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:

43 in 1820; 44 in 1826; 48 in 1830


4 Mar. 1831SIR GEORGE MONTGOMERY, bt. vice Montgomery, vacated his seat
9 Aug. 1831SIR JOHN HAY, bt. vice Montgomery, deceased

Main Article

Peeblesshire was a small county with a population of 10,046 in 1821 and 10,600 in 1831; its principal burgh, Peebles, was about 20 miles south of Edinburgh. It was noted for corn and sheep farming and had some woollen manufacturing in Peebles, Innerleithen and Walkerburn.1 The dominant electoral interest in 1820 belonged to the ministerialist sitting Member, Sir James Montgomery of Stobbo Castle, who had sat unchallenged since 1800. His father, Member from 1768 to 1775, and lord chief baron, 1775-1801, had established the interest as the friend and commissioner of the reprobate 4th duke of Queensberry (‘Old Q’), who had held nominally the commanding influence. On Queensberry’s death in 1810 his substantial Peeblesshire estates, which included the castle and barony of Neidpath, had passed to his distant kinsman Francis Charteris (1772-1853), self-styled earl of Wemyss and March.2 On the death of the lord lieutenant, the 7th Lord Elibank, in September 1821, Lord Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager, offered it to Wemyss, who took it up in spring the following year. When a few months later he was notified that he was to be made a baron of the United Kingdom, he offered to resign the post, but Melville saw ‘not the least occasion’ for him to do so.3

Montgomery, an inactive Member, was returned unopposed at the general elections of 1820 and 1826.4 The public notaries of the county petitioned the Commons for repeal of the duty on their licences, 5 Apr. 1824.5 Freeholders and farmers petitioned both Houses against interference with the Scottish banking system in 1826.6 Anticipating the general election of 1830, George Grant Suttie, the only son of Sir James Grant Suttie* of Preston Grange, Haddingtonshire, asked Melville if the Wellington ministry were ‘pledged to support any other candidate’ should Montgomery retire. Melville replied that ‘we are under no pledge or engagement of any kind’; and in the event Montgomery came in again quietly.7 When he did stand down in January 1831 ‘on account of his health’, his cousin Sir George Montgomery of Macbie Hill (who had been reported as a potential candidate in 1812 and 1818) came forward, as did George Grant Suttie, who deplored the bid to ‘change the person though not the name of our representative’. He withdrew a week before the election, leaving Montgomery to walk over.8 In the Grey ministry’s first Scottish reform bill, detailed in the Commons on 9 Mar., it was proposed to unite Peeblesshire with its even smaller neighbour Selkirkshire, to return one Member. This plan, by which Henry Cockburn and the Edinburgh Whigs set great store, aroused considerable local opposition, and Peeblesshire petitions against it were presented to the Commons, 25 Mar., and the Lords, 28 Mar.9 Montgomery voted against the English reform bill, 19 Apr., and at the ensuing general election was returned unopposed, with only Grant Suttie dissentient at the freeholders’ head court. On his death two months later he was replaced by another opponent of reform, Sir John Hay of Haystoun, who had recently succeeded his father, an Edinburgh banker, to the family estates.10 The union with Selkirkshire was initially retained in the reform bill reintroduced on 2 July 1831, six days after a committee of the cabinet had considered ‘at great length’ a ‘memorial’ protesting against it. Sir James Graham, first lord of the admiralty, informed Lord Grey, 27 June:

The decision of the majority ... was in favour of adhering to the forced union ... The duke of Richmond and I wished that a Member for each county should be restored on the ground that for above a century they have enjoyed the right; that while in England we are about to increase the relative proportion of the county to the ... borough representation, in Scotland, even if Peebles and Selkirk both return Members, we propose to change the proportion fixed at the Union to the disadvantage of the counties; and because ... the valued rent of Selkirkshire ... is greater than the valued rent of seventeen Scottish counties, which are allowed to retain their representative.

The counter-argument, which turned chiefly on Selkirkshire’s vulnerability to complete domination by the 5th duke of Buccleuch and Peebleshire’s to control by Wemyss, prevailed, and it was decided, ‘subject ... to the consent of the cabinet’, to implement the junction.11 Graham (who was related to Wemyss through his mother) for one was unhappy with this, and after further consideration by the cabinet it was announced in the Commons, 26 Sept. 1831, that the counties were to be allowed to retain a Member each by the expedient of removing the burghs of Peebles and Selkirk from the Linlithgow district and throwing them into their respective counties, in the hope that this would create viable constituencies. Graham used his maternal uncle Edward Richard Stewart, the husband of Wemyss’s sister, to secure Wemyss’s support for this compromise. It was as unacceptable to the Scottish Tories, including Hay, as the merger; but it was carried against their protests by 133-60, 4 Oct. 1831, and again, without a division, in the final Scottish reform bill, 1 June 1832.12 At the general election of 1832, when Hay came in unopposed, having been ‘very well received by my ten pound neighbours’ in the burgh, there was a registered Peeblesshire electorate of 360.13 Hay was unchallenged in 1835, but in 1837, when there were allegations of a wholesale manufacture of fictitious votes, Sir James Montgomery’s son-in-law defeated a Liberal by six votes in a poll of 496. The county remained in Conservative hands until it was united with Selkirkshire in 1868.14

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), v. 256-91; Hist. Peebles ed. J.W. Buchan, i. 72-126, 217-24, 256-91.
  • 2. Hist. Peebles, iii. 496-9; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 563, 564.
  • 3. NAS GD51/5/122; 51/5/749/1, pp. 287, 288.
  • 4. Caledonian Mercury, 30 Mar. 1820, 28 June 1826.
  • 5. CJ, lxxix. 254.
  • 6. Caledonian Mercury, 23 Feb. 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 145, 217; LJ, lviii. 58, 158.
  • 7. NLS mss 2, f. 147; Caledonian Mercury, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 8. Caledonian Mercury, 22, 24 Jan., 3, 7 Mar. 1831.
  • 9. Cockburn Letters, 293, 300, 303; CJ, lxxxvi. 435; LJ, lxiii. 384.
  • 10. Caledonian Mercury, 28, 30 Apr., 21 May, 16 July, 11 Aug. 1831.
  • 11. Sir James Graham mss (IHR microfilm XR 80), 1/5.
  • 12. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 45; Cockburn Letters, 327, 340, 394, 400; Cockburn, Jeffrey, i. 334; J.T. Ward, ‘A Footnote on the First Reform Act’, SHR, xlvi (1967), 90-94.
  • 13. Add. 40879, f. 253; Caledonian Mercury, 27 Dec. 1832.
  • 14. Scottish Electoral Politics, pp. xliii, 134, 220, 238, 255.