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

Background Information

Alternated with Clackmannanshire

Number of voters:

23 in 1790 reduced to 15 in 1811


23 Aug. 1803 DAVID CLEPHANE vice MacLean Clephane appointed to office 
16 May 1807WILLIAM ADAM 
17 Aug. 1807 DAVID CLEPHANE vice Adam, chose to sit for Kincardineshire 
25 June 1811 THOMAS GRAHAM II vice Clephane, appointed to office 
16 Sept. 1819 GEORGE EDWARD GRAHAM vice Graham, deceased10
 Charles Adam8

Main Article

In 1788 the controlling interest was reported to be in George Graham of Kinross House who, having purchased that estate in 1777, had come in for the county in the Parliament of 1780 and was expected to do the same at the next general election: ‘The county is a small one, and the greater part of it belongs to Mr Graham in property and superiority’. Out of 26 voters, 16 were then attributed to Graham, though several of them were dubious life-renters. The next interest was that of John Adam of Blair, father of the Whig politician William Adam of Downhill. The only other interest of consequence was that of George Clephane, whose wife had brought him the Kirkness estate. It was thought, however, that if Graham’s life-renters were cancelled, Adam assisted by William Mercer of Aldie, his connexion by marriage, would carry the county.1 On the other hand, William Adam, even if he had not been secure for Ross-shire, had no intention of opposing George Graham, even when the House of Lords decision before the election of 1790 shook the validity of his life-renters:

On the contrary, this unforeseen decision depriving him of what he had reason to think sure, makes it quite right (his politics being ours especially), to prevent its injuring him. And the whole of his conduct on the late occasion when Mr [David] Scott was troublesome, has made me decidedly offer him every assistance in the county. From this liberal conduct, I expect two advantages: first, to secure his vote for H[enry] Erskine in Fife; next, to fix him invariable to the party.2

George Graham was consequently returned unopposed in 1790, though it does not appear that he clung to opposition in politics: in 1794 he was appointed lord lieutenant. William Adam evidently intended to support Graham again if he offered at the next alternation, but, in alliance with the Rev. Sir Henry Moncreiff Wellwood of Tillybole and other members of the self-styled independent interest of the county, was prepared to resist any perpetualization of the Kinross House hold on the county. This became clear in 1799 when George Graham contemplated replacing himself with his nabob brother Thomas. Moncreiff Wellwood reported to Adam, 15 July 1799:3

G. Graham has managed his plan in a singular way indeed. He wrote you soliciting for his brother. At the same moment he wrote me and Mr [Thomas] Bruce [of Arnot], soliciting for himself. He did not apply to Mr [John] Syme [of Lochore] till after he had heard from you, and then solicited him for himself. His brother he has not mentioned to any of us.

As none of us ever meant to oppose him personally, if he was to be the candidate, I did not hesitate to promise him my vote if he chose to represent the county again. Mr Bruce did the same thing, and Mr Syme also by my advice. But we have so limited our engagement as to exclude his brother effectually ... He thinks he shall be able to bring his brother into view during the summer—but in the meantime thinks from your letter that there is another candidate started.

George Graham died 18 Dec. 1801, leaving his natural son James Graham heir to his estate on conditions which were frustrated, whereupon the estate passed to the deceased’s brother Thomas. The disarray of the Kinross House interest provided Adam and his independent friends with the opportunity to sponsor the candidature of Maj.-Gen. Clephane (eldest son of George Clephane of Kirkness), who was absent on active service in Minorca. Moncreiff Wellwood assured Adam, 23 Dec. 1801, ‘We are of course to abide by General Clephane and if James Graham shall listen to my advice he will do the same thing’. This was to be done by impressing on Graham’s mentor, John Campbell WS, that if Graham did not ‘unite with us, rather than attempt to follow out his father’s plan of nominal voters’, these voters would be challenged. So Graham would do better ‘to withdraw them quietly, to save himself and us the appearance of hostility’.4 When other members of the independent confederacy rallied to Clephane, his success seemed ‘beyond a doubt’.5

Clephane, who had heard of Graham’s death by 17 Feb. 1802, wrote that day to William Adam, relying on him to advise his brother Henry Clephane in canvassing matters and ceding the vacant lord lieutenancy to Adam, though some of Clephane’s friends took it upon themselves to apply for it on his own behalf. By then Adam was sure of James Graham’s acquiescence; indeed on 24 Feb. he was informed that ‘every real freeholder’ had promised support for Clephane and that James Graham had done so likewise in writing. A threat from Sir William Erskine* to thwart Clephane’s return if he did not obtain the Clephane interest in Fifeshire could therefore be treated as bluff.6 Nevertheless Neil Ferguson, the sheriff depute, was induced to hold the Fifeshire election a week before the Kinross-shire one to appease Erskine, and the Kinross-shire election before 6 Aug. 1802. This was to prevent the independent interest from being obliged to ‘irritate’ the Kinross House party by challenging the enrolment of three or four of their claimants enfeoffed the previous August: they could have no objection to another three previously enfeoffed by George Graham, including his son James and his nephew George Edward Graham.7 Accordingly Clephane, who arrived home in time for his election, was chosen unanimously—an independent supporter of Addington’s administration.

