GORDON, Sir William, 1st Bt. (d. 1742), of Uppat, nr. Dunrobin, Sutherland

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1708 - 1713
7 May 1714 - 1727
1741 - 9 June 1742

Family and Education

1st s. of Sir Adam Gordon, MP [S], of Dalpholly, Sutherland by Anne, da. of Alexander Urquhart of Newhall, Ross.; bro. of Alexander Gordon†.  m. (1) a da. of Sir William Henderson, 2nd Bt., of Fordel, Dalgety, Fife, ?s.p.; (2) 19 Mar. 1704, Isabel (d. 1740), da. and h. of Sir John Hamilton (d. 1706), MP [S], of Halcraig, Lanark, Ld. Halcraig SCJ, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da.  suc. fa. 1700; cr. Bt. 3 Feb. 1704.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Glasgow 1704, Edinburgh 1708; sheriff, Ross c.1717–25.2

Commr. stating army debts 1715–20.3


Descended from a younger son of the 1st Earl of Sutherland, the Gordons of Kilcalmkill (as they had originally been known) had continued to reside in close proximity to the family’s seat of Dunrobin Castle, and to hold within the political orbit of successive earls of Sutherland. The Member’s father, who changed his designation to Dalpholly (an estate on which he held a wadset), was the first to be returned as a commissioner to the Scottish parliament, representing Sutherland in the convention of estates. A strong Presbyterian, Sir Adam had welcomed the Revolution and indeed became involved with the radical Whig ‘Club’ opposition in 1689–90 before attaching himself to the Court party headed by Secretary James Johnston*. He had turned to opposition by 1700 (the year of his death), his aversion from the Court doubtless accelerated by losses in the Darien disaster. He bequeathed to his sons substantial capital assets acquired through his ventures in trade. Indeed, Sir William has been described as a London banker, although the tradition does not appear to be supported by specific evidence, and the activities of namesakes as merchants in London and at Campvere in Holland in the early 18th century only add to the confusion.4

At least part of Gordon’s inheritance was spent in acquiring the estate of Inverbreakie, on the Cromarty Firth, which was renamed Invergordon and was to serve henceforth as his designation, though he resided at Uppat close by Dunrobin. The purchase was probably completed as early as 1702, but his first appearance in politics came at the Ross-shire by-election of 1704, when he cast a disputed vote for David Ross of Balnagown, the representative of the self-consciously Presbyterian interest headed by Lord Ross of Halkshead, against the Earl of Cromarty’s client George Mackenzie*. There was speculation that, left to his own devices, Gordon would probably not have taken part in this factional dispute, but that he had been dragged in by his meddlesome brother, Alexander. Whatever the truth of this assessment, Gordon was to remain loyal to the Ross party in the bitter squabbles of the next few years. Four years later, at the first election to the British Parliament, he polled for the Master of Ross, also joining in the protest against his exclusion from the electoral court. For his own part, he was returned for his ancestral county of Sutherland, almost certainly with the backing of the Squadrone peer Lord Sutherland. Gordon was attested as a Squadrone man after the Hanoverian succession, but his political allegiances at the point of his entry into the Commons cannot be pinned down. All that can be said with confidence is that he supported the Whig ministry. In 1709 his brother was appointed customs collector of Inverness, through the intercession of Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), and a year later Gordon was obliged to seek protection for him, first against complaints of maladministration and then against proposals to decrease his salary. In party-political terms Gordon could be described as a Whig, though he may not have been present to vote for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell (notwithstanding his appearance on the published black lists) because he was in Scotland in early March for a by-election in Ross-shire. Once again Gordon had given his support to Lord Ross’s faction in the shire, going so far as to secure the infeftment of another brother to increase the vote of Hon. Charles Rosse*. He had also been closely involved in the attempts of a ‘club’, headed by Lord Ross and his associates, to monopolize local government in the county by excluding from the Ross-shire commission of the peace the followers of Lord Cromarty, and indeed any member of the clan Mackenzie.5

