FERGUSON, Sir Ronald Craufurd (1773-1841), of Muirtown, Fife and 5 Bolton Street, Mdx.

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

Constituency

Dates

1806 - 1830
1830 - 10 Apr. 1841

Family and Education

b. 8 Feb. 1773, 2nd. s. of William Ferguson (formerly Berry) of Raith (d. 1810) and Jean, da. of Ronald Craufurd of Restalrig, Edinburgh; bro. of Robert Ferguson*. educ. Edinburgh h.s. 1777-8; Berlin mil. acad. 1791-3. m. 4 Jan. 1798, Jean, illegit. da. of Gen. Sir Hector Munro† of Novar, Ross, 1s. surv. 1da. KCB 2 Jan. 1815; GCB 13 Sept. 1831; suc. bro. Robert to Raith 1840. d. 10 Apr. 1841.

Offices Held

Ensign 53 Ft. 1790, lt. 1791, capt. 1793; maj. 84 Ft. 1794, lt.-col. 1794; lt-col. 37 Ft. 1799; brevet col. 1800; maj.-gen. 1808; col. Sicilian regt. 1809; lt.-gen. 1813; col. 79 Ft. 1828; gen. 1830.

Biography

In 1841, the Edinburgh Whig lawyer Henry Cockburn recalled Ferguson and Lord Archibald Hamilton as ‘the two most strenuous defenders of Scotland’ in the Commons in the pre-reform era and wrote of Ferguson:

The parliamentary struggles of this manly and disinterested soldier, unadorned as they were by eloquence, and consequently prompted by no ambition of display, and cheered at that time by very little hope of success, but proceeding solely from the impulse of right opinion and a gallant spirit, did honour to the whole army.1

A Foxite Whig, who as a commanding officer had received the thanks of both Houses for his services at Vimeiro in 1808 and a military knighthood in 1815, he had represented Dysart Burghs on the combined interest of his family and the 2nd earl of Rosslyn since 1806, defying successive attempts by the 2nd Lord Melville to restore the seat to government. Opposition proposed at the general election of 1820, when his brother Robert stood unsuccessfully for Fifeshire, was soon abandoned.2

A widower, Ferguson was a regular guest at Whig country houses, his brother’s estate of Raith, near Kirkcaldy, and of his Whig friends in Edinburgh, but he lived mainly in London, where he associated with the Westminster reformers, including Francis Place. A supporter of George Tierney* for the party leadership in 1818, in the 1820 Parliament he attended assiduously, voted against administration in almost every major division and supported the ‘Mountain’ and Hume’s campaigns for economy and retrenchment, becoming a respected spokesman for them on military matters. He divided silently for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He maintained that Scotland was decidedly for concessions although its people were mainly Presbyterians, 28 Feb. 1825.3 A radical publication of that year noted that he ‘attended regularly, and voted with the opposition: speaks, not often, but to the purpose’.4 Over half of more than 170 speeches credited to him, 1820-32, predate 1825, and most of the 17 attributed to him that year (1825) were on trade and commercial issues. ‘Though ... not hostile to free trade’ (he maintained that his views coincided with those of the political economist David Ricardo*), Ferguson appreciated the practical and political necessity of protecting the Scottish linen trade and supported Fifeshire petitions for an extension of the linen bounty, as an interim measure, at his constituents’ request, 25 May, 8, 30 June 1820.5 He criticized petitions against the 1823 Scottish linen manufacture bill entrusted to Hugh Lindsay, 15 May, silently presented others from Kirkcaldy, 7, 26 May, and made a point of thanking the president of the board of trade Huskisson ‘for removing the vexatious enactments under which the trade had so long suffered’, 9 May. He maintained on the 22nd that he was in ‘correspondence with every part of Scotland where the linen trade was carried on but had not heard a single voice raised’ against Huskisson’s policies.6 He brought up favourable petitions, 15 Mar., and protested at the ‘hue and cry ... raised against the abolition of the bounties’ in Ireland, 18, 22 Mar. 1824.7 On foreign trade, 25 Mar. 1825, he referred again to his constituents’ alarm at the removal of the bounties and his personal support for free trade, called for caution ‘with respect to ... linens, especially coarse linen liable to be undersold by the German and New Orleans markets’, and suggested lowering the duties on flax and hemp imports as palliatives. John Hobhouse* attributed his absence from the Westminster anniversary dinner, 23 May 1825, to his health (he felt unwell) and his obligation to hear a linen petition.8 He presented petitions against and opposed the Tay salmon fisheries bill on behalf of his friends in Dundee, 12, 17 Mar., 3 May 1824, was appointed to the 1824 and 1825 select committees, and presented the Fifeshire linen manufacturers’ petition against the abortive 1825 measure, 18 May.9

