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:

43 in 1820; 67 in 1826; 72 in 1830


19 Feb. 1821JOHN BUCHANAN vice Campbell Colquhoun, deceased20
 Sir James Colquhoun, bt11
30 June 1826JOHN CAMPBELL I 
 John Campbell Colquhoun30
 John Campbell Colquhoun23

Main Article

Dunbartonshire, bordered on the west and east by Lochs Long and Lomond respectively, comprised a ‘main body’ to the north-west of Glasgow and a ‘detached district’ to the north-east. The northern part of the main body was mountainous, but the remainder was a mixture of highland and lowland where there was much arable and livestock farming; a ‘great extension’ of sheep rearing occurred after 1800 to supply the Glasgow market. Whisky distilling and the salmon and herring fisheries were economically important. In the southern part bordering on the Clyde, particularly in the Vale of Leven, industry had developed since the early eighteenth century, and this was one of the leading centres in Scotland for the bleaching, dying and printing of textiles. Dumbarton, a port and industrial town on the Clyde, was the only royal burgh. Other towns included Clydebank, Helensburgh, Kirkintilloch and Cumbernauld, the last two of which were in the detached portion of the county.1 James Graham†, 3rd duke of Montrose, a Tory, owned little property in Dunbartonshire, but possession of many of the superiorities gave him the dominant electoral interest; since 1810 he had returned Archibald Campbell Colquhoun of Killermont, the lord clerk register. However, Whig opposition always threatened, from George Campbell, 6th duke of Argyll, who had a seat at Rosneath. It was stated in 1821 that ‘the value of a vote’ in Dunbartonshire was ‘considered to be £1,400’.2

In 1820 Campbell Colquhoun was again returned unopposed and extolled the virtues of the ‘mixed constitution’.3 At a county meeting in Dumbarton summoned by requisition, 30 Dec. 1820, a loyal address to the king was moved by Sir Ilay Campbell† of Succoth, seconded by Sir James Colquhoun† of Luss and ‘unanimously agreed’. It pledged resistance to the ‘exertions of the factious, the profligate and the daring’, whose ‘impious and seditious doctrines’ tended ‘directly to the demoralization of society and ultimately to the subversion of the throne and the altar’.4 Following Campbell Colquhoun’s death earlier that month Lord Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager, was satisfied that Montrose had ‘no wish but to support the most respectable government candidate that can be brought forward’. The announcement that Sir James Colquhoun, a former Member whose family had long been Tory rivals of Montrose, was offering, meant that ‘no time could ... be lost in naming a candidate ... by the Montrose interest’, and John Buchanan of Ardoch, a landowner and Glasgow merchant, was hurriedly brought forward. Sir William Rae*, the lord advocate, sent Melville an analysis of the freeholders, which suggested that Montrose controlled 20 votes, Argyll seven and Colquhoun five, while six were ‘doubtful but likely to be for Montrose’ and five would not vote for various reasons. Argyll’s brother, Lord John Campbell*, observed that ‘there will be a choice of ministerial Members but no chance of any of [our] party coming in’, and he therefore thought ‘Colquhoun will be the man supported’ by the Whigs. In January 1821 Rae reported that the situation was becoming very tight, for although Buchanan had secured 22 votes, Colquhoun was ‘probably’ sure of 15 and might have six more if they could be sustained, including three ‘prepared ten years ago’ by the 13th Baron Elphinstone but ‘still not enrolled’.5 Buchanan proposed Archibald Campbell, Lord Succoth, a lord of session (and Sir Ilay’s son), as praeses, and Colquhoun nominated the ‘Hon. A. Fleming’ (perhaps Admiral Charles Elphinstone Fleeming†, son of the 11th Baron Elphinstone). One Forsyth, an Edinburgh lawyer, objected to nine of the freeholders, including Succoth, on the ground that they were ‘divested of the estates upon which they had formerly voted’, but this was dismissed by Sir John Connell and Succoth was chosen by 20 votes to 11. Connell then suggested that, to save time, claims of enrolment should not be heard with counsel, and despite protests from Forsyth this was agreed by the same margin. Six hours were spent making up the roll before Sir Ilay Campbell and Neil Edmonstone sponsored Buchanan and Fleming and Campbell of Stonefield introduced Colquhoun. Buchanan was declared elected by the same margin again, and Succoth stated that six votes tendered for Colquhoun had been rejected; the latter protested and ‘claimed the return’. Buchanan declared that his principles were ‘those of the late Mr. Pitt’, while Colquhoun praised the ‘independent gentlemen’ and expressed confidence that he would eventually be returned. However, he did not petition against the result.6 At the spring meeting, 30 Apr., Succoth moved a petition for relief from distress, which called for the revision of laws ‘restricting the free disposal of agricultural produce’ and the removal of restrictions on the export of whisky to England and Ireland; this was ‘unanimously agreed’ and presented to the Commons, 21 May 1822. Dunbartonshire was one of 13 Scottish counties represented at a meeting on agricultural distress in Edinburgh that December, when a report recommending currency reform and tax reductions was approved. No further action appears to have been taken. Another petition for free trade in spirits was sent up to the Commons, 7 May 1824.7 On 28 Feb. 1826 a meeting ‘unanimously adopted’ a petition, moved by Colquhoun and James Hamilton of Barns, which expressed confidence in the Scottish banking system and warned of the ‘ruinous and destructive consequences’ of withdrawing small notes; it was presented to Parliament, 20 Mar. 1826.8 At the general election that summer Buchanan retired and Succoth’s eldest son John Campbell offered in his place. Succoth and Colquhoun nominated Buchanan as praeses and he was ‘unanimously chosen’. After seven names were added to the roll, Campbell was introduced by Buchanan as a ‘sound Tory’ and ‘unanimously elected’. He maintained that ‘the politics of the great body of freeholders in the county’ were his own.9

