Wigtown Burghs


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

Background Information

Whithorn (1790, 1807), New Galloway (1796, 1812), Stranraer (1802, 1818), Wigtown (1806), all in Wigtownshire except New Galloway in Kirkcudbright Stewartry


 Basil William Douglas, Lord Daer2
20 June 1796JOHN SPALDING 
30 July 1802JOHN SPALDING3
 Robert Vans Agnew1
29 July 1803 HON. WILLIAM STEWART vice Spalding, vacated his seat 
9 Aug. 1805 JAMES GRAHAM vice Stewart, vacated his seat 
27 Feb. 1809 LYNDON EVELYN vice Stewart, appointed to office 

Main Article

The 7th Earl of Galloway was the principal patron in the burghs and so remained throughout the period. Wigtown and Whithorn were in his interest, though his policy of having no more than four townsmen in the council of either burgh and only one or two entertainments a year was thought risky by his agent John Bushby in 1790. The relationship between Galloway and Henry Dundas was never particularly tranquil. Whithorn had been recaptured from the Earl of Stair, whose main interest lay in Stranraer. The Gordons of Kenmure dominated New Galloway.

Nisbet Balfour of Dunbog, a friend of Galloway and an a.d.c. to the King, was returned in 1790, with Dundas’s support. No opposition of significance had arisen by 5 July but within the next week Lord Daer came forward. Daer was the eldest son of the 4th Earl of Selkirk and later one of the Friends of the People. His candidature was principally an attempt to test the law excluding the eldest son of a Scottish peer from election for a Scottish seat. Stair took the opportunity to oppose the Galloway interest and Daer also obtained the support of New Galloway, but apparently only because Viscount Garlies, unlike his father Lord Galloway, was interested in Daer’s experiment. By the casting vote of Whithorn, Balfour was returned. Daer’s opportunity to petition proved of no avail to him.1

Galloway was eager to obtain a British peerage, for which he had applied to Pitt in 1789, and in 1793 he began soliciting Dundas, with the support of the Countess of Sutherland. Dundas could offer no hope at first and Galloway threatened to go into opposition, but by September 1795 their quarrel had been composed and Galloway was reasonably sure of attaining his wish. After being let off a bargain with Dundas to return Sir James Graham*, he returned John Spalding of Holme in 1796, after spending £2,000 on New Galloway.2

In 1802 Galloway returned Spalding again. Robert Vans Agnew, younger of Sheuchan and brother-in-law of James Dunlop*, came forward with the support of Stair and the vote of Stranraer, but Galloway’s hold on the remaining burghs was unshakeable. Agnew, after seeking William Adam’s advice, petitioned, but on 7 Mar. 1803 the committee found in Spalding’s favour, rejecting Agnew’s argument that a quorum of the councils of Wigtown and Whithorn was necessary to fix the delegates’ election day.3

Galloway continued to foster his interest and by 1806, when he died, he could claim ‘my boroughs are safe, having every member in three of the four [councils]’. In February 1806 Stair had complained that in his burgh of Stranraer, Galloway had recently nominated three officials. He thought this unjust, as Galloway had the nomination to the seat in Parliament.4 Galloway and his heir returned the Members from 1803 in uncontested elections. James Graham was returned in 1805 in exchange for an English seat for Garlies, who in 1806 became the 8th Earl and was so jealous of his family interest that a bitter quarrel arose in 1807 between him and William Maxwell I, Member for Wigtownshire, concerning patronage in the burghs and the county. When Lyndon Evelyn, whom he brought in in 1809, behaved so independently in Parliament as to endanger his patronage, the earl dropped him in 1812 and returned his absent brother. He felt scruples about returning absentees both for the burghs and county and suggested to Lord Melville that he might return his other brother Edward, who was ‘on the spot’, but this was not acted upon.5

Author: D. G. Henry


  • 1. SRO GC46/17/7, Bushby to Stewart, 20 July 1790; GD51/5/364/7.
  • 2. SRO GD51/1/22, 26, 31; GD51/1/198/7/5, 6.
  • 3. Blair Adam mss, Vans Agnew to Adam, 11 Sept., 19 Nov. 1802; CJ, lviii. 15, 232; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections (1804), ii. 252.
  • 4. Blair Adam mss, Galloway to Adam, 21 Oct. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 41.
  • 5. SRO GD51/1/198/28/1, 11, 12, 17; GD51/5/364/18; Edinburgh Advertiser, 10 Nov. 1812.