GORDON, Cosmo (c.1736-1800), of Cluny, Aberdeen, and Kinsteary, Nairn.
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Family and Education
b. c.1736, 1st s. of John Gordon of Cluny, Aberdeen. educ. Marischal Coll. Aberdeen 1749-53; adv. 1758. m. 30 June 1786, Mary, da. of Henry Baillie of Carnbroe, Lanark, s.p. suc. fa. 14 Sept. 1769.
Baron of the Scottish court of Exchequer 1777-d.; trustee for fisheries and manufactures in Scotland 1778; rector Marischal Coll. 1782-3, 1786-7.
Gordon’s father was factor to Cosmo George, 3rd Duke of Gordon, and, as tacksman (or lessee) of the Spey salmon fishings, amassed a fortune with which he purchased the estate and castle of Cluny. In 1763 the Kinsteary estate was sold to Cosmo Gordon for £4,200 by its bankrupt owners whose electoral interest in Nairnshire was finally extinguished in 1772.1 In 1774 Gordon stood for the county with the support of old John Campbell of Calder, to whom the principal interest belonged. Opposed by William (Johnstone) Pulteney, sitting Member for Cromarty (which alternated with Nairn in representation), Gordon was returned by 11 votes to 2, and Pulteney’s petition was subsequently dropped.
In Parliament he supported North’s American policy, and in the debate of 2 Feb. 1775 spoke strongly ‘against any compromise or lenient measures with America till she entirely submitted’.2In the debate, 3 Nov. 1775, on the ministry’s action during the recess in sending Hanoverian troops to garrison Gibraltar and Minorca, he asserted that the measure was certainly illegal, but condemned Sir James Lowther’s motion as an ‘abstract proposition’ which might ‘carry too severe a censure upon an act which he was convinced was well meant and very expedient’. He suggested that the question of illegality might be emphasized by altering the terms of the preamble to the indemnity bill introduced by North, and accordingly moved the previous question. Burke ridiculed his argument: ‘The Hon. Member knew the measure was illegal yet he would vote in favour of it ... it is an argument of the majority’. But, when the Commons majority allowed no alteration in the preamble, and when the Lords entirely rejected the bill, Gordon ‘condemned the conduct of the minister, respecting the indemnity bill and disapproved of introducing foreigners into the dominions ... without the consent of Parliament’.3 Retaining, however, his faith in North’s respect for the constitution, he refuted Thomas Townshend’s charge that the ministry had intended to vote funds for the payment of foreign troops in Ireland. Had he believed it, ‘no man would be more ready to join in a vote of disapprobation and censure’.
When on 25 Apr. 1776 Lowther again raised the question of the employment of foreign troops in America and elsewhere, Gordon maintained that while he did not entirely approve the measure, ‘it was an improper time to take any step which might have the appearance of censuring H.M. ministers’, since he believed that they ‘always acted according to the King’s inclinations’.4
In March 1777 Gordon received from North the appointment of baron of the Scottish Exchequer which vacated his seat.
A man of ‘character and ability’5, Baron Gordon was a leading member of Edinburgh’s legal, literary, and philosophical circles—a close friend of Lord Monboddo and of James Boswell. Possessed of great wealth, he was an enthusiastic agricultural improver, and in politics maintained to the end his connexion with the Campbells of Calder, the Duke of Gordon, and Henry Dundas. He died 19 Nov. 1800.