FERGUSSON, Robert Cutlar (?1770-1838), of Orroland, Kirkcudbright and Craigdarroch, Dumfries

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



1826 - 16 Nov. 1838

Family and Education

b. ?1770, 1st s. of Alexander Fergusson, adv., of Craigdarroch and Deborah, da. of Robert Cutlar, merchant, of Dumfries. educ. Edinburgh; L. Inn 1792, called 1797. m. 17 May 1832, Marie Josephine, da. of Gen. Augier, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1796. d. 16 Nov. 1838.

Offices Held

Standing counsel, Bengal 1813-18, king’s adv. 1818-25.

Judge adv.-gen. July-Dec. 1834, Apr. 1835-Nov. 1838; PC 16 July 1834.

Dir. E.I. Co. 1830-5.


Fergusson belonged to an old Dumfriesshire family with an estate at Craigdarroch, near Moniaive, close to the border with Kirkcudbright Stewartry. His great-grandfather Alexander Fergusson (1685-1749), whose father was killed at Killiecrankie (1689) as a lieutenant-colonel in William III’s army, married the celebrated Annie Laurie and was Whig Member for Dumfries Burghs, 1715-22. When his grandfather James Fergusson died in 1771, Craigdarroch passed to his son and heir Alexander (b. 1746), an eminent advocate and hero of Burns’s ballad ‘The Whistle’, whose marriage to Deborah Cutlar (in Edinburgh, 23 July 1769) brought the Stewartry property of Orroland into the family. Craigdarroch was inherited by Robert Cutlar Fergusson on his father’s death in a chaise accident, 30 Apr. 1796; and he was served heir to Orroland in 1810.1 By then he had made his mark as one of the Friends of the People and the author of The Proposed Reform of the Counties of Scotland Impartially Examined (1792), though he did not belong to the contemporary Scottish reform societies.2 After the death of his mother in 1792 Mrs. Maria Riddell informed the Edinburgh antiquary William Smellie that while Craigdarroch had ‘sustained a sensible affliction’, he had ‘a source of happiness and comfort few parents can boast of in his eldest son, who seems everything that is amiable and accomplished’.3 A year after his call to the English bar Fergusson was employed as fourth defence counsel in the trial for high treason of his friend John Allen and James O’Coigly, Arthur O’Connor, John Binns and Jeremiah Leary at Maidstone, 21, 22 May 1798. After the acquittal of all but O’Coigly, Fergusson became embroiled in the court room brawl which developed as O’Connor’s friends tried to obstruct officers sent to rearrest him. With the earl of Thanet and three other men he was tried in king’s bench for riot and other misdemeanours, 25 Apr. 1799, with the attorney-general Sir John Scott† (later Lord Eldon) leading for the crown. He and Thanet were found guilty, on very flimsy evidence. Fergusson was fined £100, sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in king’s bench gaol and bound over to keep the peace for seven years. He protested his innocence throughout and stated his case in his Observations on the business which he published as an appendix to an account of The Whole Proceedings (1799): he argued that the episode had demonstrated ‘the necessity ... of a revision of our penal code, that a number of barbarous and bloody laws may be blotted from its pages’.4 After his release, 9 June 1800, he emigrated to Calcutta, where he practised as a barrister and ‘made more money than it was thought was ever before made at the [Bengal] bar’. He was reckoned to be earning about £25,000 a year during his period as attorney-general to the East India Company from 1818; and on his return to Britain in the summer of 1825 he was reputed to be worth ‘near half a million’.5 His brother had been surreptitiously canvassing the Stewartry on his behalf for a year, and Fergusson immediately declared his candidacy for the next election. The sitting Member General Dunlop had the support of the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager Lord Melville and of the aristocratic Selkirk and Galloway interests; but he had neglected his position and was vulnerable to a spirit of independence among the resident proprietors, many of whom were willing to back Fergusson regardless of his politics, which were now somewhat uncertain. Although he seemed to have nailed his colours to the mast by joining the Whig bastion of Brooks’s, sponsored by Lord Sefton* and Sir Ronald Ferguson*, on 25 Feb. 1826, he continued to do well; and at the general election in June he defeated Dunlop by one vote in a poll of 95 freeholders, despite having lost in the choice of praeses.6

