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:

53 in 1790 reduced to 50 in 1811


 Hon. William Stewart 
15 Apr. 1805 WILLIAM MAXWELL I vice McDouall, vacated his seat 
 James Hunter Blair19
2 Aug. 1816 JAMES HUNTER BLAIR vice Stewart, vacated his seat 

Main Article

John Stewart, 7th Earl of Galloway, a courtier who thought his parliamentary interest superior to almost any in Scotland ‘excepting the Duke of Queensberry’, and whose main ambition was a British peerage, had ‘the chief interest’.1 From 1768 until 1784 his nominees were unopposed. In 1784 he was challenged by Sir William Maxwell, 4th Bt., of Monreith, but fobbed off Maxwell by coming to terms with Andrew McDouall, younger of Logan, whose connexion with the Garthland estate gave him the second strongest interest. By these terms Galloway’s brother, Keith Stewart of Glasserton, surrendered his seat to McDouall as soon as he was appointed receiver-general of the land tax for Scotland, which happened before the year was out.

In April 1788 Keith Stewart disconcerted his brother, whose sons were not yet of age, by stipulating that if Galloway (as then seemed possible) came to terms with Sir William Maxwell to return Maxwell at the next election if he supported one of Galloway’s sons at the election after, he would only concur ‘in the event that he should not himself choose to be the candidate’. A quarrel between the brothers ensued. Galloway emphasized the family tradition that uncles give way to their nephews for seats in Parliament when they came of age: that Keith Stewart’s accepting an office of profit had obliged him to treat with enemies as to the county representation; and that, with the exception of McDouall who had personally abused him, he was willing to support any candidate Keith Stewart recommended for the county at the next election, provided one of his sons was supported at the election after that:

For unless he thinks that by the purchase of Glasserton which at my request my father consented to and under the limitations proposed by him he ought in future to be considered as the head of the family and interest to both himself and children, I must think he will feel the reasonableness of my pretensions. I am very sensible that from his superior abilities etc. the great weight he has in the county etc. but he also knows that it has been increased from my regard, high opinion and confidence so that I consulted him in everything, made my votes and recommended to employments etc. according to his advice and wishes.

Keith Stewart would not yield his pretensions, still less submit the case to the lord chancellor as Galloway suggested. He warned Galloway that a breach would prove fatal to the family’s political interest and pointed out that he would look to the seat only if he lost his place; and that, as Galloway’s second son William, now destined for an army career, was his first eligible nominee, he would benefit from Keith Stewart’s keeping the seat warm for him until he made his way in the army. This was a point Stewart repeated when Galloway tried to fob him off with the prospect of looking to a seat for Kirkcudbright at the election after next, a proposal he was precluded from accepting by a pledge to his friends in Wigtownshire:

I must once more repeat that in the event of my being in Parliament my rank and situation in the navy will enable me to serve your family and support your interest better than it would be possible for your son William to do at 24 or 25 years of age.

Stewart hinted that in the event of a breach between them, Lords Stair and Selkirk would oppose Galloway in the county ‘although not liking any party better than yours, yet for the sole object of levelling your power, they would join against you’. Moreover, Stewart’s friends would join them. In the end the Galloway interest in the burghs and in the Stewartry would also be undermined.

Sir William Maxwell being an avowed Foxite, McDouall proved the better party to treat with and Keith Stewart in 1789 insisted on a parley with McDouall, safeguarding his own interest, but ‘ready to give Lord Galloway every assurance and security that he has no view for any son of his or other person and that his only object is for himself, in case he shall lose his employment’. The Regency crisis being over, his loss of office seemed the less likely. On 23 May 1789 Stewart concluded an agreement with McDouall in London left open to Galloway to sign: the draft was submitted to him on 30 Sept. Galloway, spurred on by his wife’s disapproval, declined to negotiate with McDouall and upbraided his brother for implicating him without his consent in this

coalition with the very man whom I assisted you to defeat, in preference to me: a brother, who never refused you a request, nay even allowed you the sole arrangement of his politics, boroughs as well as counties. By this coalition, I say, I find that unless I agree to this proposed bargain, I may be liable to vexation and disappointment in the patronage, which is a consideration for my family, unless I could bring myself to the resolution of resigning all political views, which though inclination might lead me to, duty and regard for a rising generation ought to restrain me from.

Galloway went on to suggest to Keith Stewart, 4 Oct. 1789, that they should conclude their own pact as follows:

That a son of mine should be the first candidate the Parliament after next, and in the event of my not having a son eligible, yourself or McDouall as you may choose, and thirdly, should neither be the case, that I should have the nomination of the candidate.

