DON, Sir Alexander, 6th bt. (?1780-1826), of Newton Don, Berwick

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

Constituency

Dates

25 July 1814 - 11 Apr. 1826

Family and Education

bap. 5 May 1780,1 o.s. of Sir Alexander Don, 5th bt., and Lady Harriet Cunningham, da. of William, 13th earl of Glencairn [S]. educ. Eton 1788-96. m. (1) 1809, Lucretia (d. 19 Feb. 1817), da. of George Montgomerie (formerly Molineux) of Garboldisham Hall, Norf., s.p.s.; (2) 19 July and 17 Aug. 1824,2 Grace Jane, da. of John Stein†, distiller, of Herriot Row, Edinburgh, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. as 6th bt. 5 June 1815. d. 11 Apr. 1826.

Offices Held

Capt. Roxburgh militia 1802, Berwick yeoman cav. 1810-13; capt. Roxburgh yeomanry 1814, maj. 1821.

Biography

His friend Sir Walter Scott attributed Don’s ‘gay habits which rendered him averse to serious business’ to his mother’s fortune, his natural conviviality and good manners and the love of horse racing and the opera which had helped to sustain him as a French detainee at Verdun, 1803-10.3 A pro-Catholic Tory, he had been returned for Roxburghshire on the Buccleuch interest in 1814 (at his second attempt), attended the House erratically and made no major speeches. However, he impressed as a speaker at county meetings and had recently declared his ambition to represent Berwickshire, where his estates and influence lay.4 Nothing came of his anticipated challenge there at the general election of 1820, and he came in for Roxburghshire unopposed. On the hustings he praised the prompt response of Lord Liverpool’s ministry to the Peterloo massacre and their repressive Six Acts.5 Don’s poor parliamentary attendance and lack of commitment to county business in the 1820 Parliament annoyed even his friends.6 He presented a petition from Kelso against the leather tax, 11 June 1822,7 and, speaking as a determined preserver of game on his estates,8 he briefly ‘expressed his assent’ to Stewart Wortley’s game bill, 7 Mar. 1825. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar. 1825, but to outlaw the Catholic Association, 25 Feb. 1825. He divided with government on the revenue, 6 Mar. 1821, and tax relief, 21 Feb. 1822, against inquiring into the lord advocate’s conduct towards the Scottish press, 25 June 1822, and against reforming the Scottish representation, 2 June 1823, but he cast a wayward vote for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. He was listed in the minority for the usury laws repeal bill, 17 Feb., and voted for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 10 June 1825.

Don’s private life continued to attract attention. The rebuilding of Newton Don mansion, with its vinery, peach house, conservatory and gardens, to Robert Smirke’s design was completed in 1820, but he had to place his estates in trust to meet the cost, which prompted his heir-at-law, John Wauchope (d.1837) of Edmondstone and Niddrie, to threaten legal action. He was also implicated in the prosecution of Francis Aberdein Murray by the renegade 7th earl of Stair, whom he pursued to Paris in 1823 and challenged to a duel to secure repayment of a £2,000 debt.9 His courtship of and marriage in Edinburgh in 1824 to Grace Stein, 22 years his junior, described by Scott as ‘a very pleasant woman ... [who] plays on the harp delightfully’, caused a stir, and the birth in May 1825 of his son-and-heir William Henry was lavishly celebrated.10 Don died intestate in April 1826, leaving his distraught wife enceinte with their daughter Alexina.11 Scott informed his son Walter:

We have been disturbed here by the death of poor Sir Alexander Don so suddenly as to be almost instantaneous. He had complained of his stomach and had taken an emetic as recommended by a Kelso physician, seemed better, but suddenly fell back, said I am dying and was dead immediately. His body was opened and the disease proved to be an aneurism as it is called of the heart or adherence of that organ to the ribs. Lady Don is much to be pitied.12

An inventory sworn in Edinburgh, 18 July 1826, valued Don’s personal effects at £7,671 and was proved in Berwickshire consistory court on the 20th.13 His son succeeded him as 7th baronet and was sworn as heir to Newton Don, 10 July 1829, but the 3,328-acre estate, worth £5,364 a year, was let and partly disposed of during his minority to service debts and finance litigation. In 1847, notwithstanding protests by Wauchope’s heirs, he sold the remainder to the Balfour family of Whittingham for £85,000, resigned his army commission and pursued an acting career in Australia. He was twice married, but died without male issue in Hobart Town, Tasmania in 1867, whereupon the Don baronetcy passed to the Wauchope family. Don’s widow (d.1878) married General Sir James Maxwell Wallace (1783-1867) of Anderby Hall, Northallerton.14

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott

Notes

  • 1. IGI (Berwick).
  • 2. By Presbyterian and Anglican rites; IGI (Midlothian); Kelso Mail, 19 Aug. 1824.
  • 3. Scott Jnl. i. 154.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 604-5; Edinburgh Advertiser, 26 Nov. 1819.
  • 5. Scott Letters, v. 137; Kelso Mail, 21 Feb., 3 Apr. 1820.