Preservation of his seat in the short term required him to take a reasonably temperate line in the House, where he acted generally with the mainstream Whigs but eschewed blatant partisanship. He was a frequent and forceful speaker, whose didactic tone often irritated his opponents. On the address, 21 Nov. 1826, he declined to support Hume’s radical amendment, declared his support for Catholic claims and on the corn laws said he was ‘not prepared for a free import of grain ... although his opinion rather inclined that way’; he voted in the ministerial majority. The Whig leader Lord Grey (once a Friend of the People) was told by Lord Lauderdale that Fergusson’s was ‘considered a speech of great promise’. Grey commented to his son: ‘I know him, from a very long acquaintance, to be a man of considerable talent; but these Scotchmen always puff one another, and I always take the accounts they give in such cases with considerable grains of allowance’.7 According to John Croker*, Fergusson soon afterwards ran into Eldon, now lord chancellor, who ‘good humouredly recognized him, and congratulated him on ... [his] good fortune’ in India.8 He called for investigation of the bubble joint-stock companies, 5 Dec. 1826. He was one of the handful of Whigs who voted (after speaking) for the grant to the duke of Clarence, 16 Feb.; he did so again, 16 Mar. 1827.9 On 1 Mar. he conceded that the 1815 corn law had failed, but said that ‘the agricultural interest of Scotland’ would be ruined by the government’s proposed relaxation, even though he agreed with it in principle. His attempt to amend the scale was rejected, 9 Mar., and his amendment to alter the duty on oatmeal was rejected by 155 -52, 19 Mar.10 He voted silently for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He expressed reservations about Shadwell’s writ of right bill, 27, 30 Mar. On 5 Apr. he voted for inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates and spoke and was a minority teller for information on chancery delays, denying that the motion was aimed at Eldon personally. He spoke and voted for the transfer of Penryn’s seats to Manchester, 18, 28 May, but reserved his position on East Retford until the evidence was complete, 11, 22 June. He divided with Canning’s ministry for the grant for Canadian water defences, 12 June. His own motion for inquiry into aspects of real property law in India was rejected, 21 June 1827.

Fergusson spoke, 8 Feb., and voted, 12 May 1828, for Catholic relief. He advocated repeal of the Test Acts, 11 Feb., and voted thus, 26 Feb., when he encouraged the supporters of Catholic claims to back it. He urged Lord John Russell not to jeopardize the measure by opposing Peel’s qualifying clauses, 18 Mar. He again supported the production of information on chancery administration, 12 Feb. He thought giving East Retford householders the vote might answer, 22 Feb., but on 4 Mar. he admitted that the evidence of rooted corruption had ‘completely changed’ his view; he voted for transfer of the seats to Birmingham, 21 Mar., 27 June. He did not want the commission of inquiry into the defects of common law administration to be restricted as the duke of Wellington’s ministry insisted, 29 Feb. He supported the salmon fisheries regulation bill, 20 Mar., but tried unsuccessfully to secure the exemption from it of the River Thurso, for the benefit of Sir John Sinclair† of Ulbster, 19, 23 June. On 25 Mar. he got leave to introduce a bill to deal with the liability of Indian real estate as an asset in the hands of trustees for the debts of a deceased owner. He introduced it on 16 May and it became law on 27 June (9 Geo. IV, c. 33). He condemned the corn bill, 31 Mar., 22 Apr., and supported an attempt to increase the protecting duty on barley and moved one of his own on oats, which was defeated by 101-59, 28 Apr. He liked Kennedy’s Scottish parochial settlements bill, 6 May, but not Davenport’s proposal to empower magistrates to judge felony cases, 13 May. He ‘regretfully’ supported Hume’s motion for information on civil list pensions, 20 May, claiming that he had ‘every wish’ to support ministers, ‘than whom ... few ... have ever been placed in greater difficulties, both as regards foreign and domestic affairs’; he was a teller for the minority of 52. When he declared that ‘the whole agricultural interest of Scotland’ would welcome ‘a protecting duty on wool’, 13 June, Kennedy rebuked him for presuming to speak for them. He had a clause added to the Indian criminal justice bill, 7 July, called for mitigation of excise penalties, 8 July, and spoke and voted against government on the silk duties, asserting that they had betrayed Indian producers, 14, 16 July 1828.