Re-elected for Sutherland in the election of 1710, Gordon continued to give his support to the Whigs, as evidenced by his votes on the controverted elections for Bewdley and Aberdeen Burghs in the 1710–11 session. He was listed as absent, ‘at Richmond’, for the division of 7 Feb. 1712 on the Scottish toleration bill, and on the 16th was granted six weeks’ leave of absence. During 1713 he may not have come up to Westminster at all, for he was marked as absent in both the recorded divisions on the French commerce bill. There were personal problems to contend with: he was faced with a legal action brought by an Elgin merchant who had called at his house to collect a debt and had been set upon by Gordon’s servants, beaten and robbed; and at the same time his brother, the Inverness collector, had been made the subject of renewed allegations of corruption, this time extending to Gordon himself, since it was alleged that the collector had been carrying on a trade in his brother’s name and had been a party to the landing of contraband goods at the port of Inverbreakie. In such circumstances, it was more important than ever that Gordon be returned to Parliament, but in the 1713 election he had to make way in Sutherland for William Morison*, and only regained the seat at a by-election in March 1714 after Morison had opted to sit elsewhere. In the meantime, Gordon had supposedly been tried ‘for his life’, surviving criminal prosecution and later withstanding a civil suit (in a dispute which was reopened in 1728). He is not known to have done anything in what was left of the 1714 session, though he was marked as a Whig on the Worsley list and on a comparative list of the old and new Parliaments drawn up after the 1715 election.6

In 1715, Gordon obtained a place of £500 p.a. as one of the commissioners for taking account of the debts due to the army. His brother, dismissed as collector of Inverness after the most recent complaints against him, was not restored, thanks to an intervention by the Duke of Argyll, who had struck an electoral deal with the burgh council of which this exclusion was an essential part. Tradition has it that Gordon, as a friend of John Law, was the only banker to have profited from the South Sea Bubble: certainly he was one of the Members credited with stock at the height of the crisis – £7,000-worth in his case – with a right to ‘sell’ back to the company at any time and claim as profit any increase in the market price. He was wealthy enough to be able to advance one of his sons-in-law £42,000 Scots in 1726, though eight years later was forced by financial difficulties to sell property in Deptford, Surrey. Deprived of his parliamentary seat in 1727, Gordon had to wait until 1741, when he was successful in Cromartyshire through the assistance of the 3rd Earl of Cromarty, who had married his daughter Isabella (‘Bonnie Bell Gordon’). Gordon died at Chelsea on 9 June 1742, and was succeeded, in estate, title and parliamentary seat, by his eldest son, John.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. J. M. Bulloch, Fams. of Gordon of Invergordon, 12–14, 24–25; Cromartie Corresp. i. p. ccxlviii.
  • 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. lvi. 258; Bulloch, 13; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 267.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 869.
  • 4. Bulloch, 2, 9–12; Reg. PC Scotland, 1691, p. 349; Scot. Hist. Soc. (ser. 3) xlvi. 28; xlvii. 161; Fraser, Melvilles, ii. 209–12; P. W.?J. Riley, King Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 171.
  • 5. Bulloch, 14–15; APS, xi. 23, 150, 319; SRO, Balnagown castle mss GD129/ box30/116, ‘Info. for the Laird of Balnagown’, 29 June 1705, Ross-shire poll, 26 June 1708; GD129/box 29/106/14, Ross-shire electoral ct. mins. 26 June 1708; SRO, Cromartie mss GD305 addit./bdle. 37, George Mackenzie to Visct. Tarbat, [bef. 1704]; GD305/ 1/168/21, 23–24, proceedings of Ross-shire electoral ct. 3 Mar. 1710, ‘The Earls of Ross’, n.d., ‘State of the Complaint’, n.d.; GD305/1/160/93, ‘Answers to Foules and Balnagown calumnious representation’, n.d.; Riley, Eng. Ministers, 261; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, pp. 195–6.
  • 6. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1020/4, Hon. Sir James Dunbar, 1st Bt.*, to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 19 Dec. 1710; NLS, ms 1392, f. 80; Parlty. Hist. i. 69; Bulloch, 15–19; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 537.
  • 7. Culloden Pprs. 39; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 160, 869; Riley, Eng. Ministers, 267, 273; W. MacGill, Old Ross-shire and Scotland, i. 304; HMC Laing, ii. 258.