Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Alternated with Nairnshire

Number of voters:

6 in 1790 rising to 12 in 1808


 Alexander Brodie3

Main Article

The compiler of the Whig electoral survey of 1788 considered the leading interests in Cromarty to be those of Robert Bruce Aeneas Macleod of Cadboll; John Mackenzie (‘Lord Macleod’), a kinsman and friend of Henry Dundas, who had recovered the forfeited earldom of Cromarty estates in 1784; and Alexander Gray Ross of Over Skibo, an army agent, who in 1786 had inherited the property of George Ross of Cromarty, Member for the county in the 1780 Parliament. Eight of the 18 voters on the roll were thought to have become invalid, including the independent William Pulteney*, Member for Cromarty 1768-1774, a lowland interloper, whose interest, established in alliance with George Ross by purchase and litigation, had been in decline for some years. It was known that the nabob Alexander Brodie*, who was due to become eligible for enrolment on 4 Jan. 1790, intended to stand with the backing of Macleod of Cadboll and Dundas; but not certain whether his opponent would be Gray Ross or Duncan Davidson of Tulloch, a wealthy London West India merchant.1

On 15 Oct. 1788 the Whig Francis Humberston Mackenzie* of Seaforth wrote to William Adam:

Why do you not spirit up our friends to some active outdoor exertion ... Lord Macleod is at the point of death. It is worth while to consider in that case if we cannot do something in Cromartyshire. At least a little activity and information can do us no harm.

Macleod died in April 1789 and his estates passed to his cousin Kenneth Mackenzie. Seaforth told Adam, 20 Jan. 1790, that the previous autumn Mackenzie had ‘seemed angry at Brodie being proposed as the man for Cromarty’, but that he suspected that Dundas had since then ‘sweetened on him’ to ‘make him digest Brodie’s introduction’. Yet subsequent events suggest that Dundas was unable to do more than persuade Mackenzie to remain neutral. At the Michaelmas head court of 1789 an attack was made on the nominal voters, particularly those who had survived from the Pulteney regime, and the new roll numbered only eight. Brodie informed Dundas that as one of them, Hugh Rose of Aitnoch, was almost certain to be struck off on appeal to the court of session, ‘the state of the votes will be four to three in my favour’ by the time his own vote became eligible for enrollment. One of the hostile voters was Pulteney, but Brodie believed he would be ‘rather averse to make the trip north, and perhaps more so, to take the trust oath’.2

At the general election in 1790 Davidson came forward to oppose Brodie, who was already sure of a seat for Elgin Burghs. The conduct of the sheriff, Donald Macleod of Geanies, a Whig sympathizer, had an important bearing on the outcome. He initially agreed to Dundas’s request for the election to be delayed until after 15 July, when a number of new voters in Brodie’s interest would become eligible for admission to the roll; but five days later he told the minister that it had been impressed upon him that by so doing he would

deprive some gentlemen who stand on the roll ... of the power to attend the election, most necessary avocations calling them to distant parts of the country at that time without the power of returning on a later day, and having made these arrangements on my implied goodwill towards Mr Davidson, which I had at times expressed to himself. Having had that matter explained to me ... I am decided that by depriving those now on the roll of the power of attending I would have done ... palpable and flagrant injury ... I never gave Mr Brodie room to expect that I would act with partiality towards him ... though I respect and esteem him, and I am persuaded he will have the candour to say so. I have now determined to fix the election for the 8th of July.

Brodie attributed Macleod’s change of mind to the intervention of Pulteney, who had in fact turned up for the election. The Duke of Portland wondered why he had given Dundas ‘any hopes’ in the first place, and Macleod himself was at pains to justify his conduct to Adam. It appears that the writ went astray at some point, an occurrence which Brodie considered additionally detrimental to his chances. Only six voters plus Brodie, who had yet to be enrolled, attended the election meeting. The six were evenly divided, but Pulteney, as the last person to have represented the county, was chairman and therefore had the casting vote for the choice of praeses. While Brodie’s admission to the roll would on paper have given him victory by four votes to three, it appears that Davidson’s friends were intent on striking off the vote of Brodie’s supporter James Fraser of Culduthill when it came to the choice of Member and using Pulteney’s casting vote as praeses to return Davidson. Brodie seems to have threatened litigation and an accommodation was reached whereby Davidson was to be left ‘unmolested for four years’ and would then vacate for a candidate nominated by Brodie’s supporters, Macleod of Cadboll and David Urquhart of Braelangwell. Accordingly, Fraser of Culduthill retired from the proceedings and Davidson was duly returned by Pulteney’s casting vote. Brodie wrote to Dundas:

I flatter myself you will think we have made the best of our situation and that in future the county must be at the command of your friends for at least the present generation; a circumstance which ought to convince ... [Kenneth] Mackenzie of Cromarty that it would have been wise in him to have taken a more decided part, where you so warmly interested yourself.3

At the 1790 Michaelmas head court Brodie and Macleod of Cadboll secured the admission of seven new nominal voters to the roll, but the exact terms of the election compromise were not fulfilled, for in 1793 Dundas agreed to a request from Davidson that he should be allowed to keep the seat for the remainder of the Parliament, because he had supported government and promised to continue doing so. Macleod of Cadboll, Brodie and Urquhart acquiesced in the arrangement.4

In 1802 Dundas and his friends had the disposal of the Cromarty seat and Dundas gave it to Mackenzie of Seaforth (now Lord Seaforth) for his brother-in-law Alexander Mackenzie of Inverallochy, to prevent them from creating trouble for his kinsman Sir Charles Ross in Ross-shire. Mackenzie drove Ross out of Ross-shire in 1806 and the following year Macleod of Cadboll was returned unopposed for Cromarty, presumably with Lord Melville’s blessing.5 The Cadboll interest met no opposition in 1818 when Roderick Macleod took the seat, but, unlike his father, he sided with the Whigs in the House.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, pp. 84-88.
  • 2. Blair Adam mss; W. Ferguson, ‘Electoral Law and Procedure in 18th and early 19th Century Scotland’ (Glasgow Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1957), i. 290-1.
  • 3. NLS mss 1, ff. 23, 25; H. Furber, Henry Dundas, 229-31; Ginter, Whig Organization, 199; Blair Adam mss, Macleod to Adam, 6 July 1790; Pol. State of Scotland 1790, pp. 74-75; SRO GD51/1/198/23/1, 2.
  • 4. Ferguson, i. 291; NLS mss 1053, ff. 25-29; 1055, ff. 78-82.
  • 5. NLS mss 1001, f. 91; 1054, f. 28.