DOUGLAS, William Robert Keith (1783-1859), of The Albany, Piccadilly, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 6 Mar. 1783,1 4th s. of Sir William Douglas†, 4th bt. (d. 1783), of Kelhead, Dumfries and Grace, da. and coh. of William Johnstone of Lockerbie, Dumfries. m. 24 Nov. 1821, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Walter Irvine of Tobago and Luddington House, Surr., 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. (2 d.v.p.). Granted patent of precedence as yr. bro. of mq. 4 May 1837. d. 5 Dec. 1859.
Ld. of admiralty Feb.-Mar. 1822, Feb. 1824-May 1827, member, ld. high admiral’s council May 1827-Feb. 1828.
Agent, Tobago 1823-6.
A London merchant, at least until 1820,2 Douglas had been brought in for Dumfries Burghs in 1812 on the joint interests of his brother Charles, 5th marquess of Queensberry, a Scottish representative peer, and their kinsman the 4th duke of Buccleuch. He had supported Lord Liverpool’s administration as a pro-Catholic Tory, but independently so, and had proved competent in debate as an advocate of the 1815 corn law, mercantile causes and Scottish burgh reform.3 The succession of the 5th duke of Buccleuch, a minor, in 1819, posed no threat to his return for Dumfries Burghs at the general election of 1820, but a series of letters to the Whig Dumfries and Galloway Courier from ‘a political economist’ now warned him of the dangers of failing to promote free trade.4 His parliamentary conduct in this period was influenced by his tenure of office at the admiralty and his marriage in 1821 to a daughter of the West India planter and London merchant Walter Irvine, who had traded in Lombard Street since 1798 and died in January 1824. Irvine had entrusted his Tobago estates of Buccoo and Woodlands to Douglas and, as stipulated in their marriage settlement, Douglas’s wife inherited Irvine’s Fifeshire ones of Dunino, near St. Andrews, and Grangemuir House, Pittenweem, where they later settled.5
Douglas voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and to outlaw the Catholic Association, 25 Feb. 1825. He was appointed to the revived select committees on Scottish burgh reform, 4 May 1820, 16 Feb. 1821, and defended their report and work when these were criticized in the House by the committee’s Whig chairman Lord Archibald Hamilton, 14 June 1821. He endorsed Lord Binning’s amendment to the 1822 burgh magistrates bill, requiring councillors to be resident or working within three miles of their burgh, 19 July 1822.6 He was against inquiring into parliamentary voting rights, 20 Feb. 1823, and opposed reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826, insisting that no case had been made for interference with its chartered rights or for the ‘whole principle of parliamentary reform in its widest sense’. He voted against Lord John Russell’s resolutions condemning electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. On the Queen Caroline case he criticized the tactics adopted by her radical partisans to intimidate Parliament and incite hostility to the ministry, especially their abuse of the press, ‘unconstitutional’ mass deputations and attempts to harness ‘all grievances to the queen’s cause’, 18 Sept. 1820. Upbraided by the presenter of the radical Montrose petition, Joseph Hume, he reiterated his remarks and urged ministers to act to curb the licentious press. He spoke at the Dumfriesshire county meeting to address the king, 12 Dec. 1820;7 presented two Dumfries petitions for restoration of the queen’s rights, 26 Jan.,8 and voted against censuring the government’s handling of the affair, 6 Feb. 1821.
Douglas had advocated inquiry into the distressed manufacturing districts and trades of Scotland and elsewhere in December 1819 and he was praised by the Dumfries and Galloway Courier and the Tory Dumfries Weekly Journal for supporting the London merchants’ petition suggesting lower taxes and a dual currency as remedial measures, 8 May 1820. He had defended the petitioners’ right to promulgate what ‘they really thought to be the sound principles of political economy and to show how far the restrictive system of trade was contrary to those principles’ and expressed regret at the partisan treatment of the petition.9 He testified to the ‘universal feelings of surprise and reprehension’ which the ‘extraordinary haste shown in filling up’ the vacant Scottish exchequer barony had excited and, although he did not vote for the opposition motion condemning it, 15 May, he supported Hamilton’s second resolution, and was applauded by the editor of the Dumfries and Galloway Courier.10 He stated that he would divide with opposition on the additional malt duty, 5 July 1820, but if he did so, it went unrecorded. He opposed the repeal bill, 21 Mar., and voted to defeat it, 3 Apr. 1821, having defended the tax as the ‘most general which could be selected’.11 He joined the Political Economy Club in 1821, but resigned the following year.12 He did not regard the corn averages as a ‘root cause’ of agricultural distress, criticized changes to them proposed by the president of the board of trade Robinson, 26 Feb., and joined its presenter Sir Matthew White Ridley in endorsing a petition critical of the changes from Leith, where he had commercial interests, 2 Apr. 1821.13 He presented and endorsed the Leith ship owners’ protest against the unfair advantage accruing to the coal traders of Newcastle-upon-Tyne under the 1816 Act, 14 Feb.14 On the timber duties, he maintained that undue preference was accorded to American produce and favoured a variable duty on deals, 29 Mar., 5 Apr., but with immediate effect and according to an intermediate scale, rather than after the two-year transition period proposed, 16 Apr.15 He complained that proposals to legalize game sales were a means of licensing the disposal of stolen goods, 5 Apr. He voted against reducing the barrack grant, 28 May, and intervened on ministers’ behalf on supply, 15 June; but he was a teller for a motley minority of six for increasing the compensation payment to General Desfourneaux for his wartime West Indian losses, 28 June, brought up a petition on his behalf, 10 July 1821, and supported others, 4 May 1829.16
