GRAHAM, Thomas I (1748-1843), of Balgowan and Lynedoch, Perth.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



11 Apr. 1794 - 1807

Family and Education

b. 19 Oct. l748, 3rd but o. surv. s. of Thomas Graham of Balgowan by Lady Christian Hope, da. of Charles, 1st Earl of Hopetoun [S]. educ. privately by James Macpherson*; Christ Church, Oxf. 1766-8; Grand Tour (France, Germany, Italy) 1768-71. m. 26 Dec. 1774, Hon. Mary Cathcart, da. of Charles Schaw, 9th Lord Cathcart [S], s.p. suc. fa. 1766, KB 22 Feb. 1812; cr. Baron Lynedoch 17 May 1814; GCB 2 Jan. 1815; GCMG 10 May 1837.

Offices Held

Lt.-col. commdt. (temp. rank) 90 Ft. 1794; brevet col. (temp. rank) 1795; col. 90 Ft. and maj.-gen. (perm. rank) 1809; lt.-gen. 1810, gen. (local rank, Holland) 1813; gen. 1821; col. 58 Ft. 1823-6, 14 Ft. 1826-34, 1 Ft. 1834-d.

Gov. Messina 1799, Dunbarton Castle 1829-d.

Rector, Glasgow Univ. 1813-15.


For over 20 years after he inherited the family estates Graham led the life of a prosperous, energetic country gentleman, devoted to hunting, scientific farming and foreign travel and distinctly careless in his financial affairs. In middle age domestic tragedy precipitated him into a military career in which, after 17 years of frustration, he became a national hero.

At a by-election in 1772 he was narrowly beaten when he contested Perthshire on the independent against the dominant Atholl interest. He stayed in the field but withdrew shortly before the general election of 1774, having become engaged to the beautiful Mary Cathcart, whose sister was betrothed to the 3rd Duke of Atholl’s son and heir. By the time both marriages were solemnized on the same day later in the year, his brother-in-law had succeeded as 4th Duke. The Grahams spent much of the next ten years travelling in Europe, for the sake of Mary’s delicate health. In the 1780s Graham, who still coveted the Perthshire seat but avoided active involvement in county politics, developed strong Whig sympathies, which were at odds with Atholl’s political leanings. He was elected to Brooks’s in 1783 and joined the Whig Club in 1785.1

In 1791, his wife’s health collapsed. He took her to France but she died there of consumption, the scourge of the Cathcarts, 26 June 1792. The violation of her coffin by Revolutionary soldiers at Toulouse strengthened his resolution to support the war of 1793 as ‘a just and necessary one for the defence of the British constitution’. Seeking distraction from his grief in foreign adventure, he went to Gibraltar, whence he embarked as a volunteer with Hood’s fleet. He landed at Toulon, where he acted as Mulgrave’s aide-de-camp, fought in the defence of the town, and, according to Sir Gilbert Elliot, ‘left the highest character possible both for understanding and courage’.2 He returned home in November 1793 bent on a military career and his application to raise a regiment of infantry was warmly supported by Henry Dundas, who had married his first cousin the previous year. He was given the temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel and quickly raised the first battalion of the 90th Foot, but in adding a second he badly strained his finances.

At the same time Graham, with Atholl’s support, adroitly engineered his return for Perthshire in place of the duke’s dying uncle. Dundas, who had secretly planned to secure the seat for his own son, was nettled but, powerless to prevent the coup, he stayed neutral when an opposition, which came to nothing, was threatened. Graham insisted during his canvass that his claim to independence was not vitiated by his enjoyment of Atholl’s support and later wrote that he had entered the House determined to support the war, but ‘at the same time never to abandon those true Whig principles which had brought about the revolution of 1688’.3 He was returned unchallenged in 1796.