On 25 Aug. 1826 Colquhoun chaired a meeting which agreed to raise a subscription for the relief of manufacturing operatives, after hearing from Buchanan that a survey of the villages on either side of the Leven had shown that ‘about 1,000 people were unemployed and suffering great distress’.10 The landowners and commissioners of supply petitioned the Commons against revision of the corn laws, 19 Feb. 1827.11 Dunbartonshire did not act on the question of Catholic emancipation in 1829, but hostile petitions were forwarded to Parliament from Cumbernauld, Helensburgh and Kirkintillock.12 Campbell supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, having previously opposed concession. On 1 Mar. 1830 a meeting was summoned by requisition to petition Parliament for inquiry into the causes of distress. Hamilton and Lord John Campbell, disavowing ‘any factious purpose’, moved resolutions expressing concern at the widespread distress, though it was ‘not ... felt in this county to the same extent as elsewhere’, and suggesting that commercial and currency reforms were to blame. They were supported by Alexander Smollett† of Bonhill, who acknowledged that the country ‘could not, at the present moment, get better men’ than the present ministers. Buchanan argued that conditions in Dunbartonshire were not such as to justify the meeting. He had been informed by leading industrialists that ‘in the busy manufacturing Vale of Leven, from Loch Lomond to the bridge of Dumbarton, there was not a single individual in want of employment’, and he maintained that distress in England had been caused by the withdrawal of small bank notes, from which Scotland had been spared. He therefore moved the previous question, which was seconded by Buchanan of Auchintorlie, but the resolutions were carried by 15 votes to seven and a petition duly sent to both Houses, 11, 15 Mar.13 Prior to the general election that summer John Campbell Colquhoun† of Killermont, the son of the former Member but a Whig, announced his candidature, and he was supported by the Argyll interest. John Campbell’s death just before the dissolution necessitated the introduction of Montrose’s son, Lord William Graham. The contest was ‘carried on with considerable spirit’, and the Whigs were privately hopeful of success. Graham and Buchanan of Auchintorlie proposed Buchanan of Ardoch as praeses, and Smollett and Dunn of Duntocher nominated Fleeming, a prominent reformer. The result was 29 votes each, but Buchanan, as the most recent Member, ‘claimed a casting vote and voted for himself’, while promising the ‘strictest impartiality’ in his handling of the proceedings. An objection to Dunlop of Drumhead, a Tory, being on the roll because he had sold his land was overruled by Buchanan’s casting vote. Objections to two other Tory voters were dismissed, but, to the outrage of Campbell Colquhoun’s party, a claim for enrolment by one Stainton was rejected by Buchanan’s casting vote, as his land was of insufficient value. Hamilton and James Dennistoun of Dennistoun proposed Graham, and Campbell Colquhoun was sponsored by Sir James Colquhoun and Campbell of Stonefield. The poll was tied, 30 each, but Buchanan gave a casting vote for Graham, who was declared elected. Graham stood by ‘those principles of the constitution which his family had espoused’, while Campbell Colquhoun protested ‘with some warmth’ against the result. As a Whig lawyer complained, the election had been ‘carried by the paper voters against the landed interest of the county’.14 Campbell Colquhoun petitioned against the result, 15 Nov. 1830, accusing Buchanan of ‘gross partiality and injustice’, but Graham’s election was confirmed, 3 Mar. 1831.15

