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:

85 in 1820; 84 in 1826; 82 in 1830


20 Dec. 1822SIR JAMES WEMYSS MACKENZIE, bt. vice Mackenzie, deceased 
 Colin Mackenzie21

Main Article

Ross-shire, a large and sparsely populated Highland county, extended across the width of Scotland from its east coast, between Dornoch and Moray Firths, to the Atlantic in the west, between Loch Enard and Loch Alsh. The Outer Hebridean island of Lewis belonged to it. Only a small portion was under cultivation, but its eastern glens contained some fine agricultural land, which was exploited with improved techniques from the late eighteenth century. Whisky distilling and salmon and sea fishing were its other principal sources of employment. Its only significant centres of population outside the royal burghs of Dingwall, the county town, Fortrose and Tain were Invergordon, on the east coast, and Stornaway, on Lewis.1 After the death in 1815 of Francis Humberston Mackenzie†, 1st Lord Seaforth, of Brahan Castle, near Dingwall, chief of his clan and owner of Lewis, there was no resident peer. (The Tory 6th Baron Middleton had a large grouse estate near Locharron, but lived mainly in England.) In 1817 Seaforth’s spirited widowed daughter and heiress Elizabeth, Lady Hood, married the Whig James Alexander Stewart of Glasserton, Wigtownshire, cousin of the 8th earl of Galloway, who took the additional name of Mackenzie and set about establishing himself as a Highland laird. At the general election of 1818 he and his wife backed the unsuccessful candidature of the Bristol West India merchant Alexander Fraser of Inchcoulter, a wealthy arriviste, who had the support of a group of landowners with West Indian or mercantile interests, notably Sir Hugh Innes* of Lochalsh (purchased from Seaforth), Henry Davidson of Tulloch, Hugh Rose of Glastullich, William Robertson of Kindeace and Captain Duncan Munro of Culcairn. His opponent, Thomas Mackenzie of Applecross, stood in ‘independent’ hostility to the Seaforth interest, but both he and Fraser were favourably disposed towards the Liverpool ministry, who remained neutral. After Applecross’s victory by six votes in a poll of 52 freeholders both sides sought to boost their strength for the next election.2 In November 1819 Sir James Wemyss Mackenzie of Scatwell and Colin Mackenzie of Kilcoy promoted a county meeting to vote a loyal address to the regent in the wake of Peterloo. It was chaired on 12 Nov. by Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch, the lord lieutenant, and attended by over two dozen men, including Applecross, who moved the address, which was unanimously adopted. Scatwell was unavoidably absent, but Stewart Mackenzie sent an open letter condemning the meeting as ‘inexpedient’.3 When Parliament was dissolved after the king’s death in January 1820 Fraser offered again against Applecross, who had already been assured of ministerial backing in response to an appeal by Kilcoy to Lord Melville, first lord of the admiralty and the government’s Scottish manager.4 Gairloch’s hostility, the ‘defection’ of a number of his former supporters, including Robert Bruce Aeneas Macleod† of Cadboll, Cromartyshire, and his own ‘confinement’ by illness additionally hampered Fraser. Stewart Mackenzie, annoyed and incredulous to learn that the lord advocate, Sir William Rae*, was ‘canvassing very actively against Mr. Fraser’, who had from the start ‘declared himself to be with government’, while Applecross had in 1818 been ‘a very uncertain card’, appealed directly to Melville, but to no avail. Nor could Melville’s brother William Dundas*, who had backed Fraser in 1818, oblige Mrs. Stewart Mackenzie.5 With the odds stacked hopelessly against him Fraser withdrew a week before the election, claiming that the ‘very early day’ fixed had made it ‘impossible for those residing at a distance to arrive’. At the election meeting three new freeholders, including William Holmes*, the government whip, and Alexander McLeay of Queen Square, Westminster, were enrolled, and six others struck off. After his unopposed return Applecross, who was nominated by Macleod, seconded by Gairloch and praised by Kilcoy and Donald Macleod of Geanies, the sheriff depute, deplored his opponents’ ‘unprecedented’ exertions to increase their strength and mocked Fraser’s excuse for retiring. Fraser subsequently claimed in public letters that if further time had been available he would have won by 42-37, but Applecross ridiculed this boast.6

