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

Background Information

Number of voters:

65 in 1790 reduced to 41 in 1811


 Robert Graham3
15 May 1797 ALEXANDER TELFER SMOLLETT vice Bontine, vacated his seat 
7 Nov. 1799 JAMES COLQUHOUN vice Smollett, deceased 
 Lord John Douglas Edward Henry Campbell15
22 Feb. 1806 HENRY GLASSFORD vice Colquhoun, vacated his seat 
13 July 1810 ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL COLQUHOUN vice Glassford, vacated his seat 
19 July 1816 ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL COLQUHOUN re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

The two leading interests in the county in 1788 were those of Lord Elphinstone, whose brother was the sitting Member, and the Duke of Montrose, managed by his son the Marquess of Graham. It had been settled in 1784 that Elphinstone’s brother, a Foxite, should sit for that Parliament, while Montrose, a supporter of Pitt, should name the Member for the ensuing one. He was expected to name the lord advocate, but instead chose Sir Archibald Edmonstone, a former Member for the county, who had a respectable interest and was connected with the Duke of Argyll, who had the third interest in Dunbartonshire. The compromise itself was seemingly unknown to Dundas in August 1788, since he then expressed a wish to oust Keith Elphinstone, but Lord Elphinstone meanwhile had become a supporter of Pitt and the pact was not contested in 1790.1

On Edmonstone’s retirement in 1796, Montrose retained the upper hand and brought in William Bontine, younger of Gartmore, who had offered on 28 Nov. 1795 and whose father was just retiring from the representation of Stirlingshire. Nothing came of an application from Col. Colin Campbell to Dundas to promote his candidature, which the Duke of Argyll might have supported. A correspondent of Dundas in December 1795 had written: ‘I have not been able to fathom the Duke of Montrose’s politics in Dunbartonshire. I wish his Grace may not find himself grievously disappointed in the person he is bringing in.’ The duke was ‘grievously disappointed’. Not only was a token opposition put up by Bontine’s father to his nominee’s election, but in March 1797 Bontine informed him that having been returned on the understanding that he was ‘to act with his Majesty’s present ministers’, on which point the duke had pledged himself ‘to very many gentlemen of the county’, he now found he was unable in conscience to do so. The duke counselled reflection and delay, but Bontine replied, on 7 Apr., that he had to relieve himself of a situation where ‘obligations of private honour and of public duty’ were incompatible. The duke procured his resignation and Bontine informed the county on 1 May that he looked forward to the day when he might be returned on opposite principles. He was replaced by Lt.-Col. Smollett, younger of Bonhill, whose father belonged to the Elphinstone camp and who could be relied on to support administration. When Smollett was killed on the Helder in 1799, his seat went to James Colquhoun, younger of Luss, whose father’s interest was of importance to Montrose in the management of the county. Sir James Colquhoun assured Henry Dundas that his son was ‘warmly attached to our present happy constitution’ and would be more acceptable to the freeholders than his own brother Col. William Colquhoun, who aspired to the seat. James Oswald also wished to offer with Dundas’s support, but was evidently discouraged from doing so.2

In 1802 Montrose was obliged to compromise to retain his influence. His ambitions in Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire provoked the Duke of Argyll into opposition. In January 1802 Lord John Campbell who, as Sir James Colquhoun pointed out, already had a seat for Argyll, was induced to declare for Dunbartonshire. As a kinsman of the Argyll family, Colquhoun was disgruntled, but he was told that some of Argyll’s friends would rather support Henry Glassford than his son and was induced to give the preference to Lord John Campbell, if his son decided not to stand. This was thought in the Argyll camp to have secured them victory, but they reckoned without the Duke of Montrose’s disapproval. He was thought at first to have no candidate, for Colquhoun was of no use to him after the promise to Argyll, but by the end of January 1802 he had backed Henry Glassford. On the other hand, the Argyll camp knew that ministers would not interfere and secured Dundas’s neutrality in exchange for the Argyll interest in Stirlingshire, which encouraged them to hope that, although Colquhoun junior declared that he would stand for re-election, he would withdraw in favour of Lord John Campbell, throwing in his family’s four votes, which would be decisive. On 23 June the Duke of Argyll’s agent informed him that Lord John seemed safe: ‘the only danger to be apprehended is the other party joining Major Colquhoun’. The apprehension was warranted; as early as 30 Mar. 1802, Montrose had written to Gartmore, to whom he was now reconciled after the contretemps of 1797:

I beg leave confidentially to state to you that as Mr Glassford from circumstances cannot succeed directly in Dunbartonshire, we hope by returning Mr Colquhoun for the first part of the Parliament, (if our friends are obliging enough to agree to that arrangement) that Mr Glassford may succeed for the remainder. But till we hear from our friends individually, no engagement is to be entered into.

