Single Member Scottish County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Alternated with Nairnshire

Number of voters:

18 in 1788


4 May 1754Sir John Gordon
26 Apr. 1768William Pulteney
 Sir John Gordon
17 Oct. 1780George Ross

Main Article

Cromartyshire was one of the smallest of the Scottish counties. No one family had a commanding interest: those with influence included the Gordons of Invergordon, the Macleods of Cadboll, the Mackenzies, earls of Cromarty, and, in the later part of the period, David Ross of Inverchasly, Lord Ankerville, S.C.J.

Sir John Gordon, who succeeded his father in the representation in 1742, was returned again in 1754. But from 1765 onwards he faced a strong challenge on behalf of William Johnstone (who took the name of Pulteney in 1767), acting with the support of Macleod of Cadboll and George Ross. Pulteney himself, though enormously rich, had no property in the county. From the beginning, the numbers on either side were almost equal, and the campaign was fierce. George Munro wrote to James West, 1 May 1765:1

There cannot be above 18 voters in the county besides myself. Mr. Johnstone [Pulteney] is secure of having nine of them, so that the merit of the election will depend entirely on my single vote. ... Sir John Gordon has in every instance behaved to me ... in the most disobliging way, and I should choose ... to continue entirely disengaged. P.S. The weight of the ministerial people seems to be all for Mr. Johnstone.

But at the Michaelmas meeting in 1765 the pro-Gordon majority struck off several of Pulteney’s supporters, including Macleod of Cadboll. The court of session in January 1766 ordered three of them to be restored, and this appears to have created a pro-Pulteney majority: at the Michaelmas 1766 meeting David Ross of Inverchasly, a Pulteney supporter, was added, and Sir John Gordon struck off.2 When the election came in April 1768 there were six voters on each side, and the election turned on the vote of Alexander Fraser of Culduthill, a friend of Pulteney, whose property qualification was in dispute. The election meeting was acrimonious and disorderly. Gordon took the chair as the last commissioner of the county: his six supporters voted for Robert Mackintosh as praeses, and Pulteney’s six voted for Pulteney himself. Gordon then gave his casting vote for Mackintosh. When Gordon attempted to strike Fraser off the roll, there was a long altercation, and the pen was taken out of his hand. At length the meeting split into two, with rival praeses and clerks. The sheriff, Kilravock, accepted the return from the Pulteney group, and declared him elected.3 Gordon then petitioned, and a host of actions and counter-actions commenced. On 19 Nov. 1768 the court of session found in favour of Fraser, and two of Gordon’s conveyances were disqualified through a legal flaw; the House of Lords, on appeal, found for Pulteney. The decisions in this dispute were of more than local significance, since, according to Alexander Wight, they were widely interpreted to mean that fictitious votes could not be stopped, and for more than twenty years votes multiplied.4 On 10 June 1768 Munro told West:5 ‘Sir John Gordon has almost ruined himself by the immense expense he has run into in litigating every point with Mr. Pulteney.’

This victory established the Pulteney-Ross alliance in command of the county, and in 1780 George Ross was returned without opposition.6

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. West mss.
  • 2. Alex. Wight, Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of Parlt. 134, 138, 264, 267, 284.
  • 3. Caledonian Merc. 4 May 1768.
  • 4. Wight, app., p. 95.
  • 5. West mss.
  • 6. Aberdeen Jnl. 30 Oct. 1780.