When in 1803 Clephane accepted a colonial government, he proposed substituting his brother David for himself. Sir Henry Moncreiff Wellwood, on behalf of the independent party, informed William Adam that since Adam himself was then out of the question, they had nobody to turn to but John Syme or Thomas Bruce, who might either of them serve as locum tenens for Adam, as David Clephane ‘would not go well down amongst us’ and would be ‘against your interest and the interest you wish to preserve’; while Thomas Graham of Kinross House ‘is the last person we should at present bring forward’. In short, ‘nothing should be done to convey the idea either to the Clephanes or the Grahams that we are not independent of both’. In the event, Clephane was returned unopposed, being considered preferable by the independent party to Col. Alexander Park of Lochore, brother-in-law of the late George Graham, who failed to secure Adam’s support but was known to be counting on the enrolment of the Kinross House claimants. Clephane’s military duties rendered him at first an ineffective Member, and his subsequent adherence to Pitt and Lord Melville appeared to disqualify him from future independent support. In fact, William Adam stated on 12 Oct. 1806 that he had it in his power ‘to vacate the seat for Kinross-shire now’, in his own favour. The dissolution prevented this. Meanwhile the independent party had frustrated a bid to secure the enrolment of James Graham and other Kinross House claimants at Michaelmas 1805.8

William Adam had decided in 1806 to stand for Kincardineshire, Kinross not returning to that Parliament, and to put up one of his sons for Kinross at the next election. The election of 1807 came on too soon for this plan to operate, and on 26 Apr. he announced that

because of particular circumstances of the Kinross-shire roll, I am obliged to come forward as a candidate for that county also. If this had not come so suddenly, I was in the train of arranging it. But it will require the period that can be got between the election and the time of vacating to make that arrangement.

The fact was that Col. Alexander Park was again proposing to offer himself, counting on the Kinross House interest which he had obtained in preference to George Edward Graham* (who acquiesced, provided Park supported the ministry) and hoping for that of the Clephanes, which would clinch his success. There were only eight voters on the roll, but by specious arithmetic involving the bringing on to the roll of two out of three Kinross House claimants, Lord Melville’s son Robert was assured that Park might pip Adam. But too many hypotheses were involved to vouchsafe such confidence and Melville thought Adam could at best win by a casting vote, so he informed his son. Rather than permit Park’s success, Adam was prepared to sponsor David Clephane, a friend of the Portland ministry, as his successor for Kinross, provided he secured his own election for Kincardine.9 Melville, to whom this plan was submitted, wrote, ‘we seem sure of a friend, either for Kincardineshire or Kinross-shire’, but looked for an opportunity to upset it. Adam seemed to have the upper hand when on 9 May Col. Park informed him that ‘in a grand council of all friends and connections this forenoon, I obtained a most complete victory by convincing them of the impossibility of carrying the county in opposition to you’, and added that when advised that ‘Mr D[undas]’ demurred, ‘I replied rather sharply that I would not give up my opinion of the Kinross state of politics to Mr D. or any man ... In short the meeting broke up determining to give up all thoughts of a contest.’ It would seem that Kinross House could muster only five valid votes, unless their claimants were enrolled, and with two exceptions they would be ‘bold men to try it’. On 16 May Adam was duly returned unanimously for Kinross, only to find that a protest was being entered by the Kinross House agent on account of the election being held a day before it was legally due, which promised a petition against his return. This, though at worst it could only lead to a void election and Adam’s inevitable return on a fresh election, would cost Adam £1,000; and he soon discovered that it gave rise to a stratagem of Melville’s, who now tried to draw off Adam’s supporters in Kincardineshire on the grounds that he had been returned for Kinross, no mention being made of the informality in his return. Adam explained his plight to one of his would-be deserters in Kincardine:

This protest will be followed by a petition unless I have a clear election for Kincardineshire. In that case it will be dropped, because while I am thus vexed for Kinross-shire, it is well known that on my declaring my option for Kincardine we shall return a friend of the present ministers for Kinross.

In the same vein, having from his sick-bed contrived to thwart the manoeuvre, Adam wrote to Lord Grenville, 30 May:

There is no device, stratagem or effort corrupt or incorrupt, direct or indirect which Melville has not used against me both in Kinross-shire and Kincardineshire ... The number of voters in Kinross-shire are very few—but they are gentlemen perfectly independent and all free agents acting on personal and public opinion. In both counties it is a contest between the persons having a real patrimonial interest in the counties, acting for themselves, and a number of created votes—who are to obey their grantors, who are to obey Lord Melville.10

