MCDOWALL, William (?1749-1810), of Castle Semple, Renfrew and Garthland, Wigtown.

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



21 Aug. 1783 - June 1786
3 Aug. 1789 - 1790
1790 - 1802
1802 - 3 Apr. 1810

Family and Education

b ?1749, 1st s. of William McDowall.  educ. Glasgow Univ. 1761; adv. 1771; Grand Tour. unm.  suc. fa. 29 Nov. 1784.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. Renfrew. 1794- d.; ld. rector, Glasgow Univ. 1795-7.


McDowall was a non-practising lawyer, concerned mainly with the management of the family estates and West Indian enterprises. By the 1770s the original firm, founded by his grandfather, was trading under the name of Alexander Houstoun Co., having entered into partnership with the Houstouns of Jordanhill and Johnstone.1

At the general election of 1780 McDowall stood for Renfrewshire in opposition to John Shaw Stewart. On a compromise Shaw Stewart was returned, on condition that after three years he would make way for McDowall, who was accordingly elected on 21 Aug. 1783. He did not vote on Fox’s East India bill, but in January 1784 Robinson counted him as ‘hopeful’ and he became a supporter of Pitt. On 18 Apr. 1785 he voted for Pitt’s parliamentary reform proposals.

In June 1786 McDowall vacated his seat in conformity with his agreement with Shaw Stewart, whom, nevertheless, he opposed at the by-election, and was defeated. Thereafter he made desperate efforts to strengthen his interest, creating votes in Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Wigtownshire. In Ayrshire his close friend, Sir Adam Fergusson, created at least six votes for McDowall’s relations, and at the by-election in the summer of 1789, backed by Henry Dundas, sponsored his candidature for the county.2 James Boswell, who was one of the opposing candidates, wrote to William Temple, 2 Aug. 1789:3

Dundas is insolently forcing upon us a gentleman from another county, which I and the other two declarants, as candidates at the general election against his candidate, now unite to resist. Tomorrow is the election day. I fear we shall lose it.

McDowall was returned as a stop-gap for Fergusson until the general election, and continued his search for another constituency. Failing Renfrewshire, Glasgow Burghs was an obvious choice, from the influence of his brother Bailie James McDowall and his business connexions on the Glasgow town council, and the friendship of the Dukes of Hamilton and Argyll in the other burghs. George Keith Elphinstone also had designs upon the constituency; and at the by-election of 1789 McDowall and Elphinstone exerted all their interest on behalf of their respective friends, John Dunlop and John Craufurd. Although Craufurd was returned on 26 Feb. 1790 the Glasgow town council, for the remaining months of the Parliament, disregarded him and entrusted their parliamentary business to McDowall.4

Early in 1790 William Adam wrote in his survey of Scottish constituencies, under Renfrewshire:5

Mr. McDowall of Garthland ... is a man universally well liked, and has great industry and good sense. Mr. Pitt’s ministry are surely under obligations to him; he maintained a most expensive contest in this county, another in Ayrshire, and a third against Captain Elphinstone in the Glasgow District of Burghs. He has a good estate in this county, another in Wigtown and a very large one in the West Indies; no children of his own; but a number of brothers in the navy, India, etc. to all of whom he is attached.

At the general election of 1790 McDowall was returned for Glasgow Burghs and abandoned the Renfrewshire contest.

He died 3 Apr. 1810.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Caribbeana, ii. 346, 349.
  • 2. Fergusson, Letters of G. Dempster to Sir Adam Fergusson, 196.
  • 3. Letters, ed. Tinker, ii. 375-6.
  • 4. Glasgow Burgh Recs. viii. 351, 355-6.
  • 5. Pol. State of Scotland, 279.