Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of enrolled freeholders:

124 in 1820; 133 in 1826; 149 in 1830



Main Article

Berwickshire, on the English border, was nominally divided into three districts: Lauderdale, Lammermuir and the Merse. Its principal town, Berwick-upon-Tweed, had been given to England in 1482 and returned two Members as a freeman borough. Elections there were habitually influenced, as sponsors, candidates and out-voters, by the gentry and freeholders of Berwickshire and neighbouring Northumberland and north Durham.1 Lauder, Berwickshire’s only royal burgh, was dominated by Thirlstane Castle, the seat of James Maitland†, 8th earl of Lauderdale, an early friend of Fox and the acknowledged leader of the Scottish Whigs until he gravitated to Toryism after 1820.2 The other principal settlements were Greenlaw, where the Hume (Marchmont) branch of the Home family, the county’s largest landowners, provided a gaol and civic buildings to ensure that it remained the nineteenth century county and election town; and its rival Duns, with its hiring fairs, British Linen Company branch bank and new town hall, where the Hays of Drumelzier had a governing interest as heirs of the Homes of Ayton. The earls of Haddington and Home of the Hirsel jointly nominated the bailie of Coldstream, and the remaining towns were Coldingham, Ayton and Eyemouth.3

At the last poll in 1796 dynastic rivalries fostered during the minority of the 10th earl of Home (the lord lieutenant and a representative peer) had enabled Henry Dundas† (1st Viscount Melville) to secure the county for the government interest through George Baillie of Jerviswoode, a nephew of the 8th earl of Haddington and grandson of the 3rd earl of Marchmont, who had denounced his candidature. Another Melvillite Tory, the Edinburgh banker Sir John Marjoribanks of Lees, had replaced Baillie at the 1818 general election, but not without resentment, and Sir Walter Scott’s kinsman Hugh Scott† of Harden, the Member for Roxburghshire Sir Alexander Don* of Newton Don (the defeated Whig in 1796), George Buchan of Kello and the convener of the county, William Hay of Drumelzier, were all expected to offer at the next opportunity. A committee was also formed after the 1818 election to ensure that the county was ‘not again taken by surprise’.4 In the event Scott acceded to his fellow Tory Marjoribanks’s return a fortnight before the county met at Greenlaw to adopt the customary addresses to the new king, 2 Mar. 1820. Don, Hay and Lauderdale failed to stir, and at the general election that month attention focused on the contest in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where Admiral Sir David Milne of Inveresk, near Edinburgh, a close connection by his first marriage of Sir William Purves Hume Campbell of Marchmont and the Homes of Paxton House and Wedderburn Castle, entered the fray as a professed devotee of the 2nd Viscount Melville and defeated his fellow Tory William Foreman Home’s preferred candidate, the Northumberland squire Henry Heneage St. Paul (who was substituted for Milne on petition).5 Despite the objections of Marjoribanks, a landowners’ meeting at Greenlaw, 1 May, petitioned the Commons for changes in calculating the corn averages, 30 May, and they petitioned both Houses urging repeal of the additional malt duty, 31 May, 14 June, which Marjoribanks vainly attempted to amend, 13 July 1820, 20 June 1821.6