Taking a major role in the parliamentary campaign on Queen Caroline’s behalf, he failed to persuade the leader of the House Lord Castlereagh to disclose details of the Milan commission’s appointment and report, 24 June 1820. He moved for an address to the king for copies of the documents, 6 July, in a speech that reviewed events since the queen’s departure for the continent in 1814, the motives for omitting her name from the liturgy and government inaction following the lord chancellor’s 1818 visit to Milan, although statements ‘contained in the green bag’ must have been known to them. Castlereagh conceded ministerial responsibility, but condemned the motion as a ‘waste of time’ and it was easily killed. When, following the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties, Castlereagh cited the motion’s resounding defeat in an endeavour to rally support, 14 Jan. 1821, Ferguson countered that he ‘had got rid of it by a mode peculiar to himself’ and urged its reconsideration. He mustered with the queen’s friends at Michael Angelo Taylor’s* and at Brooks’s, where he was a member of her subscription committee, presented petitions (from Culross, Burntisland and Kinghorn) and spoke for Hamilton’s motion for restoration of her name to the liturgy, 26 Jan. 1821.10 Yet, presenting a Kirkcaldy petition attaching distress and reform to the queen’s cause, 31 Jan., he said that ‘like other Scottish petitions, it said nothing of the liturgy, for he thanked God, there were no such trammels on divine worship in Scotland’. He now drew a sharp rebuke, which he ignored, from the lord advocate Sir William Rae, for warning that no credence should be given to professions of loyalty to the king’s ministers adopted at Scottish public meetings.11 He defended further expressions of support for the queen and criticized those loyal to ministers, 8, 13, 21, Feb. He refused to comment on a reference to the liturgy in a Dysart petition, 21 Feb.12 When he failed to return from Taylor’s supper table in time to vote on the issue (13 Feb.), the Grenvillite Commons leader Charles Williams Wynn observed: ‘To our great amusement, Creevey, Ferguson, Wilson, Lambton and Sefton were shut out, and afterwards received the inquiries of their friends whether it was from scruples of conscience, or being unable to make up their minds, that they had abstained from voting’.13 Ferguson’s statement that he would not be ‘bringing forward any motion’ on the Milan commission, as he ‘entertained no hope of doing any good in the state the House was’, 21 Feb., drew an angry response from Castlereagh, whom he again chided for mishandling the queen’s case, on bringing up a Kirkcaldy petition, 12 Mar.14 Before the coronation, which, to opposition cheers, he criticized as an extravagant, disruptive and useless pageant, 21 June, he outsmarted Londonderry (as Castlereagh had become) by asking for details of the queen’s request to attend and to be crowned, creating an opportunity for her lawyer Denman to take the matter up, 30 June 1821.15 He assisted Sir Robert Wilson* following his dismissal from the army for forcing a way through the City at the queen’s funeral and, to cheers, described Wilson’s treatment as an ‘exercise of prerogative abused’ in ‘a base assassination of private character for the purposes of political intrigue’, 13 Feb. 1822.16 Praising his gallantry, he endorsed a proposal to restore him to his rank, 17 June 1825.

He voted for a scot and lot franchise for Leeds if it was awarded Grampound’s seats and criticized the way in which the disfranchisement bill was handled by the committee chairman Brogden, 2 Mar. 1821.17 He attended the reform dinner at the London Tavern with Sir Francis Burdett* and Hobhouse, 4 Apr.18 He voted to disqualify civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., but missed the snap division on Lambton’s reform scheme, 18 Apr. He voted for reform in England, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr. 1823, 27 Apr. 1826. He had supported Hamilton’s campaign for Scottish parliamentary and burgh reform since 1817, and was appointed to the 1819-21 committees. He backed Hamilton’s decision to confine his proposed inquiry into county representation to Scotland, ‘because the two systems were wholly dissimilar in principle and in practice’, and joined him in pressing for an extended property-based franchise, 25 May 1820, 10 May 1821. Ferguson’s resignation in disgust from the burgh reform committee, 12 Mar. 1821, seems to have been deliberately timed to thwart the Grants’ electoral objectives in Inverness.19 However the explanation he gave and repeated when Hamilton, who dissented from it, brought up their report, 14 June, was that the committee’s decision in 1819 to ‘do more than ministers would allow’ had caused subsequent ones to be packed with government supporters committed to protecting abuses, making his further attendance pointless. He supported Hamilton’s proposal to refer the burgh reform reports to the whole House and complained that the remedial legislation planned by Rae ignored self-election and was too closely based on searches of ‘old parchments and charters’, 20 Feb. 1822. He exposed Rae’s ignorance of the practice of holding annual burgh head courts when presenting a petition from Kinghorn against the burgh accounts bill, 17 June, and brought up another from Inverness, 28 June 1822.20 He spoke, 9 Mar., and voted to reform Edinburgh’s representation, 5 May 1823, 13 Apr. 1826, when, insisting that the question was ‘short and simple’, he described to the English Members how their Scottish counterparts were returned by ‘small corporations’ and parchment voters.

