STEWART, Hon. William (1774-1827), of Cumloden, Wigtown.

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



21 Feb. 1795 - 1796
1796 - 1802
29 July 1803 - July 1805
1812 - July 1816

Family and Education

b. 10 Jan. 1774, 2nd surv. s. of John Stewart, 7th Earl of Galloway [S]; bro. of Hon. Edward Richard Stewart*, George Stewart, Visct. Garlies*, James Henry Keith Stewart* and Montgomery Granville John Stewart*. m. 21 Apr. 1804, Frances, da. of Hon. John Douglas, 2nd s. of James, 13th Earl of Morton [S], 1s. 1da. KB 11 Sept. 1813, GCB 2 Jan. 1815.

Offices Held

Ensign, 42 Ft. 1786; lt. 67 Ft. 1787; capt. ind. co. Ft. 1791, 22 Ft. 1792; maj. 31 Ft. 1794; lt.-col. and asst. adj.-gen. to Ld. Moira’s corps 1795; lt.-col. 67 Ft. 1795, 95 Ft. (rifle brigade) 1800; brevet col. 1801; col. Wigtown vols. 1803; maj.-gen. 1808; col. 3 batt. 95 rifles 1809; lt.-gen. 1813; col. 1 batt. rifle brigade 1818.


Stewart, ‘a soldier of the first order’,1 was attached to Sir Robert Murray Keith’s mission to Vienna in 1791 and attended the congress of Sistova. Subsequently he served in the West Indies in the capture of Martinique and Guadeloupe, and received what he called ‘the first of my dozen thumps and bruises’ at Point-a-Pitre in 1794. He came home in November 1794, when his father toyed with the idea of his standing for Kirkcudbright, but in the following June he was on the staff of the Quiberon expedition. He had meanwhile come into Parliament, but it was for Saltash, in place of his elder brother Viscount Garlies, who resigned his seat because of conscientious objections to Pitt’s measures. The seat had probably been purchased from the Buller family for the duration of the Parliament and, if present, Stewart would have been expected to support administration. In September 1795, however, he was posted to San Domingo, where he remained in charge of Mole St Nicholas until August 1798.

In his absence he had been returned for Wigtownshire on the family interest, by an arrangement made seven years before: he was the only member of the family of age to sit. There is no evidence of parliamentary activity. In 1799, apparently through Henry Dundas’s intercession with the Duke of York, with whom Stewart and his father were at loggerheads, he obtained leave to serve with the allies and did ‘wonderfully well’ at the battle of Zurich, securing the retreat of William Wickham*, who thought him ‘an active intelligent officer’.2 The campaign inspired him to press for a corps of riflemen in the British army, and when it was formed in 1800 he became lieutenant-colonel and took over its training. In August he was wounded for life in the Ferrol action and in 1801 was in command of the Baltic fleet, gaining the unbounded esteem of Nelson, who thought him ‘the rising hope of our army’. He was included in the vote of thanks for the victory of Copenhagen and promoted colonel in April 1801. On 31 Mar. 1802 he was in the minority for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial resources.

In 1802, when his father and he in turn fell foul of Henry Dundas, Stewart lost his county seat to Andrew McDouall, but in 1803 a vacancy was made for him in the burghs seat, where the family interest was secure. When in May 1804 Galloway handed over his electoral interest to his heir, Stewart wrote to Pitt to assure him that he and his younger brother Montgomery would be happy to acquiesce in whatever arrangements Garlies might make with the minister. Garlies’s acceptance of office caused the brothers to be listed among Pitt’s friends in September 1804 and July 1805, in which month Stewart resigned his seat as part of an arrangement to enable Garlies to come into Parliament. In March 1805 he had three times spoken in debate: on 5 Mar. in favour of limiting corporal punishment imposed by courts martial; a week later as to the composition of courts martial; while on 6 Mar. he supported Pitt’s additional force bill, till ‘an entire new plan’ for the army was produced. He was officer to a brigade of volunteers in the eastern counties in 1804 and his experiences inspired his Outlines of a plan for the general reform of the British land forces. This he first submitted to Pitt in January 1805.3 It was subsequently published, and in the preface to the second edition in April 1806 Stewart explained that he had expanded his ideas in the light of imminent reforms by William Windham*, whom he was now advising and whose proposals he had in some respects anticipated, above all in his plea for a regular, well-disciplined army, at the expense of both the volunteer system and the compulsory levée relied on by Pitt. He also suggested uniform establishments, better pay and accounting, less corporal punishment but more severity against deserters, the reduction of the cavalry, guards and volunteers and of the number of regimental officers, as well as of the recruitment bounty.

In the autumn of 1806 Stewart was posted to Calabria, though he was willing to serve ‘anywhere’. He had made known to Lord Grenville in June his intention of standing for the county again, and being, as his eldest brother put it, ‘attached to Mr Windham’, obtained the prime minister’s good wishes; but his father’s unpopularity told against him and in his absence his candidature was withdrawn. Nor would his brother Lord Galloway hear of his candidature in 1807.4 He subsequently served in Egypt and Sicily and in September 1809 was invalided from Walcheren. In 1810 he served in the Peninsula, and after receiving public thanks for his services at Albuera came home ill in July 1811, on the look-out for a staff situation. In the autumn he declined Galloway’s suggestion that he should offer for Wigtownshire, but changed his mind. He was back in Spain when he was returned after a contest (in which his brother Edward was his proxy) in 1812. He was listed a supporter by government but served abroad the first session. He received the thanks of the House for his services at Vittoria on 7 July 1813, again for the repulsion of Soult, 8 Nov. 1813, and a third time for his services at Orthes, 24 Mar. 1814. When he returned home wounded, he acknowledged this public gratitude in the House, 24 June 1814. Apart from a justification of better pay for subalterns, 13 July 1814, this was his only known speech after 1812. He was reported to have declined a peerage ‘from prudential motives’, little knowing that his grandson would inherit ‘a magnificent Scotch estate’.5

Having received six wounds and four contusions during 17 campaigns, Stewart saw no further service. In 1816 after voting for the army estimates, 6, 8 Mar., for the property tax, 18 Mar., and for the civil list, 6 May, he resigned his seat for health reasons; though, according to his erstwhile opponent Hunter Blair, he informed none of his friends, not even Lord Galloway his brother, that he intended to do so and Hunter Blair wondered whether a political difference with Galloway lay behind it. In 1817 he purchased and retired to Cumloden, where he died 7 Jan. 1827. ‘Auld Grog Willie’, as he was affectionately known to his men, kept journals of his military campaigns, some of which were published, together with his military correspondence, in 1871.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Lawrence Taylor / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Cumloden Pprs. 135; DNB .
  • 2. SRO GD51/6/458/1, 2; HMC Fortescue, 486; Leveson Gower, i. 271.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/180, ff. 321, 323.
  • 4. Wickham mss 5/62, Stewart to Wickham, 17 Sept. 1806; SRO GD51/1/198/28/4; see WIGTOWNSHIRE.
  • 5. SRO GD46/17/37, Galloway to A. Stewart, 30 Sept., Hon. W. Stewart to same, 16 Oct. 1811; Boyd, Reminiscences, 81.
  • 6. SRO GD51/1/198/28/23; Cumloden Pprs.