Douglas’s appointment to the admiralty board in February 1822, ten weeks after his wedding and at the specific request of Queensberry and Buccleuch’s trustees, coincided with the Grenvillite junction with the government.17 A critical editorial in The Times commented:
Ministers did well to inflict this national calamity upon us in as unostentatious a way as possible, both for the sake of their own credit and our comfort ... The friends of the system for educating adults for the use of the state must fervently hope, that the same abrupt termination [of his appointment as Sir George Warrender* suffered] will not be put to the studies of Mr. Keith Douglas, who may otherwise, in due time, be able to aid by his learning the ministerial writers, of the stupidity of whom, we recollect, he once publicly complained: for when some measure was spoken of for fettering the press, Mr. Douglas thought such a measure most advisable; because, said he, government is brought into disesteem, inasmuch as the journalists who write in its support are greatly inferior in abilities to those by whom it is attacked. The friends of retrenchment will, we trust, derive energy from even this trifling and imperfect success.18
Despite a local furore caused by Queensberry’s libel action against the proprietors of the Carlisle Journal, Douglas’s re-election passed without incident.19 He voted against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., but was himself a casualty with Lord Hotham* when the House voted to reduce the admiralty lords from six to four, 16 Mar 1822.20 He was appointed to the public accounts committee, 18 Apr. On agricultural distress, he spoke against Wyvill’s proposals for large tax remissions, 8 May, recommended retaining a token tax on salt, 3 June, and voted in a minority of 21 for permitting the export of bonded corn after milling, 10 June. He voted against inquiries into Irish tithes, 19 June, and the lord advocate’s treatment of the Scottish press, 25 June, and endorsed expenditure on a public monument to commemorate the king’s visit to Scotland, 15 July 1822.21
Irked by his loss of office, he applied to Liverpool for a place at the treasury in February 1823, but was turned down, as were his patronage applications to the home secretary Peel on behalf of constituents.22 He voted against a proposal to raid the £7,000,000 sinking fund to finance tax cuts, 18 Mar., dismissed the wool trade’s objections to the warehousing bill, 21 Mar., and contended that undue importance had been attached to the regulation of the relatively small Irish linen trade, 29 Apr.23 He divided with government against repealing the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., but left the House without voting on the motion for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters when they were defeated, 22 Apr.24 During the inquiry, he repeatedly criticized the decision to question Orangemen concerning their secret oaths, 8, 23 May. The political economist David Ricardo* issued a critical review of his speech against Wolryche Whitmore’s proposals for equalizing the duties on East and West Indian sugars, 22 May, for he had argued that the ‘universal application’ of the political economists’ free trade theory was ‘not practicable’ and called on the House to heed and safeguard the principles on which the country’s existing commercial interests were founded. He claimed that failure to do so and precipitate equalization in response to a temporary market distortion caused by a glut of American sugars would ruin the West Indian economy and its annual export trade to Great Britain and Ireland (worth £3,560,000).25 He voted against investigating chancery delays, 5 June, and the currency, 12 June, spoke and was a majority teller for the government’s Scottish commissary courts bill, 30 June, and assisted the chancellor of the exchequer Robinson when the distilleries bill was criticized, 8 July. He was in a minority of 20 against the barilla duties bill, 13 June, and voted against repealing the usury laws, 17 June. As agent for Tobago, which he never visited, he presented its legislature’s petition complaining of economic distress, 18 July 1823.26
Douglas’s appointment to the standing committee of West India planters and merchants, 9 Feb. 1824, which he addressed that day as a supporter of the chairman Charles Rose Ellis* and of Canning’s November 1823 standing orders on slavery,27 postdated Irvine’s death and coincided with his return to the admiralty. His re-election, 4 Mar., when he chaired a grand dinner and made a speech on the constitution, which his critics rightly deemed ‘incomprehensible’, was unanimous.28 On 16 May he confirmed his support for Canning’s slavery resolutions and joined him in expressing regret that Fowell Buxton, whose speech that day catalogued specific cases of slave abuse since 1795, had not ‘abstained from all irritating topics’ that prevented temperate debate. He added that, with the possible exception of Jamaica, the colonial assemblies were being brought into line and, like Tobago, legislating to improve the treatment and welfare of slaves. Following lord chancellor Eldon’s declaration that the Equitable Loan Company (of which Douglas was a vice-president and director) was ‘illegal within the operation of the Bubble Act’, 4 Feb. 1825, Douglas endorsed the Bubble Act repeal bill and claimed that in Scotland the Act was already a ‘dead letter’, 2 June 1825.29
