Kirkcudbright Stewartry


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:

154 in 1790 reduced to 135 in 1811


23 Mar. 1795 PATRICK HERON vice Stewart, deceased 
21 June 1796PATRICK HERON 
23 July 1802PATRICK HERON42
 Hon. Montgomery Granville John Stewart37
 STEWART vice Heron, on petition, 10 May 1803 
 Alexander John Goldie36
2 Nov. 1812JAMES DUNLOP48
 William Douglas30
9 July 1818JAMES DUNLOP 

Main Article

The balance of interests in the Stewartry was so fine that in 1784 there was a tripartite pact whereby Peter Johnston; James Murray of Broughton and Cally; and Alexander Stewart of the Castle Stewart family agreed to share the Parliament. It broke down because shortly before Johnston was due to make way for Murray, Murray eloped with Johnston’s sister. Alexander Stewart obtained the seat instead and, despite a flirtation with opposition during the Regency crisis, rallied to government and retained his seat in the Parliament of 1790.1 Stewart, who died in December 1794, was connected by blood with the 7th Earl of Galloway. So was James Murray, who had married the earl’s sister, but after his elopement he did not again come forward in the Stewartry, where he and the earl had the leading interests, although he had been thought capable of beating Stewart.2

In the autumn of 1793 Galloway, hotfoot in pursuit of an English peerage, seems to have agreed with Henry Dundas to support the latter’s son Robert for the Stewartry in return for the fulfilment of his ambition. Nothing came of it, and the Galloway interest was further weakened when the vacancy arose by Dundas’s opposition, inspired, so Galloway thought, by his heir Viscount Garlies (who was lord lieutenant of the Stewartry) having a conscientious objection to some of Pitt’s measures.3 Dundas encouraged the pretensions of Patrick Heron of Heron, the old enemy of the Galloway interest. Lord Galloway was at a loss for a candidate to propose against Heron. Peter Johnston declined; Galloway’s brother Adm. Keith Stewart was disqualified; his own second son William was put up as a decoy, but not duly enfeoffed. Gen. James Stewart (brother of the late Member) was, so he informed James Murray, the most eligible, but it was Thomas Gordon of Balmaghie (a Madeira merchant in London) who was at length taken up.

Galloway procured the writ and delayed the election, but he could not match Heron. Heron’s interest had prevailed 1754-68, though he had been beaten in 1774, and his protégés likewise in 1780 and 1784. In 1790 he had intended to put up his nephew, Lt.-Col. Thomas Goldie of Crooks, the candidate of 1784, with the aid of a tripartite pact, one of the other parties being Sir Samuel Hannay*. Now he reinforced his position by a pact, similar to the tripartite one made to thwart him in 1784. The other parties were Richard Alexander Oswald of Auchencruive, nephew to Lord Methven and heir to a Glasgow mercantile fortune; and Dunbar Douglas, a younger son of Lord Selkirk, in the navy. Oswald was the more formidable, but Heron was sure he could not succeed, even if he himself made way for Oswald. Another observer, Alexander Muir Mackenzie, thought Oswald’s only chance lay in alliance with Lord Galloway, but doubted if this was feasible. William McDowall of Garthland had this to say, writing to Dundas, 5 Oct. 1795:

I am sorry to find that in the compromise between Mr Heron and [Oswald], the most extraordinary ever made in the annals of compromising, Dunbar Douglas was likewise to attempt to sit for two years during the ensuing session of Parliament by their united interests, but Oswald has hopes that he will persuade him to any arrangement he chooses to make for himself. I have communicated to him ... the very handsome proposition you made with regard to the boroughs in consequence of his supporting Mr Heron in the county, and have mentioned to him that you would be glad to see him at Wimbledon.

If Oswald should be able, from friendship to himself, to prevail on Dunbar Douglas to relinquish his claim (and in what manner Mr Heron and Mr Oswald could allow him to have any with three or four votes is most wonderful), I hope the business may still be arranged according to the plan suggested by you and the best that could be imagined, as you did not seem to think that any immediate declaration of your sentiments was necessary.4

Heron himself urged Dundas to encourage Oswald to fight the burghs, so as to relieve him of ‘the necessity of making any future conditions with Mr Oswald’. Heron consequently never did make way for Oswald or Dunbar Douglas, the latter dying of yellow fever off St. Kitts, 29 Oct. 1796.

