FERGUSON, James (1735-1820), of Pitfour, Aberdeen and 36 St. James's Place, Westminster, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 25 May 1735, 1st s. of James Ferguson of Pitfour, SCJ (Lord Pitfour), and Hon. Anne Murray, da. of Alexander, 4th Lord Elibank [S]. educ. Edinburgh Univ.; adv. 1757; grand tour 1758. unm. suc. fa. 1777. d. 6 Sept. 1820.
Rector, Aberdeen Univ. 1794-6.
In 1826, Henry Crabb Robinson recorded a typical example of the drollery which Ferguson inspired during his long and undistinguished parliamentary career:
Late at the Athenaeum. Hudson Gurney* was there. He related with great effect the experience of Ferguson of Pitfour, which he used to repeat when an old man, for the benefit of young Members: ‘I was never absent from any division I could get at. I have heard many arguments which convinced my judgement, but never one that influenced my vote. I never voted but once according to my own opinion, and that was the worst vote I ever gave. I found that the only way to be quiet in Parliament was always to vote with the ministers, and never to take a place’.1
Ferguson, who had been aptly described in 1788 as ‘a man of real good sense, but indolent’, attended the Aberdeenshire county meeting which voted a loyal address to the prince regent in the aftermath of Peterloo, 22 Nov. 1819. He was approaching his 85th birthday when he secured his eighth consecutive return for the county four months later. There was no opposition.2 Ministers would have counted on his continued loyalty, though they did not obtain his vote in the division on economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. The following day he gave qualified support to Hamilton’s motion deploring the recent equalization of the Scottish and English malt duties: he ‘could not agree that there should be no deviation from the old proportion of the duties, though he wished the duty to be somewhat lower in Scotland than in England’.
He was apparently ‘in the habit, at the end of the parliamentary season, of entertaining at the British Coffee House those friends who had given him dinners during the session’; the duchess of Gordon called these gatherings ‘the meeting of Pitfour’s creditors’.3 His ‘many humorous sayings’ provided a fund of affectionate anecdotes. Farington was regaled with a selection by Lord Lonsdale in 1817:
Speaking of his house at Pitfour ... he said, ‘When you visit me there ask for what you want, and they will give you what they have’ ... Appoplexy and Epylepsy being spoken of, and the characters of these diseases, Ferguson said, ‘When men die it is called Appoplexy and when they live it is called Epylepsy’.4
It was ‘apoplexy’ which carried him off ‘without a struggle’ in September 1820. He was remembered as a man who ‘enjoyed his claret at Bellamy’s, till the call for the ministerial phalanx to descend’, and as a benevolent landlord and keen promoter of agricultural and local improvement who ‘left that a garden, which, when he came into his estate, was almost a desert’.5 Administration of his effects, which were sworn under £600 within the province of Canterbury, was granted on 19 May 1821 to his nephew James Ferguson of Pitfour.6