Taking his seat for Kincardine, Adam could claim the credit for substituting David Clephane, albeit a political opponent, for himself in Kinross, and for placing that family under future obligation to him and his friends. George Edward Graham had begged Melville, 20 May 1807, to espouse his family’s interest, ‘as we flatter ourselves it will soon be again wanted to be brought forward in favour of Lt.-Col. Park or myself as the locum tenens of my uncle Mr Thomas Graham, at present in Calcutta’.11 This plea fell on deaf ears: Melville was advised, when Alexander Park proceeded to canvass on the vacancy, that Clephane was probably ‘on the whole the safest Member ... as Park is the personal friend of Adam’. Park’s conduct, however, seemed unjustifiable to Adam, in view of his letter of 9 May; and his bid for Adam’s support on 25 May, in which he stressed that he was independent of administration, was not helped by his claim to the dictation of John Syme’s vote, which was at Adam’s disposal, because Syme owed him ‘a pretty heavy sum of money’. Adam did not vacate his seat until the petitions presented against him on 6 and 9 July 1807 had been given up (they were discharged on 24 July) and Park’s opposition dropped.12

When at Michaelmas 1809 the Kinross House claimants again came forward for enrolment, Adam’s presence was ‘a sine qua non to any success’ in thwarting them;13 but the Graham family’s pretensions could not be kept at bay indefinitely, particularly when Thomas Graham returned from India to claim his inheritance, and the enrolments took place. When Clephane vacated his seat to take a disqualifying office in 1811, Thomas Graham could not be resisted: so thought Adam, who stated that Graham could ‘command the return and even the seat in the present state of the roll’. He informed Moncreiff Wellwood on 22 Mar.:

as it would have been a heavy expense to have tried [John] Campbell and James Graham’s vote in a petition, I thought it best to be at once the person to disclose the vacancy to Graham and to make the proposal to him contained in my letter to you and the other gentlemen.

This proposal involved the independent confederacy acquiescing in Graham’s return now

provided he agreed to place the county in the situation in which it was placed by his brother in 1790, and to desist from bringing any others upon the roll of that description, and that it must commence with Mr Campbell and James Graham denuding.

Thomas Graham could answer only for himself, that he was prepared not to bring forward new claimants, but insisted that existing creations were beyond his control. Adam concurred in this, but warned of legal action to ‘denude’ Campbell and James Graham. His view of the roll on 22 Mar. was that Thomas Graham had seven votes to the independents’ six, though the independents had prospective claimants, including three of his sons; but four days later he informed Moncreiff Wellwood, who agreed with his tactics, that the independents were outnumbered by 12 to nine, so to petition against two votes, even successfully, would be a waste of over £500.14 Thomas Graham was duly returned unopposed both then and in 1818 and on his death a year later was succeeded by his nephew, who met with competition from Capt. Charles Adam, second son of William Adam and a supporter of opposition, but carried the day.15

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 191.
  • 2. Blair Adam mss, W. to J. Adam, Mon. [3 May 1790].
  • 3. Ibid.; SRO GD29/2071/3.
  • 4. Blair Adam mss; Brougham and his Early Friends, i. 337.
  • 5. Blair Adam mss, Clephane to Adam, 30 Dec. 1801.
  • 6. Ibid. MacLean Clephane to Adam, 17 Feb., Syme to same, 10 Mar., Adam to Sir W. Erskine, 18 Feb., Moncreiff Wellwood to Adam, 24 Feb. 1802; Brougham and his Early Friends, i. 294, 306, 313.
  • 7. Blair Adam mss, Clephane to Adam, 26 June, Syme to same, 30 June, Moncreiff Wellwood to same, 2, 3 July 1802.
  • 8. Ibid. MacLean Clephane to Adam, 25 May, Adam to Park, 10 June, Syme to Adam, 11 July, Moncreiff Wellwood to same, 10 May 1803, 12 Aug., 10 Oct. 1805; Grey mss, Adam to Howick, 12 Oct. 1806.
  • 9. Blair Adam mss, Adam to Bedford, 13 Oct. 1806, to Sir A. Ramsay, 26 Apr., Innes to Adam, 5 May; SRO GD51/1/198/13/1, 2, 5; NLS mss 8, ff. 172, 174; NLS, Melville mss (Acc. 6409), Melville to Saunders Dundas, 1 May [1807].
  • 10. SRO GD51/1/195/27; Blair Adam mss, Park to Adam, 9 May, Innes to same, 10 May, Adam to Gordon of Cluny, 18 May, to Keith, 29 May 1807; Fortescue mss.
  • 11. SRO GD51/1/198/13/6; Blair Adam mss, Clephane to Adam, 29 Mar. 1811.
  • 12. SRO GD51/1/198/1/19; Blair Adam mss, Park to Adam, 25 May, A. Clephane to same, 28 May, reply 30 May, Moncreiff Wellwood to same, 17 July 1807, Sandilands to same, 9 Oct., 3 Dec. 1809, H. Clephane to same, 24 June, Sir A. Ramsay to same, 19 July 1807.
  • 13. Blair Adam mss, Moncreiff Wellwood to Adam, 17 Aug., 30 Sept. 1809.
  • 14. Ibid. Adam to Moncreiff Wellwood, 22, 26 Mar., reply 23 Mar. 1811.
  • 15. Edinburgh Advertiser, 21 Sept. 1819.