Villages in the Merse were illuminated to mark the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties in November 1820 and it was generally supposed that Lauderdale was sympathetic to Queen Caroline’s cause. However, he endorsed the Liverpool ministry’s decision to prosecute her in a major speech in the Lords, 2 Nov. 1820, and backed the unsuccessful government candidate, his son-in-law James Balfour* at the Berwick-upon-Tweed by-election the following month, when the queen’s treatment was the major issue.7 On 28 Dec. 1820, 38 freeholders attended and another 31, representing all the leading interests, sent declarations of support to the county meeting at Greenlaw, where a loyal address to the king, proposed by Lord Home and Baillie, was unanimously adopted.8 Petitions were presented to the Commons in 1821 from the magistrates at their spring meeting against the Scottish juries bill, 18 May;9 and in 1824 from Coldstream’s largest wool producers for free trade, 25 Mar., the procurators’ clerks for repeal of the duties on attorneys’ licences, 6 Apr., and the synod against the poor rates bill, 14 May, and slavery, 17 June.10 Marjoribanks’s attendance in the Commons was invariably poor and had lapsed completely after a motion condemning his release from an obligation to purchase ground behind the Edinburgh post office (as a job) was negatived, 27 June 1821.11 Allegations of jobbery resumed with his attendance, 1824-6, and by the autumn of 1824 Lauderdale had all but secured the representation in the next Parliament, as a government supporter, for his second son Anthony, a naval captain, who as Member for Haddington Burghs, 1813-18, had voted with the Whig opposition.12 According to Sir David Milne’s detailed memorandum of the canvassing in London and Berwickshire, 18 May-20 June 1824, Samuel Swinton of Swinton (the defeated anti-reformer at Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1831) and his relations called on Home of Paxton, James Hunter of Thurston, Milne, Sir William Purves and others to test the ground. Most immediately declined nomination, but Milne delayed doing so until the gentry met at Coldstream, 8 June, when it became clear that notwithstanding the gentry’s wish to oppose Lauderdale, Milne, whom Don had refused to back, could not muster sufficient support, and their choice fell on Hunter. An anti-Lauder address was also circulated for signature.13 A canvassing list sent to Lady Milne by Swinton, whose conduct Milne criticized and later resented, put the tally at Maitland 56, Hunter 28, Milne 22, in an electorate of 130.14 The Member for Stirlingshire, Henry Home Drummond, informed Melville, 20 June 1824: ‘I find that Captain Maitland has all the leading interests of Berwickshire in his favour, Mr. Hay, Mr. Baillie, Sir Alex Don having promised him their support, so it is of no use for me any longer to withhold mine and would be ungracious’.15 Hunter, a self-professed ministerialist, received ‘considerable encouragement’ from the gentry, but desisted.16 George Buchan explained to Melville:

With regard to the competing claims of the candidates ... they are somewhat on the same footing. Only Mr. Hunter has property in the county and Captain Maitland has I believe none. The former wholly unencumbered by engagements, and the latter under an influence of I should think no desirable kind. A suitable candidate, having the advantage of local residence, would unquestionably have been very desirable; but from various circumstances ... none such seemed likely to offer; and when Mr. H. offered himself those who decided to give him their support did so under the impression that they were supporting one favourable to the existing government, in opposition to one of a different description. The circumstances of now finding your lordship’s good wishes ranged on the side of Captain Maitland is what I confess I for one did not anticipate.17

Lauderdale’s opinions on corn law reform were debated in the local press in 1825, when a county meeting was apparently refused and the landowners and occupiers petitioned the Commons for protection, 28 Apr.18 The noblemen, freeholders, justices and commissioners of supply petitioned both Houses against interference with the Scottish banking system in 1826, and Lauderdale, 25 Apr., and John Peter Grant, 27 Apr., as the presenters of similar petitions from Duns, exposed the jobbery behind the inhabitants’ petition for currency change, presented by the president of the board of trade Huskisson, 13 Apr. Testifying before the Lords committee on banking, 3 May, the Duns farmer and land agent George Tait of Langrig spoke of banks as the ‘very foundation and mainspring of the agricultural improvements in Scotland’ and of the universal opposition to the withdrawal of one and two pound notes.19 The annual meeting of the commissioners of supply and others, convened by the sheriff depute William Boswell to review finance, passed off smoothly, 30 Apr. 1826, and no opposition was raised at the general election, when Marjoribanks abandoned the seat to Maitland, who had previously canvassed at Kelso races and now dined an ‘unusually large’ party at Greenlaw’s Castle inn.20