In early 1829 he got the backing of ministers for his candidature for a vacancy in the East India Company’s direction. Lord Ellenborough, president of the board of control, believed him to be ‘the best man’ and persuaded Wellington to support him:

I hope to manage to conciliate Fergusson, and to bring him into our view as to the judicial administration of India. At any rate, as a member of the court of directors he is much more likely to take moderate and reasonable views than he is if excluded ... by our means. I do not believe we could exclude him, and we should only ... convert an independent man into an enemy.

In the event, he was crushed by Sir William Young, 20 Mar., polling less than 700 votes, despite having boasted of over 1,100 promises. Ellenborough immediately urged Planta, the patronage secretary, to implement ‘the adoption of measures for securing Fergusson’s return on the next vacancy’.11 In the House, he divided silently for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar.; but he opposed on legal grounds Daniel O’Connell’s bid to take his seat unhindered, 18, 21 May. He welcomed the government’s plan to simplify excise regulations, 31 Mar. He pressed for action on East Retford, 10 Apr., and spoke and voted for the Birmingham option, 5 May. He asked ministers to reduce the punitive duties on Indian silks, 13 Apr., but next day opposed Fyler’s motion for inquiry into the domestic industry and defended their general policy of ‘moderate protection’. He denounced the government’s Scottish gaols bill because it transferred financial responsibility from the burghs to the counties, 5 May, and applauded its withdrawal, 27 May. He approved Kennedy’s tailzies regulation bill as ‘a measure of relief’, 1 May. He thought Davenport’s palliative young offenders bill would increase crime, 12 May. He supported the proposed increase in Scottish judges’ salaries, 21 May, and dissented from Brougham’s criticisms, though he had reservations over details. He presented and endorsed a Wigtownshire fishermen’s petition for continuance of the bounties, 2 June. He opposed Hume’s ‘most extraordinary’ motion for information on fees in Doctors’ Commons, 5 June 1829, when he advocated inquiry by select committee into all aspects of the Indian judicial system. His objection to Hume’s motion on fees of the ecclesiastical courts as ‘novel, inquisitorial and mischievous’ earned him castigation as the opponent of ‘reform in the abuses of the courts’, but he insisted that he favoured ‘practical and beneficial’ change.

