Wigtown Burghs


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

Background Information

Wigtown (1820), Whithorn (1826), New Galloway (1830), Stranraer (1831), all in

Wigtownshire except New Galloway in Kirkcudbright Stewartry


21 Mar. 1821SIR JOHN OSBORN, bt. vice Stewart, vacated his seat
4 Mar. 1824NICHOLAS CONYNGHAM TINDAL vice Osborn, appointed to office

Main Article

Wigtown, the county town, situated on the eastern border, was described in 1831 as ‘a neat clean small town’, whose harbour did ‘not seem to have much trade’. It had a population (burgh and parish) of 2,042 in 1821 and 2,337 in 1831. Its council of 18 consisted of a provost, two bailies and 15 councillors.1 Whithorn, in the south-east of Wigtownshire, was made up ‘almost entirely of one street’, had no trade or manufactures and a population (burgh and parish) of 2,361 in 1821 and 2,415 in 1831. Its council numbered 18.2 Stranraer, on Loch Ryan in the north-west, whose council also contained 18 men, was described as ‘a neat thriving town’ with increasing trade, which could expect a further boost when the new harbour was completed. It had a population (town and parish) of 2,463 in 1821, which rose markedly to 3,329 by 1831.3 New Galloway, in Kirkcudbrightshire, was a mere village, ‘a poor place, without trade or manufactures’. Its population (burgh and parish) was 1,004 in 1821 and 1,128 in 1831, and its council had 18 members.4 In this period the district was entirely under the electoral control of George Stewart, 8th earl of Galloway, of Galloway House, near Garliestown, seven miles south of Wigtown.5

At the general election of 1820 he again returned his younger brother James, Member since 1812. In February 1821 the burgesses and inhabitants of Whithorn and Wigtown petitioned Parliament for the restoration of Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy, which Stewart opposed.6 The following month the Liverpool ministry gave him a customs place in order to create a vacancy for Sir John Osborn, a lord of the admiralty, who had been turned out of his Bedfordshire seat at the general election. In March 1824 Osborn was given a job in the audit office and Galloway obliged government by returning the rising common lawyer Nicholas Tindal.7 The council, merchants and inhabitants of Wigtown petitioned the Commons against alteration of the Scottish banking system, 14 Mar., and the council of Whithorn petitioned the Lords in the same sense, 10 Apr. 1826.8 At the general election that summer, by an arrangement concluded the previous year, Galloway’s son and heir Lord Garlies, who had come of age in 1821, was returned by the 1st earl of Lonsdale for Cockermouth (being unable, as the eldest son of a Scottish peer, to sit for a Scottish seat) in exchange for Galloway’s accommodating Lonsdale’s nephew John Henry Lowther.9 The burgesses and inhabitants of Wigtown petitioned the Lords, 10 Apr. 1829, against Catholic emancipation, which Lowther opposed.10 The burgh’s bankers petitioned the Commons for mitigation of the punishment for forgery, 24 May 1830.11 The arrangement with the Lowthers was renewed at the 1830 general election.12

The United Associate Congregation of Wigtown petitioned the Lords for the abolition of slavery, 21 Dec. 1830.13 Petitions for reform of the Scottish representative system were sent to both Houses from the council and inhabitants of Wigtown, Stranraer and Whithorn in February 1831; and in March there was petitioning in support of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme from the burgesses, householders and inhabitants of Whithorn, the magistrates, burgesses, householders and inhabitants of Stranraer and the council, burgesses and inhabitants of Wigtown.14 The Scottish solicitor-general Henry Cockburn, one of the framers of the Scottish reform bill, had advocated the addition of Port Glasgow to the Wigtown district, but in the first and subsequent measures it was left as it was.15 Garlies, who had now assumed active management of the family’s electoral interest from his father, favoured reform; and at the 1831 general election he dispensed with Lowther, its opponent, and returned his first cousin Edward Stewart, who had been private secretary to the first lord of the admiralty, Sir James Graham, since December 1830. (Stewart resigned this post immediately after his election.) The council and inhabitants of Wigtown petitioned the Lords to pass the English reform bill, 3 Oct. 1831.16 Cockburn considered the district to be ‘useless’, particularly after the boundary commissioners’ first investigation had established that it would have only 279 electors. He dismissed the idea of adding Kirkcudbright and favoured throwing the burghs into their counties and giving the seat to a more populous town.17 The ‘horror of disfranchising’ prevailed, however, and the district, to which a re-examination by the commissioners and the drawing of generous boundaries to cater for future expansion contrived to apportion 341 £10 houses (178 in Stranraer, 88 in Wigtown, 54 in Whithorn and 21 in New Galloway), was preserved.18 The council and inhabitants of Whithorn and Wigtown petitioned the Commons to withhold supplies until reform was secured, 25 May 1832.19 A Conservative bid to remove Kirkcudbright from the Dumfries district and add it to the Wigtown group was negatived in the Commons, 25 June 1832. The reformed constituency, which had a registered electorate of 320 at the time of the 1832 general election, was the smallest of the Scottish burgh districts, though it had more electors than five counties.20 In 1832 Stewart defeated another Liberal by 14 votes in a poll of 288. The district, in which Garlies (9th earl of Galloway from 1834) still held the commanding interest, returned a Liberal at every election until that of 1874.21

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), vi. 491; PP (1823), xv. 712; (1830-1), x. 152; (1831-2), xlii. 153.
  • 2. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, vi. 485; PP (1823), xv. 713; (1830-1), x. 152; (1831-2), xlii. 151.
  • 3. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, vi. 405, 406; PP (1823), xv. 712; (1830-1), x. 152; (1831-2), xlii. 197.
  • 4. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, iii. 72; PP (1823), xv. 724; (1830-1), x. 151; (1831-2), xlii. 147.
  • 5. Key to Both Houses (1832), 423.
  • 6. CJ, lxxvi. 22, 32; LJ, liv. 31.
  • 7. Add. 40304, f. 214.
  • 8. CJ, lxxxi. 165; LJ, lviii. 166.
  • 9. Lonsdale mss, Lord Lowther to Lonsdale, 23 May 1825; Glasgow Herald, 23 June 1826.
  • 10. LJ, lxi. 380.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxv. 463.
  • 12. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 24 July 1830.
  • 13. LJ, lxiii. 187.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxvi. 209, 211, 226, 371, 406, 419; LJ, lxiii. 205, 264, 339, 346.
  • 15. Cockburn Letters, 273, 302, 303, 311.
  • 16. LJ, lxiii. 1037.
  • 17. Cockburn Letters, 340, 359, 362, 363.
  • 18. Ibid. 363; PP (1831-2), xlii. 146, 147, 150-3, 196, 197.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxvii. 341.
  • 20. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 43.
  • 21. Scottish Electoral Politics, 228, 240, 245, 246, 272, 273.