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

Background Information

Number of voters:

55 in 1790, 41 in 1806, 55 in 1807, 72 in 1811


8 June 1797 SIR JOHN WISHART BELSCHES, Bt. (afterwards STUART) vice Barclay Allardice, deceased 
21 July 1802SIR JOHN STUART, Bt. 
29 Nov. 1806WILLIAM ADAM 
23 May 1807WILLIAM ADAM20
 Robert William Duff14
26 Feb. 1812 GEORGE HARLEY DRUMMOND vice Adam, vacated his seat 

Main Article

In 1790 the leading interest in Kincardineshire was that of Francis Garden of Troup, SCJ (Lord Gardenstone), who had a substantial following among the resident ‘independent’ proprietors. Robert Barclay Allardice of Urie, who had been returned with the support of Gardenstone and government in 1788, was re-elected without opposition. Gardenstone died in 1793, but there was no disturbance in 1796.

On Barclay Allardice’s death in 1797 three candidates presented themselves: Sir John Belsches of Fettercairn, a kinsman of Henry Dundas’s wife; Francis Russell of Blackhall, brother-in-law of Alexander Burnett, whose political connexions were Whiggish; and Peter Garden, Gardenstone’s brother and successor. Belsches was the most acceptable to Dundas, and after some wavering Sir Alexander Ramsay Irvine of Balmain, now the leading resident proprietor, also decided to support him, but his success was not a foregone conclusion. Lord Adam Gordon told Dundas that ‘with good humour and some pains we may still have a worthy steady MP and an unanimous election’, but urgently pressed him to secure the attendance of voters currently in London. Shortly afterwards he wrote in alarm of the ‘very complicated’ situation, alleging that David Scott I* of Dunninald and James Brodie* of Brodie, both friends of Dundas, were implicated in a plot to return Russell. Gordon eventually despaired of the attendance of a single London voter, but in the event Brodie and Scott were ‘completely outwitted’ and both Garden and Russell gave up shortly before the election.1

Belsches, who took the name of Stuart just after his election, came in quietly in 1802. Soon afterwards Burnett told William Adam, the Foxite man of business, who had an estate and a growing personal following in the county, that if Stuart resigned, as was rumoured, either he or Russell would come forward. By Michaelmas 1805 George Harley Drummond, the black sheep of the London banking family and a newcomer to the county, also had an eye on the seat. When the Whigs came to power in 1806, Adam was determined to secure the return of a Foxite at the next election. He sponsored Russell as prospective candidate and helped persuade Burnett, who had just succeeded his uncle Ramsay Irvine and taken the name of Ramsay, to waive his pretensions by advancing his claims to a baronetcy, which was conferred on him in May. In March 1806 Stuart decided not to contest the seat at the next election. Drummond, whose wife’s sister was married to Henry Erskine, lord advocate in the ‘Talents’, sought ministerial support, but found Lord Grenville already pledged to Russell. Erskine did nothing to assist Drummond, but was later critical of the choice of Russell, as ‘an unpopular candidate alone could have left room for any opposition’.2

Drummond was keenly supported by Lord Melville, a distant relative, but had little hope of success in an election held on the existing roll. His best chance lay in a dissolution at a sufficient distance of time to allow the dozen or so votes which he had created from purchased superiorities to come on. Russell, who alleged that his rival had spent at least £6,000 and on whose own behalf votes were also being manufactured, though on a lesser scale, viewed the future with alarm:

if Parliament was dissolved this year, we should stand nearly 4 to 1. But on the contrary, if it went to July 1807, such have been the uncommon exertions of Lord Melville and his agents ... I verily think we shall lose it.