Fergusson was not in the House when it divided on Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830. He was named on 9 Feb. to the select committee on the East India Company (and its renewals, 4 Feb., 28 June 1831, 27 Jan. 1832), and a week later secured election as a director. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5 Mar., when he argued that ‘the influence of the peerage wants a counterpoise in this House’. He voted for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. On 18 Feb. he expressed ‘concurrence in most of the arrangements’ outlined by Peel, the home secretary, for judicial reforms, but suggested reform of the privy council court and, for Scotland, making more effective use of the consistorial courts and the extension of jury trial in civil cases. He recommended the exclusion of all judges, not merely Welsh ones, from the Commons. A belief that ‘a considerable reduction of our military force’ should be made to facilitate tax remissions on essentials led him to vote for a cut of 5,000 men, 19 Feb.; but on 9 Mar. he voiced satisfaction with most of the government’s recent economies. He preferred inquiry by select committee to that by committee of the whole House into the state of the nation, 18 Mar., when he exonerated ministers from the charge that they were indifferent to distress, which he attributed largely to the bank restriction of 1819. He sided with the Bombay government in its clash with the supreme court, 8 Mar. He criticized aspects of the administration of justice bill, 9 Mar., and of the ministry’s proposals for reform of the Scottish judicial system, 1 Apr.; but on 30 Apr. and 18 June he gave the latter his general blessing, though he still cavilled at details, especially the transfer of business from the commissary court to the court of session. His attempt to stop this, 18 June, which was seen by some as an electioneering ploy, failed.12 He gave ‘cordial support’ to the principle of Brougham’s scheme for the establishment of local courts in England and Wales, 29 Apr. He spoke, 29 Apr., and voted, 17 May, for Jewish emancipation. He divided against the public buildings grant, 3 May, and for inquiry into the commerce of Ceylon, 27 May, but otherwise took no part in the revived Whig opposition’s onslaught on the government. He voted for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, when he asserted that repeal of the taxes on soap and candles would have been of more benefit to Scotland than that of the beer duty. Next day he rejected Attwood’s nostrum of bi-metallism. On 17 June he spoke at length against the appointment of an additional chancery judge and stressed the need for a competent court of appeal to replace the privy council. When he said that compensation for the defalcation of the registrar of Madras should not come from India territorial revenues, 19 June, Brougham questioned the propriety of his and other Company directors voting on the issue; he put himself in the hands of the House. On 1 July 1830 he dismissed the West India interest’s complaints against the ministry’s sugar duties proposals, which he considered ‘perfectly fair’.

Fergusson was returned unopposed for the Stewartry at the 1830 general election, after which ministers naturally counted him among their ‘foes’. On 3 Nov. 1830 he said that

the public business in this House cannot be carried out as it ought to be, unless a great change is made in the present system ... Many of the most important subjects are brought on after midnight, and thus it is that few matters of great interest meet with the discussion which they require. With the exception of ... [Hume], I have been earlier and later in this House than any ... Members ... I have lost a good deal of time ... listening to long discussions which could have no useful result ... [and] dull discussions on petitions.

He suggested that the orders of the day should be taken in strict rotation. Later that day he declined to vote for the amendment to the address, but criticized the latter’s reference to the Belgians as ‘revolted subjects’ of the Netherlands. In response to Brougham’s earlier call for repeal of the Union (3 Nov.), he defended it and blamed Ireland’s problems on ‘the unfeeling conduct’ of many landlords. He welcomed Williams Wynn’s bill to abolish the abjuration oath, 4 Nov. 1830, and advocated its extension to others, 4 Feb. 1831. He was in the majority against ministers on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, but four days later paid a personal tribute to Peel for his conduct in office. Observing that excessive expenditure on Windsor Castle and other projects had gone far enough, 6 Dec., he urged the new Grey administration to execute ‘their three great avowed principles of non-interference with foreign powers, of moderate and satisfactory reform in the Commons ... and, above all, of retrenchment in the public expenditure’. Next day he complained of the inattention of some Members to Kennedy’s motion for leave to introduce three ‘most important’ tailzies regulation bills; but he thought they went too far and advised Kennedy to consult the Scottish judiciary. He liked Campbell’s bill to establish a general registry of deeds, 16 Dec., and, goaded by the Ultra Wetherell, made a personal attack on Eldon, who for 25 years had presided over the ‘oppressive and pernicious’ chancery administration. He could see little benefit accruing from repeal of the coastal coal duties, 14 Dec. 1830. On the budget, 14 Feb. 1831, he regretted the abandonment of the controversial stock transfer tax and criticized the proposed tax by weight on raw cotton and that on steamboat passengers, which would hit the ‘industrious poor’. He supported the Ultra Lord Chandos’s attempt to reduce the sugar duties, 11 Mar. He presented and endorsed petitions for reform of the Scottish electoral system, 18 Dec. 1830, 3 Feb. 1831, when he argued that support for change was widespread and stated his personal wish to ‘see the elective franchise extended ... but not so as not to maintain the political condition of the landed interest of Scotland’. Accused by Hunt of advocating reform purely to ‘protect’ it, he explained:

The representatives of counties should be elected by landowners ... not ... by labourers ... I am an enemy to universal suffrage. I think that the possession of some property ... not of a large amount, should be required to enable a man to vote.

