Single Member Scottish County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 80 in 1760, 129 in 1773, and about 160 in 1788


25 Apr. 1754Lord John Murray 
21 Apr. 1761John Murray 
23 Mar. 1764David Graeme vice Murray, become a peer of Scotland40
 George Drummond27
31 Mar. 1768David Graeme 
11 June 1773James Murray vice Graeme, vacated his seat48
 Thomas Graham42
10 Nov. 1774James Murray 
21 Sept. 1780James Murray 
15 Apr. 1784James Murray 

Main Article

Perthshire was a centre of Jacobitism, and a high proportion of its freeholders, though entitled to enrolment, declined to qualify by taking the oaths of allegiance. The predominating interest in 1754 belonged to James Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl, who had displaced his attainted brother in the dukedom. Another brother, Lord George Murray, also attainted, lived in exile; while Atholl’s half-brother, Lord John Murray, represented Perthshire 1734-61. Other interests in the county were those of the Drummond family, the Earl of Breadalbane, the Haldanes of Gleneagles, the Duke of Montrose, and the Graeme and Graham families.

Lord John Murray was not popular in Perthshire, and at the general election of 1761 Atholl proposed to replace him by John Murray of Strowan, Lord George’s son, who had married Atholl’s daughter and who in October 1760 became heir presumptive to the dukedom. Lord John appealed to Newcastle and Hardwicke for support; Hardwicke consulted Lord Breadalbane, who replied on 5 Aug. 1760:

It is very certain that the present Member is disliked in the county and ’tis generally thought that ... the nephew will carry the election against him. But a great many gentlemen of consideration dislike them both, that is to say they want to get out of the hands of that family. ... I have been applied to by some of those gentlemen ... to recommend a candidate, but ... I thought this premature ... I since find that the number of the opposers of both the present candidates increases ... and that they are resolved to set up a third when they can agree upon a proper person ... I am very credibly informed that neither of the present candidates is absolutely sure of ten votes, though they are indefatigable in soliciting the gentlemen of the county, in which there are not above eighty who have a right of voting, which after deducting the absent, the minors, and those who have never qualified, may be reduced to about sixty.

Lord John listed 60 freeholders on the roll, 18 who were about to claim enrolment, and a further 18 who had never taken the oaths but still exercised considerable influence.1

A third candidate appeared in Robert Haldane of Gleneagles, but he secured little support, and when the Duke of Argyll gave his approval to John Murray’s candidature, Murray’s success seemed certain. The night before the election Lord John gave up the contest and joined his nephew, ‘upon which Mr. Haldane’s friends went away and did not vote’. John Murray was unanimously returned and the meeting passed a resolution of thanks to Lord John for his long services. A few hours after the election came the news of the Duke of Argyll’s death. Breadalbane commented to Hardwicke:

If the Duke of Argyll had died a little sooner, Mr. Murray would not have been chosen for this county ... where the apprehension of his resentment was of much greater service to that gentleman than his interest in the shire.2

Lord John, though formally reconciled to his nephew, continued to harbour resentment. When Atholl died on 8 Jan. 1764, John Murray did not immediately assume the title, pending confirmation by the Lords of his right of succession, but canvassing for the expected by-election started at once. Murray wrote to James Stuart Mackenzie on 12 Jan.:3

I hear no less than four candidates talked of, Mr. Haldane, Lord John Murray, Colonel Graeme, and Mr. Drummond of Blair. The three first I wish extremely well, but I lie under particular obligation to Mr. Drummond as at a time when I stood much in need of friends he declared himself early in my favour and was of very great assistance to me at ... my election.

But the Government intended the seat for David Graeme, the Queen’s secretary, and Stuart Mackenzie deplored Murray’s action in supporting Drummond without previous application to himself. Murray resented this dictation and declined to desert Drummond, particularly as the Graemes were attached to the rival Montrose interest. Stuart Mackenzie wrote to William Mure on 11 Feb.:4

To raise a flame in the country for Drummond to come into Parliament at 60 years old, just married to a young wife ... is in my mind as absurd a project as ever I heard of. Let me add too, in confidence, what cannot well be said but what everybody must feel, namely that all this bustle and opposition is to be made to the first person belonging to [the Queen] who has yet appeared among us as a candidate.

The new Duke proved intractable and refused to withdraw Drummond; Lord John Murray took his revenge by giving his vote and interest to Graeme; and Drummond was defeated.

In 1768 Graeme was returned unopposed, but when he vacated his seat in 1773 Atholl prepared to re-establish his interest in the person of his younger brother James. Graeme gave his interest to his kinsman Thomas Graham of Balgowan, but the Government interest was given to Murray. A third candidate also appeared: George Cockburn, who had succeeded to the Perthshire estates of his uncle Robert Haldane, and had taken the name of Haldane. James Abercrombie wrote to Lord Loudoun on 15 May 1773:5

As General Graeme had given his namesake previous notice of his design he has had the start, and it will probably be a near match, and if Haldane can get a few votes he may be the umpire between them.

And on 21 May:

By the Duke’s living so recluse I find he is no way popular in the county. Although there is 129 on the roll, I believe 40 would carry the election.

Lord John Murray now announced his candidature, but could obtain no support and gave his vote to his nephew. Haldane also withdrew and joined Murray, but still the issue was uncertain. At the election meeting the Atholl party won the contest for praeses by only two votes, and, after adjustment of the electoral roll, Murray was returned by six votes.

Atholl was perturbed by the narrowness of his victory, particularly as several electors publicly declared that they had voted with the majority only under pressure from Government. John Robinson wrote in a survey of Scottish constituencies shortly before the dissolution in 1774:

The Duke of Atholl ... resolved to set his opponents at defiance by making such a number of new votes against the next general election as should ever after secure the county to his family. This measure gave an alarm to several of the most considerable gentlemen in it, who ... also set about creating votes to counterbalance those of the Atholl family.6

Graham of Balgowan stood again in opposition to James Murray. A few days before the election Atholl, stricken with apoplexy, drowned himself in delirium. This event put a stop to canvassing; Graham withdrew, perhaps to avoid distressing the new Duke, and Murray was returned unopposed.

There was no contest in 1780 or 1784; but towards the end of this period there arose a new opposition, led by John Drummond of Megginch, ‘supported by many independent men ... not from an opposition to Mr. Pitt’s Administration, but in order to break the influence of the family of Atholl’.7

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Add. 35449, ff. 245, 272, 276, 300.
  • 2. Breadalbane to Hardwicke, Add. 35450, ff. 307, 311.
  • 3. Atholl Chrons. iv. 7.
  • 4. Caldwell Pprs. ii(1), pp. 235-6.
  • 5. Loudoun mss.
  • 6. Ld. Strathmore to the Duke of Portland, 20 July 1773, Portland mss; Laprade, 17.
  • 7. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 257.