Lord Galloway, who had in August 1795 informed Dundas that Heron was not standing again and that he was sure Dundas would prefer Thomas Gordon of Balmaghie to Douglas, Oswald or Goldie, changed his tune to further his wish for an English peerage. He was bringing in his only son, then of age, for Wigtownshire in pursuit of ‘a political arrangement’ with Dundas and did not oppose Heron in 1796. Had Thomas Gordon been a candidate acceptable to Dundas, or if James Murray had had a nominee, Galloway would have been content to prevent Heron ‘from running away with the Stewartry altogether’, so he assured Murray on 10 Mar. 1796. But on sounding out Dundas, Galloway was informed by him, 31 Mar. 1796:

I do not know that I have occasion to take any more part than I have already done in the Stewartry politics, but what I have done excludes the possibility of my listening to any arrangement exclusive of the declaration you inform me Mr Heron has made. I have invariably stated that I could not enter into all the local prejudices or parties in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, but that having been induced from circumstances and contrary to my intention to take a part at the former election in favour of Mr Heron, and having received from him a fair and unequivocal support, I could not be guilty of such levity as to relinquish his support if he offered himself again. I stated this very distinctly to your lordship in repeated conversations. I have made no secret of my sentiments whenever the subject has been mentioned.

After the election, Galloway was at odds with Dundas over the latter’s backing Heron’s nominee for a place at Creetown ‘from it being in the Stewartry tho’ in the port of Wigton’. Galloway claimed that this nomination was always in his family and Heron’s having it gave credence to the report of Dundas’s cold shouldering Galloway. Furthermore Dundas pledged himself to support Heron (in preference to Richard Oswald), 8 Oct. 1800, when Galloway was reported to be ‘raising an opposition against a respectable and tried friend of that government, which he himself desires to support’.5

Galloway put up his son Montgomery Stewart for Kirkcudbright in September 1800 in anticipation of the election of 1802, while supporting his son William again for Wigtownshire. Dundas, on the pretext that ‘the interests of Wigtown and the Stewartry are complicated together’, regarded this as a breach of the peace and opposed the Galloway interest, regarding Heron as a friend of government; he remained unmoved when William Stewart protested against ‘the immediate connection of these two counties’ and when Galloway tried to get him to withdraw his opposition through the prime minister, Addington, whom Dundas warned to steer clear of Scottish elections.6

The contest was expected to be ‘very near’ and, although Heron succeeded, his unseating on petition owing to an irregularity during the election was confidently predicted.7 It came to pass in May 1803. Montgomery Stewart petitioned that in calling over the roll Heron had omitted the names of entitled freeholders, erased others and received illegal votes in the election for praeses, in favour of Richard Oswald and against John Gordon of Kenmure. When the committee scrutinized the votes, Heron conceded four votes to Stewart and gave up one of his own, so that the candidates now had 41 votes apiece; they agreed that the election should turn on the vote of John Gordon of Kenmure, whose vote had been rejected by Heron on the grounds that he declined to take the oath unless a reduction in his qualification was duly registered. Gordon had already petitioned the court of session against the improper expunging of his name from the roll, and on 25 Feb. 1803 the court had reinstated him and given costs against Heron and his kinsman Gen. Thomas Goldie of Goldielee, the co-respondents. Heron and Goldie failed in a counter-petition and in an appeal to the Lords, so the election committee, which had delayed sitting so as to be guided by this, restored his vote to Gordon, who thus gave Montgomery Stewart the seat, which was some compensation to Lord Galloway for the loss of Wigtownshire. Dundas must have been disappointed, as he had boasted of beating Galloway in both counties; he had written to Addington, 27 July 1802, of the Stewartry election:

I confess it was of all the elections in this country the one about [which] I was personally most keen, on account of the circumstances with which you are well acquainted. I take the case to be that those who had in vain attempted to extort their objects by corruption thought it best to strike their colours, and thought it wiser to trust to my protection without a promise, than to Lord Galloway’s promises, of which by all accounts there were no scarcity.8

In 1806 Montgomery Stewart was again returned with government support, to the chagrin of Thomas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, who became a representative peer in that year and wished, as a supporter of the Grenville ministry, to receive it for his nominee. He promoted the candidature of his brother-in-law Sir James Hall*, which gave some anxiety to the Galloway family, but Hall was not yet enfeoffed for a year and a day when the election came on, and in trying to find a substitute Selkirk picked Sir William Douglas of Castle Douglas, who proved unacceptable. So there was no contest, and even if there had been one the Galloway interest was expected to prevail. Galloway’s rebellious heir, Lord Garlies, had persuaded Lord Melville, as a fellow Pittite, not to suppose that his brother was ‘engaged to the government’ and unable to be lured by the other side, as well as to help prevent Sir William Douglas from being put up.9

In April 1807 Lord Grenville, at Lord Lauderdale’s instigation, again gave the blessing of his party to Montgomery Stewart, though his politics were now doubtful. Selkirk, who had deserted the outgoing ministers after recently succeeding Galloway as lord lieutenant, rebelled and pointed out that this support was ‘against my interest in the county with which I am connected’. He added that

a similar determination last summer gave me no small dissatisfaction; nor could I then have brooked the injury, had I not received the assurance that it was through inadvertence, that a promise had been made to Mr Stewart before my claims were known. This excuse cannot now be alleged and I am confident that to any person who has the least acquaintance with the circumstances of the county or of Mr Stewart’s footing in it, the resolution now taken must appear absolute infatuation; and that if I were to acquiesce it would be suffering myself to be trampled upon.

