Elgin 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

Inverurie (1754, ’84), Aberdeen; Elgin (1761); Banff (1768), Cullen (1774), Banffshire; Kintore (1780), Aberdeen


9 May 1754William Grant 
1 Jan. 1755Andrew Mitchell vice Grant, appointed to office 
20 Apr. 1761Andrew Mitchell 
11 Apr. 1768Sir Andrew Mitchell 
20 Mar. 1771Thomas Lockhart vice Mitchell, deceased 
31 Oct. 1774Staats Long Morris 
 Thomas Lockhart 
2 Oct. 1780Staats Long Morris3
 James Grant2
26 Apr. 1784William Adam 

Main Article

Cullen was under the command of the Ogilvies, earls of Findlater, throughout the period. Kintore was commanded in the early part of the period by the 3rd Earl of Kintore, whose finances were so disordered that he depended on Government: on the death of his brother, the 4th Earl, in 1761 the estates passed to the absent Earl Marischal, and were administered on his behalf by George Burnet of Kenmay. Burnet also controlled the burgh of Inverurie, which he had seized from Lord Kintore. Elgin and Banff were open burghs: the 3rd Lord Kintore wrote of them that ‘they depend on no particular person, but are determined sometimes one way, sometimes another, from different motives, and generally the candidate who gives the most money has the best chance of their votes’.1 The families of Grant and Ogilvy had influence at Elgin; the Duffs, Abercrombies, and Grants at Banff. The dominant influence in the five burghs during the early part of the period was that of Administration: in the later part, that of the Duke of Gordon.

At the general election of 1754, the Burghs were at the disposal of the Duke of Newcastle, since Burnet, Kintore, and Findlater, the patrons of Inverurie, Kintore, and Cullen, were Government supporters. Of Banff it was noted that ‘it may be gained in the usual way’, if needed.2 The sitting Member, William Grant, the lord advocate, was returned unopposed. When, in July 1754, he was raised to the bench and vacated the seat, Newcastle offered his support to Andrew Mitchell, the diplomat. On 9 Aug. Lord Deskford, Lord Findlater’s son, wrote to Newcastle that Mitchell could command Inverurie through his friendship with George Burnet, and that letters to Lords Findlater and Kintore would secure their burghs. In the meantime, however, Colonel James Abercromby, who had lost his seat for Banffshire at the general election, had declared himself a candidate. In Banff he had a family interest: the Duke of Argyll, his patron, had wrung a promise from Lord Kintore of his burgh; and Ludovick Grant had offered his interest at Elgin. On 22 Aug. Deskford warned Newcastle that it would be ‘extremely difficult to carry the election in favour of any other person than the colonel’. A week later, Deskford had to intervene to prevent the Elgin magistrates from declaring at once for Abercromby: ‘I see that burgh is to be sold’, he wrote to Newcastle, ‘and that your Grace’s name and power is likewise necessary to determine them.’ The Government machine at last began to move. Lord Findlater wrote that, though he found the situation ‘disagreeable’, he would support Mitchell. Argyll agreed to try to dissuade Abercromby from standing: on 15 Sept., however, he wrote that Abercromby was determined to continue, and was very hopeful, claiming that Banff and Kintore were at his command, and Elgin favourable. The issue finally turned on the Grant interest at Elgin. On 18 Sept. Ludovick Grant explained to Newcastle that he had promised his interest to Abercromby under the impression that he was an acceptable candidate, but would now transfer it to Mitchell. At the Michaelmas local election Mitchell’s supporters gained control of the burgh, and Abercromby wrote at once to Newcastle to decline. In January 1755, Mitchell was unanimously elected; two months later he made a donation of £300 to the Elgin burgh finances.3

In 1758 Mitchell, abroad as envoy to Prussia, was alarmed by reports that the Duke of Argyll was planning to bring in David Scott of Scotstarvit at the next election. Abercromby was to give him Banff, and he hoped to command Kintore through Lord Halkerton, Lord Kintore’s nephew. Robert Symmer warned Mitchell that the Elgin magistrates had told Sir Robert Gordon that they were unwilling to make any declaration:

They were well assured application must be made to them; for that the Duke of Argyll could have the direction of Kintore and Inverurie, and that one other town would decide the election. Sir Robert, upon that, told me he did not believe those two towns were in the hands they imagined, for that he did not doubt but that Mr. Burnet and you still had the command of Inverurie ... As for Elgin, the present magistracy only wait to settle their terms with the persons in power.

