Anstruther Easter Burghs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Anstruther Easter (1790, 1812), Pittenweem (1796, 1818), Anstruther Wester (1802), Crail (1806), Kilrenny (1807), all in Fifeshire


12 July 1790SIR JOHN ANSTRUTHER, 2nd Bt. [S]3
 Thomas Erskine2
20 Mar. 1793 ROBERT ANSTRUTHER vice Anstruther, vacated his seat 
1 July 1794 WILLIAM DUNDAS vice Anstruther, vacated his seat 
19 Aug. 1797 ALEXANDER CAMPBELL vice Anstruther, appointed to office 
25 Nov. 1806(SIR) JOHN ANSTRUTHER, 1st Bt. [GB] and 4th Bt. [S] 
3 June 1807(SIR) JOHN ANSTRUTHER, 1st Bt. [GB] 
20 Aug. 1811 SIR JOHN ANSTRUTHER, 2nd Bt. [GB], vice Anstruther, deceased 
31 Oct. 1812SIR JOHN ANSTRUTHER, 2nd Bt. [GB] 
14 Mar. 1818 ALEXANDER MACONOCHIE vice Anstruther, deceased 
26 July 1819 SIR WILLIAM RAE vice Maconochie, appointed to office4
 John Baillie1

Main Article

The principal interest in these five small burghs was that of Sir John Anstruther of Anstruther, who dominated Anstruther Easter and Wester and Pittenweem. He also had a significant interest in Kilrenny. Crail was in the interest of Thomas Erskine of Cambo. Henry Dundas and the Earl of Kellie had some influence in three of the burghs.

The opposition to Sir John, which Dundas had fostered in 1784, continued after that election. Three years later Sir John was concerned at this and, seeking a truce, appealed to Dundas, who agreed to end the opposition on certain conditions. These were that Sir John’s son John must be removed as Member for the burghs because of his opposition to Pitt, to be replaced by either Sir John himself or ‘any other approved friend’, added to which Sir John must support William Wemyss of Wemyss in Fifeshire. He agreed, but in 1789 felt obliged to support Henry Erskine in the county. Dundas promptly released Sir John from their engagement and renewed his opposition in the burghs: Erskine of Cambo was brought forward, with Kellie’s assistance. Sir John himself defended his interest. His delegates were returned unanimously in the Anstruthers and Pittenweem and although Erskine attacked Kilrenny at great expense and succeeded in obtaining its vote, Sir John was returned.1

After the election Erskine continued his opposition, in the hope of succeeding to the seat with ministerial backing on Sir John’s death; but Sir John made his peace with Dundas and in 1793, probably owing to his great age, made way for his third son, Robert. Erskine was persuaded not to oppose Anstruther. The following year Anstruther vacated his seat in favour of Dundas’s nephew William, and at the general election of 1796 their rapprochement ensured that Sir John was able to return his son John again, without opposition.2 The latter retained the seat for a year only, proceeding to Bengal as chief justice. Advantage was taken of this vacancy by Dundas, with Sir John’s concurrence, to accommodate Alexander Campbell of Monzie, who had been frustrated at Perth Burghs and had Dundas’s promise of a seat elsewhere. Erskine complained that he expected to be given the Anstruther interest ‘in consideration of my having made no opposition on the two late elections’, but Dundas forced him to accept Campbell, who came in unopposed.3 Campbell retained the seat until 1806 when Sir Philip Anstruther, patron since his father’s death in 1799, returned his brother John, back from India. The latter vetoed a proposal by William Adam that he should step down in favour of Viscount Howick in 1807. Apprehensive of Kellie’s intentions, he replied:

It is really impossible. I should ... have an opposition from tomorrow [until] Lord Grey’s death that nothing could pay me for. Besides my brother holds a considerable office which he would certainly lose as they know I could not do it without him.4

Sir Philip Anstruther died in 1808 and his brother and heir Sir John in 1811. His heir in turn was Member until his death in January 1818, nine days before the birth of a son and heir. The family interest was entrusted to his great-uncle Robert, the Member returned in 1793, who complied with a government request to accommodate the lord advocate at the general election of 1818. Opposition came from Col. John Baillie of Leys, who obtained the vote of Crail, but was defeated in the other burghs and withdrew from the contest.5 In May 1819 when it was rumoured that the lord advocate would be appointed a judge, Baillie returned to the fray. George Abercromby informed Lord Melville, 4 June:

Colonel [Robert] Anstruther ... is very anxious that the wishes of government should be conveyed to him as soon as possible in the event of the advocate vacating his seat. ... The plain truth is the advocate has materially impaired both the interest of the Anstruther family and of the government in these burghs.6

It was not until 17 June that Melville recommended Sir William Rae, the new lord advocate, to Anstruther. Despite his preference for ‘a respectable private gentleman’, Anstruther complied, but Baillie persevered and ‘a difficult struggle’ was anticipated. Yet Baillie was defeated four to one, securing Crail only.7

Author: D. G. Henry


  • 1. SRO GD51/1/198/10/11; Caledonian Mercury, no. 10,737.
  • 2. SRO GD51/1/198/10/13, 14; Blair Adam mss, Anstruther to Adam, n.d. [1792].
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/198/10/51, 54-56.
  • 4. Blair Adam mss, Adam to Sir J. Anstruther, 28 May, reply Thurs., Maxwell to Adam, Sunday [May]; Fortescue mss, Sir J. Anstruther to Grenville, 14 May, Rosslyn to same, 26 May 1807.
  • 5. Caledonian Mercury, no. 15,099.
  • 6. NLS mss 1054, f. 170.
  • 7. SRO GD51/5/749/1, pp. 80-81; NLS mss 10, f. 175; Edinburgh Advertiser, 27 July 1819, which calls him Col. Hugh Baillie.