Elginshire (Morayshire)


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:

32 in 1820; 34 in 1826; 32 in 1830



Main Article

Elginshire’s arable farming was progressive and it contained many whisky distilleries. Small-scale woollen manufacturing and herring and salmon fishing were its other staples. Its royal burghs were Elgin and Forres. The other principal settlements were Findhorn, Fochabers, Grantown and Rothes and the ports of Burghead, Hopeman and Lossiemouth.1 It had not gone to a poll since 1784. From 1807 Colonel Francis William Grant of Castle Grant, near Elgin, who in 1811 had become acting head of his clan during the incurable lunacy of his brother Lewis Alexander Grant (Member, 1790-96), 5th earl of Seafield, had sat undisturbed as a Melvillite Tory.2 By 1820 the threat once posed by the Whig barrister John Peter Grant* of Rothiemurchus, Inverness-shire, had evaporated; but a potential troublemaker existed in the person of the quixotic and vainglorious Irish peer and courtier James Duff*, 4th Earl Fife, Member for Banffshire since 1818, whose family had once dominated the county.

When George III’s death in late January 1820 precipitated a dissolution, Colonel Grant was in Italy. His friends and local agents quickly notified the leading resident proprietors that he intended to seek re-election and received assurances of support from all bar Fife’s kinsman, the aged James Brodie† of Brodie House. Fife’s written declaration that Grant could depend on his backing ‘in the county’ (he was about to create no end of aggravation for the Grants in Elgin Burghs) was regarded as ‘sufficient to relieve us of any apprehension of trouble’ from him.3 Grant was returned unopposed and probably in absentia.4 The freeholders, heritors and commissioners of supply petitioned both Houses for better regulation of Scottish salmon fisheries, 9 Apr. 1824.5 In May 1825 they petitioned against alteration of the corn laws.6 They and members of Morayshire Farmers’ Club petitioned against interference with the Scottish banking system in 1826.7 Grant was quietly returned again at the general election that summer. At a county meeting chaired by Sir Archibald Dunbar of Northfield, 20 Mar. 1827, a petition to the Lords was adopted for enhanced protection for barley and oats, abolition of the bonding system and the inclusion of Scottish returns in the averages; the Farmers’ Club petitioned in the same sense.8 Twelve freeholders attended the election meeting in August 1830, when Grant was unanimously returned, proposed by Dunbar and his cousin Sir William Gordon Cumming* of Altyre. For the celebration dinner, according to one report, Grant provided a sheep ‘which weighed no fewer than nine stones’, with ‘fat ... three inches thick’.9 After the election Gordon Cumming evidently asserted his pretensions to replace Grant when he retired, but the colonel, who had no such intention, rebuked him and gave the lie to the rumour that he would soon stand down.10

At a county meeting called to petition for reform of the Scottish electoral system, 22 Dec. 1830, when the chairman Sir Thomas Dick Lauder of Fountainhall, Haddingtonshire, spoke for reform and in support of the new Grey ministry, Gordon Cumming’s brother Charles Cumming Bruce* proposed an ‘unexpected’ counter-petition advocating ‘moderate’ reform, which Gordon Cumming endorsed. It found only one other supporter and was rejected. The petition reached the Commons on 23 Feb. and the Lords on 4 Mar. 1831.11 Grant voted against the English reform bill. The Cumming brothers got up a petition against reform, which was presented to both Houses on 20 Apr. 1831, but the reformers reckoned that it was the product of a clandestine meeting of eight or nine men who purported to speak for the county.12 At the general election which followed the bill’s defeat Grant, who professed support for moderate reform, again walked over, proposed by Dunbar, seconded by the Rev. William Leslie of Balnagelth and praised by Cumming Bruce.13

The Scottish reform bill proposed the annexation to Elginshire of neighbouring Nairnshire, which had hitherto returned alternately with Cromartyshire. This provoked considerable local hostility, and the freeholders, heritors, commissioners and justices petitioned the Commons against it, 3 Sept. 1831, 1 June 1832.14 Cumming Gordon protested against it in the House, 3 Oct. 1831, but to no avail. The freeholders, commissioners, heritors and justices petitioned the Commons against the malt drawback bill, 20 Mar. 1832.15 A renewed Conservative bid to abort the junction with Nairnshire was defeated by 50-26, 15 June 1832. The reformed constituency had 662 registered electors at the general election of 1832, when Grant came in unopposed.16 On his retirement in 1840 Cumming Bruce replaced him. The county was first polled in 1841, but not again until 1874, when the Liberals ended the long Conservative hegemony.17

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), ii. 540-4.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 535-7.
  • 3. St. Andrews Univ. Lib. Melville mss 4614; NAS GD248/824/2/12, 14, 15, 19, 21.
  • 4. NAS GD248/824/2/74; Inverness Courier, 27 Apr. 1820.
  • 5. CJ, lxxix. 271; LJ, lvi. 158-9.
  • 6. CJ, lxxx. 426; LJ, lvii. 929.
  • 7. CJ, lxxxi. 188, 235; LJ, lviii. 155, 192.
  • 8. Aberdeen Jnl. 21 Mar. 1827; LJ, lix. 185, 210.
  • 9. Inverness Courier, 25 Aug. 1830.
  • 10. Macpherson Grant mss 690, G. Macpherson Grant to Grant of Glenmoriston, 29 Aug. 1830.
  • 11. Inverness Courier, 29 Dec. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 296; LJ, lxiii. 290.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxvi. 509; LJ, lxiii. 482; Cockburn Letters, 303; Cockburn Jnl. i. 7.
  • 13. Macpherson Grant mss 118, G. to J. Macpherson Grant, 27 Apr.; Inverness Courier, 25 May 1831.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxvi. 816; lxxxvii. 365-6.
  • 15. Ibid. lxxxvii. 208.
  • 16. Inverness Courier, 19, 26 Dec. 1832.
  • 17. Scottish Electoral Politics, 220, 235, 252.