But Mitchell’s hand was strengthened by the pardon extended in May 1759 to his friend the Earl Marischal, who took over the Kintore interest: ‘it will make your election secure and easy not only now but so long as you continue to be well with that and the Findlater family’, wrote Symmer. On 8 Sept. 1760 Newcastle was able to assure Mitchell:

I have also taken care about your election—your old friend the Duke of Argyll says, he is extremely for you, and therefore, I don’t doubt it; I dare say you will have no opposition.

Mitchell was returned unopposed, in absentia,4 and re-elected without opposition in 1768.

On his death in January 1771, four candidates took the field: John Dalrymple of Cranstoun; Charles Ross of Morangie; Thomas Lockhart of Craighouse, a friend of Lord Mansfield; and General Staats Long Morris, who had married the dowager Duchess of Gordon.5 Dalrymple and Ross soon withdrew. Lockhart gained the support of Administration, and on 4 Mar. Abercromby told Loudoun that he would certainly be elected ‘although the Duke and dowager Duchess of Gordon have been at all the towns’.6 Morris withdrew and Lockhart was returned unopposed. The Gordon interest then began preparing for the general election. When it came, Lockhart was ill in London; John Robinson, in his survey for the Government, was uncertain whether he would stand again, or whether Alexander Burnet would be the candidate. In the event, Lockhart stood but was beaten by Staats Long Morris. A petition on Lockhart’s behalf from one of the councillors at Cullen arrived too late to be heard.7

The 1780 election was fiercely contested between Morris and General James Grant of Ballindalloch. At the dissolution Grant controlled Cullen and Elgin, and was engaged in a desperate struggle to hold Inverurie. Lord Kintore and the Burnets had joined forces with the Gordon family; Grant’s main allies were Lord Findlater, and the Elphinstones, who had acquired an interest in Inverurie on the death of the Earl Marischal. The two contending generals ran the campaign in military fashion. Grant complained that several of his supporters at Inverurie had been kidnapped and ‘confined under a guard at Keithall Castle, the seat and residence of the Earl of Kintore’. At Elgin the Gordon supporters in their turn asserted that several councillors had been kept out of the way until the eve of poll: to this Grant’s friends replied that they had been given protection at their own request, lest they should be treated as their colleagues at Inverurie had been.8 On election day Staats Long Morris gained the votes of Banff, Kintore and Inverurie; Grant those of Cullen and Elgin. Grant’s petition was withdrawn unheard.

The Gordon interest had now succeeded in beating off a powerful challenge at successive general elections. But in 1784 they were confronted by William Adam, a friend of Fox, and a master of electioneering. He was supported by his brothers-in-law, the Elphinstones, and by Lord Findlater, and carried the day against Staats Long Morris. When Findlater made terms with Administration after the 1784 election, Adam’s position became untenable, and he lost the seat in 1790 to a Government supporter.9

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. HMC 9th Rep. 228.
  • 2. Add. 32995, f. 192.
  • 3. Add. 32736, ff. 190, 332, 372, 531, 539; Recs. of Elgin, i. 470.
  • 4. Add. 6839, ff. 116, 120; 32911, f. 152.
  • 5. Dalrymple to Loudoun mss.
  • 6. Loudoun mss.
  • 7. Laprade, 6; CJ, xxxv. 59, 62.
  • 8. Recs. of Elgin, i. 487-8; CJ, xxxviii. 45.
  • 9. Hen. Dundas to Pitt, 29 Sept. 1788, Chatham mss.