In a letter of protest to Lauderdale, Selkirk informed him that his ‘obligations’ to Montgomery Stewart were his own affair, but Lauderdale must not expect that ‘in return for your hostility I am to adhere to your interests, and to stand by a party which will not stand by me’. Stewart’s elder brother, the new Earl of Galloway, was in some perplexity as to whether to surrender the Stewartry for the present and bid for the Wigtownshire seat, but having as a supporter of the Portland administration enlisted Lord Melville’s support for his brother, he elected to stick to his resolution of contesting the Stewartry. In any case, Selkirk’s candidate William Douglas* of Orchardton (nephew of Sir William of Castle Douglas) retired on the eve of the poll, ‘not less indeed from a conviction that the independent interest in the county may be more successfully asserted in the person of another, than from motives of a kind too delicate and personal to be made the subject of a public declaration’. He thus left the field and the ‘independent interest’ to Lt.-Col. Alexander John Goldie of Goldielee, kinsman of Patrick Heron, who was comfortably defeated by Stewart.10

In 1812 the Galloway interest transferred its exertions to Wigtownshire, and Montgomery Stewart announced his retirement on grounds of ill health, 7 Jan. Gen. James Dunlop of Dunlop was already in the field and on 8 Jan. William Douglas again offered, ostensibly on Lord Selkirk’s interest, though the latter, despite his previous exertions to get the upper hand over Galloway, had gone abroad and seems to have written off Douglas, to whom he would perhaps have preferred Sir James Shaw, Bt., of Polmadie. He urged Lord Melville to disavow a bid by Douglas to boost his prospects by ‘a coalition with Gordon’.11 Dunlop succeeded easily in the ensuing contest and held the seat until his defeat in 1826. Kirkcudbright had been described in 1810 as likely to be carried by ‘any respectable and resident candidate supported by the interest of government’, provided that Lord Melville did not take ‘a warm part and interest the Anderson family’. He did not live to do so, while his heir had found the four Anderson brothers not as compliant as he wished when he requested their support for Douglas early in 1812. As both candidates were, or professed to be ministerialists, other voters were placed in a quandary.12

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. See STEWART, Alexander.
  • 2. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 195; N. Riding RO, Zetland mss ZNK X2/1/772.
  • 3. NLS mss 1053, f. 23; SRO GD51/1/31.
  • 4. Letters of G. Dempster to Sir A. Fergusson, 1756-1813 ed. Ferguson, 253; Trans. Dumfries and Galloway Antiq. Soc. (ser. 3), ix. 128; NLS mss 7, ff. 5, 13; 1496, ff. 110-135; SRO GD10/1421/361; GD51/1/198/8/1.
  • 5. SRO GD10/1421/364; GD51/1/198/14/9, 11; NLS mss 8, f. 137.
  • 6. SRO GD51/1/198/28/2, 3; Sidmouth mss, Dundas to Addington, 5 Sept. 1801; Add. 38737, f. 12.
  • 7. Edinburgh Advertiser, 23-27 July 1802; Add. 33049, ff. 350, 354.
  • 8. R.H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections, ii. 439; CJ, lviii. 19, 400; Sidmouth mss, Dundas to Addington, 27 July 1802.
  • 9. Spencer mss, Scottish list, 1806; Fortescue mss, Stewart to Grenville, 24 June, Mackenzie to same, 31 Oct. 1806; Add. 29181, ff. 172, 290, 318; SRO GD51/1/198/28/4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
  • 10. Grey mss, Adam to Howick, 7 Feb.; Spencer mss, Selkirk to Spencer, 13 Apr., enc. his letter to Lauderdale, 10 Apr.; SRO GD51/1/198/28/13; Edinburgh Advertiser, 19-22 May 1807.
  • 11. Edinburgh Advertiser, 14 Jan. 1812; Archibald Constable, i. 274; SRO GD51/1/198/14/16.
  • 12. NLS mss 1, ff. 206-9; 2, f. 6; SRO GD224/581, Crichton to Buccleuch, 12 Oct. 1812.