He knowingly placed his popularity at risk by opposing (in a minority of 17) the appointment of a select committee on the Scottish petitions against the additional malt duty, which he alleged was ‘proposed not with reference to the merits of the measure itself, but as a boon to the Scotch Members to vote with the minister’, 12 Apr. 1821. He spoke for the ‘much needed’ Scottish juries bill and criticized its Tory opponents (Sir George Warrender and William Douglas), 8 Feb., 18 May.21 Supporting Hume on the estimates, he conceded his personal bias against disbanding the Cape regiment, 14 Mar., made the war secretary Lord Palmerston admit that the transfer of the 93rd Highlanders to the West Indies was badly timed, 11 Apr., and intervened and voted in small minorities on at least 15 further occasions, 16 Feb.-31 May. He spoke disparagingly of the duke of Clarence’s grant, 30 June. He failed to persuade the Tory James Stuart Wortley to withdraw his libel allegations against the printer of the Morning Chronicle, 9 Mar., but made similar charges ‘in a very good statement’ on the 15th against the Morning Post, whose report of Creevey’s quarrel with Warrender on 16 Feb. (for which he was their intermediary) could be traced to John Bull.22 He contributed to proceedings on the paper’s libel on the ‘Mountaineer’ Henry Grey Bennet, in which Londonderry’s involvement was revealed, and was a minority teller for reprimanding its printer at the bar of the House instead of taking him into custody 11 May 1821. Grey Bennet thought Ferguson ‘made a very good attack’ that day, ‘objecting to the wretches who had appeared at the bar being punished, but declaring his conviction that a person of rank and fortune was at the bottom of the whole proceeding’.23 Edward Bootle Wilbraham* noted that Ferguson had himself been at risk of being ‘shown up’ in the inquiry and had ‘gone to [Theodore] Hook and informed him that if he was he’d break his bones. The consequence of which has been that Sir Ronald has not been brought before the public’.24 He refused to comment on petitions entrusted to him on behalf of the Fifeshire radicals John Hay, 21 Mar 1823, and Robert Gourlay, 29 Apr., 9 May, 5 July 1825, 26 Apr. 1826.25 On slavery, he testified to the mass importation of slaves by Spain he had witnessed at Bahia, 26 June 1821.26

Ferguson condemned government’s ‘inadequate’ relief proposals to combat distress, 11 Feb. 1822. His support for Hume in the resistance to the estimates was unstinting, but, safeguarding his military reputation, he qualified his vote for a 10,000-man reduction in the army with a warning that Ireland would be better served if insurrection was put down by regular troops, not the yeomanry, and he cautioned against spending to retain strategically vulnerable colonies captured in wartime, 4 Mar. He made the same point when criticizing ‘abuse’ of the Barbados revenues for electioneering and patronage purposes, 15 Mar.27 On the ordnance estimates, 25 Mar., he explained that his dissatisfaction lay with the ‘inadequacy and the types of cuts’ ministers proposed, for example the dismissal of army surgeons and use of general practitioners unfamiliar with ‘loiterers’ to diagnose sickness, and the retention of the most expensive officers. He criticized the Edinburgh police bill as a ploy to ‘place the whole power and authority of the police in the hands of the present superintendent, who had been detected in great fraud’, 8, 12 Mar.28 He pressed arguments voiced at the Fifeshire meeting the previous month against the malt tax and proposed changes to the excise duties inhibiting Scottish whisky exports, 6 May, and endorsed a petition from the Kirkcaldy and Firth of Forth ship owners for reductions in tonnage duty, lighthouse charges and consular and customs office fees to compensate for the losses they had suffered through the relaxation of the navigation laws, 4 June. Echoing Sir William Lemon’s arguments for Cornwall, he pressed for concessions on the salt tax for the Scottish salt herring trade, 3, 11 June, and presented their petition for its abolition, 17 June 1822.29