While Stewart conceded that it would be better if Galloway did not treat with McDouall, the better to safeguard the interests of his absent heir Lord Garlies, he would not at first agree to any pact that did not guarantee him the first option on the county, and it was only after further recriminations, into which their wives were drawn, that the brothers achieved a reconciliation. First, Stewart accepted an offer of Galloway’s of 6 Nov. that he should be given an option of the Stewartry or the burghs at the election after next, which he did not think secure, but was willing ‘to take the chance of’. On this condition, Stewart promised to support any son of Galloway’s for the county the election after next and Galloway so far relented as to offer his brother the option of the county seat if it became vacant during the course of the ensuing Parliament, though only for the duration of it. The latter contingency formed part of Stewart’s agreement with McDouall of 23 May 1789, which was post-dated 27 Dec. and received Galloway’s concurrence and the seal of approval of McDouall’s kinsman Henry Dundas.

This ‘arrangement of politics for the shire of Wigtown for the ensuing Parliament and the Parliament thereafter, between the Earl of Galloway, the Hon. Keith Stewart and Andrew McDouall esq. of Logan’ dashed Sir William Maxwell’s intended challenge on behalf of the Whigs. By it, Galloway and his brother conceded McDouall the county seat for the next Parliament, unless Keith Stewart lost his place and wished to come into Parliament, in which case McDouall would make way for him. In return, McDouall would support a son of Galloway’s for the Parliament after, or if he was still a minor, keep the seat warm for him, retaining it for at least two sessions; unless Galloway did not want his son to come in and Stewart lost his place and wished to come in, whereupon McDouall promised to vacate in Stewart’s favour after two sessions. McDouall also promised to surrender the patronage of the customs of the port of Wigtown and the presentation to the churches of Whithorn, Sorbie and Glasserton to Galloway and his brother, while he was Member, though applications would be made through him as was customary, and he was guaranteed the remainder of county patronage.2

Thus McDouall was returned in 1790 and Galloway’s second son William in 1796, Keith Stewart having retained his place until his death in 1795. Trouble arose, however, when Galloway tried to secure his son’s re-election. In the autumn of 1801 William Stewart asked Addington for ministerial support. Addington turned to Dundas, who gave him a lecture on the subject, 5 Sept.:

It would take a volume to explain to you all the particulars respecting the county of Wigtown necessary for you to know before you could answer the colonel’s letter. It may be the son’s writing, but I am sure it is the father’s suggestion. It is not the characteristic of a gallant soldier to endeavour to take you by surprise, but it is perfectly worthy the intriguing trickiness of the Earl of Galloway. He has already tried it upon me, but in vain. In short, it is impossible to decide upon any particular election in Scotland without at the same time taking under consideration the other political interests with which it is complicated. This is particularly the case with regard to the south part in which the county of Wigtown is situated. It must be considered at the same time as Dumfriesshire and Kirkcudbrightshire. Mr McDouall of Logan is warmly supported by the Earls of Stair and Dumfries and has the good wishes of the chief baron and William Dundas, and others of my friends with whom he is nearly related by blood.

Dundas went on to state that despite this, he would have taken no part against William Stewart but for the fact that Galloway had insisted on another of his sons standing against Heron, the present Member for Kirkcudbright, a respectable friend of government. He added that Addington would be deluded if he believed that a letter from him could secure for William Stewart ‘the interest and the three gentlemen he names’, since they were attached to Dundas himself ‘from personal gratitude’. In conclusion, Dundas advised Addington to steer clear of Scottish elections and maintained that if Galloway would not compromise, ‘if I either give my interest against him in Wigtown or stand neutral in Wigtown my opinion is that the family of Galloway will lose both seats’.3 On 15 Dec., Dundas warned William Stewart, who had canvassed him at least for his neutrality, ‘You are well aware that the interests of Wigtown and the Stewartry are complicated together, and it was not my fault that the peace of either has been interrupted at present’. In reply, Stewart protested that his father’s influence in Kirkcudbright was indisputable and that his father’s future political conduct had nothing to do with his exertions in both counties, which were not inextricably connected. He threw back the accusation of disturbing the peace. The fact was that Galloway was disgruntled not to receive the blessing of government; and he would doubtless have endorsed, bitterly, The Times’s view of the situation: ‘It is not sufficient that gentlemen should be the friends of the King and his government, but they must be such as the last administration can confide in’.4 On 2 June 1802 Galloway begged the King to accept his resignation as a lord of the bedchamber, held by him for 19 years, as he now felt ‘uneasy’ in the royal presence:

Your Majesty’s ministers have declared their determination to oppose the re-election of my son Col. William Stewart in the county of Wigtown. In his parliamentary capacity no objection can be taken to him, and his professional zeal and talents, a father proudly thinks, are such as to recommend to that seat in Parliament which has generally been filled by some or other of my family. At least there is nothing new in the attempt and at present I have the honour to be your Majesty’s lieutenant in that county.