On 1 May Stewart Mackenzie chaired a meeting to call for the extension of bounties to Scottish fisheries, and the county’s petition for repeal of the additional malt duty was presented to the Commons on 2 June 1820.7 Gairloch presided at a county meeting to vote a loyal address to the king in the context of the Queen Caroline affair, 4 Jan. 1821. Applecross was too ill to attend and Stewart Mackenzie kept out of it. Cadboll’s Whig son Roderick Macleod* proposed an amendment demanding the dismissal of ministers, but failed to find a seconder.8 The freeholders petitioned the Commons against the Scottish juries bill, 18 May 1821.9 Applecross died in October 1822 and two months later was quietly replaced by Scatwell, who supported government.10 The freeholders petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 3 June 1824, for the bill extending the jurisdiction of magistrates in debt recovery, 15 Mar., and against relaxation of the corn laws, 26 Apr. 1825; the county’s Western Farming Society petitioned the Commons to this effect, 5 May 1825.11 There was heavy petitioning of both Houses against interference with the Scottish banking system in 1826.12

In May 1824 Stewart Mackenzie confided to his wife his intention of standing at the next election. He tried to build up his interest, and in August 1825 he and his wife hosted at Seaforth Lodge, Stornaway, a celebration of the third anniversary of George IV’s visit to Scotland; but he did not publicly declare himself a candidate.13 One who did was Gairloch’s son Francis Alexander Mackenzie. Scatwell took steps to cement his position, including an unsuccessful appeal to ministers for a place for the brother of a freeholder who commanded three votes. One estimate drawn up in 1825 gave him a lead of 40 to 24, with two ‘supposed neutral’ and 12 ‘doubtful or absent’, of whom three were friendly; but another put him neck-and-neck with his rival. Stewart Mackenzie was reckoned among Scatwell’s supporters.14 On the death of Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch in April 1826 Sir George Steuart Mackenzie of Coul applied for the lord lieutenancy, but indicated that he would defer to Scatwell, who was duly appointed.15 When Parliament was dissolved in early June Sir Francis Alexander Mackenzie of Gairloch initially remained a contender, but 12 days before the election he withdrew. At the election meeting four new freeholders were enrolled. Kilcoy and Geanies nominated Scatwell and exhorted him to resist interference with the corn laws. Gairloch and Kilcoy subsequently announced their intention of standing next time.16

Scatwell presented freeholders and agriculturists’ petitions against relaxation of the corn laws, 19 Mar., 2 Apr. 1827. The Lords were petitioned in the same sense, 14 Feb., 28 Mar. 1827.17 The county petitioned the Commons against the Wellington ministry’s corn bill and the heirs of entail against their Scottish entails bill, 6 May 1828.18 The landholders and sheep farmers petitioned both Houses in June 1828 for protection against foreign wool imports.19 The Commons received petitions against the additional spirit duties, 24 May, and for the court of session bill and repeal of the inventory duty, 8 June 1830.20 Adjustments at the Michaelmas head courts of 1827, 1828 and 1829 produced a roll of 81.21 On 12 June 1830, two weeks before George IV’s death, the Irish secretary Leveson Gower told Wellington that Scatwell was ‘under an engagement to surrender his seat’ at the next election to Kilcoy, who would, however, release him from it in return for a baronetcy. Nothing came of this, and at the general election in August Kilcoy (who was made a baronet in 1836) nominated Scatwell, but announced that he would offer whenever he retired; Stewart Mackenzie and Gairloch had already relinquished their pretensions for the moment. The roll remained unaltered at 82 after the Michaelmas 1830 head court.22