He supported Chandos’s resolution on electoral corruption at Evesham, 17 Feb., and Benett’s proposal to deal with venality at Liverpool, 21 Apr. As a Member returned ‘by the independent votes of the freeholders against the influence of the government and the peerage’, he spoke again for Scottish reform, 26 Feb. He approved the principle of the ministry’s Scottish reform bill, 9 Mar., but criticized the preferential treatment given to the burghs and the ‘extremely objectionable’ proposal to enfranchise £10 householders in the counties. He voted for the second reading of the English bill, 22 Mar. On the ministerial modifications to their scheme, 13 Apr., he approved the decision not to reduce the size of the Commons by as much as first proposed, urged the claims of Dumfries, Inverness and Perth to separate representation and damned Hunt and his ‘selfish’ Lancashire working men, who were ‘too ignorant to be entrusted with the franchise’. In another spat with Hunt next day, he deplored his ‘dangerous’ language in favour of universal suffrage. On 18 Apr. he said it was ‘a matter of the most common notoriety’ that borough seats were ‘bought and sold like stalls in a market’. The following day he opposed Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the English bill, which if carried would mean that Scotland would receive no additional Members, said that the ‘baneful’ influence of borough proprietors must be eradicated from the Commons, but hoped that ‘beyond this bill Parliament will not go’. Presenting the petition of the Stewartry’s commissioners of supply against the full extent of the reform plan, 20 Apr., he dissented from its reservations. At the general election precipitated by the success of Gascoyne’s amendment he was challenged by a Tory anti-reformer, who initially bragged of his chances but gave up a week before the election.13 Informing Lord Holland, a member of the cabinet, 17 May 1831, he reported that enthusiasm for reform was ‘ferocious’ in Scotland and predicted a ministerial gain of seven seats there.14

Fergusson opposed free trade in corn, 24 June, and said that there was little to be gained by trying to extend commercial links with China, 28 June 1831, when he denied an allegation that Company Members had been obstructive on the East India select committee. He reiterated his liking for the registry of deeds bill, 30 June, 21 Sept., deplored a Glasgow Protestants’ petition against the Maynooth grant, 19 June, welcomed the government’s stated intention of reforming Indian grand juries, 1 Sept., and argued that the president of the board of control should be made a ‘permanent’ official, 29 Sept. He was in minorities against issuing the Dublin writ, 8 Aug., and for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug., but he divided with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He spoke and voted for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 5 Sept., was in a minority of 20 against the quarantine duties next day and on 12 Sept. spoke and voted for inquiry into the effects on the West India interest of renewing the Sugar Refinery Act. He blamed opposition partisans for inciting the election riots at Dumbarton, Dumfries and Stirling, 27 June. Supporting the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 4 July, he admitted that it was more ‘extensive’ than what he would have proposed, but asserted that nothing less was now feasible and urged its passage ‘while it yet may be adopted with safety, and before even greater concessions may be forced upon us’. He voted for the bill, 6 July, and gave general support to its details in committee, where he was a frequent contributor to the discussions. He denied being a ‘pledged’ supporter of the measure, 14 July, and next day, supporting schedule A, dismissed Agnew’s notion of grouping the boroughs in it to return one Member per district. He spoke and voted against government for the transfer of Downton from A to B, 21 July, and voted for the total disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July. He opposed a Tory bid to add Salford to Manchester in schedule C, 2 Aug. He welcomed the enfranchisement of the metropolitan districts, 4 Aug., and the proposal to give eight counties three Members each, 12 Aug. He divided against the separate representation of Merthyr, 10 Aug. On the 17th he argued that only tenants in possession should be allowed a county vote as leaseholders, to avoid the temptation to create fictitious votes. He voted with ministers against Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., but said on the 20th that in view of its success he would in future vote to keep urban and rural voters apart: thus he supported Davies’s attempt to exclude parliamentary borough freeholders from the counties, 24 Aug. Next day he spoke and voted to deny weekly tenants the franchise in order to maintain the ‘respectability’ of the electorate. He criticized the proposed annual renewal of voters’ lists, 3 Sept., and secured a change to the appeals procedure, 13 Sept. He voted for the third reading, 19, and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. He divided silently for the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and on 3 Oct. commended its principle as ‘most excellent’, having become reconciled to the franchise proposals, though he still wanted an increase in the number of county Members. He had objected to the proposed union of Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire, 3 Sept., but on 4 Oct. he felt obliged to vote against the ministerial decision to preserve their separate representation by throwing their respective chief burghs into them. He also spoke and voted that day for a Tory amendment to give the eight most populous Scottish counties two Members. He was one of ‘the four principal men in the House at present’ (the others being Sir Francis Burdett, Hume and O’Connell) who showed ‘some strong interest’ in the efforts of George Traill to secure separate representation for Orkney and Shetland.15 He voted for the motion of confidence in the government after the English bill’s defeat in the Lords, 10 Oct., and when Parliament was prorogued, 19 Oct. 1831, applauded the chancellor of the exchequer Lord Althorp’s assurance that ministers were ‘pledged’ to bring forward one ‘as full and efficient’ in the next session.