Ferguson monitored the political manoeuvring following Londonderry’s suicide in August 1822 from Raith, and he was hailed with Hamilton and Hume as a reformer when he attended civic dinners that Michaelmas in Perth and Dundee.30 From Cantley on his way south, 19 Jan. 1823, he informed the opposition whip Lord Duncannon* that the Edinburgh Fox dinner that month had been one of the ‘best ... which ever took place ... in Scotland’ and that he was ‘ready to start at an hour’s notice’.31 He made it clear in the House, 14 Feb., that despite their private friendship and his professional esteem for Lord Beresford, he would vote with Hume against his peacetime appointment as lieutenant-general of the ordnance (as an ally of the new foreign secretary and leader of the House George Canning) and did so, 19 Feb. Toeing the party line recommended by Brougham, who denounced Hume’s unruly and factious opposition, Ferguson generally restricted his remarks to Scottish and commercial issues, many of them local, for the next two sessions. He exposed weaknesses in the government’s policy on the spirit duties, 4 Mar., opposed their beer duties bill, 18 June, and as a spokesman for the distillers who were anxious to retain control over quality, he welcomed the deferral of the bill’s clause empowering the excise to regulate (by closing the worm) the flow of spirits into the receiver, 30 June.32 Supporting Hamilton’s request for a copy of the royal warrant which had restored the old ruling oligarchy of Inverness to power at the last election, he delivered a complete vindication of Hume, whose criticism of Aberdeen council had been portrayed in debate as a general attack on the integrity of the Scottish magistracy. He tacked to it his own tenet that the ‘right to intervene in the election of magistrates for a disfranchised burgh lay with the burgesses’, 26 Mar. He endorsed the prayer of the Edinburgh reform petition for a £5 ratepayer franchise, 5 May 1823. He supported subscriptions for the Greek ‘patriots’ and for the Spanish refugees and deplored what he termed the ‘rascality’ that by 1824 was undermining Hume, Hobhouse and Lord Grey’s brother-in-law Edward Ellice’s* work as the funds’ commissioners.33 On 15 Apr. 1824 (and again, 10 Mar. 1826) he voted to end military flogging, although he perceived weaknesses in Hume’s case for it. He admitted that he had ‘administered corporal punishment himself’ before seeing ‘the folly of the thing’, and confirmed that flogging was almost unknown in the best-disciplined regiments, 15 Mar. 1824. He criticized the additional churches bill as ‘a useless application of public money’, 9 Apr., and complained that ‘the practice in these churches was to admit paupers free of charge and charge mechanics and persons in decent employ a shilling a year for a seat’, 12 Apr., 14 June.34 He brought up the Kirkcaldy ship owners’ petition for the contentious London Oil Gas Company bill promoted by Ellice, 12 Apr., and several from Fifeshire against taxing strong beer and for equalization of the spirit duties, 6, 18 May.35 Poking fun at Gascoyne for stating that his criticism of the hides and skins bill was full of holes, 14 Apr., he countered that the existing law fined a man for injuring his own property, and ‘suppose by any unfortunate accident [Gascoyne] ... were to make a hole in his pantaloons, how would he like to be fined for misadventure’. He opposed the measure as a speaker and teller, 3, 5, 31 May.36 He had been against proceeding with the government’s Scottish judicature bill without the additional inquiry proposed by Hamilton, and he criticized the ‘deceit’ perpetrated by the lord advocate in promising consultation, 30 Mar. At the Fifeshire head court he confirmed that he had supported the cross-party measure rushed through at the fag end of the session, 5 Oct. 1824.37

Private, transport and utility bills preoccupied him in 1825, when Creevey, a pre-session guest at Raith and a diehard opponent of the scheme, deemed his frantic commitment to carrying the 1825 Liverpool-Manchester railway bill ‘insane’.38 He condemned the Edinburgh-Dalkeith railway bill as ‘needless and objectionable’, 16 May, and succeeded in wrecking it (by 63-29), 30 May. He opposed the Edinburgh-Leith water bill, 2, 4 May, and was a majority teller when it was killed (by 54-49), 3 June, and condemned as a job the Leith Docks bill carried by ‘14 or 15 Members with little knowledge of the seaports and their interests’, who had voted without hearing the evidence, 11 May. He presented and endorsed a petition in favour of the St. Katharine’s Docks bill from the seamen of Kirkcaldy, 22 Feb., and brought up others against withdrawing the protective tariff on imported rapeseed oil, 18 Apr., and re-enacting the combination laws, 9 May.39 He supported inquiry into the Irish church and emigration, 13, 14 June, and was a minority teller for the spring guns bill, defeated by a single vote, 29 June. When a dissolution was anticipated in September 1825, Rosslyn’s son and heir Lord Loughborough* and an unnamed government candidate started against him.40 Adopting a higher local profile in 1826, Ferguson warned of damage to the Forth shipbuilding trade if promised reductions in the timber duties were delayed, 14 Feb., ordered returns on oil imports, 15 Feb., and pressed for details of any changes in the tobacco duties, 22 Feb.41 He presented more than 20 petitions against introducing currency changes in Scotland in the wake of the 1825-6 banking crisis 1, 9, 16, 20 Mar., 13 Apr.;42 one from Dundee in favour of the Lowestoft harbour bill, 23 Mar.,43 and another for corn law revision, 10 Mar. 1826.44 Endorsing the last, he explained that the petitioners wanted similar tariff structures for corn imports and manufactured goods, like silk, and expressed surprise that ‘landlords had not got rid of their prejudices, which blinded them to their own interests on the question’. On the estimates, 3 Mar., he seconded Hume’s proposal to abolish the entire yeomanry corps to secure a £25,000 saving, in a speech that confirmed his bias for regular troops and a plainly dressed cavalry ‘without any of the fopperies of foreign troops or ... mustachios’. He refused to sanction the reductions Hume advocated in the ‘highly skilled, expensive to train and difficult to replace’ artillery, but paid tribute to his efforts ‘during the last seven years to simplify the accounts of the public expenditure and render them intelligible’, 6 Mar. At a stormy interview in London in early May, he demanded that Rosslyn (who obliged), should put a stop to Loughborough’s hostile manoeuvring. He commenced his personal canvass the following week and overcame an attempt to unseat him at the general election of 1826.45

