STEWART MACKENZIE, James Alexander (1784-1843), of Brahan Castle, nr. Dingwall, Ross.

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



1831 - 1832
1832 - Mar. 1837

Family and Education

b. 23 Sept. 1784, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Hon. Keith Stewart† (d. 1795) of Glasserton, Wigtown and Georgiana Isabella, da. of Simha D’Aguilar. educ. Charterhouse 1795-1802; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1802. m. 21 May 1817, Hon. Mary Elizabeth Frederica Mackenzie, da. and h. of Francis Humberston Mackenzie†, 1st Lord Seaforth, wid. of V.-Adm. Sir Samuel Hood†, 1st bt., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. Took additional name of Mackenzie on marriage; suc. bro. Keith Stewart to Glasserton 1795. d. 24 Sept. 1843.

Offices Held

Commr. bd. of control Dec. 1832-Dec. 1834, jt.-sec. Apr.-Dec. 1834; PC 5 Apr. 1837; gov. Ceylon 1837-40; ld. high commr. Ionian Islands 1840-3.

Provost, Dingwall.


Stewart Mackenzie’s father, a naval officer, had received the Wigtownshire estate of Glasserton from his father, the 6th earl of Galloway, in 1763, and was Member for the county from 1768 to 1784, when, as a staunch Pittite, he received the sinecure place of receiver-general of the land tax in Scotland. He died in March 1795 and was followed to the grave three months later by his eldest son Keith Stewart, a midshipman on the Queen Charlotte, who ‘fell into the sea and was drowned’ while watching the ship’s carpenter repairing damage sustained in the action off Port L’Orient.1 Thus Stewart Mackenzie (whose mother, a naturalized Sephardic Jewess, married in 1797 Richard Fitzgerald of the Life Guards, who was killed at Waterloo) became the owner of Glasserton at the age of ten. He was evidently taken under the care of his cantankerous uncle, the 7th earl of Galloway, with whose youngest son James Henry Keith Stewart* he was educated in England. He espoused Whig politics and was elected to Brooks’s on 3 June 1816. A year later he married Lady Hood, the widowed daughter and heiress of the 1st Lord Seaforth, chief of the Mackenzie clan (d. 1815). She, who had gypsy looks and ‘an almost lawless spirit of adventure’, and beguiled Sir Walter Scott with her ‘warm heart and lively fancy’, brought him an additional name and the extensive Seaforth estates in Ross-shire, centred around Brahan Castle, near Dingwall, but including also the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.2 Stewart Mackenzie sold Glasserton in about 1819, but retained the eastern Ayrshire property of Muirkirk, which contained lucrative coal and mineral deposits, exploited on lease by the Muirkirk Iron Company.3 At the general election of 1818 he and his wife supported the unsuccessful candidature for Ross-shire of Alexander Fraser of Inchcoulter, one of a group of West India merchants with estates in the county, and they subsequently sought to enhance their interest.4 When the county’s leading lairds held a meeting to adopt a loyal address to the regent in the wake of the Peterloo incident, 12 Nov. 1819, Stewart Mackenzie, who declared himself to be ‘neither an alarmist nor a radical reformer’, sent the convener an open letter denouncing it as inexpedient, calling for inquiry into the massacre and asserting that the existing laws were adequate to curb and punish seditious ‘blasphemies’, which he deplored.5 At the general election four months later he again backed Fraser, but the Liverpool ministry, previously neutral, now backed the sitting Member, Thomas Mackenzie of Applecross, despite Stewart Mackenzie’s direct appeal to their Scottish political manager, the 2nd Lord Melville. Fraser was obliged to withdraw.6