To safeguard Drummond’s interests in case of an early dissolution, Robert William Duff of Fetteresso was designated as his shadow.3

In an interview with Lord Grenville, 9 Oct. 1806, Adam agreed to re-enter the House in an attempt to bind Foxite support more firmly to the ministry. His plan was to return himself in the first place for his native county of Kinross and to get Russell to stand aside for him in Kincardine at the next general election, when Kinross was not due to return, but soon after making his decision he was informed by Ramsay of a serious collapse in Russell’s health. He immediately wrote to Russell to tell him that he had ‘intimated’ that he would stand if Russell was unable to do so, adding in confidence that even if Russell was not hors de combat he now wished ‘to arrange matters so that I might be the candidate at the general election’, and that Russell would be suitably compensated for stepping aside. Before Adam could prepare the ground properly the decision to dissolve was taken on 12 Oct., thereby depriving him of his opening in Kinross. Unfortunately Ramsay had already decided to come forward himself in place of the ailing Russell (who died on 14 Oct.) ‘to endeavour to keep the party together’ and ‘to prevent the victory from falling into the hands of the Melvillites’.4

When Ramsay, unaware of Adam’s plans, solicited Grenville’s support, he was firmly requested to leave the field, but at first showed no disposition to do so, arguing that he could not reasonably ask pledged supporters to transfer their votes to Adam, to whom he wrote:

I must add my excessive surprise at Mr Russell’s agreement with you ... without me he never could have had the smallest chance ... I even hurt my interest with several by supporting him—and to behave to me with so little confidence has hurt me much.

Adam and his supporters realized that without Ramsay’s support success was extremely unlikely, but trusted that his domestic habits, poor health and sense of obligation to government for his baronetcy would make him susceptible to pressure. Yet his immediate reaction to their feelers was to suggest that Adam be persuaded to withdraw, and to complain of what seemed to him and to many other freeholders an underhand bargain of long standing between Adam and Russell. Both Grenville and the Prince of Wales intervened, at Adam’s request, with strongly worded open letters on his behalf, but at one stage his prospects were so gloomy that contingency plans were laid to provide him with a refuge at Dysart Burghs. Repeated pressure gradually told on Ramsay and when Adam, who had come north to supervise the government’s election campaign in Scotland, tackled him in person, he gave way, satisfied by Adam’s explanation that there had been nothing sinister in his transaction with Russell.5

The early dissolution had made it impossible for the unqualified Drummond to stand and Duff came forward as his substitute, after an unsuccessful attempt by Melville to persuade Stuart to defend the seat. Drummond gave him a good chance of beating Adam, but Alexander Crombie, Lord Aberdeen’s agent, thought he had no hope and he was eventually withdrawn, partly perhaps on the reasoning that, as Adam seemed likely to receive high legal office in the near future, Drummond would not have to wait long for an opportunity to make his bid. Even before the election formalities took place, Drummond began ‘a canvass for hereafter’.6

Adam exulted in his success, but Ramsay was soon warning him that Drummond’s activities, which included the establishment of ‘a subscription pack to amuse and attract young men in the county’, made it vital to remain alert, especially as ‘several of our friends have been giving hints of wishes and expectations for different favours’. Adam intended to stand for Kincardine and put up his son for Kinross at the next general election, but the early dissolution of 1807 put paid to the latter plan and he was forced to stand for both. Ramsay promised full support, but advised him that disappointed expectations of ‘little favours’ had made some of their supporters ‘doubtful’. Drummond was still ineligible and Melville again put up Duff as his locum, striking an early blow when Robert Barclay of Urie, son of the former Member, was induced to desert Adam and declare for his opponent. When Melville learnt that Adam was prepared to hand over the Kinross seat to a supporter of the Portland ministry if he held Kincardine, he wrote to his son:

I would ... rather lose Kinross-shire than Kincardineshire. Kincardineshire however is very doubtful and the battle at present will be a hard fought one—in all time coming it will in all events be a hollow business for Harley Drummond. It is however so far good, that we seem sure of a friend, either for Kincardineshire or Kinross-shire.

