Cromartyshire

County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Alternated with Nairnshire

Number of enrolled freeholders:

20 in 1826; 19 in 1830

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
30 June 1826DUNCAN DAVIDSON 
20 May 1831DUNCAN DAVIDSON8
 Roderick Macleod7

Main Article

The small county of Cromartyshire (112 square miles) consisted principally of an ancient sheriffdom comprising Cromarty parish, most of Resolis and a portion of Mullbuie, situated in the northern extremity of the Black Isle between the Cromarty and Moray Firths. There were also eight detached districts amounting to 344 square miles.1 The sitting Member in the 1818 Parliament had been Roderick Macleod of Cadboll, a Whig, whose Tory father Robert Bruce Aeneas Macleod had represented the county in the 1807 Parliament. On 10 June 1824 certain freeholders with vested interests in the West Indies, who would have included the merchant and plantation owner Henry Davidson of Tulloch Castle, Dingwall, son of the Member in the 1790 Parliament, petitioned the Commons in protest against the ‘rash schemes’ of the slavery abolitionists.2 In 1826 petitions against interference with the Scottish banking system were presented to the Commons, 7, 10 Apr., by Sir James Wemyss Mackenzie of Scatwell, Member for Ross-shire, and to the Lords, 5, 17 Apr., by Lord Huntly.3

In September 1825 there was talk of a contest at the next general election between Davidson’s eldest son, Duncan (who played no active part in the family’s London business), and Roderick Macleod; but in the event Davidson was unopposed in 1826.4 Davidson, who succeeded his father to Tulloch the following year, abstained on Catholic emancipation in 1829, when both Houses were petitioned against it by the inhabitants of Cromarty parish, where it was reported that the ‘No Popery’ cry was ‘as loud ... as in Oxford’, although ‘many of the respectable inhabitants refused to sign’.5 A landholders and sheep farmers’ petition for protection against foreign wool imports, 30 June 1828, was presented to the Commons by Mackenzie and to the Lords by the duke of Gordon (as Huntly now was).6 Davidson brought up a county freeholders’ petition for inquiry into and relief from distress, 11 May 1830.7

A meeting of the heritors and householders of Cromarty, 17 Mar. 1831, resolved to address the king and petition both Houses in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme.8 At the general election precipitated by its defeat Roderick Macleod stood as its supporter and Davidson as a professed friend of ‘temperate reform’ who considered the measure entirely ‘objectionable’. On 19 May, the day before the election, Macleod was drawn into Cromarty by Robertson’s Freemasons and members of the Gardeners, Juvenile and Wright Societies. It was reported that as one of his pledged supporters had not arrived, which left the numbers equal, some of his backers formed the ‘desperate resolution’ of abducting and sailing out to sea Davidson’s supporter Major Munro of Poyntzfield. The plot was discovered and thwarted. Macleod’s allegation of an irregularity in the execution of the writ was dismissed by the sheriff, Donald Macleod of Geanies. As parliamentary praeses, Davidson called the roll and 14 freeholders, including himself and Roderick Macleod, answered. He used his casting vote to secure his own election as praeses of the election meeting over Colin Mackenzie of Kilcoy, and subsequently to effect the disputed enrolment of his friend Colin Mackenzie of Newhall. The 15 freeholders present divided 8-7 in favour of Davidson, whose voters included his merchant brother Henry and two other London merchants. (According to a parliamentary return of March 1831, only six of the 19 freeholders were genuine proprietors of the county.) The result was greeted with ‘tremendous hissing and disapprobation’ by the unfranchised audience. It was asserted that but for the ‘unlucky absence’ of Cadboll’s supporter, Cromartyshire would have joined the other Highland counties in returning a reformer;9 but the patronage secretary Ellice thought matters had been ‘sadly ... mismanaged’.10 Cromartyshire freeholders petitioned the Lords to allow the county and Nairnshire to continue to return a Member jointly under the Scottish reform bill, 5 Oct. 1831.11 In the Commons, 15 June 1832, Davidson unsuccessfully opposed the locally unpopular merger of Cromartyshire with Ross-shire, which the Reform Act duly confirmed.12 At the general election in December 1832, when the new constituency had a registered electorate of 516, the Liberal James Stewart Mackenzie* of Seaforth comfortably beat the Conservative Hugh Munro of Novar.13

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), ii. 310-11.
  • 2. CJ, lxxix. 473.
  • 3. Ibid. lxxxi. 217, 223; LJ, lviii. 155, 192.
  • 4. Inverness Courier, 7, 14 June, 5 July 1826.
  • 5. Ibid. 25 Mar. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 165; LJ, lxi. 367.
  • 6. CJ, lxxxiii. 487; LJ, lx. 590.