At a county meeting, 1 May 1820, Stewart Mackenzie moved resolutions for an extension of the bounties granted to Scottish fisheries.7 He witnessed the trial of Queen Caroline in the Lords in August 1820 and took no part in the Ross-shire meeting to express loyalty to the king, 4 Jan. 1821.8 A man who hated the ‘cant’ of Methodism, he visited Lewis in September 1822 and found the house at Seaforth Lodge, near Stornaway, in a decrepit state. He expressed regret for the sale of Glasserton and experienced a passing temptation to get rid of the bankrupt Seaforth estates, but concluded that he was bound to meet his obligations towards the tenantry and bring ‘the word of God’ into their lives. He implemented a programme of retrenchment at Brahan and kept Lewis, where in August 1825 he hosted a Stornoway celebration of the third anniversary of George IV’s visit to Scotland. But his purchase for £16,000 of the far western property of Torriden earned him a rebuke from his wife.9 By June 1824 he had decided to stand at the next opportunity for Ross-shire, where Sir James Wemyss Mackenzie of Scatwell had replaced the dead Applecross in 1822; but he was on good personal terms with Scatwell, and made no move against him at the general election of 1826.10 Nor did he in 1830, when he issued an address explaining that he had planned to stand if Scatwell retired, but declining to disturb the peace.11 In December 1830, with the Whigs in power under Lord Grey, he sought the advice of his friends Lord Lansdowne and James Abercromby* as to whether he should declare himself as a candidate for the next vacancy. His pretensions were considered by Lord Grey, Sir James Graham*, the first lord of the admiralty, and the patronage secretary Edward Ellice*, who assured him of ‘any disposition you can desire in ... [London] to promote your views’, but suggested that open endorsement by the treasury might not go down well with the freeholders of Ross-shire. Stewart Mackenzie accordingly kept quiet for the time being.12 At the county meeting at Dingwall, 24 Dec. 1830, he moved a resolution for reform of the Scottish representative system and was named as chairman of the committee set up to promote the cause. In March 1831 he convened a Dingwall meeting to express support for the ministry’s reform scheme and wrote open letters indicating his personal approval of it. At an Edinburgh meeting, 9 Mar., he seconded the motion for an address to the king in support of reform and, claiming always to have been a reformer, praised William IV and lord chancellor Brougham. He argued that the plan was not ‘revolutionary’ but was rather ‘a restitution’ of the constitution, and disputed Peel’s recent assertion that it involved ‘confiscation’, which the aristocratic Whigs would never sanction. He did not attend the Ross-shire meeting at Tain, 24 Mar., but sent a letter asking for its adjournment until 5 Apr., when a meeting organized by the Dingwall reform committee was to be held. This was rejected by the anti-reformers, who attacked the committee and carried a resolution condemning the reform scheme as ‘too sweeping’. On 25 Mar. Stewart Mackenzie made known his intention of standing for the county at the next election, which prompted Scatwell to announce his retirement and Colin Mackenzie of Kilcoy to offer as a moderate reformer. At the meeting on 5 Apr. Stewart Mackenzie’s resolution that the reform plan was ‘wise and practicable’, though open to amendment, was rejected in favour of one condemning it.13 At the general election precipitated by the defeat of the English reform bill, Stewart Mackenzie and Kilcoy were joined in the field by another reformer, Sir Francis Alexander Mackenzie of Gairloch. Stewart Mackenzie’s chances were not at first rated very highly, but he rejected an attempt to entice him to contest the venal Anstruther Burghs.14 He was distracted by an appeal for support from Sir Andrew Agnew, the sitting Member for Wigtownshire, who had voted for the second reading of the English reform bill but expressed strong reservations about borough disfranchisement. After corresponding with him and the lord advocate, Francis Jeffrey*, Stewart Mackenzie decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and, despite fatigue and raging toothache, he interrupted his own campaign to go to Wigtown, chair the election meeting and secure Agnew’s return with his casting vote.15 At his own election nine days later some collusion with the friends of Gairloch, who withdrew, enabled him to beat Kilcoy by seven votes. Returning thanks, he insisted that ‘a timely and effectual reform’ was essential, but admitted the force of some of the detailed objections levelled against the Scottish measure by Hugh Rose Ross of Cromarty and, acknowledging that he was at odds with a number of his constituents on the issue, promised to try to improve the bill without endangering its principle. In a written reply to a congratulatory address from Dingwall, where he was fêted, he repeated this declaration, agreed to support economy and tax cuts, while stressing the need to uphold public credit, and said he would ‘endeavour to diffuse universally that first of blessings, a religious education, and knowledge among all ranks of the people’.16 Ellice asked him to attend Parliament no later than 21 June 1831, while Sir James Miller Riddell of Ardnamurchan, Argyllshire, wrote to his wife:

Stewart’s parliamentary career begins at a very momentous period ... Bid him to beware! Tell him to steer clear of faction. I admonish him as a sincere friend thoroughly to sift that portentous bill ... and not to be led into an approbation of all its parts by the clamours of the mob.17

Repudiating Gairloch’s subsequent reproach that he had not acted quite honestly, Stewart Mackenzie insisted that his supposed ‘information as to my being opposed to reform at any time is quite erroneous. It is true I object to universal suffrage and ballot, but a reformer I have ever been’.18

He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July, and was a general but silent supporter of its details, though he was in the minority for the disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July 1831, when ministers did not press the issue. He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the measure, 21 Sept. He divided against censuring the Irish administration for interfering in the Dublin election, 23 Aug. On 1 Sept. he secured production of a copy of the report on public charities. Next day he wrote to his wife that he hoped to improve the condition of their Lewis tenantry ‘and not squander the produce of their industry on the expensive luxuries and debaucheries of a distant capital’.19 He was named to the select committee on malt drawback, 5 Sept. He voted for the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and on the 28th dissented from the prayer of a Ross-shire petition objecting to its proposed merger with Cromartyshire, which he considered to be eminently sensible, and argued that the bill would ‘confer the most essential benefits upon Scotland’. He was in the ministerial majority on the motion of confidence, 10 Oct. He was shocked by the reform riots in Derby and Nottingham, but thought the country was on the whole tranquil. He chaired a Ross-shire meeting to consider precautions against the cholera, which worried him greatly, 15 Nov. 1831.20