At Marjoribanks and Buchan’s instigation, the freeholders, landowners and farmers assembled at Greenlaw, 17 Feb., and joined the county’s commissioners of supply residing in Edinburgh in petitioning both Houses against interference with the corn laws and for higher import tariffs on lesser grains and pulses, 26 Feb. 1827.21 Both Houses received a protectionist petition from the sheep farmers of Lammermuir, 28 Apr. 1828, and the farmers and distillers joined others in the Borders to petition against the additional duty on corn spirits, 3 May 1830.22 Excluding Lauder, a single petition to the Lords from the parish of Ladykirk reflected local opposition to the concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829.23 The justices and commissioners of supply forwarded one to both Houses, proposed by Buchan and Hay at a meeting chaired by Lord Home, 30 Apr. 1830, when an amendment proposed by Melville’s henchmen Milne and Alexander Home of Wedderburn was defeated.24 Proposed changes in the route through the county of the Edinburgh-London road had been a major local concern since 1822, and the Berwick Advertiser made much of Maitland’s omission from the 1830 select committee on the northern roads.25 At the election meeting in August 1830, Sir John Pringle of Stitchel and Baillie’s namesake son nominated Marjoribanks as praeses, ‘several new names were added to the freeholders’ roll’, and the return of Maitland, who entertained 40-50, was unanimous. His proposers were Drumelzier’s son and heir William Hay of Duns Castle, who with his father had maintained the yeomanry after they were disbanded in 1828, and the younger John Hall of Dunglass. Both praised Maitland’s support for the duke of Wellington’s ministry and made light of differences on local issues.26

Maitland aligned with the anti-reformers in opposition following the ministry’s defeat in November 1830 and took up the cause of the Berwick-upon-Tweed out-voters threatened with disfranchisement by the Grey ministry’s English reform bill, which he naturally voted against. The Scottish measure left Berwickshire’s representation unchanged, but the gentry were appalled by the drop to £10 in the qualification for a county vote and the projected increase and urbanization of the electorate. This was stressed in speeches by the anti-reformers Milne, his son David and the younger Baillie when their anti-reform petition was adopted at a much-publicized county meeting chaired by Lord Home at Greenlaw, 18 Mar. A declaration of support for the anti-reformers from Sir William Purves Hume Campbell of Marchmont was also read, but the reformers’ spokesmen Anthony Dudgeon of Leith and the attorney Charles Baillie, who pressed the tenant farmers’ case for enfranchisement, were refused permission to read or cite from the Scottish reform bill. According to the pro-reform Berwick Advertiser, only 33 of the 150 freeholders attended.27 As directed by the meeting, the petition was presented to the Lords by Haddington, 21 Mar., and to the Commons, 24 Mar., by Maitland, who countered allegations by the Whig Thomas Kennedy that it had been got up in Edinburgh and represented the views of only 500 in a population of over 33,000. Favourable petitions from the county’s ‘agriculturists’ and from the inhabitants of Coldstream, requesting a wider franchise and additional representation for Scotland and thanking ministers for according tenants their rights, were received by the Lords, 22, 23 Mar., and the Commons, 12 Apr. A meeting of the Berwickshire tenantry at Duns town hall on 23 Mar. to petition for the bill was advertised but not reported. The Lords received a favourable petition from the parish of Earlstown, 21 Apr. 1831.28 No opposition was raised to Maitland’s return at the general election precipitated by the bill’s defeat, when he and his proposers, Hay of Duns Castle and David Anderson of Rowchester, declared firmly against reform. The beer they distributed to the populace on the Green was mostly ‘carried away and spilt’.29

Dune and Coldstream petitioned the Lords urging the bill’s passage, 3 Oct. 1831.30 Hume Campbell had been fêted at the Michaelmas head court in the new county rooms he had provided, and they were again the venue for a heavily requisitioned county meeting attended by an estimated 150 anti-reformers and chaired by Hay of Duns Castle, 20 Dec. 1831. Lord Dunglass, John Spottiswoode of Spottiswoode (who had prospered as a London attorney), Anderson, Milne and Buchan were the main speakers, assisted by the younger Baillie, Milne and Hall. Their loyal address expressed regret at the violence provoked by the Lords’ rejection of the reform bill, gratitude that no peers had been created to carry it and hostility to any measure of reform that would reduce the influence of the landed interest. Pringle and Marjoribanks ensured that its presentation was entrusted to Lord Home.31 The town and parish of Duns petitioned urging the Lords to pass the reform bill, 14 May 1832.32 A meeting on 6 July 1832, ostensibly called to address the king after he was attacked at Ascot races, provided a platform for speeches by Maitland and Marjoribanks’s son Charles, a nabob who had announced his candidature at the first post-reform election, but left his political allegiance unstated.33

Lord Dunglass resisted pressure to start and at the general election of 1832, when the county had a registered electorate of 1,060, and polled at Ayton, Duns, Lauder, and the election town of Greenlaw, Charles Marjoribanks, standing as a Liberal, defeated the Conservative Maitland by 447-362.34 The representation was restored to the Conservatives without a contest through Hume Campbell’s heir following Marjoribanks’s death in December 1833, and they retained the seat, which was contested only six times, 1835-85, without interruption until 1859.

