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:

24 in 1820; 20 in 1831


23 May 1827LEVESON GOWER re-elected after appointment to office
7 July 1828LEVESON GOWER re-elected after appointment to office
27 May 1831SIR HUGH INNES, bt.
14 Sept. 1831RODERICK MACLEOD vice Innes, deceased

Main Article

Sutherland exhibited a mainly ‘desolate’ landscape of mountain, moorland, lochs and peat bogs. Sheep rearing was the ‘staple business’, having been reinforced by the notorious policy pursued in the early nineteenth century by the principal landowner, Elizabeth, countess of Sutherland, and her husband, George Leveson Gower†, 2nd marquess of Stafford, of removing the crofters to the coasts. It was stated in 1831 that 180,000 fleeces and 40,000 animals for meat were being exported annually. Arable farming was chiefly confined to a ‘narrow strip along the south-east coast, scarcely two miles in breadth’, where ‘heavy crops of turnips’ were grown along with wheat, oats and barley. Attempts to provide alternative sources of employment, by encouraging coal mining and brick making in Brora, and building up Golspie and Helmsdale, also on the east coast, as centres of herring fishing, achieved limited results. Kelp manufacturing, one of the few other industries, was ‘ruined ... by the removal of the duty on barilla’. Dornoch was the only royal burgh.1 Lady Stafford’s estates covered at least 800,000 acres in 1820 and were still growing; another 400,000 acres were added in 1829 through the purchase of Lord Reay’s estate for £300,000. Most, if not all, the electors were apparently life-rent tenants, which enabled her to dominate Sutherland politics and nominate the Member; there had been no contest since 1790. George Macpherson Grant of Ballindalloch had sat, with one interruption, since 1809, and gave independent support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry, which increasingly accorded with the Grenvillite sympathies of the Staffords. He was again returned unopposed in 1820.2

At a county meeting convened at Dornoch, with Dugald Gilchrist of Ospisdale presiding, 29 Feb. 1820, it was agreed to send a memorial to the treasury requesting that the northern fisheries be given the same export bounties as those received by the Irish.3 Unlike many Scottish counties, Sutherland did not send a loyal address to the king after the collapse of the proceedings against Queen Caroline, which may have been connected with the fact that Lord Stafford had opposed the bill of pains and penalties.4 Certain landowners and sheep farmers petitioned the Commons to remove restrictions on the export of wool, 29 Mar. 1824.5 At a county meeting chaired by George Dempster of Skibo, 21 Mar. 1826, he and Patrick Sellar of Culmaily (formerly joint-chamberlain on the Stafford estates) moved resolutions against any alteration to the Scottish banking system, which was said to be ‘founded upon solid principles and tried by the experience of 100 years’, in which time Scotland had ‘made the most unprecedented advances to improvement and national prosperity’. The English system was ‘defective’, but there was no reason to subject Scotland to ‘a course of medicine and experiment to cure ills which do not belong to her’, and it was feared that the withdrawal of small notes would cause ‘universal inconvenience and distress’ in the Highlands, where the ‘fisheries, kelp manufacture and other pursuits’ were conducted ‘in remote, sequestered and desert places’. The resulting petition was forwarded to Macpherson Grant and Stafford for presentation, 18, 19 Apr., and copies were sent to the convenor of every Scottish county and chief magistrate of every burgh, to encourage similar action.6 Later that month, with a dissolution impending, Macpherson Grant announced his retirement and Lord Francis Leveson Gower, Stafford’s younger son, offered in his place, although he explained that his imminent departure to attend the coronation of the tsar of Russia would prevent him from being present at the election. His return was ‘spoken of as certain’ and at the general election that summer he was nominated by Dempster and Major Innes Munro of Poyntzfield and ‘unanimously elected’. Shortly afterwards, the Staffords were presented with a candelabra and an address from their tenants, who thanked them for their ‘indulgence and kind treatment’ with respect to granting leases and making rent abatements, and praised their efforts to stimulate economic development in an area which had until recently been ‘without roads, without a single harbour, nearly without houses, without trade’.7

Leveson Gower’s appointment as a lord of the treasury in Canning’s coalition government occasioned a by-election in May 1827, when he was proposed by Major Mackay Bighouse and Munro and ‘unanimously re-elected’.8 Certain landholders and sheep farmers sent up petitions to Parliament for the prohibition of wool imports, 27 June, 16 July 1828.9 That month another by-election was necessitated by Leveson Gower’s appointment as Irish secretary in the duke of Wellington’s ministry. After Sir James Mackenzie of Scatwell and Thomas Houston of Creech had been enrolled as freeholders, Dempster and William Young of Burghead nominated Leveson Gower, who was ‘unanimously re-elected’; the ‘freeholders and other county gentlemen’ later ‘partook of a substantial dinner at Ross’s Inn’.10 In 1829 the county was silent on the government’s Catholic emancipation bill, which Leveson Gower of course supported. A hostile petition was ‘signed by several hundreds of the lower orders’ in the parish of Dornoch, following a meeting held ‘under the auspices of the parish catechist’, 5 Mar., and presented to Parliament, 12 Mar. The inhabitants of Golspie forwarded a similar petition to the Commons, 30 Mar. 1829, but one reportedly sent up to both Houses from the parish of Kildonan was not presented. Leveson Gower expressed satisfaction on learning from a local clergyman, with regard to these petitions, that ‘the ignorance and credulity of these poor people lead them to conclusions which are very generally rejected by the educated and well-informed’.11 In May 1830 he promised to communicate to the government the conclusion reached by a recent county meeting, chaired by Dempster, against the proposed additional duty on spirits.12 Two months later ministers acceded to Stafford’s wish that he should be allowed to resign the lord lieutenancy of Sutherland on condition that his eldest son Lord Gower† succeeded him, an exceptional arrangement that was justified on the ground that Stafford’s connection with the county was by marriage alone.13 At the general election in August 1830 Leveson Gower, whose new duties as secretary at war prevented him from canvassing in person, was ‘unanimously re-elected’. Dornoch reportedly ‘exhibited a scene of the most joyous and delightful description’ and ‘almost every gentleman of the county, at least those resident on the superb domains of Sutherland and Reay, appeared in honour of the occasion’, while ‘an excellent regimental band ... added to the festivity of the day’; a dinner was given that evening.14