Henceforward Ferguson’s name and that of the new Member for Kirkcudbright, Robert Cutlar Furgusson, an East India proprietor and judge, tended to be confused in parliamentary reports. Speeches on judicial and East Indian issues credited to Ferguson can be reattributed to Cutlar Fergusson, but ambiguities remain, especially on Scottish issues. Differing from Brougham and the Whig leaders, Ferguson naively supported Hume’s amendment to the address, 21 Nov. 1826, ‘because, as he conceived, it did not pledge the House to any opinion with respect to the topics introduced into it, but merely to take them into consideration’.46 He had long recanted his early criticism of the duke of York’s deployment of patronage, but he was nevertheless loudly cheered from the government benches when he echoed Calcraft’s praise for the duke as commander-in-chief, 30 Nov. 1826. He presented petitions for outright repeal of the corn laws, 14, 15, 19 Feb.,47 and voted for a 50s. pivot price, 9 Mar., against increased protection for barley, 12 Mar., and for the staggered introduction of a 10s. fixed duty on corn, 27 Mar. 1827. He divided against the duke of Clarence’s annuity bill, 2 Mar., and voted for information on the treatment of the Lisburn Orange marchers, 29 Mar., and for inquiry into chancery delays, 4 Apr. 1827. He refused to deliver Brougham’s acceptance when he was called out by Raikes at Brooks’s, 4 Mar., and helped Wilson to secure his ‘preventive’ arrest, which they celebrated at Ellice’s.48 He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He expressed satisfaction with, 22 Mar., and presented petitions backing the salmon fisheries bill, 22 Mar., 22 May,49 wholeheartedly endorsed the spring guns bill and urged a complete review of the game laws, 23 Mar. Remaining in opposition when Canning formed his ministry, he voted for the separation of bankruptcy and chancery jurisdiction, 22 May, and in a minority of ten for repeal of the Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act, 31 May. He expressed support for the Edinburgh oil-gas bill, 23 May, but opposed its third reading, 1 June, after the arrangement between its sponsors had broken down. He also challenged the right of William Dundas (an interested party) to vote on the issue and joined in the fun provoked by Dundas’s offer to give him his sole share by agreeing to accept it.50 He voted to increase the number of visiting magistrates sanctioned by the Edinburgh bridewell bill, 11 June, and supported an unsuccessful bid to use the Dunbar harbour bill to boost the power of resident burgess on the council, 15 June.51 In July 1827 he was a guest at private dinners attended by Canning.52

Ferguson voted to repeal the Test Acts which the Wellington ministry then opposed, 26 Feb. 1828. On the salmon fisheries bill, 7 Mar., he exposed the ignorance of its critic Lord Lowther (who had silenced Spring Rice) of the select committee reports. His appointment that month as colonel of the 79th Foot followed closely on Rosslyn’s to the lord lieutenancy of Fifeshire (which his brother Robert coveted), and softened his opposition without changing his politics. Creevey wrote:

We have an event in our family. Fergy has got a regiment, a tip-top crack one, one of those beautiful Highland regiments that were at Brussels, Quatre-Bras and Waterloo. But his manner of getting it is still more flattering to him and honourable to Lord Hill, backed, no doubt, as he must have been by the Beau [Wellington]. It has been the subject of a battle of ten days’ duration between the king and Lord Hill. The former proposed Lord Glenlyon, the duke of Atholl’s second son, married to the duke of Northumberland’s sister, who has been in the king’s household, and, as the king said, had his promise of a regiment (the 79th). On the other hand, the king has been known to say over and over again that Ferguson never should have a regiment in his lifetime, for various offences. He voted and spoke against the duke of York; he went to Queen Caroline’s in regimentals; he moved for the Milan Commission ... and was voted against by Tierney and all the Whigs as being much too bad; and yet little Hill has carried him through ... I feel quite certain that Lady Conyngham’s sneers and Sir Henry Hardinge’s* fears were all connected with this then pending battle.53