Adam eventually left his sick-bed in response to the requests of worried supporters for his presence and was returned unanimously for Kinross a week before the Kincardine election was due. A petition was threatened on a technicality and Adam, anxious to avoid expense and well aware that it would be dropped if he came in for Kincardine, remained keen to carry the latter. He later complained that Melville had tried to turn Kincardine voters against him ‘as being already chosen for Parliament, concealing from them that he had it in reserve to render my election for Kinross void’. In the event he had a majority of six over Duff and described his success as ‘a victory of some importance both to the general cause and to myself’. On the other hand, a Melvillite activist considered that they had not polled their full strength and that on any future vacancy Adam would have ‘no chance’. A protest, dismissed by Adam as ‘absolutely childish’, was lodged against alleged irregularities in the posting of election notices, but no action was taken on it.7

On 19 July 1807 Ramsay wrote to Adam:

No man can pretend to say what will be the fate of another election ... We have certainly got into a most unpleasant way of carrying on a political warfare ... by buying superiorities to create nominal votes, where a rich banker may command a county in which he has little or no interest, natural or acquired. Drummond has so formidable a band of those voters to come upon the roll that I can see great exertion will be necessary to oppose him with any prospect of success, more particularly having the power of administration to back him.8

At the ensuing Michaelmas head courts Drummond’s manufactured votes were admitted piecemeal to the roll, which almost doubled in size between 1806 and 1811. Ramsay, Adam and their supporters countered as best they could, mainly by creating votes for their relatives, but as Ramsay observed to Adam in 1808 they lacked the resources to sustain an effective, full-scale legal campaign against all nominal votes. Adam agreed that they could make only ‘tenable objections’ to new claimants and follow them up in the court of session, but he was not entirely pessimistic about the future:

the law having permitted this inroad of mere superiority men, the independent interest will be overpowered, if at the next general election the power remains where it is. But if any event should bring our friends into power ... the means of influencing those who will lean the one way or the other according to their interest, will divide it in our favour. This renders it advisable still to continue on the watch, and as Harry Dundas is more likely to die within the next six years than I am, I think the chapter of accidents is in all respects in our favour.

Aided by their opponents’ blunders, they were able to delay Drummond’s own enrolment until 1810, when his title was finally recognized by the court of session.9

In July 1811 Drummond canvassed, ostensibly in anticipation of a general election, but in reality because it was widely expected that Adam was to be made chief baron in the redistribution of Scottish judicial offices. Adam was pressed by his Whig supporters to take counter-measures, but he had already decided, for political and financial reasons, to vacate the seat no later than the next election and to sell his Kincardine property. He declined to canvass, but wrote to Sir Alexander Ramsay, 2nd Bt., who had succeeded his father in 1810, ‘in a manner I hope calculated to keep our friends together’, addressing him as the new head of the independent interest, which he promised to do his best to support. Both Ramsay and his uncle William Burnett strongly hinted in reply that they and most of their connexions were now disposed to support Drummond, who had ‘become very popular in the county’, if Adam himself did not stand again. Adam did not become chief baron, but a fresh financial calamity in November 1811 forced him to decide on immediate resignation of the seat. In view of ‘the communications from the Ramsays and Burnetts who have all declared for Drummond if not in preference to me, next to me’, he felt he had ‘no reason to let any delicacy’ over the fate of the independent interest stand in his way.10

Although Drummond at first jibbed at Adam’s parting request to the 2nd Lord Melville to have one of his supporters promised the succession as sheriff depute, he eventually gave his consent and duly offered himself when Adam publicly announced his retirement. The Foxite William Maule* pressed Ramsay to oppose him to save the independent interest from subjection for a generation and appealed to Adam for support, but Adam would take no part for either Ramsay or Barclay of Urie, to whom the resident proprietors finally turned in desperation. Barclay did not go to a poll and Drummond came in without opposition.11