Galloway added that his property influence in Kirkcudbright, where his heir was lord lieutenant, entitled him to put up his other son there. His feelings were wounded and his character impugned, as he had also been refused a baronetcy for a friend and relation. The resignation was ‘an object of much conversation’ and its origin in ‘some election squabbles’ soon public property: but Galloway was induced to withdraw it before the election.

McDouall won the election ‘by a great majority’. Henry Dundas wrote on 29 July 1803:

I was determined if possible to make Lord Galloway and his sons feel the effects of their singular conduct, and in place of withdrawing the opposition to his interest in both counties as he proposed latterly to me through Mr Addington, you will see ... that I beat him in both counties, leaving him only with his seat in his burghs, and from what I can learn, if he does not alter his tone, there will not be much difficulty in ... making even that seat too hot for him.5

In order to defeat Stewart, however, McDouall had depended on the support of the Maxwells of Monreith and, at Dundas’s instigation, he agreed to divide the Parliament with the younger of Monreith who had since 1800 been ambitious for the seat: in March 1805 accordingly he made way for William Maxwell, son-in-law of Dundas’s friend John Fordyce*. Maxwell, of whom William Adam stated early in 1806 that he ‘comes in by an arrangement in order to keep out the Galloway influence’, was an opponent of the Grenville ministry. Galloway, although he had handed over his electoral interests to his heir Lord Garlies in May 1804, was so much at odds with him that Garlies, had he in mind to offer for the county, insisted that it must be on the independent interest, which, as matters stood in March 1806, had no meaning. He left it to his brothers to champion the family interest.6 Then in June his brother William informed the prime minister Lord Grenville that he intended to stand and hoped for the good wishes of government ‘conveyed in a manner which I may not be incorrect in announcing to the freeholders of Wigtownshire’. Grenville complied; but when, as the election drew near and a keen contest was expected, he was pressed by Galloway, who knew that Lord Melville would support Maxwell, to secure the support of the other interests for his son, then serving in Calabria, he encountered obstacles. William McDowall of Garthland, after some delay, pleaded that he did not want Maxwell to oppose him in Renfrewshire and so took no part. Lord Stair explained that Maxwell’s family and his had long been allies against Galloway in elections and that he could not desert them; besides which, such was Galloway’s ‘unpopularity’, that he doubted if he could persuade his friends to vote for Stewart, ‘though I believe they would for any other person at my request’. Stair’s saving grace was that ‘unsolicited by anyone’ he had warned the Maxwellites that if their man persisted in opposition, he would withhold his support. Sir William Maxwell, acting for his son in his absence on active service, gave a reply that Stair found ‘not quite satisfactory’, but which he felt would have to suffice, since ‘as matters stand at this moment in the county Col. Maxwell would carry his election in spite of all that your lordship and I could do against him’. He placated Lord Grenville by offering him the nomination to an Irish borough for two sessions.7 On 13 Nov. 1806, shortly before the election, Galloway died: the new earl, who had hitherto washed his hands of his brother’s candidature owing to their difference in politics, requested Stair to let him know what part he meant to take in the county, as the answer ‘would in a great measure determine him, either to continue, or give up the contest’. The answer was unfavourable to Stewart, who thereupon gave up the contest.8

Maxwell was unopposed in 1807. Sir John Hay, a friend of Galloway’s, urged him that, as the county did not seem to have much respect for their last two representatives, he ought to put up his brother William Stewart, or as the latter was absent on active service, his brother Edward as locum tenens, but Galloway wished to concentrate his efforts on Kirkcudbright and was anxious not to repeat his father’s mistake of alienating Lord Melville. Accordingly, having ascertained from Maxwell that he was friendly to the Portland administration, he declined to take part, at least unless the Whigs opposed Maxwell, in which case his brother William might be called upon to come forward.9

When Stewart returned to England invalided from the Peninsula in the summer of 1811, Galloway at first failed to persuade him to offer himself again for the county and had to toy with the idea of sponsoring his brother Montgomery, Member for the Stewartry, instead. So he informed his cousin James Alexander Stewart of Glasserton, 30 Sept. 1811, adding:

In the event of neither of my brothers being candidate, it is not my intention to be a principal in any contest that may take place, though I may naturally be allowed to wish success to the candidate whose political attachments are congenial to my own.