Following the appointment of Lord Grey’s ministry in November 1830 it was suggested, in Scottish Whig circles, that a parliamentary reform bill might include the union of Caithness with Sutherland, given ‘the peculiar circumstances ... respecting representation’ in the latter county.15 However, Stafford’s transfer of allegiance to the new government, which was doubtless partly motivated by his ambition for a dukedom, may have helped to ensure that the reform bill of March 1831 left Sutherland’s representation intact. Instructions were sent from London that month to ‘let it be known in Sutherland distinctly what Lord Stafford’s views are’; the county took no action on the subject.16 Leveson Gower opposed the bill and was obliged to retire at the ensuing dissolution, when it was reported that ‘a Member of liberal principles will be returned ... that is to say, presented by the family of Stafford’. This proved to be Sir Hugh Innes of Lochalsh, formerly the Staffords’ nominee in Tain Burghs, who confirmed his ‘decided approval of the plan of reform’ and support for economy. After Mackenzie of Portmore had been enrolled, Dempster (the praeses) and Gilchrist introduced Innes, who was ‘unanimously elected’. As the accommodation in Dornoch was inadequate, Innes travelled to Golspie, where his carriage was met by a ‘numerous procession of the inhabitants ... bearing several flags, with devices alluding to ... reform’, and drawn into the town. That evening, he and the freeholders dined with a ‘numerous party of gentlemen connected with the county and several strangers’, while the ‘populace, both in Dornoch and Golspie, were liberally regaled with spirits and porter’. It seems that ‘the greatest order prevailed, although the day was kept as a gala day, with more than the usual spirit displayed on similar occasions’.17 Innes’s death in August 1831 occasioned a by-election, at which Roderick Macleod of Cadboll, formerly Whig Member for Cromartyshire, was sponsored by Dempster and ‘unanimously chosen’. He declared that the question of reform had become one of ‘high state necessity’ and advocated the ‘strictest and most rigid system’ of economy and retrenchment; a ‘numerous party of his friends’ afterwards dined at Golspie.18 Following the enactment of the Scottish reform bill the registered electorate of Sutherland was 104, the smallest of any Scottish county. Macleod was returned unopposed at the 1832 general election and sat until his retirement in 1837. Sutherland remained a ‘pocket county’ of the Staffords (who were rewarded with the dukedom of Sutherland in 1833), until 1885.19

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), i. 193; iii. 200, 264; vi. 414-22; Pprs. on Sutherland Estate Management, 1802-1816 ed. R.J. Adam (Scottish Hist. Soc. ser. 4, viii), pp. xi-ci; E. Richards, Highland Clearances, passim; Inverness Courier, 22 Apr. 1829, 7, 14 July 1830, 24 Aug. 1831.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 585-6; E. Richards, Leviathan of Wealth, 9-11, 161, 236, 237, 290; Inverness Courier, 30 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. Inverness Courier, 23 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Ibid. 25 Jan. 1821.
  • 5. CJ, lxxix. 222.
  • 6. Inverness Courier, 29 Mar. 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 254; LJ, lviii. 207.
  • 7. Inverness Courier, 3, 10 May, 7, 21 June, 5, 19, 26 July 1826.
  • 8. Ibid. 30 May 1827.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxiii. 538; LJ, lx. 589.
  • 10. Inverness Courier, 9 July 1828.
  • 11. Ibid. 4, 11 Mar., 8 Apr.; CJ, lxxxiv. 127, 182; LJ, lxi. 185; NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. M. 736, pp. 18, 19, Leveson Gower to Rev. A. Macpherson, 1 Apr. 1829.
  • 12. Leveson Gower letterbks. M. 738, p. 136, Leveson Gower to Dempster, 14 May 1830.
  • 13. Wellington mss WP1/1128/14; 1131/43.
  • 14. Inverness Courier, 21 July, 18 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. Cockburn Letters, 264.
  • 16. Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D593/K/1/6/27, Loch to Gunn, 16 Mar. 1831.
  • 17. Inverness Courier, 4, 11 May, 1 June; Inverness Jnl. 3 June 1831.
  • 18. Inverness Courier, 24 Aug. 1831.
  • 19. Ibid. 26 Dec. 1832; Scottish Electoral Politics, pp. lix-lx, 225, 258.