Although Drummond was not troubled by Barclay’s feeble challenge at the general election of 181212 and met with no opposition in 1818, his position was less secure than it appeared on paper, for the resources on which it depended were being steadily eroded by his reckless expenditure.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. NLS mss 5, ff. 103-11; SRO GD51/1/198/12/2, 4; NLS, Fettercairn mss, box 65, Belsches to Stuart, 10 May; Blair Adam mss, Skene to Adam, 20 May, Gordon to same, 23 May 1797.
  • 2. Blair Adam mss, Burnett to Adam, 27 Nov. 1802, 22 Feb. 1806, Russell to same, 23, 27 Feb., [Mar.], Stuart to same, 8 Mar.; Fortescue mss, Drummond to Grenville, 19 Apr., reply 21 Apr., Erskine to Gillies, 20 Oct. 1806; SRO GD51/1/198/12/7.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/198/1/13, 15; 51/1/198/12/8, 11-15, 17; Blair Adam mss, Russell to Adam, 25 June, 11, 18 Aug., 19 Sept.; Fortescue mss, same to Grenville, 1 July 1806.
  • 4. Fortescue mss, Adam to Grenville, 12 Oct., reply 13 Oct.; Blair Adam mss, Ramsay to Adam, 8, 10, 14 Oct., to Gillies, 11, 13, 20 Oct., Adam to Russell, n.d. [10-12 Oct.] 1806.
  • 5. Fortescue mss, Ramsay to Grenville, 12 Oct., reply 16 Oct., Adam to same, 26 Oct., reply 29 Oct.; Blair Adam mss, Ramsay to Adam, 20, 29 Oct., to Maule, 22 Oct., to Gillies, 30 Oct.; Orr to Adam, 20, 21, 22, 25, 27 Oct., Maule to same, 24 Oct., Adam to Grenville, 24 Oct., to Rosslyn, 26 Oct., Gillies to Adam, 26 Oct., Rosslyn to same, 28 Oct., Gibson to same, 28 Oct.; Lauderdale to Ramsay, 28 Oct. 1806; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2268, 2274.
  • 6. Add. 43227, ff. 54-57; SRO GD51/1/198/12/23-26; Fortescue mss, Mackenzie to Grenville, 31 Oct., Adam to same, 28 Nov.; Blair Adam mss, Adam to Douglas, 2 Nov. 1806.
  • 7. Add. 51595, Adam to Holland, 28 Nov.; Blair Adam mss, Ramsay to Adam, 7, 16, 28 Dec. 1806, 1 May 1807, Orr to same, 20 Apr., 6, 7, 9, 12 May, Adam to Ramsay, 26 Apr., to Gordon, 18 May, to Keith, 29 May; Edinburgh Advertiser, 28 Apr.-1 May; Fettercairn mss, box 65, Melville to Stuart, 1 May; NLS, Melville mss (Acc. 6409), Melville to Saunders Dundas, 1 May; Fortescue mss, Adam to Grenville, 30 May 1807; NLS mss 8, f. 173; SRO GD51/1/195/27; 51/1/198/12/31; 51/1/198/13/5.
  • 8. Blair Adam mss.
  • 9. Ibid. Ramsay, to Adam, 1, 14 Sept., 2, 4 Oct. 1808, 23 Sept. 1809, 5 Mar, 1810, Adam to Ramsay, 20 Sept. 1808, Sandilands to Adam, 12, 29 Jan., 3 Feb., 10 June 1809, 16, 20 Feb., 10 Mar, 9 June 1810; SRO GD51/1/198/12/35.
  • 10. Blair Adam mss, Maule to Adam, 24, 29 July, 3 Aug., J. Ramsay to same, 1 Aug., Adam to Maule, to Sir A. Ramsay, 5 Aug., to W. G. Adam, 20 Aug., to J. Adam, 1 Sept., Ramsay to Adam, 15 Aug., Burnett to same, 24 Aug., 1811; Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3179.
  • 11. Blair Adam mss, Adam to Melville, 24 Dec. 1811, to Orr, 7 Jan., to Maule, 24 Jan. 1812, Melville to Adam, 28, 31 Dec. 1811, 2 Jan. 1812, Orr to same, 2 Jan., Maule to same, 20 Jan., Douglas to same, 27 Jan.; Edinburgh Advertiser, 7, 14 Jan., 21 Feb., 3 Mar. 1812.
  • 12. Add. 51561, Brougham to Holland [Sept.]; Norf. RO, Gurney mss RQG 334, Aberdeen to Gurney, 21 Oct. 1812.