Attending to Scottish and constituency business, he presented petitions against the silk duties from St. Andrews, 17 Mar., against taxing notaries’ licences from Dumfriesshire, 23 Mar., Kirkcudbright, 29 Mar., and the county, 23 Mar., and from Dumfries to safeguard its salmon fisheries, 8 Apr. 1824.30 He was in favour of proceeding with the government’s Scottish judicature bill without the additional inquiry proposed by Hamilton, 30 Mar. He presented petitions from Dumfries and the county for repeal of the tax on shepherds’ dogs, 8, 9 Apr., and revision of the licensing laws, 4 May; from Annan and its presbytery against the proposed alteration in the duty on hides and skins and against the Scottish poor bill, 24 May 1824, and from Leith for the release of bonded corn for consumption, 28 Apr. 1825.31 The 1825 lowlands churches bill was entrusted to him, 30 May, and he assisted with the Scottish partnership societies bill, 22 June 1825.32 He defended the admiralty’s decision to remove naval officers who took holy orders from the half-pay list, 22 Feb., and brought up the report and amendments to the officers at sea bill, 5 Apr. 1826.33 He privately opposed the government’s decision to extend the inquiry into the circulation of bank notes under £5 to Scotland, but justified his decision not to vote against it, 16 Mar., on the grounds of the system’s ability to withstand scrutiny. He warned that Scottish petitions were almost unanimously against change, pointed out that the argument for interference was flawed, as the English would not accept small denomination Scottish notes in preference to their own specie, and said that confining inquiry to a few selected institutions would place individual companies at risk. He presented a hostile petition from Dumfries, 10 Apr.34 Resisting pressure to the contrary from the presbytery of Dumfries, he endorsed the government’s West Indian policy, 1 Mar., and voted against condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. He presented anti-slavery petitions from Kent, 20 Apr., and Cupar, 11 May 1826, praying for planters’ interests to be considered in the event of abolition.35 His return at the general election in June was assured, and from his grace and favour apartment at the admiralty he assisted John Norman McLeod* in his abortive quest for a seat.36 Before Parliament assembled in November, he consulted Henry Brougham* concerning the Crichton bequest for a new university at Dumfries, and the colonial under-secretary Wilmot Horton about Robinson’s dispute with the legislature of Tobago and the transfer of their agency, which he had surrendered formally, 21 Jan. 1826, to Patrick Maxwell Stewart*.37
Douglas was the government’s representative on the election committee that considered the Leominster double return and took charge of the 1827 Scottish bankrupts bill.38 He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and was a spokesman for the Scottish Dissenters in discussions on the Test Acts, 14 May 1827.39 The king revived the office of lord high admiral for his brother the duke of Clarence when Canning became prime minister, and the admiralty board went into abeyance. Douglas was included on Clarence’s council and, as one of his spokesmen, he defended the appointment of commanders to ships of the line to improve naval discipline, 30 May, and justified building work at the entrance to the admiralty to accommodate carriages, 13 June, and Clarence’s controversial promotions system, which included commissions by purchase, 21 June.40 He divided with his colleagues against the Penryn disfranchisement bill, 28 May, and the Coventry magistrates bill, 18 June 1827. During the recess, he attended the Portsmouth dinner in honour of Clarence, and was reappointed by the Goderich ministry to his council.41 Party feeling ran high in Dumfriesshire at the 1827 burgh elections and celebrations marking the coming of age in November of the 5th duke of Buccleuch, as whose stooge ‘Mercator’ [John Gladstone*] portrayed Douglas in the local press.42 In forming his ministry in January 1828, the duke of Wellington ignored suggestions that Douglas’s removal from office would ‘give umbrage to the Buccleuch connection’, and Douglas, who now took a house in Eaton Square, never forgave the duke for the public humiliation of being forced out to make way for Lord Brecknock*.43 Although excluded from the finance committee (his name had featured on the master of the mint Herries’s list), he refused to join in the opposition to the navy estimates proposed by his former colleague Sir George Cockburn, 11, 12 Feb.44 His failure to vote to repeal the Test Acts, 26 Feb., when he left the House before the division, provoked a local debate on his suitability as a Member, which his readiness to present favourable petitions, 24 Mar., 17 Apr., did little to allay.45 From Dumfriesshire he presented petitions against the malt duty, 29 Feb., the stamp duty on receipts, 4 Mar., the settlement laws, 6 May, and the Scottish courts bill, 15 May. He voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. The chancellor Goulburn ridiculed as unworkable Douglas’s proposal for extending the provisions of the small notes bill to Scotland to assist the cattle trade, 16 June. He in turn opposed the measure to the last, dividing in the minority of 13 against its third reading, 27 June. Seconding Wilmot Horton’s motion for papers on the Demerara and Berbice manumission orders, 6 Mar., Douglas explained that his support for Canning’s 1823 resolutions was undiminished and, drawing on Coleridge’s ‘Six Months in the West Indies’, correspondence from naval commanders and statistics from captured slaving ships, he strove to demonstrate that France and Spain were sustaining the slave market to the detriment of British West India planters and traders. He presented a petition stating this from planters resident in Edinburgh, 9 June, and, citing from it, reiterated his plea for gradual amelioration and criticized the abolitionists for arguing their case simplistically on the moral issue of the ‘indisputable rights of man’:
As to the compensation to the slave proprietors, I own ... I could never acquire any intelligible idea as to what is meant by it. The mere market price of the slaves surely would not be a sufficient compensation ... The House would do better in confining its views to the practical amelioration of the condition of the slaves as far as the state of society and the circumstances of our colonies will admit.
