 Oct.; The Times, 15, 20 Oct. 1831.
  • 70. The Times, 7 Feb. 1832.
  • 71. NAS GD224/507/3/11.
  • 72. NAS GD224/507/3/31.
  • 73. LJ, lxiv. 30, 175.
  • 74. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 1 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 318, 359, 374.
  • 75. CJ, lxxxvii. 359, 374; LJ, liv. 186, 190.
  • 76. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 15, 22 May 1832; McDowall, 327.
  • 77. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 19, 26 June 1832.
  • 78. Ibid. 17, 24 Apr., 1 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 375, 389; LJ, lxiv. 190.
  • 79. PP (1831-2), xlii. 139, 140; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 18, 25 Dec.; The Times, 26 Dec. 1832; McDowall, 727-32; Scottish Electoral Politics, 261.