On the address, 7 Dec. 1831, Fergusson condemned the recent ‘riots and excesses’ at Bristol and elsewhere, approved of the proclamation against ‘illegal’ political unions, which were incompatible with ‘monarchical government’, and said he would continue to support ‘efficient reform’, but he criticized the proposed enfranchisement of weekly tenants. He praised ministerial policy towards Belgium and France, but lamented their indifference to the fate of Poland, passed over in ‘the silence of despair and death’. He voted for the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and gave general but not undeviating support to its details. He again called for an increase in the Scottish representation and suggested allowing superiority holders to vote during their lives, 19 Jan. 1832. Next day he said that schedule A of the English bill embodied ‘by far the most useful principle’ of the measure. It is not clear whether it was he or Sir Ronald Ferguson who voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan.; but he was in their majorities on the issue, 12, 16, 20 July. On 27 Jan. he spoke and voted against the proposed division of most English counties, arguing that the enfranchisement of £50 tenants had made many of them vulnerable to control by ‘large families’. He annoyed Lord John Russell by demanding more Scottish Members, but he replied in kind to the minister’s tart remarks on reformers who opposed government. His failure to ‘run quite straight with his party and his principles in the House of Commons just now’ was attributed by Edward Littleton* to his being ‘offended at not being made a privy councillor’ on the strength of his services in India.16 On 1 Feb. he spoke and voted in a minority of 32 for Heron’s attempt to expunge the Chandos clause and divided against allowing borough freeholders to vote in counties. Next day he opposed Hunt’s amendment for a borough householder franchise, though he thought he had a point in advocating rates as the best criterion; but when Vernon proposed this, 3 Feb., Fergusson concluded that it was impractical at present. He approved the amended registration clause because it took away much of overseers’ powers, 8 Feb. He supported enfranchisement of the metropolitan districts, 28 Feb., and of the likes of Bradford, 2 Mar. He voted silently for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. He supported amelioration of the ‘cruel system’ of child labour in factories, 1 Feb., 7 Mar., when he also spoke and voted for Chandos’s motion to reduce the sugar duties. He was in Hunt’s minority for information on military punishments, 16 Feb. He recommended authorizing parishes to raise money to provide precautions against cholera, 15, 16 Feb. He approved the principle of the Irish Subletting Act amendment bill, 20 Feb., and on 28 Mar. called for intelligent reform of the ‘monstrous’ tithes system; Wetherell accused him of advocating confiscation and the abolition of episcopacy. He opposed and divided against the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr., but voted with ministers for their navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. He pressed again for an increase in Scottish judges’ salaries, 10 Apr., complaining that ‘the business and the voice of Scotland are not attended to in this House’. On 18 Apr. he moved for papers on the plight of Poland, whose cause he warmly espoused, arguing that its dismemberment by Russia contravened the Treaty of Vienna. He raised the subject again, 28 June, when his passionate language provoked some tetchy exchanges. He welcomed the government’s scheme for interdenominational education in Ireland, 7, 21 May, 8 June. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. Supporting the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 21 May, he explained that he was still not happy with the £10 franchise, which he had initially considered ‘a species ... of revolution’, and that he wanted an increase in the number of county Members; he voted for the Conservative Murray’s motion to this effect, 1 June. He complained that the bill left Shetland effectively unrepresented, 6 June. On the 15th he moved to unite Port Glasgow with Greenock in order to remove its urban influence from Renfrewshire, but was defeated by 73-47. He divided with ministers that day on the case of Perthshire’s border and also opposed a Conservative bid to transfer Kirkcudbright from the Dumfries to the Wigtown district. He may have voted to preserve Irish freemen’s voting rights, 2 July. He supported the death penalty abolition bill and praised the work of Romilly and Peel in lessening the severity of the penal code, 30 May, and endorsed the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 31 July. He disliked Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from the House, 6 June. He spoke and voted for inquiry into admissions to the Inns of Court, 17 July, but opposed as ‘too partial’ Hume’s bill to ban the recorder of Dublin from Parliament, 24 July. He criticized the government’s commercial policy towards Ireland as oppressive, 25 July 1832.

