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 Cromartyshire

Number of voters:

20 in 1788, 21 in 1809, 25 in 1818


28 Oct. 1812HUGH ROSE
25 June 1813 SIR JAMES MACKINTOSH vice Rose, vacated his seat

Main Article

The interest of John Campbell I* of Cawdor, described in 1800 as ‘the political overlord’ of Nairnshire,1 was territorially and numerically superior to any other. Yet it was defeated in 1785 by the nabob Alexander Brodie*, whose brother James* had a stake in the county, with the backing of Henry Dundas; and as Campbell devoted most of his attention to his Welsh property, his persistent neglect of his Nairnshire interest exposed it to a threat of opposition at each general election in this period.

Alexander Brodie informed Dundas, 19 Oct. 1791, that Campbell had made a rare and ‘unexpected’ appearance at the recent head court, but that ‘nothing of importance occurred’, as his ‘avowed object was to cultivate the county at large, and to make up for past neglects’. According to a memorandum of 1808 in the Cawdor Castle papers, in 1792 Campbell

for certain political purposes made an arrangement of a considerable part of the superiorities of his estate ... into freehold qualifications, which he disposed to several of his own particular friends.

In 1794, when Campbell went over to government with the Portland Whigs, James Brodie announced that he would not oppose the Cawdor interest at the next election, and Campbell’s agent James Macpherson calculated that in the event of an early dissolution they ‘must prevail against the field’. A year later Macpherson reported that Charles Gordon of Braid, brother and heir presumptive of Cosmo Gordon of Cluny and Kinsteary (Member for Nairnshire 1774-7) and a close associate of Dundas, was ‘resolved to make himself of great consequence in the county ... against the general election, but whether with a view to support your interest ... or to oppose you, I cannot be sure’. He urged Campbell to strengthen his hand, and in particular to sweeten his distant kinsman Arthur Forbes of Culloden. Subsequently Gordon combined an offer to sell some Nairnshire property to Campbell, which would ‘render the political influence of your family impregnable’, with a request for support for his brother Alexander, who had made a fortune in the West Indies. Campbell turned him down on both counts and, with support promised by Alexander Brodie and Dundas, was confident of being able to return a member of his own family. One correspondent agreed that even the combined strength of Gordon and Forbes could not overcome Campbell’s interest, backed by the Brodies; and although rumours persisted that Alexander Gordon would stand, there was no opposition to the return of Campbell’s cousin in 1796. Campbell was created Lord Cawdor three days after the election.2

In March 1807 Gordon, who had now succeeded his brother, solicited Cawdor’s support for his son John, but Cawdor, who supported the ‘Talents’, replied that he intended to keep the seat in his family. Macpherson had to warn him that he had fewer reliable voters on the roll than at any time previously (he counted only six, of whom two might be vulnerable to a legal challenge) and advised him to cultivate the leading freeholders. By the time of the dissolution Cawdor, who decided to put up his cousin again, despite his absence on active service, had received another approach from Gordon, which he described to his agent as

an artful one reducing me to this difficulty. Either to comply with a proposition of his I considered very objectionable or by rejecting it abruptly to justify his joining an opposite interest. His proposition was that I should support his son ... after Colonel [Henry Frederick] Campbell had attained his object. A most interested commercial manner of considering parliamentary influence. Give Mr Gordon general assurances of my friendly disposition towards him and make the best excuses you can for his not having heard from me.

Macpherson waited on Gordon and reported that he complained of having been snubbed by Cawdor and intended

to speak out—That people did not like to be transferred and that your lordship would find more difficulty in carrying the county ... for your relation than you was aware of ... I have no doubt but he intends to attempt the county for his son. That Brodie may join him is not impossible, in which case that interest would become rather powerful considering the present state of the roll and that neither your lordship nor none of your family are now in this country to support your family interest.3

Meanwhile, Lord Melville had joined James Brodie in pressing Alexander Brodie to stand. He replied, 26 Oct., that he had been ready to do so, but that

yesterday, I received a letter from my brother, advising me that Mr Chas. Gordon had ... unequivocally declared his engagement to Lord Cawdor. With the support of Mr Gordon, I might, in opposition to Lord Cawdor’s best influence, and without personal attendance ... have been returned ... but wanting the aid of Mr Gordon, a personal canvass and exertions of a nature which I am now incapable of making would have been necessary to ensure my success, and even then, it might have been doubtful.

