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 Clackmannanshire

Number of voters:

26 in 1788


25 Apr. 1754Robert Colville 
5 Apr. 1768Robert Adam16
 John Irwin3
30 Sept. 1780George Graham 

Main Article

In 1754 Sir John Bruce Hope of Kinross had the principal interest in the county, and at the general election his nephew Robert Colvile of Ochiltree was returned unopposed. From 1764 rival interests challenged the Bruce supremacy. John Adam of Maryburgh began to create votes with the intention of standing himself or putting up his brother Robert. General John Irwin, Lord George Sackville’s friend, had acquired the estate of Burleigh, and in 1763 purchased two votes on superiority from Robert Colvile. And in 1766 William Bayne, Sir John Bruce Hope’s nephew, was adopted as candidate on the Bruce interest for the forthcoming general election.

In the absence of Irwin in Gibraltar, Sackville undertook to watch over his Kinross-shire affairs.1 At first Sackville tried an approach to Bayne, and, when that was rebuffed, negotiated for an alliance with the Adam family. They proved more friendly, but were concerned at the small number of votes Irwin could command and urged him to create more. Irwin instructed his agent John Mackenzie of Delvine to make all the votes he could, but Mackenzie wrote to Sackville in July 1766:

It is now too late by the quickest despatch possible to enlarge his own numbers; if all the other gentlemen of the county combine with him against the late creations by Sir J. Bruce for Captain Bayne, he may yet fight a good battle but I expect no otherwise. ... Above three years ago ... I told him the chances and hazards he ran from that quarter if Sir John should be hostile. ... I believe Mr. Bayne’s numbers stand full match for all the others ... the death or absence of a single person may cast the scale.

Sackville now advised Irwin to unite with Adam, and to draw lots to determine which of them should stand on their combined interest.

Robert Adam was willing to allow Irwin to become the candidate, provided that Sackville would return Adam for his pocket borough of East Grinstead. This Sackville was unwilling to do. At the Michaelmas head court in October 1766, when only two freeholders appeared, Allan Ramsay, a Bruce supporter, claimed the casting vote as the senior member, and overruled the attempt of the other freeholder to enrol Irwin’s two voters. A lawsuit followed, and on 10 Feb. 1767 the court of session decided that Irwin’s votes were valid. The expenses of this suit were shared by Irwin and the Adams.

Irwin’s agent was now more hopeful of his chances at the 1767 head court; he calculated that with the two additional votes the Irwin-Adam combination would have a majority of one. Sackville wrote to Irwin on 19 Mar. 1767:

The temper of the county is to wish that the affair might be accommodated and that you may be the representative. The Baynes and the Adams are at present inveterate against each other, and if you were here to manage and negotiate I should hope it might end well for you.

He recommended close union with Adam, and ‘attention to the friends of the Baynes family, which may incline them to listen to accommodation’.

But when Irwin returned from Gibraltar in the summer of 1767 he ruined his chances by intriguing with Bayne for an alliance against Adam at the same time as he was plotting with Adam to object to the new Bayne votes. At the head court meeting, on 13 Oct. 1767, Adam, who had heard rumours of Irwin’s double-dealing, asked him point-blank if they were true. Irwin at first denied them, and then claimed that the initial offer had come from Bayne. To John Adam he declared his resolution ‘to stand on his own bottom, however apparently unequal the numbers then were, and to leave it to the other candidates to fight their own battle’. The inevitable consequence followed: Bayne and Adam combined to support the candidature of Robert Adam, and at the election Irwin received no votes except those of himself and his two friends. Irwin then brought a lawsuit, claiming that Robert Adam’s election was the result of a corrupt transaction between John Adam and Bayne; and also presented a petition to the House of Commons. In charges and counter-charges the whole story was revealed, and the petition was eventually dropped.

By 1780 the electoral situation in Kinross-shire had radically changed. George Graham, a returned nabob, had purchased both the Bruce and Irwin estates, and now held ‘in property or superiority’ the commanding interest.2 The Adam family were well disposed towards him; and in 1774 Graham’s uncle Sir William Mayne brought William Adam into Parliament for Gatton. At the general election of 1780 Graham was returned unopposed for Kinross-shire.

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. This account of the election of 1768 is based on the Germain mss, Wm. L. Clements Lib., Ann Arbor, Mich.; and records of lawsuits in the SRO: unextracted processes, John Adam v. Gen. John Irvine [sic ], 1768, I Innes Mack A 6/15, and MAC, 10 Feb. 1767.
  • 2. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 191.