Douglas stewarded at dinners in honour of Buccleuch’s first visit to Dumfries in October 1828 and was instrumental with Lord Garlies* in reviving the Dumfries and Galloway Club of London early in 1829.46 As the patronage secretary Planta predicted, he voted for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and he presented favourable petitions, 20 Mar. He also attended to his constituents’ hostile ones, and by equating the legal status of Scottish synods and presbyteries to those of English archdeacons and their courts, he was instrumental in securing the receipt of that signed by the moderator on behalf of the presbytery of Dumfries, notwithstanding its prior rejection by the Lords and the procedural objections raised by Charles Williams Wynn, 30 Mar.47 He brought up others against the Scottish gaols bill, 7 May, and for ending the East India Company’s trading monopoly, 14 May. The general meeting of West India planters and merchants, 8 Apr., appointed Douglas to the subcommittee that chose Lord Chandos* as their chairman, 13 May, and he deputized regularly for Chandos on delegations to the board of trade and became one of the West India Association’s chief spokesmen in the Commons.48 He also supported Charles Grant’s unsuccessful motion for a 7s. reduction in the duty on sugars, which he urged ministers to consider seriously before the next session, 25 May 1829.
He accompanied William Burge* and Chandos to the treasury for pre-session talks with Wellington, Wilmot Horton and Goulburn on the commercial crisis in the West Indies, 16 Jan. 1830, and pressed ministers relentlessly that session for information, a full inquiry and concessions to assist the planters.49 Endorsing their distress petition, 23 Feb., he testified to the losses and reduced incomes of ‘British’ West Indian families since the abolition of slavery in 1807 and to the inability of British planters and merchants to compete with their French, Spanish and American counterparts, able to replenish their workforce with slaves in their prime. His spirited justification, later that day, of the West Indians’ petition for better administration of justice infuriated the colonial secretary Sir George Murray, who had trouble refuting his claims that offices had been left unfilled. Citing from papers ordered, 17 Feb., and his Association’s petition, he pressed their campaign for lower tariffs on coffee and sugars, 19 Mar. His announcement on 19 May that he and Chandos would seek a full inquiry by select committee, the papers and statistics he had ordered (7, 8 Apr.), and the representations he made to Herries, as president of the board of trade, on behalf of the bankrupt merchant banker Jonah Barrington, prompted Wellington to urge Herries to confer with Goulburn, Murray and Peel to ensure that Douglas was prevented from ‘bringing the issue to a committee of the House of Commons during the present session’, or at least from doing so independently.50 On 18 May, to taunts from Hume that he had bowed to government pressure, he postponed his inquiry motion pending Peel’s investigation into the Barrington case. He headed a West Indian deputation to the treasury on the matter, 29 May, and presented the Glasgow West India Association’s petition against equalization of the duty on spirits, 12 June.51 He soon perceived that Chandos’s motion for reductions in the sugar duties was doomed, and remarked caustically that Goulburn should apply his ‘wait and see’ strategy to duties on their rum and other spirits, 14 June. Setting aside mistrust and his private preferences, he spoke for Huskisson’s amendment to reduce the duty on West Indian sugars to 20s., deeming it similar enough to Chandos’s, 21 June. He failed to have the matter deferred to avoid defeat and when, in view of the small government majority (161-144) and George IV’s death, Goulburn announced a reduction to 24s., 30 June, his complaints that this was less than the West Indians deserved were disowned by Huskisson and went unsupported. He objected to the government’s handling of the West India spirits bill and strongly backed Huskisson’s abortive proposal for a reduction to 5s. 10d. a gallon in the duty on rum in Scotland and Ireland, 5 July. He ordered returns and presented the Glasgow West India proprietors’ petition for legal protection for their English and West Indian holdings, 9 July. Objecting on the 13th to Brougham’s ‘ill-timed’ slavery motion, he refused to debate the ‘abstract question whether man may be the property of man’ or to ‘defend individual slave-owners’, and failed to turn the discussion to Canning’s resolutions and West Indian property rights. He voted for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and against making forgery a non-capital offence, 7 June. Drawing on his departmental knowledge, he criticized proposals to amalgamate or abolish the office of treasurer of the navy to which Thomas Frankland Lewis* had been appointed, 12 Mar., and testified to recent improvements in accounting practices there, 30 Mar. He presented and endorsed petitions against renewing the East India Company’s charter from Pollokshaws, 8 Apr., Annan and Dumfries, 20 May 1830.