Aligning as previously, he supported inquiry into chancery administration, 24 Apr., and to limit the crown’s right to goods recovered under the customs and excise laws, 1 May. On the 5th he opposed the Aberdeen harbour bill as the work of a bankrupted corporation and

because it has been altered from its original intention. It was at first introduced as for a new dock; now the dock is transformed into a ‘floating harbour’. There is, perhaps, no great difference between the two. All I contend for is, that the parties should have the opportunity of attending to their own interest, by being allowed a proper share in the management of the harbour.

He or Fergusson spoke against introducing English poor law practices to Scotland, as broached by Thomas Kennedy, 6 May.54 He voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. He was apparently ‘shut out’ from the division the Canning family’s pension, 13 May, but, according to a time-wasting intervention which The Times attributed to him on the 20th, he had opposed it.55 He voted in a minority of five to prohibit compensation payments under the archbishop of Canterbury’s registrar’s bill, 16 June, and cast critical votes on the cost of the Buckingham House refurbishment, 23 June, and ordnance expenditure, 4 July 1828. As the patronage secretary Planta had predicted, he voted for Catholic emancipation 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He criticized the use of inflammatory speeches, handbills and chapbooks to procure anti-Catholic petitions, 9 Mar., denounced the ‘factious opposition raised’ to emancipation in the House as the worst he had seen, 23 Mar., and when the Ultra Knatchbull disagreed, pointed to the anomaly of ‘gentlemen who say that they will not believe Catholics on their oaths’ taking ‘so much trouble in framing oaths for them to take’. He provoked a similar altercation with Sir Robert Inglis and Wemyss over the hostile petition of the synod of Kirkcaldy, 30 Mar. He voted to permit Daniel O’Connell to sit without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May. According to The Times, he explained that though he was grateful to the ministry for carrying emancipation, he could not vote against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham under the disfranchisement bill, 5 May.56 He kept a low profile pending the passage of his brother’s Ferguson estate bill, which received royal assent, 19 June 1829.57

Ferguson apparently did not vote on the 1830 address. He presented petitions alluding to distress, 18 Feb., 18 Mar., but denied that it was universal in Scotland or that the ‘agricultural interest in my part of the country is so depressed as it has been represented to be’. He poured scorn on Davies’s proposal for a £213,000 saving in the army:

In the course of a long parliamentary life, I have voted on nearly every occasion in favour of every proposition for economy; but as a military man, I have examined these army returns, and I am bound to say that, in my opinion, you cannot do with a single regiment of the line less than you have.

He endorsed expenditure on the Enfield ordnance factory, ridiculed contracting out and complained that the Birmingham guns he had seen ‘on trial’ were ‘perfectly useless’, 2 Apr. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5, 15 Mar., for Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 18 Feb., to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and for Russell’s general proposals, 28 May. He or Fergusson voted to prevent Members voting on bills in which they had a pecuniary interest, 26 Feb. He divided fairly steadily with the revived Whig opposition from 22 Mar., including for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He helped to carry the Dundee harbour bill enacted that session, 18 Mar., 19 May, and brought up petitions against renewing the East India Company’s charter from Kirkcaldy, 18 Mar., and Kinghorn, 6 May. In July 1830 the new king, William IV, promoted him to the rank of general.

Rosslyn’s late withdrawal from their coalition and decision to return Loughborough for Dysart Burghs at the 1830 general election took Ferguson by surprise and left him without a seat.58 The ensuing furore boosted his brother’s interest in the constituency, and Ferguson was talked of as a likely challenger to John Stuart Wortley* in Perth Burghs and Robert Grant* and Jonathan Peel* at Norwich.59 However, on Lord Holland’s advice he contested Nottingham, where the local Review eulogized his credentials, and came in on the combined corporation and reform interests after a short poll.60 According to his colleague Denman, he was ‘received as a brother in every good political house’ and ‘not in the least affected by the run made against him’.61 On the hustings, he stressed his good attendance record, opposition to slavery and support for reform, civil and religious liberties and retrenchment. He affirmed, when prompted, that he was an ‘advocate of free trade in corn and opposed to the East India Company’s monopoly’.62 He spoke similarly when feted in Kirkcaldy, 3 Sept., but there he promoted Scottish electoral and burgh reform and praised Hume for encouraging petitioning. On ministers’ health being proposed, he said:

He was not to be understood to be in Parliament as a positive opposer of government. A long experience had given him reason to see that unconditional pledges either uniformly to support or uniformly to oppose ministers were among the worst guides of conduct it was possible to adopt.

