CUMMING BRUCE, Charles Lennox (1790-1875), of Roseisle, Elgin and Kinnaird, Stirling

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

Constituency

Dates

1831 - 1832
17 May 1833 - 1837
25 Apr. 1840 - 1868

Family and Education

b. 20 Feb. 1790, 5th but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Alexander Penrose Cumming (afterwards Cumming Gordon†), 1st bt. (d. 1806), of Altyre and Gordonstown, Elgin and Helen, da. of Sir Ludovick Grant, 7th bt., of Castle Grant, Elgin; bro. of Sir William Gordon Gordon Cumming, 2nd bt.* educ. Winchester; Corpus, Oxf. 1808. m. 20 June 1822, Mary Elizabeth, da. and h. of James Bruce of Kinnaird, 1da. d.v.p. Took additional name of Bruce, 1822. d. 1 Jan. 1875.

Offices Held

Jt.-sec. to bd. of control Mar.-Dec. 1852.

Maj. Inverness militia; provost, Nairn 1825-6.

Biography

On his father’s death in 1806 Cumming Bruce, who was educated in England, succeeded to the Elginshire estates of Roseisle and Dunphail.1 As delegate for Cullen, one of the Elgin Burghs, at the general election of 1820, he voted for the successful ministerialist candidate.2 His marriage in 1822 to the granddaughter of the celebrated Abyssinian traveller James Bruce brought him a Stirlingshire property and an extra name. At an Elginshire county meeting called to petition for reform of the Scottish representative system, 22 Dec. 1830, he failed to carry an amendment counselling caution, arguing that as ‘the spirit of the age’ was ‘all for reform ... the wisdom is rather to moderate than to cheer on that spirit’. He admitted that the existing burghs election procedure was farcical, but said that there was much to commend the prevailing system in general. He and his elder brother Sir William Gordon Cumming were the ‘great anti-ministerial agitators’, as the Scottish solicitor-general Henry Cockburn described them, who promoted an Elginshire petition against the Grey ministry’s reform scheme in April 1831.3 At the general election which followed the defeat of the English bill Cumming Bruce was returned unopposed for Inverness Burghs, where his brother controlled Nairn and their cousin Colonel Francis William Grant*, whose candidature for Elginshire he warmly endorsed, was dominant at Forres.4

In the House, 27 June 1831, he blamed the Stirlingshire election riot, which he had witnessed, on the pro-reform mob, and denounced the Scottish reform bill as one of ‘injustice and wrong’. Cockburn sarcastically asked the Whig Member Thomas Kennedy, ‘How is orator Bruce? He is considered at Forres as the leader of the opposition’.5 He made a splash with his speech against the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 4 July, when he claimed to be ‘decidedly friendly’ to ‘safe and well considered changes’, but condemned the ministerial plan as a threat to the landed interests and the constitution. He likened the reformers, who were made up of ‘ministers, Whigs, universal suffragists, ballotists, revolutionists, radicals, infidels, misbelievers’, to one of ‘those vast and terrible pillars of sand which are sometimes seen galloping about the boundless horizon of the Arabian desert’. His observation that when Lord John Russell had mentioned Cromwell on introducing the bill ‘it did appear to me that the mace involuntarily trembled’ was ludicrous enough, and prompted the minister Spring Rice to describe him to Lady Holland as ‘a mad Scotsman’.6 He divided against the second reading, 6 July, at least twice for the adjournment, 12 July, for use of the 1831 census to define the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and against the inclusion of Chippenham in B, 27 July. On 4 Aug. he attacked the enfranchisement of the London districts as an ‘immense accession of power and influence ... to be given to the population heaped together in this overgrown metropolis’, which, together with the failure to deal fairly by Scotland, violated the spirit of the Union. Cockburn now asked if ‘that modest man ... Bruce’ had ‘succeeded at last in destroying himself’.7 He divided against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. On 3 Sept. he gave notice of amendments to the Scottish bill intended to retain the existing burghs system to the extent that victory should go not to the candidate with a majority of the popular vote but to the one who won the most burghs in the district, and to vest responsibility for the registration of votes and conduct of polling in the chief magistrate of each burgh. He voted against the second reading, 23 Sept., but welcomed the government’s changes to certain details, 26 Sept. On 3 Oct. 1831, however, speaking ornately and at length, he demanded justice for Elginshire, insisted that majority educated opinion in Scotland was against the ‘real revolution’ embodied in the bill and defended the old system as ‘a representation of property to a very great extent’, though he conceded that the burghs arrangement was ‘radically bad and utterly indefensible’. Next day he supported an unsuccessful bid to prevent the proposed removal of the burghs of Peebles and Selkirk from their districts.

In mid-October 1831 Cumming Bruce was on manoeuvres with the Inverness-shire militia. He was still in Edinburgh on 12 Dec. 1831, and so missed the division on the second reading of the revised English reform bill on the 17th.8 He was present to threaten his ‘most strenuous opposition’ to the ‘levelling injustice’ of the Scottish measure, 19 Jan. 1832, and divided against proceeding with the English bill the following day. He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. (he paired on 12 July). He opposed the Scottish cholera prevention bill, 15 Feb. He voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and repeated his criticisms of the enfranchisement of the metropolitan districts, 2 Mar., when he argued that Inverness was entitled to have a Member to itself, deplored the Scottish county mergers and recalled the frustration of opposing the Scottish bill the previous autumn before ‘empty benches, and ... seeing the truths demonstrated overborne by the rush of a ministerial majority who had not been present to hear one word of the discussion, but who were prepared to vote that black was white’. He divided against the third reading of the English bill, 22 Mar. He opposed the malt drawback bill as an incentive to illicit distillation, 30 Mar., and was in the hostile minority of 41, 2 Apr. He voted against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. He supported an abortive attempt to secure an increase in the Scottish county representation, 1 June, when his own amendment against the annexation of Nairnshire to Elginshire was ruled out of order. He advocated the right of owners of voting superiorities to compensation for their abolition, 4 June, but withdrew his planned proposal to retain the old principle of burghs elections as it was ‘utterly hopeless’ to expect to carry it. His suggestion of a method of valuing Scottish property as a basis for a voting qualification was rejected, 5 June. He supported an unsuccessful attempt to bar Scottish clergymen from voting, 6 June 1832.

At the general election of 1832 Cumming Bruce, who was one of the five men on the Conservatives’ Scottish elections committee, finished in third place for Inverness Burghs behind another Conservative and a Liberal.9 He regained the seat at a by-election five months later, won it by a hairsbreadth in 1835, stood down in 1837 and in 1840 replaced Colonel Grant as Member for Elgin and Nairnshire. He sat as a Protectionist Conservative, who held junior office in Lord Derby’s brief first ministry, for 28 years until his retirement at the age of 78.10 In the 1830s he drew attention to himself as a ‘zealous’ opponent of ‘every proposition for the slightest alteration in the constitution of the Church of Scotland’. A tall, ‘slender’ man, with ‘a studious, pensive expression’, supposedly ‘in delicate health’, he was described in 1837 as ‘a very fair speaker’, despite ‘a curious ... sort of twang’ in his voice.11 He died in January 1875. His only child Elizabeth Mary had married in 1841 James Bruce, Lord Bruce† (later 8th earl of Elgin), but had died in childbed in 1843.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. M.E. Cumming Bruce, Fam. Recs. of Bruces and Cumyns, 476.
  • 2. NAS GD248/824/2/90.
  • 3. Inverness Courier, 29 Dec. 1830; Cockburn L