When his Whig friends came to power under Lord Grey at the end of the year Stewart Mackenzie sounded ministers as to whether he could expect to receive their electoral backing at the next opportunity. Ellice, the patronage secretary, encouraged him to stand, but warned that overt intervention by the English treasury would do more harm than good in the present reforming climate.23 Stewart Mackenzie promoted a meeting at Dingwall, 24 Dec. 1830, when he and Kilcoy carried resolutions for reform of the ‘extremely defective’ Scottish representative system against the solitary protest of Duncan Davidson* of Tulloch. A committee, chaired by Stewart Mackenzie and including Roderick Macleod, Kilcoy, Geanies, Coul, Gairloch, Thomas Mackenzie, the new laird of Applecross, and Charles Ross of Invercharron was set up to promote the cause. The meeting’s petition was presented to the Commons on 4 Feb. 1831.24 A county meeting on 16 Jan. adopted resolutions criticizing lord chancellor Brougham’s bill to regulate Scottish landlords’ right of hypothec.25 At a meeting of Wester Ross Farming Society, 19 Mar., resolutions welcoming the ministry’s reform scheme were carried by 14-3. There were pro-reform meetings of farmers of the eastern district, 21 Mar., the inhabitants of Invergordon, 23 Mar., and the merchants, traders and inhabitants of Stornaway, 24 Mar.26 That day a meeting of the county at Tain, chaired by Fraser and attended by Geanies, Davidson, Hugh Rose Ross of Cromarty and Charles Robertson junior of Kindeace, rejected Stewart Mackenzie’s written request for its adjournment to 5 Apr., for when the Dingwall reform committee had called another county meeting. A letter in support of reform from Roderick Macleod was read but rejected. Davidson, Robertson and William Rose of Rhynie were among the speakers who condemned the Scottish reform bill as ‘too sweeping’, and a petition calling for its rejection was adopted; it was presented to the Lords on 20 Apr.27 On 25 Mar. Stewart Mackenzie, who had warmly approved the reform bills at an Edinburgh public meeting on the 9th, declared his candidature for the next election. Three days later Scatwell, who had been absent from the division on the second reading of the English bill, announced his retirement at the next dissolution. On the 29th Kilcoy offered as a supporter of moderate reform, and Gairloch followed suit on 4 Apr., without mentioning the issue. At the Dingwall county meeting next day Stewart Mackenzie’s resolutions in support of reform were rejected by 18-14 in favour of an amendment moved by Thomas Mackenzie of Ord, seconded by George Falconer Mackenzie of Allangrange and supported by Davidson and Robertson, for adoption of the hostile Tain resolution of 24 Mar. Rose Ross, Applecross, Fraser and Rhynie were among the majority, while Stewart Mackenzie’s only laird supporter was Coul.28 When Parliament was dissolved three days after the defeat of the English reform bill on 19 Apr. there ensued a campaign of almost five weeks from which Gairloch, who was seen as an unequivocal supporter of reform, was largely absent on account of a family bereavement. An early calculation gave him 20, Kilcoy 25 and Stewart Mackenzie 15, but it was rumoured that Stewart Mackenzie had persuaded Lady Stafford to return Gairloch for Tain Burghs, in consequence of which ‘Sir Francis’s supporters, or at least a sufficient proportion of them, were to go over to Seaforth to ensure his return’.29 Nothing came of this. At an early stage Stewart Mackenzie, who interrupted his canvass to preside at the Wigtownshire election and secure with his casting vote the return of the reformer Agnew, received from Gairloch a written assurance that he preferred him to Kilcoy and an ‘offer of a coalition’, which he rejected ‘on principle’.30 On the day of the election, 25 May, when Gairloch stayed away, Stewart Mackenzie’s agent John Cunningham wrote to Mrs. Stewart Mackenzie just before the start of proceedings at Tain:

This has been the most anxious and interesting election I ever attended. Since we came here last night every hour has produced some change in our prospects ... All parties acting like cautious chess players, in the various conferences. Our numbers in court stand as nearly as possible as follows: Kilcoy 20; Seaforth 18; Sir Francis 15 or 16. The two latter parties have so far agreed to choose [Davidson of] Tulloch praeses against the person proposed by Kilcoy’s friends. We expect too that Sir F’s friends (who seem greatly incensed at Kilcoy) will join us in the vote for Member; but I don’t wish to make you too sanguine, as nothing is given us but what is wrung out, at the last hour, and with a great grudge.31

As parliamentary praeses Scatwell called over the roll and 53 freeholders answered. An objection that the writ had not been promulgated in the distant parish of Lochbroom was disregarded. Geanies and Robert Macleod proposed Allangrange as praeses of the election meeting, and Applecross (Gairloch’s friend) and Stewart Mackenzie put up Davidson, who was elected by 29-21. After adjustments, the new roll stood at 75, of whom 58 were present. Applecross announced that Gairloch’s supporters did not intend to nominate him. Stewart Mackenzie was proposed by Innes and John Hay Mackenzie of Newhall, and Kilcoy by Scatwell and Robert Macleod, who portrayed him as the champion of the county’s agricultural and commercial interests. When Rose Ross was called on to vote he denounced all three original candidates as ‘unfit’, on the ground that most of the genuine property owners were against reform, and accused Stewart Mackenzie of being hostile to the interests of Tain and of seeking to delude the people. He ranted at length about the objectionable features of the Scottish reform bill, especially the proposed annexation of Cromartyshire to Ross-shire, and said that the reduction in the number of English Members would place frightening power in the hands of Irish Catholic ones. Yet he opted for Stewart Mackenzie as ‘a bad choice’, warning him to remember that most of his constituents were opposed to reform; Stewart Mackenzie considered Rose Ross’s intervention to have been very influential. Gairloch had left his ‘immediate friends ... perfectly unfettered’, but four of them, including Applecross, voted for Stewart Mackenzie, to give him victory by 28-21, with seven abstainers, including Davidson; two others were debarred. Giving thanks, Stewart Mackenzie argued that ‘timely and effectual reform’ was essential, but conceded the validity of some of Rose Ross’s objections to the Scottish measure and, conceding that he was at odds with many of the freeholders on the issue, promised to see if modifications could be made to the bill without impairing its principle. Kilcoy took defeat well, but attributed it to an ‘unexpected coalition’. Stewart Mackenzie was lionized at Dingwall on his way back to Brahan, but in a written reply to an address exhorting him to support economy and tax reductions he kept his options open. There were celebrations when the news of his return reached Lewis.32 A few days later Gairloch accused Stewart Mackenzie of shabby conduct in securing the decisive votes of his friends and of being a late convert to reform, but Stewart Mackenzie dismissed both charges. His agent warned him that while every effort had been made to economize, the ‘total amount of election expenses will be considerable’, particularly on account of some ‘heavy payments’ to voters enrolled by the efforts of Innes, who were of ‘such a class of freeholders’ as made it desirable that they should ‘never be required to appear again in Ross-shire’.33

Stewart Mackenzie was a steady supporter of the details of the reform proposals. In mid-August 1831 he was advised by Gairloch and William Mackenzie of Muirtown that

with the keenness of feeling of Rose Ross and the canvass he would make among those of his own opinion, while there was a great lukewarmness on our side, it would be as prudent not to call a meeting about the reform bill, at least at present. While an opinion in favour would neither strengthen the cause or your hands as an M.P. materially, an opinion against would lead you into what might be an annoying correspondence.34

When the Tory Sir George Murray presented a Ross-shire petition against the union with Cromartyshire, 28 Sept., Stewart Mackenzie defended the junction as logical and harmless. The inhabitants of Invergordon petitioned the Lords in favour of the reform bills, 6 Oct. 1831, and after their rejection of the English bill sent supportive addresses to the king and Lord Grey.35 At the county’s annual meeting, 30 Apr. 1832, Geanies secured the adoption of a petition calling for a fair settlement of the slavery problem, with due compensation for West India proprietors. Gairloch’s letter suggesting a petition for the exclusion of the men of Stornaway from the county franchise got no support, while Rose Ross denounced the entire Scottish reform bill as a violation of vested interests.36