On 10 Jan. 1831 a meeting was summoned by requisition to petition for reform in Scotland. Robert Bontine of Ardoch moved for an ‘effective, yet moderate reform’ measure to ‘remedy the evils’ arising from the restricted franchise, which meant that ‘much of the political influence of Scotland is made subservient to the promotion of private interests’. On the other hand, he wished to limit the privilege of voting to ‘a class possessing such an extent of property’ as would ensure it was ‘exercised with intelligence and honesty’. Smollett was the seconder. Succoth and Buchanan of Ardoch opposed the petition, but it was carried by 25 votes to 21, and presented to the Commons, 26 Feb.16 The Grey ministry’s first Scottish reform bill proposed to combine the county with Buteshire. A meeting was summoned by requisition to petition Parliament in favour of the bill, 28 Mar., when letters were read from Graham, condemning it, and Campbell Colquhoun, supporting it. Sir James Colquhoun, in moving, argued that the bill would correct the abuses that ‘so greatly impair the usefulness and endanger the stability of the constitution’; but the seconder, Alexander Dunlop of Keppoch, reserved himself as to the details. Some other reformers, including Smollett, expressed dissatisfaction with the provisions for Scotland. Succoth moved an amendment in favour of ‘gradual and temperate ameliorations’, but against the present ‘rash and ill-digested experiment’, which would endanger the monarchy and the aristocracy. He objected to the Scottish bill as it ‘totally ... overturned the existing constitution established at the Union’. He condemned the ‘virtual, though unacknowledged, disfranchisement of many burghs by the proposed mode of voting per capita, instead of by delegates’, and feared the ‘democratic tendency’ of the £10 county franchise, observing that many of the new voters would be ‘inhabitants of minor towns and villages’ and that the enfranchisement of tenants would ‘encourage the antiquated system of small farms’ and ‘tend to retard agricultural improvement’. He ‘proudly asserted the purity of elections in the Scotch counties’ and warned that ‘venality and corruption’ would result from the creation of ‘so numerous a constituency’. He was ‘more peculiarly aggrieved’ by the ‘proposed annexation of Bute to Dunbartonshire’, which was a ‘violation of a privilege’. Buchanan of Ardoch seconded him and the amendment was carried, 36-25; the resulting petition was presented by Graham and Wellington, 14 Apr. 1831. Favourable petitions were meantime forwarded by the inhabitants of Kirkintilloch and the Vale of Leven.17 Graham voted against the bill and at the ensuing general election issued an address declaring that Dunbartonshire should ‘maintain its independent political existence’; Campbell Colquhoun opposed him on the reform interest. Dennistoun, who was hopeful that Graham would have ‘a majority of at least one’, reported that troops had been stationed in Dumbarton Castle in anticipation of trouble. Graham and William Hozier of Newlands proposed Succoth as praeses, Dunlop and Bontine nominated Fleeming, and there was a ‘majority of six’ for the former. Four names were removed from the roll and three added. Buchanan and Dennistoun introduced Graham, and Sir James Colquhoun and Bontine sponsored Campbell Colquhoun. The majority of five for Graham was greeted with the ‘most shameful noise and confusion’. He insisted that he was not opposed to a ‘safe extension of the franchise to persons of property and respectability ... without stirring up society to its very foundation’. Campbell Colquhoun welcomed the impending ‘destruction of the Scottish system’, whereby Dunbartonshire was represented ‘through the medium of a piece of parchment’, and he applauded the enfranchisement of ‘the trading interest in towns and the yeomanry in counties’. As Graham’s supporters left the hall, they were ‘jostled, driven about and pelted with stones’. Graham and his entourage remained inside, while the mob bayed for their blood, and the cavalry was ordered from the Castle. This order was countermanded when Campbell Colquhoun, Fleeming and others offered to escort their opponents to the quay, where a steamboat was waiting, but the group was stoned and Graham forced to a hide in a house, before he reached safety. Wellington was informed that the ‘dangerous feeling’ exhibited was such that the ‘mob would have killed ... Graham if they had found him’.18