This remark referred to the recently announced candidature of Col. James Hunter Blair of Dunskey who, counting on Maxwell’s retirement, aspired to be the candidate of the independent interest. Galloway thought that Sir John Hay might consider his son’s pretensions better than Hunter Blair’s and put him up. Glasserton, though he had reason to doubt whether Maxwell would decline, himself aspired to the county and his friends thought he stood a fair chance: one of them J. Vans Agnew wrote to him, 5 Oct. 1811:

I anticipate the necessity of a sub election or amicable meeting among the gentlemen of the independent party to determine which of the candidates on their interest should be unanimously supported. In this competition I should think you might have the advantage.

Glasserton addressed the county the same day. Then on 16 Oct., Galloway’s brother William informed him that he had decided to offer himself after all and asked for his support. Despite this, Glasserton remained in the running and in April 1812 an ‘arrangement’ was reached between himself, Maxwell and Blair, ‘that each should do his utmost to obtain as many votes among the independent freeholders, as he could, that after having done so, a comparison of strength previous to the election should take place, and the candidate who produced the greatest number of votes should be cordially supported by his competitors and their adherents, so far as they could influence them’. By September 1812, however, to Glasserton’s disgust, Sir William Maxwell had all but declined, needing only his friends’ consent to it, and offered his interest to Hunter Blair, who therefore on 25 Sept. invited Glasserton to capitulate to him. On 11 Oct. Hunter Blair wrote again to say that with Maxwell’s support and that of a number of freeholders he had ‘a decided majority’, and required Glasserton’s abdication under the April agreement. Glasserton concurred under protest, 19 Oct., pointing out that the arrangement had been dissolved by Maxwell’s secession.10

Hunter Blair was nevertheless defeated by five votes at the ensuing election. His opponent had returned to the Peninsula and relied on his brother Edward Stewart as his proxy and on the backing of Lord Melville. Owing to some desertions, Galloway had not expected his brother to succeed, and in 1816, when Stewart resigned for health reasons without warning him, agreed to his replacement by Hunter Blair, who also obtained Melville’s support. Galloway had no other candidate of his own and no particular wish to act unless an opponent of government appeared; Hunter Blair thought ‘an opposition would have no chance for the county’. James Alexander Stewart of Glasserton, Hunter Blair’s most likely opponent, gave up the attempt as he had no prospect of his cousin Galloway’s interest.11

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PRO 30/8/138, f. 42; Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 344.
  • 2. SRO GD46/17/6, passim; GD51/1/198/28/1; N. Riding RO, Zetland mss ZNK X2/1/748.
  • 3. Sidmouth mss, Dundas to Addington, 5 Sept. 1801.
  • 4. SRO GD51/1/198/28/2, 3; The Times, 23 June 1802.
  • 5. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2631, 2640; The Times, 4, 8, 21 June; Edinburgh Advertiser, 27-30 July 1802; Add. 37837, f. 12.
  • 6. Add. 51917, Adam’s ‘State of the Scotch Counties’ [1806]; SRO GD46/17/17, Garlies to J. A. Stewart, 16 Jan., 17 Mar. 1806.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, W. Stewart to Grenville, 14 June, reply 27 June, Galloway to same, 23 Oct., Grenville to McDowall, 28 Oct., reply 24 Nov., Grenville to Stair, 28 Oct., reply 2 Nov.; Blair Adam mss, Galloway to Adam, 26 Oct. 1806.
  • 8. PRO 30/8/138, f. 44; Fortescue mss, Stair to Grenville, 16 Nov. 1806; SRO GD51/1/198/28/4, 5, 9.
  • 9. SRO GD46/17/17, Galloway to J. A. Stewart, 30 Apr., 8 May 1807; GD51/1/198/13.
  • 10. SRO GD46/17/37, Hunter Blair to J. A. Stewart, 27 Sept., Galloway to same, 30 Sept., Sir W. Maxwell to same, 2 Oct., Vans Agnew to same, 5 Oct., W. Stewart to same, 16 Oct. 1811, Hunter Blair to same, 25 Sept., 11 Oct., reply 19 Oct. 1812; GD 51/1/198/28/11, 12, 16.
  • 11. Edinburgh Advertiser, 9, 20 Oct. 1812; SRO GD51/1/198/28/17-23.