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. W.G. Haddington, Jnl. through Counties of Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Dumfries, Ayr, Lanark, East, West and Mid Lothians in 1817, p. 143.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xlii. 219.
  • 3. Haddington, 137-8; R. Gibson, An Old Berwickshire Town (1905), 148, 156; PP (1836), xxiii. 98-99; E. Layhe, Hist. Berwickshire’s Towns and Villages, 3-4.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 524-5; NAS GD267/13/3/1, 2; 23/8A.
  • 5. Scott Letters, vi. 137; Caledonian Mercury, 24 Feb., 6, 13 Mar.; NAS GD51/1/200/43; British Gazette and Berwick Advertiser, 4, 11, 18, 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. CJ, lxxv. 252, 310; LJ, liii. 95; The Times, 14 July 1820, 21 June 1821.
  • 7. British Gazette and Berwick Advertiser, 4, 18, 25 Nov., 9 Dec. 1820.
  • 8. Caledonian Mercury, 21 Dec. 1820, 1, 8 Jan. 1821.
  • 9. CJ, lxxvi. 357.
  • 10. Grey mss, Morton to Grey, 28 June 1823; CJ, lxxix. 210, 259, 365, 507.
  • 11. CJ, lxxvi. 478.
  • 12. Lansdowne mss, Minto to Lansdowne, 25 Dec. 1824.
  • 13. NAS GD267/23/8A.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. NLS mss 2, f. 56.
  • 16. Ibid. ff. 53, 55.
  • 17. Ibid. f. 59.
  • 18. Berwick Advertiser, 30 Apr., 7, 14, 21 May 1825; B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 276; CJ, lxxx. 350.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxi. 176, 235, 296; LJ, lviii. 102, 240, 488; The Times, 8, 26, 28 Apr., 5 May 1826.
  • 20. Caledonian Mercury, 20 Oct. 1825; Edinburgh Evening Courant, 20 Apr., 7 May; Berwick Advertiser, 10 June, 1 July 1826.
  • 21. Berwick Advertiser, 3, 17 Feb.; Edinburgh Weekly Jnl. 14, 21 Feb. 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 229, 230; LJ, lix. 102-5.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxiii. 276; lxxxv. 359; LJ, lx. 251.
  • 23. LJ, lxi. 289.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxv. 434; LJ, lxii. 558; Edinburgh Evening Courant, 19 Apr., 6 May 1830.
  • 25. The Times, 8 Oct. 1822; Berwick Advertiser, 20 Mar., 30 Apr. 1830.
  • 26. Berwick Advertiser, 14, 21 Aug.; Edinburgh Evening Courant, 19 Aug. 1830.
  • 27. Edinburgh Evening Courant, 21, 26 Mar.; Berwick Advertiser, 26 Mar. 1831.
  • 28. LJ, lxiii. 345, 350, 356, 363, 498; CJ, lxxxvi. 479; Berwick Advertiser, 26 Feb., 26 Mar. 1831.
  • 29. Berwick Advertiser, 21 May; Scotsman, 21 May 1831.
  • 30. LJ, lxiii. 1034, 1036.
  • 31. Berwick Advertiser, 15 Oct., 17, 24 Dec. 1831; NAS GD157/2981/19.
  • 32. LJ, lxiv. 203.
  • 33. NAS GD267/8/1-16; Berwick Advertiser, 23, 30 June, 7, 14 July 1832.
  • 34. NAS GD267/23/8/17, 48; Kelso Chron. 2 Nov.; Berwick Advertiser, 8 Dec.; The Times, 26 Dec. 1832.