HEPBURN, Robert Rickart (1720-1804), of Rickarton, Kincardine, and Keith, Haddington.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1768 - 1774

Family and Education

b. 1720, 1st s. of James Hepburn (or Hepburn Rickart) of Keith, by Katharine, da. and h. of David Rickart of Rickarton.  educ. Edinburgh h.s.; Edinburgh Univ. 1735.  m. Magdalen, da. of Col. William Murray, 2s. 3da.  suc. fa. in Keith estate, and mother in Rickarton.

Offices Held

Cornet 6 Drag. 1743, capt. 1745, maj. 1755, lt.-col. 1763; sold out 1768.

Burgess, Edinburgh 1762.


His grandfather, originally Congalton of that ilk, on succeeding to the Keith estate changed his name to Hepburn and relinquished to his next brother the Congalton estate, which subsequently passed out of the family. His father was ‘out’ in the ’15, fled abroad, but eventually returned to Scotland where he lived in close friendship with Robert Keith (later ambassador) and his family.

At Edinburgh University Robert Rickart Hepburn was a contemporary of John Home and Alexander Carlyle. He was serving with the Inniskillings in Flanders when, on the outbreak of the ’45, his father again joined the rebels.1 Hepburn’s military career was not materially affected by his father’s Jacobitism. He commanded the Inniskillings at Minden and, with Robert Murray Keith, was called as a witness for the defence by Lord George Sackville at his court-martial.

Soon after Hepburn’s brother-in-law David Graeme entered Parliament, he took steps with the support of Lord Findlater and the Bute connexion to secure Hepburn’s return for Kincardineshire.2 In Parliament Hepburn was a constant, though silent, Government supporter; his only recorded Opposition vote was on Grenville’s Act, 25 Feb. 1774. Although there is no evidence that Hepburn was involved in Graeme’s political intrigues, North’s hostility to Graeme barred Hepburn’s re-election in 1774, when the Kincardineshire gentlemen ‘offered the county’ to Lord Adam Gordon.

Having bought back the ancestral seat of Congalton, Hepburn retired there, unable to afford the London life he preferred. He wrote, 29 Mar. 1783, to Robert Murray Keith:3

It is natural for people who can afford it to get near the seat of Government; in England ... you feel you are in a better country ... amongst a richer and happier people ... All this strikes one with a damp whenever you cross the Tweed, and everything relating to the Government here seems things ... that we have little concern in. The only objects of the common people is to be free of patronage ... and of the gentlemen a good or bad crop ... We are only fit to supply England with inhabitants and very few of those that can help it will ever return except for a visit.

He sought Keith’s interest in obtaining preferment for his son, and a place for himself as commissioner of Excise,4 and, a disillusioned observer, sent him critical comments on political events.

He seems to have made no attempt to re-enter Parliament and died 24 May 1804.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Carlyle, Autobiog. 31, 54, 232-3, 265.
  • 2. Add. 38205, ff. 138, 142.
  • 3. Add. 35528, f. 141.
  • 4. Add. 35527, f. 110; 35529, f. 141; 35539, f. 173; 35541, f. 170.