The stratagem succeeded. Glassford withdrew in favour of Colquhoun, who defeated Lord John Campbell by two votes. A petition was threatened by the latter, but dropped.3 In February 1806 Glassford succeeded Colquhoun, as arranged.

Glassford was not secure because he opposed the Grenville administration, which was willing to meet the Duke of Argyll’s wishes. The duke supported the candidature of Charles Edmonstone, whose aged father had, at least since 1801, been ambitious of the honour for him. The Duke of Montrose backed Glassford and frustrated an effort by William Adam to detach Lord Elphinstone’s interest from him, by holding Elphinstone to the ‘very old understanding’ between their families as to Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire. Adam, to make up for this, was indefatigable in other quarters and triumphantly informed Lord Grenville, 13 Nov. 1806, that the county stood ‘so balanced that Sir Archibald Edmonstone’s vote, which his capacity renders very uncertain as from age his intellect is not always clear, was the pivot on which it turned’. To achieve this balance, Adam had to promise, for instance, a ship to Capt. Smollett of Bonhill. Glassford did not go to the poll; and Cunninghame Bontine, who had proudly declared on 20 Oct. that ‘the change of circumstances’ alluded to by him in May 1797 now permitted him to offer himself, withdrew likewise, so furious at his failure to secure the Elphinstone interest that he threatened to act with Montrose.4

With the change of administration in 1807 the Duke of Montrose came into his own again and it was Glassford who was returned unopposed. Montrose had reinforced his position by renewing the alliance with Elphinstone and getting Lord Melville to secure other interests. The only danger was that Edmonstone would hold himself out ‘to be the government candidate’, but it proved illusory.5 In 1810 Glassford made way for the lord advocate, who had acquired his mother’s family estate in the county and was backed by Melville and by the Duke of Montrose. He was returned unopposed in 1810, 1812, 1818 and 1820 and it was to be his death which provoked the next contest. He was too strong for opposition: the Duke of Argyll informed Gartmore, 23 Mar. 1811, ‘with regard to Dunbartonshire, my brother [Lord John Campbell] will, I believe, stand for the county only if he is certain of succeeding. It would be unpleasant for him and perhaps not quite handsome to Argyllshire to do otherwise.’6

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, pp. 89, 91, 351; PRO 30/8/157, f. 43.
  • 2. SRO GD51/5/24/1; 51/1/198/8/2-4; Edinburgh Advertiser, 1-4 Dec. 1795; see BONTINE, W. C.; Pol. State of Scotland 1788, loc. cit.
  • 3. Argyll, Intimate Society Letters of the 18th Cent. ii. 503-11; Argyll mss, Sir J. Colquhoun to Ld. J. Campbell, 4 Jan.; Lorne to Argyll, 15 Jan.; The Times, 5 Feb.; SRO GD22/1/322, Montrose to Graham, 21 Jan., 30 Mar., Graham to Montrose, 26 Jan., 10 Feb., 15 Feb.; Blair Adam mss, Glassford to Adam, 26 Jan., 12 July, Montrose to same, 29 Jan. 1802; Add. 33109, f. 391.
  • 4. Fortescue mss, Grenville to Adam, 24 Oct. (original in Blair Adam mss), Adam to Grenville 2, 13 Nov. 1806; Argyll mss, Ferrier to Argyll, 23 Nov. 1801, to Ld. J. Campbell, 4 Apr.; Blair Adam mss, Adam to Argyll, 25 Oct., to Grenville, 2 Nov., Gibson to Adam 29 Oct.; Edinburgh Advertiser, 17-21 Oct. 1806.
  • 5. SRO GD51/1/198/8/5; see GLASSFORD, Henry; NLS mss 8, f. 172.
  • 6. SRO GD51/5/479; GD22/1/322, Argyll to Cunninghame Graham, 23 Mar. 1811.