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:

38 in 1820; 37 in 1826; 53 in 1830



Main Article

Selkirkshire was a small pastoral county of 390 square miles. Sheep rearing was highly developed and underpinned woollen manufacture in the villages and towns, of which only the royal burgh of Selkirk and Galashiels, both situated near the eastern border with Roxburghshire, were of any size.1 The dominant electoral influence belonged to the dukes of Buccleuch, who owned large tracts of the county and had a residence at Bowhill, near Selkirk. The Tory 4th duke died in 1819, leaving a 12-year-old son and successor. During his minority the family’s affairs were in the hands of his uncle, Henry James Montagu Scott, 2nd Baron Montagu, who was appointed lord lieutenant of Selkirkshire on the death of the 8th Lord Napier of Thirlstane Castle in August 1823. Napier’s son and heir strongly pressed his own claim, assuming that Buccleuch was ‘certain to succeed’ to the lord lieutenancy of Edinburghshire when he came of age. Lord Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager, endorsed Montagu’s pretensions (as did most of the leading Tory lairds), which rested largely on a professed wish to hand over in 1828 to Buccleuch, whose succession to the Edinburghshire post was now supposed to be in doubt, in order to place him early in ‘some public station’ and thereby safeguard the family interest. Napier gave way, but in the event Buccleuch did become lord lieutenant of Edinburghshire in 1828 and Montagu remained in place in Selkirkshire.2

William Eliott Lockhart of Borthwickbrae, Roxburghshire, a supporter of successive Tory administrations who had sat on the Buccleuch interest since 1806, was returned unopposed at the 1820 and 1826 general elections.3 Selkirkshire Pastoral Society petitioned the Commons for enhanced protection against foreign wool imports, 7 July 1820, and county agriculturists petitioned for repeal of the ban on exports of long wool, 23 Mar. 1824.4 Public notaries petitioned for repeal of their licence duty, 31 Mar. 1824.5 The freeholders petitioned the Commons against alteration of the Scottish banking system, 16 Mar. 1826.6 In June 1828 woollen manufacturers of Galashiels petitioned the Lords against any additional duty on foreign wool imports, but agriculturists petitioned both Houses for protection against them.7

In May 1829 the Tory and staunch Protestant Alexander Pringle of Whytbank and Yair, a friend of Sir Walter Scott, sheriff of Selkirkshire, whose home at Abbotsford lay just across the Roxburghshire border, informed Buccleuch that he planned to offer for the county if Eliott Lockhart retired and that Montagu had ‘very cordially acquiesced’ in this plan when he had first proposed it in 1826. At the same time, his ultimate object was the sheriffship of a Scottish county, which would disqualify him from Parliament.8 In January 1830 Robert Adam Dundas* warned Buccleuch that the Whig John Pringle of Clifton and Haining, Member for Linlithgow Burghs, 1819-20, who had made overtures to the Canning ministry in 1827, ‘intends to wage war on you in the county’, though ‘with little success no doubt’. Nothing came of this threat, and Pringle died after a carriage accident in May 1831.9 Eliott Lockhart was in poor health, but was minded to delay his retirement until Buccleuch’s brother Lord John Scott came of age in July 1830. In the first week of June James Johnstone† of Alva applied to Buccleuch for support at the general election which George IV’s expected death made imminent, provided that Lord John did not stand. Buccleuch assured him that his brother had no such present intention, but declined to give Johnstone ‘my wishes for your success’. The duke informed Alexander Pringle of this and, through Montagu, encouraged Eliott Lockhart to come in again, though he indicated that if there was to be a change his natural preference was for Pringle. Johnstone withdrew, while Pringle agreed to stand if Eliott Lockhart retired. This he did, and Pringle was returned unopposed.10

The inhabitants of Galashiels petitioned both Houses for the abolition of slavery in November 1830.11 Inhabitants of the county and Selkirk burgh petitioned the Commons, 8 Feb., and the Lords, 28 Feb. 1831, for reform of the Scottish representative system.12 The Grey ministry’s initial reform scheme proposed the amalgamation of Selkirkshire with neighbouring Peeblesshire to return one Member. This provoked great indignation among the leading freeholders, and Pringle and his kinsman James Pringle of Torwoodlee persuaded Scott to ‘assist the gentlemen of the county with an address’ of protest. Scott drafted an ‘uncompromising’ document, but this proved ‘too declamatory’ and ‘went far too generally into opposition to please the country gentlemen’, who he thought were ‘timidly inclined to dwell on their own grievances rather [than] the public wrongs’. Eliott Lockhart and Andrew Lang, the sheriff-clerk, had concocted an alternative ‘short, and to the point’ petition, which ‘only contained a remonstrance against the incorporation ... and left it to be inserted that they approved of the bill in other respects’. Scott, perceiving that this was more in tune with the mood of the freeholders’ meeting, 11 Mar., abandoned his own document, though he tried unsuccessfully to add ‘a general clause, stating their sense of the hazard of passing a bill full of such violent innovations’. He, Torwoodlee, James Johnstone of Hangingshaw and Henry Francis Hepburne Scott of Harden, Member for Roxburghshire, were outvoted. The petition reached the Lords on 21 Mar. and the Commons the following day.13 Pringle voted against the English reform bill, and at the general election precipitated by its defeat offered again. Eliott Lockhart’s eldest son Allan, an advocate, who was also hostile to reform, had in March asked Buccleuch whether, if his brother Lord John did not intend to stand, he was ‘not sufficiently interested in the return of the present Member as to make use of your influence ... on his behalf, but will leave the result of the [next] election to be determined by the freeholders’. When the dissolution occurred he declared his candidature, but Buccleuch, who had evidently not replied to his earlier letter, warned him off:

I have heard from my brother that he does not intend to stand for Selkirkshire and ... that he intended to support ... Pringle ... if he stood again ... I really think that at this most critical and anxious moment ... you would really be acting in a manner more conducive to its interest and safety, if you avoided ... adding to that excitement which so unfortunately prevails, which every contest augments, more especially when persons of the same politics are opposed to each other.

Eliott Lockhart took Buccleuch’s ‘friendly advice’ and withdrew his pretensions.14 Johnstone of Alva, who too was opposed to reform, also announced his candidature, but Buccleuch persuaded him to leave Pringle in peace and backed his unsuccessful attempt on Linlithgow Burghs.15 Pringle, whose canvass was briefly disrupted by his receiving a blow in the eye from his horse’s head, told Buccleuch that his rivals had not ‘got the promise of a single vote beyond the members of their own families. Those who were favourable to the reform bill had determined to stay away and all the rest either kept their votes for me or refused to declare themselves’.16 Scott had feared disorder from the Selkirk mob at the election, but in the event ‘a sufficient body of special constables’ ensured that proceedings passed off ‘quietly’.17

The merger of Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire was retained in the reintroduced Scottish reform bill, but in response to continued forceful opposition to this proposal ministers decided in September 1831, against the wishes of the Edinburgh Whigs, to allow each county to return a Member through the expedient of removing the burghs of Selkirk and Peebles from the Linlithgow district and giving their newly qualified £10 electors votes in the counties. This theoretically would create viable constituencies and, in the case of Selkirkshire, make it difficult for Buccleuch and his allies to dominate the county.18 At the general election of 1832 Selkirkshire, with a population of about 6,800, had a registered electorate of only 280. Alexander Pringle lost by nine votes in a poll of 257 to the Liberal Robert Pringle of Clifton, brother of the late John Pringle of Haining. Scottish Conservatives, including Pringle of Whytbank himself, saw this as ‘a specimen of the working of the reform bill’, whereby the gentry and their tenants were outnumbered by the newly enfranchised householders of Selkirk and Galashiels.19 Yet Whytbank regained the seat in 1835, thanks in part to the creation of fictitious votes, and the county remained in Conservative hands until it was belatedly amalgamated with Peeblesshire in 1868.20

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), vi. 330-4.
  • 2. NAS GD51/5/129/1-3; 131/1, 2.
  • 3. Caledonian Mercury, 25 Mar. 1820, 10, 15 June 1826.
  • 4. CJ, lxxv. 417; lxxix. 203.
  • 5. Ibid. lxxix. 234.
  • 6. Ibid. lxxxi. 176.
  • 7. LJ, lx. 487, 531; CJ, lxxxiii. 401.
  • 8. NAS GD224/581/4.
  • 9. NAS GD224/581/4, Dundas to Buccleuch, 19 Jan. 1830; Harewood mss, Binning to Canning, 14 July, reply, 21 July 1827; Scott Jnl. 737, 738.
  • 10. NAS GD224/581/4, Eliott Lockhart to Buccleuch, 11 Mar., Johnstone to same, 4, 11 June, reply, 4 June, Buccleuch to A. Pringle, 4 June, replies, 10 June, 2 Aug., Montagu to Eliott Lockhart, 4 June; Pringle mss box 16, Eliott Lockhart to J. Pringle, 13 June, A. Pringle to same, 16 June; Caledonian Mercury, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxvi. 126; LJ, liii. 140.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxvi. 221; LJ, liii. 264.
  • 13. Scott Jnl. 719, 720; LJ, lxiii, 350; CJ,lxxxvi. 419.
  • 14. NAS GD224/581/4, A. Eliott Lockhart to Buccleuch, 17 Mar., 22, 29 Apr., reply, 26 Apr. 1831.
  • 15. NAS GD224/581/4, Johnstone to Buccleuch, 25, 26 29 Apr., reply, 29 Apr.; Caledonian Mercury, 28, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 16. NAS GD224/581/4, Pringle to Buccleuch, 2, 3 May 1831.
  • 17. Scott Jnl. 742; Caledonian Mercury, 21 May 1831.
  • 18. Sir James Graham mss (IHR microfilm XR 80), 1/5, Graham to Grey, 27 June 1831; J.T. Ward, ‘A Footnote on the First Reform Act’, SHR, xlvi (1967), 89-94. See PEEBLESSHIRE.
  • 19. Add. 40403, ff. 140, 174; Wellington mss WP1/1239/37.
  • 20. Add. 40410, f. 267; 40424, f. 125; Scottish Electoral Politics, pp. xi, xxxix, xliii, lxii, 221, 229, 230, 240, 257.