James Brodie told William Adam, the government’s Scottish election manager, that in view of his brother’s decision, ‘I have released our friends, and knowing Lord Grenville’s wishes and yours shall give no opposition to ... Campbell’s return, and if necessary, shall give him my vote’. He also confided his view that with a little exertion Gordon ‘might run away with the county for his son’. If Gordon had indeed made the declaration referred to by Brodie, Cawdor remained unaware of it for some time, and as late as 6 Nov. his agent reported merely that Gordon now seemed disinclined to persevere with his opposition. Yet Macpherson remained wary, and frankly observed that had Gordon

come north before your lordship, I have little doubt but that he would have carried the county for his son, as your lordship has been so seldom at Cawdor and Colonel Campbell has never paid any attention to almost any of the freeholders.

Gordon, in fact, had not yet given up, for he asked Adam to persuade the Brodies to back his son, in return for a promise of his own support for Adam in Kincardine. Adam declined to comply, but felt sufficiently in Gordon’s debt to remain entirely neutral in the affair, even though it was represented to him that Gordon was playing a devious game, and that ‘it would be terrible to allow the county to fall into Gordon’s hands’. In the event, there was no opposition to Campbell’s return, but both Gordon and James Brodie claimed that only their own forbearance had saved Cawdor from humiliation.4

In September 1807 it was pointed out to Cawdor that an opposition was likely at the next election, when ‘all your former voters would not remain staunch’, and that his neglect was unnecessarily jeopardizing the prospects of his eldest son John Frederick Campbell*, who would come of age in 1811. Cawdor in fact decided to put up his son for Pembrokeshire and in June 1812 offered the Nairnshire seat to Sir James Mackintosh, a reputable Whig. At the same time he sought to strengthen his interest by splitting the valuation of some of his property to create a number of new votes. An immediate threat of opposition came from Sir James Dunbar of Boath, a naval officer, who wrote to the 2nd Lord Melville:

the state of politics in this county is likely to take a turn favourable to its best interest, and the support of his Majesty’s government ... Lord Cawdor has anticipated an opposition, originating in his own neglect and aided by a predilection in others in favour of ... ministers ... I have watched every turn of tide to bring the temper of the residing landed interest to a point; and however deficient, I have been prompted to endeavour to make that point centre in myself; so far have I succeeded that it is admitted it is the best chance; but without the most powerful support of the now existing government not a shadow of it remains.

He claimed to be able to count on the Brodies, the Gordons, the Trotters and the Roses of Kilravock, as well as the ‘independents’, to back his attempt to prevent Nairnshire being ‘thrown into the hands of a man who may become a great political enemy’.5 Ministers were evidently not disposed to encourage Dunbar, and despite the fact that the dissolution occurred eight months before Mackintosh’s qualification became valid there was no opposition to his locum, a distant kinsman of Cawdor, or to Mackintosh himself when he took over the seat in 1813.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Carm. RO, 1 Cawdor 130, Cumming Gordon to C. Greville, 4 Nov. 1800.
  • 2. SRO GD51/3/33/1; Cawdor Castle mss, Donaldson to Campbell, 7 Aug., Macpherson to same, 28 Oct. 1794, 16 Apr. 1795, 12 May 1796, Gordon to same, 5 Nov. 1795, R. Campbell to same, 23 Apr., Campbell to Donaldson, 19 Apr.; 1 Cawdor 129, Campbell to Gordon, 6 Apr. 1796.
  • 3. Cawdor Castle mss, Cawdor to Macpherson, 19 Mar., 17 Oct., replies 25 Mar., 21 Apr., 24 Oct. 1806.
  • 4. SRO GD51/1/198/12/24; Cawdor Castle mss, Cawdor to Macpherson, 1 Nov., replies 6, 8 Nov.; Blair Adam mss, Brodie to Adam, 4 Nov., 1 Dec., Gordon to same, 7, 26 Nov., Gibson to same, 13 Nov., Clerk to same, 15 Nov. 1806.
  • 5. 1 Cawdor 130, Cumming to Cawdor, 3 Sept. 1807; Mackintosh Mems. ii. 289; SRO GD51/1/198/18.