Fergusson, who belatedly married a French woman in May 1832, came in unopposed for the Stewartry in 1832, 1835 and 1837. He was judge advocate in Lord Melbourne’s first and second ministries, but retired on account of ‘bad health’ shortly before his death in Paris ‘of a consumption’ in November 1838. He was buried at Craigdarroch, where he was briefly succeeded in due course by his only son and namesake (1836-59).17 By his will, dated 10 Nov. 1836, he provided an annuity of £400 for his wife in addition to her jointure of £500 a year, increased his brother Henry’s annuity from £500 to £700 and left the residue of his estate to his children. His personalty was sworn under £30,000 in the province of Canterbury.18

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. HP Commons, 1715-54, ii. 29-30; Faculty of Advocates (Scottish Rec. Soc. lxxxvi), 69; Scottish Nation, ii. 197; Gent. Mag. (1796), i. 442.
  • 2. H. Meikle, Scotland and French Revolution, 72, 111.
  • 3. R. Kerr, Mems. Smellie, ii. 376-7.
  • 4. Oxford DNB; State Trials, xxiv. 1191-1431; xxvii. 821-986.
  • 5. The Times, 10 June 1800; Oxford DNB; Croker Pprs. i. 331.
  • 6. NAS GD51/1/198/14/33, 34, 36, 37; Glasgow Herald, 16, 23, 26 June 1826.
  • 7. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1271; Grey mss, Grey to Howick, 24 Nov. 1826.
  • 8. Croker Pprs. i. 331.
  • 9. Add. 51784, Holland to C.R. Fox, 17 Feb. 1827.
  • 10. The Times, 10, 20 Mar. 1827.
  • 11. Ellenborough Diary, i. 322-3, 327, 328, 330, 400, 402, 406; The Times, 21, 23 Mar. 1829.
  • 12. Cockburn Letters, 228-9.
  • 13. Caledonian Mercury, 28, 30 Apr., 5, 12 May 1831.
  • 14. Add. 51836.
  • 15. Orkney Archives, Balfour mss D2/8/13, Traill to W. Balfour, 8 Oct. [1831].
  • 16. Add. 51573, Spring Rice to Holland, 27 Jan.; Hatherton diary, 29 Jan. [1832].
  • 17. The Times, 23 Oct., 18 Dec. 1838; Raikes Jnl. iii. 341; Gent. Mag. (1839), i. 94-95.
  • 18. PROB 11/1905/19; IR26/1513/24.