At the general election of 1832, when the reformed constituency of Ross and Cromarty had a registered electorate of 516, Stewart Mackenzie easily defeated the Conservative Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar in a poll of 420. In 1835 he had a much narrower victory over Applecross, who won the by-election of 1837 caused by Stewart Mackenzie’s appointment as governor of Ceylon. Applecross held the seat for ten years, but the county was a Liberal stronghold from 1847.37

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), v. 261-72.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 574, 575; NAS GD46/4/122.
  • 3. Inverness Courier, 4, 18 Nov. 1819.
  • 4. NLS mss 1054, f. 174; NAS GD51/5/749/1, p. 170.
  • 5. NAS GD46/4/124/2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12-15; NLS mss 2, f. 42; 11, f. 14.
  • 6. Inverness Courier, 9, 16, 23, 30 Mar., 6 Apr., 1 June 1820.
  • 7. Ibid. 25 May 1820; CJ, lxxv. 269.
  • 8. Inverness Courier, 21 Dec. 1820, 11 Jan. 1821.
  • 9. CJ, lxxvi. 356.
  • 10. Inverness Courier, 18, 25 Dec. 1822.
  • 11. CJ, lxxix. 452; lxxx. 204, 343, 379.
  • 12. Ibid. lxxxi. 217, 223, 278; LJ, lviii. 191, 192, 269.
  • 13. NAS GD46/15/28; 15/29/6, 13; Inverness Courier, 31 Aug. 1825.
  • 14. Add. 39193, ff. 53-57, 76; 40368, ff. 236-8; 40374, ff. 253, 401.
  • 15. Add. 39193, f. 79.
  • 16. Inverness Courier, 7, 14, 21 June, 5 July 1826.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxii. 181, 333, 379; LJ, lix. 71, 209.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxiii. 320.
  • 19. Ibid. 431, 487; LJ, lx. 590.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxv. 463, 527.
  • 21. Inverness Courier, 17 Oct. 1827, 15 Oct. 1828, 21 Oct. 1829.
  • 22. Wellington mss WP1/1119/10; Macpherson Grant mss 690, Sir J.W. Mackenzie to G. Macpherson Grant, 29 June; Inverness Courier, 21, 28 July, 4, 18 Aug., 20 Oct. 1830.
  • 23. NAS GD46/4/129/1-3.
  • 24. Inverness Courier, 26 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 211.
  • 25. Inverness Courier, 2 Feb. 1831.
  • 26. Ibid. 23, 30 Mar. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 494, 498.
  • 27. Inverness Courier, 30 Mar 1831; LJ, lxiii. 494.
  • 28. Inverness Courier, 30 Mar., 6, 13 Apr. 1831.
  • 29. Ibid. 4 May 1831; NAS GD46/4/136/18, 21-23.
  • 30. NAS GD46/4/132/25; 4/133/2, 8, 13.
  • 31. NAS GD46/4/133/4.
  • 32. Inverness Courier, 25 May, 1, 8 June; The Times, 9 June; NAS GD46/4132/27; 4/133/1, 2, 12; 15/38/14; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 198, T. to J. Gladstone, 1 June 1831.
  • 33. NAS GD46/4/133/8, 9, 13.
  • 34. NAS GD46/4/132/8.
  • 35. LJ, lxiii. 1066; Inverness Courier, 19 Oct. 1831.
  • 36. Inverness Courier, 9 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 330, 331.
  • 37. NAS GD46/15/46/3, 6, 9, 14, 18; 15/47/3, 6; Inverness Courier, 4, 11, 18 July, 31 Oct., 7, 14 Nov., 12, 19, 26 Dec. 1832, 2 Jan. 1833; Scottish Electoral Politics, 222, 231, 232, 239, 256.