The anti-slavery lobby (represented in the Dumfries and Galloway Courier by ‘Presbyter’) and the earl of Selkirk’s coming of age, 22 Apr., had made Kirkcudbright and the Burghs harder to manage.52 At the 1830 general election Douglas, who fretted over his wife’s imminent ‘confinement’ (she gave birth to a daughter on 17 Aug.) and corresponded with Buccleuch throughout, canvassed assiduously and was obliged to keep a high profile in the county and the Stewartry to secure an unopposed return. He refused to pledge his future parliamentary conduct.53 He corresponded with the board of trade on West Indian issues before Parliament met.54 Calling on Brougham to make his anti-slavery motion, scheduled for 25 Nov., ‘less abstract’ and ‘more specific’, 8 Nov., Douglas pointed to the denominational nature of most of the petitions supporting it, 8, 11, 23 Nov., and, replying to Lord Morpeth, he portrayed the planters as defenders of the slaves’ interests, 23 Nov. 1830. The Wellington ministry counted him among their ‘friends’, but he divided against them on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. He described retrenchment and civil list reductions as ‘useless’ unless the populace were employed, 9 Dec., and objected to ‘striking off’ recipients of civil list pensions indiscriminately ‘as the king’s revenue was involved’, 23 Dec. In a definitive speech, 13 Dec., he endorsed a distress petition from the West India planters seeking inquiry into the ‘whole state of society in the West Indies’ and the slave owners’ right to compensation. He complained that prejudice made it impossible for the West India interest to ‘put their case fairly’ and, warning of the damaging effects of unrest and trading losses, he asked ‘whether precipitate abolition would really help the African’:
I became a West Indian proprietor about eight years ago by succession. By the laws of my country I became responsible for the proper management of this peculiar property. Had I immediately manumitted my people, all industry would have ceased on my property, and they would have become vagrants - a nuisance to every neighbouring proprietor ... I thought it my duty to agree to the resolutions of 1823, rather than to adopt any other course; and I thought time would be given until a manifest improvement had taken place in the condition of the slave.
Turning to reform, which Queensberry was ready to support, he conceded that it was necessary ‘to a certain extent’ but ‘most pernicious and mischievous, if it is to prevent Members from deliberating freely and fairly on the affairs of this country, and to enter into pledges that cannot be fulfilled, without committing the greatest injustice’. The general committee of West India planters and merchants had commended ‘the persevering diligence and consummate ability’ Douglas had ‘displayed in the protection of the interests of the West India colonies’ as chairman of the acting committee, 8 Dec. 1830, and despite resigning from it, 30 June 1831, he deputized for Chandos at meetings as hitherto, negotiated terms for inquiry with the board of trade, and ordered returns preparatory to drafting papers on the sugar duties.55 After discussing opposition tactics with Peel and Herries, Douglas denounced Lord Althorp’s budget as ‘confused’ and ‘incomplete’, 11 Feb., and described the proposed tax on stock transfers as a ‘breach of trust’, attributable to the first lord of the admiralty Sir James Graham*, 14 Feb. Seconding Chandos’s relief motion, he delivered his usual mantra on colonial ruin and incompetent government policy, 21 Feb., but despite their success in engaging the vice-president of the board of trade Poulett Thomson in debate, they made little progress.56 Douglas repeated his claims in discussions on trade, 11, 18 Mar., and the sugar and timber duties, 15, 22 Mar., and again when opposing Buxton’s slavery abolition motion, 15 Apr. 1831, but he now substituted age-specific population totals for trade statistics.57
He called for a separate Scottish reform bill, 3 Feb., and warned on bringing up a Dumfries petition, 4 Feb. 1831, that his constituents would only accept a ‘measure which takes seats from Cornwall to restore them to Scotland’. He successfully moved an amendment for information on Scottish burghs with populations of 2-4,000, 3 Mar., and contended when details of the Scottish measure were announced, 9 Mar.
that the present arrangement of districts can no longer be continued under a reform system. To a close system it was well enough adapted, but it will be found cumbersome under the proposed bill. And when each individual of the constituent body has the privilege of a direct vote, I fear the arrangement of districts will not only be cumbersome, but excessively expensive.
He divided against the English reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar. Next day, he addressed the ‘provost, magistrates, council, trades and other inhabitants of the Dumfries District of Burghs’, where two reformers were canvassing and his brothers’ support for him was doubtful. Confirming his future candidature, he strove to justify his hostile vote:
[The bill] had not undergone any previous public discussion, nor was its probable working or consequences made familiar to men’s minds by that private deliberation in ordinary society which is the safest mode of maturing any measure for public adoption. I therefore did and do see so many hazards to be incurred, by suddenly changing the whole balance of our present system of government, by displacing 168 English Members from that constituency which has hitherto returned them, transferring 106 of these to counties and large towns, and cutting off 62 Members entirely ... I tell you truly as an honest man I could not bring my mind to vote by acclamation for the principle of a measure that had so extensive an operation. Many gentlemen have voted for the second reading with a determination to cut down the principle of the bill by striking out its clauses in the committee. I have considered that I was taking a more manly and straightforward course in acting as I have done. A measure such as the one now before the country cannot be trifled with. If a wrong step be taken it cannot be retraced; and this constriction has had a strong influence on my decision.58
