Kirkcudbright Stewartry

Single Member 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

Number of voters:

68 in 1781, 150 in 1788


26 Apr. 1754John Mackye 
9 Apr. 1761John Ross Mackye 
6 May 1763Ross Mackye re-elected after appointment to office 
19 Apr. 1768James Murray 
2 Nov. 1774William Stewart 
 Patrick Heron 
9 Oct. 1780Peter Johnston32
 John Gordon27
 Election declared void, 5 Mar. 1781  
6 Apr. 1781John Gordon36
 Peter Johnston32
 Johnston vice Gordon, on petition, 6 Feb. 1782 
3 May 1784Peter Johnston 
 Thomas Goldie 
16 Aug. 1786Alexander Stewart vice Johnston, vacated his seat 

Main Article

The principal interests in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright belonged to: the earls of Galloway; their relations, James Murray of Broughton and the Stewarts of Castle Stewart; the Gordons of Kenmure; the Maxwell family, whose chief was the representative of the attainted 5th Earl of Nithsdale; the Heron family, and their kinsman John Ross Mackye; the Earl of Selkirk, son of a Jacobite; and the Duke of Queensberry. Almost all these interests overlapped into the neighbouring counties of Wigtown, Dumfries, and Ayr. Many of the smaller landowners were Catholics or had old Jacobite connexions.

John Mackye (later Ross Mackye), the sitting Member at the dissolution in 1754, was returned unopposed; and again in 1761, after John Gordon of Kenmure had withdrawn his candidature.1 At the general election of 1768 James Murray of Broughton stood, supported by his Galloway relatives; and Ross Mackye, rather than create fictitious votes, withdrew.2

Mackye’s nephew, Patrick Heron of Heron, did not share these scruples, and by 1772, with the assistance of Queensberry and Gordon of Kenmure, had undermined Murray’s interest. In 1773 Murray withdrew as candidate for the forthcoming general election in favour of his kinsman, William Stewart of Castle Stewart. John Robinson wrote in his survey of June 1774: ‘It is thought whichever [candidate] has the support of Government, he will carry the election, as the numbers run very near.’ On election day four of Heron’s friends refused to take the trust oath and Stewart had a majority of 14.3

Early in 1780 the Galloway family discarded the impoverished William Stewart and selected Peter Johnston of Carnsalloch as their candidate at the next general election. Colonel Alexander Stewart, William Stewart’s brother, also declared his intention of standing; and a third candidate appeared in John Gordon of Kenmure, backed by Heron, Ross Mackye, the Goldie family, and the Duke of Queensberry. All three candidates were supporters of North’s Administration: ‘The same to Government whoever succeeds’, wrote Robinson in his electoral survey. Gordon and Stewart agreed to combine against Johnston and signed an agreement to divide the Parliament between them, Gordon taking the first turn. News of the agreement leaked out and feeling ran high.4

At the election the Johnston party, by the casting vote of Murray of Broughton, the praeses, gained control of the head court and proceeded to enrol their own voters and reject Gordon’s. A friend wrote to Lord Loudoun: ‘Mr. Johnston was returned by a majority of five, but if Kenmore’s twelve votes are found good he will have a majority of seven.’ The committee of the House of Commons which considered Gordon’s petition found that nine of his twelve rejected votes should have been enrolled; but they also found that Gordon, having liberated one of his voters from gaol by paying his debts, was guilty of bribery, and that the agreement between Stewart and Gordon was corrupt. Johnston’s counsel argued:

If such a practice were allowed, it would soon run all over Scotland. The English Members were indeed too apt to be dull and idle, and many of them slept away seven whole years. But the Scotch Members were ... of an active and bustling disposition and could do very pretty things in three or four years; so that when a bargain was struck up between two persons, one had only to go to Parliament for three years and get a snug thing, and then return to Scotland and send his partner to come up to London and do the same thing.

The election was declared void, and at the by-election Gordon was returned. But Johnston petitioned on the ground that the illegal agreement was still in force and that Gordon, having been found to have practised bribery, was ineligible for the current Parliament. On 6 Feb. 1782 Gordon was unseated and Johnston declared duly elected.5

At the general election of 1784 four candidates appeared: Johnston, standing on the Galloway interest; Alexander Stewart; Thomas Goldie, nephew of Patrick Heron; and Murray of Broughton. On the day of the election Keith Stewart succeeded in arranging a compromise between Johnston, Stewart, and Murray. Johnston was to be the ostensible candidate, and each of the three was to hold the seat for two sessions. At the election Goldie was defeated by a majority of 16.6

According to the agreement, Johnston was due to vacate his seat at the end of 1785 in favour of Murray. When Lord Galloway and Keith Stewart asked for a short extension of time to enable Johnston to secure a suitable employment, Murray demurred, and accused them of plotting to prevent his return to Parliament because they knew he sympathized with the Opposition. The situation was completely altered when Murray eloped abroad with Johnston’s sister and abandoned his candidature, which he said had been dictated by his wife’s jealous (but apparently not unreasonable) hatred of the Johnston family. ‘In consequence of General [Alexander] Stewart’s handsome behaviour at the last election’, Murray made over to him ‘all his pretensions to represent the Stewartry during the remainder of the Parliament’. There was considerable altercation as to whether Johnston was bound by the agreement to withdraw in favour of Alexander Stewart, but eventually he did so in 1786.7

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Add. 32904, f. 44; 33049, f. 306; letters from John Stewart, Andrew Hunter, Andrew Lawrie, and Mackye, Loudoun mss.
  • 2. Ross Mackye to Loudoun, 23 July, 12 Nov. 1766, ibid.
  • 3. Ld. Dumfries to Loudoun, 26 Sept., 21 Oct. 1772, Heron to Loudoun, 5 July 1774, Jas. Innes to Loudoun, 24 Oct. 1774, Loudoun mss; Rockingham to Murray, 20 Dec. 1772, Rockingham mss; Laprade, 18; Caledonian Merc. 7 Nov. 1774.
  • 4. Scots Mag. 1780, p. 555; 1781, pp. 145-6.
  • 5. John Anderson to Loudoun, 11 Oct. 1780, Loudoun mss; Sir W. Fraser, The Book of Caerlaverock, ii. 397; Scots Mag. 1780, p. 637.
  • 6. Murray to Keith Stewart, 1 Oct. 1785, Seaforth mss; Edinburgh Advertiser, 4 May 1784.
  • 7. Keith Stewart’s corresp. 1784-6, Seaforth mss, vol. 6.