Dysart Burghs

Single Member Scottish burgh

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

Kirkcaldy (1754, ’80), Burntisland (1761, ’84), Kinghorn (1768), Dysart (1774), all in Fife


11 May 1754James Oswald
18 Jan. 1760Oswald re-elected after appointment to office
20 Apr. 1761James Oswald
18 May 1763Oswald re-elected after appointment to office
11 Apr. 1768James Townshend Oswald
28 Feb. 1772Oswald re-elected after appointment to office
1 Nov. 1774John Johnstone
 James Townsend Oswald
3 Oct. 1780John Henderson
 John Johnstone
26 Apr. 1784Sir Charles Preston

Main Article

In 1754 this constituency was controlled by James Oswald of Dunnikier and his close friend James St. Clair of Sinclair. The Oswalds, a prominent merchant family, had long held the chief sway in Kirkcaldy; Dysart was entirely directed by St. Clair; while Burntisland and Kinghorn were decayed and corrupt. Oswald was returned unopposed until 1768 when he made way for his son.

St. Clair’s death in 1762 had weakened the Oswald interest; but in 1774 John Robinson still expected James Townsend Oswald to be returned again: these burghs, wrote Robinson, were ‘mostly his by management and places’. He was unexpectedly defeated by John Johnstone, of the Johnstones of Westerhall, a returned nabob. According to the Caledonian Mercury Johnstone did not declare his candidature until after the burghs had chosen their delegates, and Oswald was taken by surprise. Johnstone apparently secured Burntisland and Kinghorn by bribery, and the defection of Dysart, where the St. Clair interest was much decayed, won him the election.1

From 1776 Henry Dundas and his half-brother Robert, as managers of the Scott interest in Fife, were extending their influence in this constituency, particularly in Kinghorn and Burntisland. At the general election of 1780 Johnstone, an opponent of North’s Administration, was opposed by John Henderson younger of Fordel, supported by Dundas. Henderson took Kirkcaldy and Burntisland, Johnstone Kinghorn and Dysart, and Kirkcaldy, the returning burgh, gave the casting vote to Henderson.2 In 1784 Henderson withdrew to contest Fife, and was replaced by Sir Charles Preston, a supporter of Pitt’s Administration.

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Laprade, 7; Caledonian Merc. 2 Nov. 1774; CJ, 9 Dec. 1774, 12 Apr. 1775.
  • 2. Edinburgh Advertiser, 3 Oct. 1780.