In the House, 30 Mar., 12 Apr., he objected to hurrying the Scottish measure through, cast doubt on its suitability, notwithstanding the widespread support for the extended franchise proposed, and poured scorn on ‘the whole bill mantra’. Knowing that he had ‘delicate cards to play’, he approached Buccleuch, who enabled him to see off an attempt, supported by Queensberry, who denied it, to replace him with his brother Henry, a reformer.59 After assisting with his canvass at Easter, Buccleuch’s agent Thomas Crichton commented, 10 Apr., ‘If there is no change in the law, Mr. Douglas I think will succeed. If the present bill passes he will not have the least chance’.60 The Times, which later described him as a ‘person of great pretensions’, observed, 18 Apr.:
Mr. Keith Douglas may well declare [that] the spirit of reform that pervades the country is attended with great inconvenience. To be met with the groans of the people, is very disagreeable, - to be burnt in effigy is not at all flattering. A narrow minded man ... who feels that he is soon to lose his political consequence, must behold with alarm the expression of honest popular feelings.61
To Lord Ellenborough and fellow anti-reformers, Douglas’s absence from the division on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, was ‘shabby’.62 However, it encouraged reports that he was ‘for the bill’ and briefly assisted him at the ensuing general election.63 Targeted by radicals whom he claimed were encouraged by the pro-reform Dumfries Courier, he considered his success ‘very doubtful. If I am back in Parliament to assist in keeping in order many of the projects that are afloat, I must I suspect find a seat in England’. He also deemed his return impossible without military assistance to quell the Dumfries mob.64 Queensberry as county lord lieutenant provided this and, belatedly assisted by his brothers John and Henry, he carried the Lochmaben delegate’s election and so secured his return.65 To Buccleuch, whose candidates in Dumfriesshire, Linlithgow Burghs and Selkirkshire he now assisted, Douglas observed: ‘My success is a great triumph. My intention is to use it with every moderation and I shall tell my constituents that they shall have future access to me as if nothing had occurred’.66 He had recently been appointed a deputy lieutenant of Dumfries and Fifeshire, where, as praeses, he facilitated the return of the anti-reformer James Lindsay the following week.67
He presented and defended the Forfarshire anti-reformers’ petition, 27 June, and, opposing the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July 1831, condemned it as a destructive measure, devoid of a safety net, that struck at the ‘existence of every institution in the country’. He attributed the Wellington ministry’s defeat and the ‘current sweeping reform’ to the duke’s refusal to concede the enfranchisement of large towns and said that he had been prepared to support the bill’s enfranchisement proposals (schedules C and D) and a £10 or £15 franchise in the new constituencies, but nothing further until this change had been properly evaluated. Challenging ministers to explain the difference between towns of 2-4,000 and 6-7,000 inhabitants, he spoke scathingly of the schedule B disfranchisements and complained that the bill deprived West Indians of parliamentary influence and that the Scottish bill failed to provide equal and adequate representation for Scotland.68 He voted for adjournment, 12 July, to make the 1831 census the criterion for English borough disfranchisements, 19 July, and to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He repeated his objections to schedule B, 2 Aug., disputed the case for enfranchising Gateshead, which he claimed to know well, independently of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 5 Aug., and supported petitions against the proposed disfranchisement of the Anstruther Easter Burghs, 6 Aug. Unwell with ‘influenza’, he learnt with dismay that Queensberry, who had gone over to government, was determined not to return him again and, fearing an early dissolution, he turned again to Buccleuch.69 He joined in the criticism of the three Member English counties and pressed for second seats for the Welsh counties, Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire, Fifeshire, Forfarshire, Lanarkshire, Midlothian and Perthshire, 13 Aug. He refused to commit a premature vote for Hume’s scheme for colonial representation, 16 Aug. He presented Kirkudbright’s petition requesting a transfer to the Wigtown district of burghs, 23 Aug. He objected to using Saturday sittings to expedite the reform bill’s progress, 27 Aug., voted against disfranchising non-resident freeholders of Aylesbury, Cricklade, East Retford and New Shoreham, 2 Sept., and maintained that two-day polls would be unmanageable in Yorkshire and the large metropolitan constituencies, 5 Sept. He also voted that day to suspend the Liverpool writ. He divided against the English reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept., but for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. Before doing so, he spoke of his longstanding conviction that some reform was necessary in Scotland, his reluctance to give the impression, by a hostile vote, that he opposed all change, and his deep and persistent objections to the ministerial measure as it stood. He devoted much of his speech for Murray’s proposal to grant two Members to Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire, Fifeshire, Forfarshire, Lanarkshire, Midlothian, Perthshire and Renfrewshire, 4 Oct. 1831, to pleading for the continued separate enfranchisement of Selkirk and Peebles. He now also challenged Althorp to state the likely electoral effects of permitting the eldest sons of Scottish peers to sit for Scottish counties and, receiving a fudged reply, protested that ‘reform’ had not been thought through.