Professing independence, he expressed gratitude to Wellington for the Test Acts’ repeal and emancipation, but described his government, with the exception of Peel, as ‘feeble’ and ‘quite contemptible. Still, weak men acting honestly, were better than rogues who had the talent to contrive mischief’.63 They in turn counted him among the ‘bad doubtfuls’, but amended this to ‘opposition’.

Ferguson was ‘shut out’ from the division on the civil list when the Wellington ministry was brought down, 15 Nov. 1830.64 That evening, on presenting a petition for burgh and parliamentary reform he had solicited from Cupar (5 Nov.), he expressed astonishment at reports that Wellington had declared that he would ‘oppose reform of any kind’ and considered that ‘the country was satisfied with the current system’.65 He waited until the Nottingham reform petition was brought up on the 22nd to announce that the ‘late elections had made him a convert to the ballot’, and confirmed it in a letter of the 30th to the Nottingham Review, which kept his parliamentary conduct under close scrutiny.66 According to the Tory Lord Ellenborough, who heard it from Beresford, Ferguson was passed over for the ordnance when Grey formed his ministry, but he later joined the military subcommittee chaired by Sir John Byng*, whom he denounced as ‘incapable’.67 He presented many Scottish and Nottingham anti-slavery petitions, 15, 19 Nov., 11 13, 20 Dec. 1830, 3 Feb. 1831. Making reform his priority, he expressed support for the ministerial Whigs pledged to it and joined Kennedy in presenting and endorsing reform petitions from the royal burghs, 13, 20, 23 Dec. 1830, 3, 8 Feb. 1831. He said that the Kirkcaldy one, which Loughborough presented and he had been asked to support, was a plea for emancipation, ‘for in the present state of the franchise in Scotland the people are not actually represented’ 23 Dec. 1830.68 He endorsed pleas for the ballot in petitions from Dundee, 8 Feb., and hailed its successful deployment there in harbour commissioners’ elections, 26 Feb. 1831. He discountenanced a demand for annual parliaments in the radical Basford petition, 8 Feb. Thomas Wood and his fellow anti-reformer Sir Charles Wetherell ridiculed Ferguson’s claim that incorporations petitioning for the Scottish reform bill (he cited Kinghorn and Dundee) were willing to sacrifice their privileges to carry it, 16 Mar. He presented others, including one from the Glendale ward of Northumberland forwarded by his friend the Whig banker Charles Bigge, 19 Mar. He divided for the English reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He had been assured of support at Nottingham when he visited the town with Denman, 11 Apr., addressed the public meeting that confirmed it following the dissolution, 27 Apr., and came in unopposed at the general election.69 He had written to Holland, 22 Apr. 1831:

As the good folks of Nottingham seem disposed to stick to me, I certainly intend to stick to them ... It is to your kind introduction that I owe my seat in the last Parliament, and I am not so national as to prefer a Scotch seat, to the representation of such a town.70

He also played a prominent part in his brother’s election for Dysart Burghs and assisted the defeated reformer Wemyss in Fifeshire. He declared on the hustings at Cupar that he had no objection to the £10 vote and would ‘go along with the whole bill, but ... had he prepared it, he would have gone much lower’.71

He voted for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July 1831, and steadily for its details. Criticizing Henry Hunt, he spoke of the futility of declaring the bill unacceptable without the ballot when most people wanted it passed, 30 Aug. He became a grand companion of the Bath at the coronation in September. Edward Littleton* blamed him for the debacle over the dinner afterwards to the leader of the House Althorp:

That right-down ass ... Ferguson, with whom Robert Grosvenor* has thought proper to concert proceedings, proposed the thing in such a way that it was impossible for us not to place in the chair Sir Francis Burdett, who was present, and whom we all wished to keep out of it! And then Sir Ronald, seeing the mischief he had done, wished to get out of it by a clumsy joke, saying that seeing they were both present he would vote for neither.72

Ill with rheumatism, which, with a liver complaint, had plagued him periodically since serving at the Cape, he could only pair for the reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept. On 7 Oct. the Nottingham Review reported his continued absence from the House.73 He divided for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, for its details and third reading, 22 Mar., and for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May 1832. He presented petitions against granting supplies until it became law from Haddington, 23 May, and Kirkcaldy, 5 June, when he also brought up one from Nottingham against the general register bill. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, against opposition amendments to the Scottish measure, 1, 15 June, and against Alexander Baring’s bill to deny insolvent debtors parliamentary privilege, 6 June. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept. 1831, the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. 1832. Ferguson joined Lord Morpeth in pressing for committee proceedings on transport and utility bills to be made public, 21 July 1831, and was personally involved, as a committee member, in the controversial defeat of the Durham (South Side) wet dock bill, 2 Apr. 1832.74 He made it known that he ‘imputed no blame’ to the borough or county magistrates for the Nottingham reform riots and deplored the death sentences meted out to the offenders, 31 Jan., 1 Feb. He vehemently opposed Hunt’s proposed inquiry into the conduct of the Nottingham gaoler, 22 June. He had voted against Hunt’s motion for information on military punishments, 16 Feb., and resisted his demands for inquiry into Private James Somerville’s case, 3 July 1832.