In July 1831 Succoth and others organized a petition against the union with Buteshire, which was ‘to be drawn in such terms as to secure the assent of all parties’. Dennistoun thought the best hope of success lay in ‘the prospect of ministers being driven from their intention of reducing the numbers of the House’, although ‘even in that case the English Members may make a stand to retain their own proportion’.19 Graham presented the petition, 23 Sept., and was supported by Charles Douglas, Member for Lanarkshire, who pointed out that Dunbartonshire exceeded ’10 or 12 of the districts of burghs in wealth and population’. Thomas Kennedy, Whig Member for Ayr Burghs, claimed that of the 71 freeholders, 52 had ‘no property’ in the county. Nevertheless, three days later ministers announced that Dunbartonshire and Buteshire would return a Member each. Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch petitioned the Lords for the English bill’s speedy passage, 3 Oct.20 Following its rejection a meeting was summoned by requisition, 2 Nov. 1831, but Succoth and Buchanan concluded that the Tories had ‘better stay away than be beat’. An address to the king for the passage of another ‘full and effectual’ measure, by ‘such constitutional means’ as might be necessary, was proposed by Sir James Colquhoun and Campbell Colquhoun, and ‘agreed by acclamation’.21

At the 1832 general election, when the registered electorate of the county was 924, Campbell Colquhoun was returned ahead of Sir James Colquhoun, a moderate Whig, but he retired in 1835 and later sat for other constituencies as a Conservative. Sir James was returned in 1837, but substantial registration gains, reinforced by the accession of the Argyll interest after the 6th duke’s death, ‘enabled the Conservatives to regain the county without a contest’ in 1841, and thereafter it was a safe seat for them.22

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetter of Scotland (1895), ii. 384-90; J. Irving, Bk. of Dunbartonshire, i. 351-71.
  • 2. Smollett of Bonhill mss (NRA 20333), bdle. 117, Balfour to Smollett [1821].
  • 3. Glasgow Herald, 27 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Ibid. 1 Jan. 1821.
  • 5. NAS GD51/1/198/8/6-8; 1/198/26/50, 54; Inverary Castle mss (History of Parliament Aspinall transcripts), Lord J. to R. Campbell, 24, 30 Dec.; Glasgow Herald, 22 Dec. 1820.
  • 6. Glasgow Herald, 23 Feb. 1821.
  • 7. Ibid. 10 May, 30 Dec. 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 285; lxxix. 336.
  • 8. Glasgow Herald, 6 Mar. 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 188; LJ, lviii. 124.
  • 9. Greenock Advertiser, 4 July 1826.
  • 10. Glasgow Herald, 28 July 1826.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxii. 191.
  • 12. Ibid. lxxxiv. 146, 151, 165; LJ, lxi. 256, 320.
  • 13. Glasgow Herald, 22 Feb., 5 Mar., 7 May 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 178; LJ, lxii. 106.
  • 14. Glasgow Herald, 2, 9, 16, 23 July, 20 Aug.; Inverary Castle mss, Lord J. to R. Campbell, 9 July; Stair mss (History of Parliament Aspinall transcripts), Blantyre to Sir J. Dalrymple, 17 Aug. 1830; NAS GD 23/6/662.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxvi. 67, 136, 137, 298, 299, 336.
  • 16. Glasgow Herald, 3, 14 Jan. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 310.
  • 17. Glasgow Herald, 18 Mar., 1 Apr. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 416, 423, 487; LJ, lxiii. 345, 421.
  • 18. Glasgow Herald, 29 Apr., 20 May 1831; Glasgow City Archives, Campbell of Succoth mss TD 219/11/54; Wellington mss WP1/1185/19.
  • 19. Campbell mss TD 219/11/57, 58, 60.
  • 20. LJ, lxiii. 1035.
  • 21. Campbell mss TD 219/11/67; Glasgow Herald, 28 Oct., 4, 7 Nov. 1831.
  • 22. Glasgow Herald, 20 July, 24, 28, 31 Dec. 1832; Scottish Electoral Politics, pp. lx, lxii, 250-1.