Douglas chaired the West India planters and merchants’ standing committee in St. James’s Street, 19 June 1831, and represented them in discussions at the treasury and board of trade on molasses (to which select committee he was appointed, 30 June), the sugar duties and the beleaguered sugar refinery bill. He presented the Dublin West India Association’s petition against renewing the Refinery Act, 30 Aug., and when the renewal bill was delayed, 5 Sept., he moved unsuccessfully for a committee on the commercial, financial and political state of the West Indies. Opposing the bill’s committal, 12 Sept., he protested that ministers had kept him uninformed and criticized Althorp’s policy of permitting foreign sugars to enter the country for refining and re-export, so keeping prices at continental levels, below the British West Indians’ production costs. He failed to have ‘the statements, calculations and explanations, submitted to the board of trade, relating to the commercial, financial, and political state of the British West India colonies, and printed by the House of Commons on 7 Feb. 1831’ referred to a committee of the whole House. As a minority teller, he harried ministers when the refinery bill was held over, 13, 14 Sept., and the report presented, 28 Sept., pressed again for inquiry 30 Sept., and on 6 Oct. was named to the committee conceded on West Indian commerce, to which he immediately submitted evidence in writing.70 His opposition to the ‘vexatious’ sugar refinery bill persisted, but his objections, requests for deferral and attempts to kill it failed, 6, 7, 13 Oct., and exposed divisions within the West India lobby, 13 Oct. In November he wrote to the president of the board of trade Lord Auckland and Brougham setting out his own views on the sugar trade. He recommended ‘opening the trade on a system of duties and drawbacks’ determined by the country of production, and suggested
that the duty on British plantation sugar should be 15s. per hundredweight; East India sugar, the actual growth of any of our residences in India 18s., and foreign 20s. I would further suggest that they should all be admitted for consumption in this country at these distinctive rates of duty, on condition that all such importations shall be made in British ships; and that the slave trade shall be effectually abolished in the foreign countries to which this privilege shall be extended.71
Partly on account of his West Indian commitments, he prevaricated over going to Scotland to rally support for the anti-reformers following the English bill’s defeat in the Lords.72 He divided against the revised bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, and committal, 20 Jan., and against enfranchising Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He again poured scorn on Gateshead’s case for separate enfranchisement, 5 Mar. According to Lord Ellenborough, Douglas frequented the Carlton Club during the crisis of May when the king’s invitation to Wellington to form a ministry failed.73 Riled by the popular reform petitions that the episode prompted, he criticized the Edinburgh one presented by the lord advocate, Jeffrey, 23 May, and accused ministers of refusing to treat the question of Scottish reform with ‘fair deliberation’ from the outset. Justifying his remarks, he added:
At my own election, because I professed my honest opinions and refused to vote for ‘the bill, the whole bill and nothing but the bill’, there were persons in conjunction with government who took care to suppress anything like deliberation; and this has been the case at all other public meetings, whether the object was to petition Parliament to elect a representative. We have now reached the stage where the power of the king and ... Lords is entirely superseded. Under these circumstances I have made up my mind as to the Scotch reform bill. I consider it quite unnecessary to offer any suggestions respecting it, because it is well known the government will admit of no alterations. We now have a ministry, not only invested with their known customary official power, but also with the power of the king and both Houses of Parliament. It is, therefore, better to leave to them all the responsibility and inconvenience that must attend on a measure carried in so unconstitutional a manner.
He divided against the Irish reform bill at its second reading, 25 May, and called for a uniform freeholder franchise, 2 July. He wanted to see a combined Greenock and Port Glasgow constituency under the Scottish reform bill, 15 June, and was a minority teller that day against the dismemberment of Perthshire. He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and expressed surprise at the failure of Alexander Baring’s bill denying debtors parliamentary privilege, 13 July 1832.
Douglas was included on the revived West India committee, 15 Dec. 1831, and, testifying before them, 2, 3 Feb. 1832, he spoke candidly of his eight to ten years’ experience as an absentee planter and produced accounts from his estates for scrutiny that confirmed his tenet that the absence of protective tariffs and the age-structure of post-abolition British plantations adversely affected their competitiveness. He suggested introducing a drawback on West Indian sugars and permitting rum to be refined and rectified in bond.74 Their deliberations had little effect on his parliamentary conduct, but the delays to the report infuriated him. With Chandos, he pressed for tariff concessions on dark and clay sugars, information on the ministerial relief measures and a full debate, 29 Feb., 7, 9, 14, 15, 23 Mar. He protested at delays to the West India committee’s report and to the crown colonies relief bill, and criticized the government’s reluctance to discuss West Indian issues in a full House and their prevarication and ‘ambiguity’ on policy, 28 Mar., 13 Apr. He remained convinced that Fowell Buxton’s policies would ‘destroy the colonies at a stroke’ and conceded that he had been ‘caught out’ by the late change in the wording of his motion for a select committee to consider the West Indian reports and the immediate appointment of a select committee on slavery, and also by the colonial under-secretary Lord Howick’s willingness to grant it, 24 May. He now criticized Fowell Buxton’s choice of statistics, and he was dismayed to find that his appeal to Canning’s 1823 resolutions as a common rallying call went unheeded. On the crown colonies relief bill, which he opposed, 13 June, 3 Aug., he played second fiddle to the Jamaican agent Burge, with whom he was a minority teller, 3 Aug. He succeeded in harrying Althorp on commercial issues, the differences between crown and legislative colonies and the remit of previous orders-in-council, 20, 27 July, 3 Aug.; but when, assisted by Holmes, he tried to have the issues he had then raised and papers he had ordered on colonial labour, 2 July, and crown colonies, 27 July, referred to the new West India committee, he failed by 51-20, 3 Aug. 1832.