He is not known to have spoken or voted in the House between 1794 and 1803, when he was absent for long periods on active service: in La Vendée in 1795, as liaison officer at Austrian headquarters in 1796 when he made a daring escape from Mantua, and at Minorca, Messina and Malta between 1798 and late 1800. Although he proved to be a brave, bold soldier, very popular with his men, he met only frustration and disappointment in the pursuit of his ‘favourite object’, permanent rank, which was essential if he was to remain in the army in the event of peace. When he belatedly took steps to purchase his progression through the lower ranks he was baulked by the decision of the new commander-in-chief, the Duke of York, to eradicate the practice. Even the intervention of Dundas and Pitt on his behalf had no effect and, while Graham acknowledged their efforts, he grew increasingly bitter over the collective failure of ministers to force the duke to give way. Before leaving Malta in September 1800 he asked Sir Ralph Abercromby for command of a brigade in his army, but was told that he could continue to serve only as colonel of the 90th, and advised by implication to give up soldiering. Insulted and angry, he got six months’ leave of absence and reluctantly came home, but on his arrival in April 1801 discovered that his regiment had gone to Egypt and was in the thick of the action, information which Abercromby had carefully concealed from him. He also heard that the Duke of York was displeased at his having come home and was letting it be known that the King would never grant him permanent rank. In reply to Graham’s appeal for aid Dundas told him that he could do nothing for him and advised him to ‘give up all your military pursuits and to settle yourself in your own natural line in the country, where you may be highly respectable and of good use’. Graham appealed to the duke, both directly and via the Whig William Adam, but the response was cold. Undeterred, he hastened to Egypt, only to find the fighting over. On his return early in 1802 he faced a fresh crisis over his future on the conclusion of peace. His request for permanent rank was flatly rejected by the Duke of York who, although it had been decided to keep the 90th on the establishment, resorted to subterfuge and bluster in an attempt to force him to resign. Graham, resentful at being singled out as ‘an object of persecution’, stood his ground and the duke backed down.4

After the general election of 1802, when he retained his seat unopposed, he was described by Charles Innes as ‘independent of Mr Dundas’, but by the Dundases themselves as one of their ‘partisans’. He voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 4 Mar., spoke against Gascoyne’s motion for papers on Malta, which involved him personally, 20 May, and was in Pitt’s minority for the order of the day, 3 June 1803. For much of the next two-and-a-half years he was in Ireland on the staff of his brother-in-law Lord Cathcart, but he came over to vote against Addington in the divisions which brought him down, 23 and 25 Apr. 1804, and, as a supporter of Pitt’s second ministry, against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805.

Graham continued to try to advance his claims to permanent rank, but when he asked his cousin Gen. Alexander Hope whether he would do so by accompanying his regiment to the West Indies in the autumn of 1804, he received the bleak answer that his going would serve no purpose, as ‘the King has declared he never will grant you rank’. In 1805, he turned down offers of foreign employment from Mulgrave and Cathcart. He returned to Scotland early in 1806 and at a county meeting, 16 Jan., secured the adoption of an address calling for vigorous prosecution of the war, defeating the amendment of the Whig Lord Breadalbane advocating the formation of a broad-bottomed administration.5

He was threatened in March 1806 with opposition at the next election from a kinsman of Breadalbane’s who claimed the support of the ‘Talents’. Though confident of success, Graham asked Adam to intervene with ministers:

in these times when I have no longer any political attachments left and when a strong government is necessary, I do not wish to be returned with feelings of resentment for an unjust opposition.

In the House he gave a general welcome to Windham’s military arrangements, 3 Apr., and voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. On 6 May he repeated his approval of Windham’s ‘great measure’, but cavilled at some details; he was also critical of the government’s attitude to the volunteers at Perthshire meetings later in the year. The opposition to him petered out and after his unopposed return at the general election he was listed by Adam among the close connexions of Melville who ‘profess to support government’. In the debate on Martin’s motion against Perceval’s holding the duchy of Lancaster for life, 25 Mar. 1807, he declared his support for the late ministers:

He had for many years acted with Mr Pitt, and generally of course with the gentlemen on the other side, particularly during the last Parliament, when such proceedings had taken place against ... [Melville] as were a disgrace to ... the House. He regretted sincerely the dismissal of the late administration, and particularly as they were succeeded by men who from their conduct in abandoning the government on the death of Mr Pitt, from acknowledged incapacity to conduct it, left that on record which furnished an evidence of their present presumption.

He voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge on Catholic relief, 9 Apr., but his conduct cost him his seat, for Atholl, in collusion with a few of his former ‘independent’ supporters, turned against him and brought forward his son. Graham, resentful of Atholl’s treachery and angered by the presumption of a handful of men whom he considered to be motivated by party passion in speaking for the freeholders at large, wrote a petulant farewell address surrendering the seat. He ascribed his declaration of support for the late ministers to an objective approval of their stand on the Catholic question, but denied that he had enlisted with them as a partisan.6

His military career at last took a rewarding turn in 1808. He acted as Moore’s aide-de-camp in the Baltic fiasco, accompanied him to the Peninsula and served with distinction in the retreat to Corunna. He obtained permanent rank in 1809, commanded a division at Walcheren and returned to Portugal in 1810. The crowning moment of his career was his dashing personal triumph at Barossa, 4 Mar. 1811, which earned him the order of the Bath, the thanks of Parliament and national acclaim.

Politically, Graham moved decisively in sympathy towards the Whigs, on whose return to power he rested his hopes of regaining his seat in order, as he told Lord Grey, 3 Jan. 1812, to be able to ‘give another and I hope decisive vote for the Catholic question, as well as to evince my esteem and attachment to those who sacrificed their power for it’.7 Although the Regent’s desertion of the Whigs made him averse to involvement in a futile contest against Atholl’s interest backed by government, he was put up in his absence by the Whig Lord Kinnaird against Atholl’s son-in-law at the by-election of March 1812. His personal friends acquiesced in the move and fought the election in his name, principally to keep his interest alive, but he was defeated by 18 votes. He subsequently announced his intention of standing at the next election, professing his personal independence of party—though he appealed to Grey and Adam for aid—and reiterating his belief in the need for a measure of Catholic relief. He was forced home by eye trouble in July 1812 and was present in person to contest the general election, which he lost by only seven votes. He remained a contender for the seat until he was created a peer in May 1814.8

He saw further service in Spain in 1813. Though brave and enterprising, he had limitations as a commander and his active military career ended with the abortive attack on Bergen in 1814. He enjoyed a remarkably vigorous old age, supporting Catholic emancipation and Reform, and taking a fresh lease of life after a successful operation for cataract at the age of 83. In 1837, Cockburn described Graham as ‘one of the men who make old age lovely’.9 He died 19 Dec. 1843.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Delavoye, 10-11; J. M. Graham, Lord Lynedoch (1877), 23-31; HMC Graham of Fintry, 1-2. See also E. Maxtone Graham, Beautiful Mrs Graham .
  • 2. Delavoye, 86; Minto, ii. 193.
  • 3. Delavoye, 87; Graham, 42-65; SRO GD51/1/198/21/3-13.
  • 4. Delavoye, 98-107, 205-23, 230-40; HMC Graham of Fintry, 8, 11-12, 15; Aspinall-Oglander, 129-42.
  • 5. Delavoye, 249-54; Graham, 81-83.
  • 6. Blair Adam mss, Graham to Adam, 3 Mar. 1806, [Apr. 1807]; Caledonian Mercury, 15 Nov. 1806; SRO GD51/1/198/21/38, 39; HMC Graham of Fintry 51; Graham, 87-89.
  • 7. Grey mss.
  • 8. Edinburgh Advertiser, 14 July 1812; see PERTHSHIRE.
  • 9. Aspinall-Oglander, 300.