SPEIRS, Archibald (1758-1832), of Elderslie, Renfrew.

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



2 May 1810 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 10 Feb. 1758, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Alexander Speirs of Elderslie by 2nd w. Mary, da. of Peter Buchanan of Silverbank (now Auchentorlie). m. 24 Jan. 1794, Margaret, da. of Sir Thomas Dundas, 2nd Bt.*, of Aske, Yorks., 5s. 9da. suc. fa. 1782.

Offices Held

Lt. 3 Drag. 1781-2; maj. Renfrew yeomanry 1804.


Speirs’s father, son of an Edinburgh merchant, was a partner in a Glasgow consortium trading in tobacco and sugar and purchased a Renfrewshire estate. Speirs, who had shares in the family business and a cotton mill at Elderslie, was thought in 1788 to have ‘the largest property estate in the county, and can make 15 votes. He is steady in opposition.’ In 1789 he canvassed Renfrew council as part of the opposition campaign in Glasgow Burghs: he was reported as being ‘unfortunately raw, and on the whole a damned bad canvasser—but his wealth and near residence give him much personal goodwill at least’.1 In 1794 he married a daughter of one of the leading Scottish Whigs, Sir Thomas, afterwards Lord Dundas, but political differences did not prevent him from offering his interest at Renfrew to William McDowall* in 1796. In 1806, however, when he attempted to get into Parliament, he offered for Renfrewshire against McDowall, the sitting Member. Speirs’s sponsor was evidently the former Whig Member for the county, Sir John Shaw Stewart: his friends readily claimed for him the support of government and the assurance of county patronage, but McDowall, who ridiculed Speirs’s pretensions, made sure that he did not obtain them. Speirs then gave up a hopeless contest, but renewed his candidature in 1807. He had applied for ministerial support in case of an impending vacancy, which did not materialize, in December 1806. McDowall, though thought to be wavering in politics in 1807, was again too strong for Speirs, but on his death in 1810 Speirs was returned by a Whig junto under the aegis of Shaw Stewart, easily defeating two competing friends of government.2

Of Speirs, who joined Brooks’s Club on 27 Apr. 1812, it was reported to Lord Grenville in August that year, ‘He is for you’. His votes—for he made no known speech—bore this out, though he may not have been a regular attender without summons.3 He first appeared in the minority against the adjournment on the King’s illness, 15 Nov. 1810; on 31 Dec. he took sick leave and it was on Morpeth’s motion on Ireland, 4 Feb. 1812, that he cast his next known vote. He was in the opposition majority in favour of abolishing McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb., and in the minority for Turton’s motion for a committee on the state of the nation, 27 Feb., as also on the orders in council, 3 Mar. On 14 Apr. he voted against McMahon’s appointment as private secretary to the Regent and on 4 May was in the majority for the sinecures bill. On 22 May he took a month’s leave. He voted for Catholic relief on 24 Apr. 1812, 2 Mar. 1813 and (missing intervening divisions through leave of absence) on 9 May 1817. Further minority votes were on the vice-chancellorship bill, 11 Feb.; the salary of the paymasters-general, 8 Mar. 1813; the censure of the Speaker, 22 Apr. 1814; the civil list committee, 8 May 1815, and the address on France (by pairing), 25 May. He voted with the majority against the continuation of the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, and joined opposition in the attacks on Admiralty salaries, 20 Mar. 1816, 25 Feb. 1817. He opposed the suspension of habeas corpus, 26, 28 Feb.; the salt duties, 25 Apr.; Canning’s embassy to Lisbon, 6 May, and the size of the army establishment, 13 May 1817. His last known vote was in favour of Burdett’s motion to consider parliamentary reform, 20 May 1817. Two days later he took a month’s leave.

Speirs retired in 1818 by agreement with the Whig junto in Renfrewshire. He died at Elderslie, 2 Nov. 1832, while dressing to attend a public dinner in his honour. He was then described as ‘the oldest reformer in the kingdom’.4

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. T. M. Devine, ‘Alexander Speirs of Elderslie, 1775-81’, Wm. and Mary Quarterly, xxxiii. 501; Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 278; Ginter, Whig Organization, 35, 43.
  • 2. Fortescue mss, McDowall to Grenville, 13 July, 24 Nov.; Fitzwilliam mss, box 70, Mrs Speirs to Fitzwilliam, 17 Dec. 1806; see RENFREWSHIRE.
  • 3. Fortescue mss, Cuninghame to Grenville, 13 Aug. 1812; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 20 Jan. 1817.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. (1832), ii. 486; Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. Cole, iii. 817.