As expected, Douglas stood down at the dissolution in 1832, and although mooted as a likely Conservative candidate for St. Andrews Burghs in 1835 and the Dumfries district in 1839, he did not stand for Parliament again.75 He remained active at the Carlton and in West Indian circles, welcomed Peel’s decision to repeal the corn laws and corresponded with Brougham, whose legal advice he had first sought in 1833, when his late father-in-law’s (and thereby his family’s) rights to the Irvines’ Scottish and West Indian property became the subject of costly and protracted litigation in the court of session and Upper House, which ultimately ruled in their favour, 2 Aug. 1850.76 He attributed to Brougham personally William IV’s decision to grant him and his siblings the precedence of younger sons and daughters of a marquess.77 Douglas, for whom no will has been found, died in December 1859 at his London home in Chesham Place, survived by his wife (d. 1864) and four of their seven children.78 His eldest surviving son William (1824-68), the secretary of legation at Vienna, succeeded his mother to the Irvine estates, took that name in 1867 and was in turn succeeded by his brother Walter Douglas Irvine (1825-1901), who disentailed the estates in 1872.79
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
Draws on Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915, reel 4 (minutes of cttees. of W.I. planters and merchants, 1824-33).
- 1. IGI.
- 2. Scots Peerage, vii. 151; London Gazette, 2 May 1820.
- 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 594-6; iii. 614.
- 4. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 18 Jan., 1, 8 Feb., 14 Mar.; Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 4 Apr. 1820.
- 5. PROB 11/1680/30; IR26/1002/66; NAS SC70/1/33.
- 6. The Times, 20 July 1822.
- 7. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 19, 26 Dec. 1820; Kelso Mail, 15 Jan. 1821.
- 8. The Times, 27 Jan. 1821.
- 9. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 2, 9, 16, 23 May; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 16 May 1820.
- 10. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 23, 30 May 1820.
- 11. The Times, 6 July 1820.
- 12. Hist. Pol. Economy Club (1921 edn.), 353.
- 13. The Times, 27 Feb., 3 Apr. 1821.
- 14. Ibid. 15 Feb. 1821.
- 15. Ibid. 30 Mar. 1821
- 16. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 111, 112; The Times, 29 June, 11 July 1821.
- 17. Gent. Mag. (1821), ii. 641; (1822) i. 175; Add. 38292, f. 331; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 275.
- 18. The Times, 6 Feb. 1822.
- 19. Carlisle Jnl. 22 Dec. 1821, 9 Mar.; Caledonian Mercury, 14 Mar. 1822.
- 20. The Times, 18 Mar. 1822.
- 21. Ibid. 16 July 1822.
- 22. Add. 38292, ff. 331, 335; 38294, ff. 268-70; 40359, ff. 137-9, 197.
- 23. The Times, 30 Apr. 1823.
- 24. Ibid. 26 Apr. 1823.
- 25. Ibid. 23, 24 May 1823.
- 26. TNA CO285/32/319; 38/84, 85; The Times, 19 July 1823.
- 27. The Times, 10, 11 Feb. 1823.
- 28. Gent. Mag. (1824), i. 175, 271; Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 10, 24 Feb., 9 Mar. 1824.
- 29. R. Harris, ‘Political economy, interest groups and repeal of Bubble Act in 1825’, EcHR, n.s. l (1997), 679-83; The Times, 27 Mar. 1826.
- 30. The Times, 18, 24, 30 Mar., 9 Apr. 1824.
- 31. Ibid. 9, 10 Apr., 5, 25 May 1824, 29 Apr. 1825.
- 32. Ibid. 23 June 1825.
- 33. Ibid. 23 Feb., 6 Apr. 1826.
- 34. Ibid. 11 Apr. 1826.
- 35. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 7 Mar.; The Times, 21 Apr., 12 May 1826.
- 36. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 4 July; Perthshire Courier, 8 July 1826; Macleod of Macleod mss 1061/2.
- 37. Brougham mss, Douglas to Brougham, 26 Sept.; CO285/32/319, Douglas to Wilmot Horton, 14 Oct. 1826.
- 38. The Times, 10 Feb. 1827.
- 39. Ibid. 15 May 1827.
- 40. Ibid. 31 May, 14, 22 June 1827.
- 41. Ibid. 7 Aug., 5 Sept. 1827.
- 42. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 2, 9 Oct., 6, 13, 27 Nov., 4 Dec. 1827.
- 43. Wellington mss WP1/914/35; 1015/73; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale [5 Feb.]; Harrowby mss, Denison to Sandon, 6 Feb.; The Times, 7 Feb. 1828.
- 44. Add. 40395, f. 221.
- 45. The Times, 5 Mar.; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 25 Mar., 1, 15 Apr. 1828.
- 46. Dumfries Weekly Jnl. 7 Oct. 1828; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 11 Mar. 1829.
- 47. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 24 Feb., 24 Mar. 1829.
- 48. R.B. Sheridan, ‘Sweet Malefactor: the social cost of slavery and sugar in Jamaica and Cuba, 1807-54’, EcHR, n.s. xxix (1976), 236, 239.
- 49. The Times, 18 Jan. 1830.
- 50. Wellington mss WP1/1117/40.
- 51. The Times, 31 May 1830.
- 52. Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 22, 29 Dec. 1829, 5, 12, 19, 26 Jan., 2, 9 Feb., 27 Apr. 1830.
- 53. NAS GD224/507/3/28, 29, 33; Dumfries and Galloway Courier, 13 July, 3, 10, 17, 24 Aug. 1830.
- 54. TNA BT5/40, ff. 400 et seq.
- 55. Ibid. ff. 9, 19, 31.
- 56. Three Diaries, 55.
- 57. The Times, 16 Apr. 1831.