Stewart Mackenzie relished Macaulay’s bravura speech of 16 Dec. 1831 in support of the second reading of the revised English reform bill, for which he duly voted the following day. In a desperate bid to solve his worsening dental problems, he evidently had some of his teeth extracted and false ones made; it did little good, and he was still being tortured over a year later.21 He spent Christmas at Hastings with his two young sons Keith and George, who were at school at Cheam. He left his name at Brighton Pavilion on 6 Jan. 1832, when he dismissed stories that the king was willing to create 60 peers to carry reform. Before Parliament reconvened he was vexed by 11-year-old Keith’s nail-biting habit (he had at least stopped bed-wetting) and trouble with his ears, one of which yielded up a coffee bean to medical examination. He pined for his wife, but was cheered on the eve of the session by her affectionate letters.22 He voted to go into committee on the reform bill, 20 Jan., was again a steady supporter of its details, and divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. He was absent from the division on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., but voted with ministers on it in July. He was in their majorities on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and against the production of information on military punishments, 16 Feb. He was named to the select committee on the East India Company, 27 Jan., and chaired some of its sittings.23 He argued that the malt drawback bill would encourage illicit distillation in Scotland and diminish the revenue, 17 Feb., 31 Mar.; he was a teller for an unsuccessful wrecking amendment, 2 Apr. He was appointed to the select committee on the silk trade, 5 Mar., and on 7 Apr., defending its decision not to issue a report that session, claimed to have sat ‘patiently and pretty assiduously’ on it for almost four months: he doubted the effectiveness of legislative interference to relieve distress. He presented and endorsed petitions from Glasgow flax-spinners and Kirkcaldy linen manufacturers against the ‘ill judged’ bill to restrict children’s factory hours, 7 Mar., and on the 16th contended that it would handicap British industry. That day he reluctantly paired on the ministerial side for continuance of the existing sugar duties, informing his wife that ‘I never gave a vote with more pain’.24 He divided for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. On 23 May he presented a Ross-shire petition commending the appointment of a Lords select committee on West Indian slavery and hoping for a fair settlement of the problem. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. On the Scottish measure, he voted against Conservative amendments to increase the county representation, 1 June, and rescind the dismemberment of Perthshire, 15 June, when he again defended the annexation of Cromartyshire to Ross-shire. He voted against Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June, and to make coroners’ inquests open, 20 June 1832.

At the general election in December 1832, when he replaced Macaulay at the board of control, Stewart Mackenzie easily defeated a Conservative for the Ross and Cromarty seat. He won a narrower victory in 1835, after privately trying to convince a young kinsman who believed he was ‘not desirous to preserve the great institutions of this country’, that to ‘reform, repair and amend what is amiss and with caution to remove defects when glaring ... is the duty of every well wisher to ... [their] continuance’.25 He left the Commons in March 1837 to become governor of Ceylon. He transferred in December 1840 to the Ionian Islands, where he served for two years. He died at Southampton in September 1843. By his will, dated 18 May 1843, he left all his property to his wife.26 He was succeeded by his elder son Keith William (1819-81), whose son and heir James Alexander Francis Humberstone Mackenzie (1847-1923) was created Baron Seaforth in 1921 but died without issue.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. HP Commons, 1754-1790, iii. 483; Gent. Mag (1795), ii. 615.
  • 2. Macaulay Letters, ii. 338; Scott Jnl. 561; Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), iv. 508; Lord Teignmouth, Reminiscences, i. 341.
  • 3. NAS GD46/1/24; 2/8, 23.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 574-5; NAS GD46/4/122.
  • 5. Inverness Courier, 18 Nov. 1819.
  • 6. NLS mss 1054, f. 174; NAS GD46/4/124/2, 5, 8-10, 12-15; GD51/5/749/1, p. 170; Inverness Courier, 16, 23 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Inverness Courier, 25 May 1820.
  • 8. NAS GD46/15/23/8; Inverness Courier, 11 Jan. 1821.
  • 9. NAS GD46/15/23/8; 15/25/7; 15/29/6, 13; 15/32/13, 17; Inverness Courier, 31 Aug. 1825.
  • 10. Add. 39193, ff. 73, 86; NAS GD46/15/29/6, 13; Inverness Courier, 5 July 1826.
  • 11. Inverness Courier, 28 July 1830.
  • 12. NAS GD46/4/129/1-3.
  • 13. Inverness Courier, 26 Dec. 1830, 16, 23, 30 Mar., 13 Apr. 1831.
  • 14. Ibid. 4 May 1831; NAS GD46/4/132/18, 21-23.
  • 15. NAS GD46/4/130/1, 2; 4/132/25, 26, 33; 4/135/3.
  • 16. Inverness Courier, 25 May, 1 June 1831; NAS GD46/4/133/1, 4; 15/38/14.
  • 17. NAS GD46/4/131/4; 4/133/6.
  • 18. NAS GD46/4/133/8, 13.
  • 19. NAS GD46/15/39/15.
  • 20. NAS GD46/15/40/10, 15; Inverness Courier, 23 Nov. 1831.
  • 21. NAS GD46/15/41/20, 25; 15/46/14; 15/52/1.
  • 22. NAS GD46/15/42/2, 21, 40, 43, 50, 57.
  • 23. Macaulay Letters, ii. 146.
  • 24. NAS GD46/15/44/8.
  • 25. Add. 39193, f. 114.
  • 26. PROB 8/237; 11/1991/42.