Ferguson attended the Nottingham reform festival in August 1832 and, standing as a Liberal, he topped the poll there at the general election in December and retained his seat for life.75 He died, recalled as a brave soldier and politician, at his London home in April 1841, four months after his brother and before he had been confirmed as his heir.76 His only son Robert Ferguson (1802-68), Liberal Member for the Kirkcaldy district, 1841-62, was sworn as his heir in 1843 and as his uncle’s in 1846. In 1864 he succeeded to his maternal grandfather’s estate of Novar and took the name of Munro before Ferguson.77

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott

Notes

  • 1. Cockburn Jnl. i. 274-5.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 596-7; iii. 741-2; The Times, 7 Feb. 1809, 8 Apr. 1820; NAS GD51/1/198/10/86; NLS mss 11, f. 17; Caledonian Mercury, 25 Mar., 3, 6 Apr. 1820.
  • 3. The Times, 1 Mar. 1825.
  • 4. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 463.
  • 5. The Times, 26 May, 9 June, 1 July 1820.
  • 6. Ibid. 16 May 1823.
  • 7. Ibid. 16 Mar. 1824.
  • 8. Add. 36461, f. 91; 36467, f. 96.
  • 9. The Times, 13, 18 Mar., 4 May 1824, 19 May 1825.
  • 10. Creevey Pprs. ii. 2; HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 23.
  • 11. The Times, 1 Feb. 1821.
  • 12. Ibid. 9, 14, 22 Feb. 1821.
  • 13. Grey Bennet diary, 19; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 122.
  • 14. Grey Bennet diary, 26; The Times, 13 Mar. 1821.
  • 15. The Times, 22 June 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 104, 114; Geo. IV Letters, ii. 934.
  • 16. The Times, 14 Feb. 1822; Russell Letters, ii. 4.
  • 17. The Times, 3 Mar. 1821.
  • 18. Grey Bennet diary, 50.
  • 19. NAS GD23/6/573/2.
  • 20. The Times, 18, 29 June 1822.
  • 21. Ibid. 9 Feb., 19 May 1821.
  • 22. Ibid. 16 Mar. 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 37-38; Creevey’s Life and Times, 139, 140.
  • 23. The Times, 11, 12 May 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 79.
  • 24. Colchester Diary, iii. 251.
  • 25. The Times, 22 Mar. 1823, 30 Apr., 10 May, 6 July 1825, 27 Apr. 1826.
  • 26. Ibid. 27 June 1821.
  • 27. Ibid. 16 Mar. 1822.
  • 28. Ibid. 9 Mar. 1822.
  • 29. Ibid. 4, 5, 12, 18 June 1822.
  • 30. Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 26 Sept. 1822.
  • 31. Bessborough mss.
  • 32. The Times, 5 Mar., 1 July 1823.
  • 33. Add. 36460, f. 135.
  • 34. The Times, 10, 13 Apr. 1824.
  • 35. Ibid. 13 Apr., 7, 19 May 1824.
  • 36. Ibid. 4, 6 May 1824.
  • 37. Caledonian Mercury, 7 Oct. 1824.
  • 38. Creevey Pprs. ii. 87-88.
  • 39. The Times, 10 May 1825.
  • 40. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 6 Sept. 1825.
  • 41. The Times, 16, 23 Feb. 1826.
  • 42. Ibid. 2, 10, 17, 21 Mar., 14 Apr. 1826.
  • 43. Ibid. 24 Mar. 1826.
  • 44. Ibid. 11 Mar. 1826.
  • 45. NAS GD164/1770/3; 1779/12, 13; 1781/9, 12-14, 19; 1782/2, 3; Caledonian Mercury, 15 June; Scotsman, 5 July 1826.
  • 46. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1271; The Times, 22 Nov. 1826.
  • 47. The Times, 15, 16, 20 Feb. 1827.
  • 48. Creevey Pprs. ii. 106-7; The Times, 6, 8 Mar. 1827.
  • 49. The Times, 23 May 1827.
  • 50. Ibid. 2 June 1827.
  • 51. Ibid. 12, 16 June 1827.