CAMPBELL COLQUHOUN, Archibald (c.1754-1820), of Killermont, Dunbarton.

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



1807 - July 1810
13 July 1810 - 8 Dec. 1820

Family and Education

b. c.1754, o.s. of John Campbell, formerly Coates, merchant, of Clathic, Perth, ld. provost of Glasgow, by Agnes, da. and h. of Laurence Colquhoun of Killermont. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1769, adv. 1779. m. 19 Sept. 1796 Mary Anne, da. of Rev. William Erskine, episcopalian minister of Muthill, Perth, 2s. 6da. suc. fa. and took additional name of Colquhoun 13 Aug. 1804.

Offices Held

Ld. advocate Mar. 1807-July 1816; commr. of inquiry, administration of justice in Scotland Nov. 1808; ld. clerk register July 1816-d.

Sheriff, Perth 1793-1807; officer, Edinburgh vol. inf. 1793; capt. E. Kilpatrick vols. 1798, Dunbarton vols. 1804; rector, Glasgow Univ. 1807-9.


Campbell, the son of a respectable Glasgow merchant, and a reputable advocate, assumed the additional name of Colquhoun in 1804 when he succeeded to his mother’s family estate in Dunbartonshire. The Duke of Montrose, commending him to Pitt, 21 Nov. 1804, described him as a friend of the chief baron’s whose claims to be lord advocate were superior to those of Sir James Montgomery, as he was

without dispute a man of higher legal character, of superior eloquence, of known spirit, and acknowledged by all ... acquainted with Scotland, and particularly by the bar ... more capable of the duties of advocate, as a lawyer or debater ... Mr Colquhoun has been most distinguished for his zeal, and forwardness, in resisting Jacobinical principles of all kinds, and was one of the first to propose taking up arms, in that corps (the first regiment of Edinburgh volunteers) which was the first corps of volunteer infantry, composed of gentlemen; and which measure was attended with great effect at the time, particularly in Scotland. Mr Colquhoun was also always distinguished for his attachment to Mr Pitt’s administration, and could not I will venture to affirm ... have been passed over, except for some extraordinary reason.

The duke then protested that his friends in Scotland were being proscribed, and asked to resign office.1

Campbell Colquhoun was made lord advocate, with Lord Melville’s approbation, in Portland’s administration in 1807. He was commended, apart from his professional abilities, for his ‘unequivocal support of the protestant establishment in church and state’.2 There was a proposal to return him for Inverness Burghs, but he came in for Elgin Burghs, which he had cultivated. His chief business in Parliament was the promotion of Lord Chancellor Eldon’s bill for the reform of the Scottish judicature, which he publicly defended against Henry Erskine, and in the House against other critics. It came into operation in July 1808 and Campbell Colquhoun was in November one of the commission of inquiry into the administration of justice in Scotland, which in May 1810 reported in favour of trial by jury in civil cases, a proposal which was not implemented until 1815.3 He then supported it in the House.

While ‘in purely Scottish business his position gained him a hearing’, the lord advocate was thought not very successful as a speaker on other occasions: when in March 1809 he rose to acquit the Duke of York of blame for the charges against him, he was hooted down by clamour for the question; yet Perceval thought well of his effort.4 Colquhoun, who voted against parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810, was not particularly happy as a burghs Member, finding that his position as lord advocate entitled him to no additional hold over patronage.5 On a vacancy for Dunbartonshire in July 1810 he was returned unopposed with the support of the Duke of Montrose and left secure in the seat for the rest of his life.

On 24 Nov. 1810 he informed Perceval from Edinburgh that he would not attend Parliament unless it was urgent: he had, at ministers’ behest, attended ‘much more than my predecessors had been accustomed or required to do’, and to the detriment of professional emolument, domestic comfort and ‘to a certain extent of health’.6 When the Whig attempt to promote Henry Erskine as lord president was frustrated in May 1811, Colquhoun commented that he did not regret having voted with ministers ‘in favour of every one of the restrictions on the power of the Regent’, in the preceding winter. Colquhoun, who had not long since declined becoming a judge, was giving vent to his disappointment, in view of his ‘steady support’, that he was not considered for lord president, or failing that for lord justice clerk. Lord Melville was not partial to him and thought him well-to-do enough to stay put, but he wrested from Perceval what amounted virtually to a pledge that he should be the next lord clerk register. The fact was that neither Melville nor the Regent, nor the Whigs, would have swallowed his promotion and, as Perceval reminded him, it was not, as he readily assumed, automatic. Colquhoun’s ‘own systematic reserve’ had not helped matters and it was left to Montrose to mediate. Colquhoun capitulated.7 In the debate on the sinecure offices bill, 4 May 1812, he resisted the abolition of Scottish ones as a breach of the Act of Union. He took leaves of absence from 20 May, but in an election speech in October he applauded the Regent’s conduct in maintaining the ministry.8 He voted against Catholic relief, 24 May 1813.

In 1816 he succeeded Lord Frederick Campbell as lord clerk register, an appointment that was very unpopular with the friends of Henry Erskine and also with the Duke of Buccleuch, who wanted the place for Lord Home, or at least some other Scottish peerage family. The duke complained to Melville that ‘in order to make law arrangements five years since, it was necessary to carry this pledge to the political pawnbroker to be afterwards redeemed ... Lord Liverpool has got the advocate as a political supporter and has lost me’. Besides, he asked,

has the advocate shown much zeal in support of government? Do we not know how ill he has pulled with many of the friends of government? Is he not notoriously unpopular? As to myself I did once commit the blunder of asking him for a petty situation for a respectable friend which he refused.9

On 10 Feb. 1818 Colquhoun opposed Lord Archibald Hamilton’s motion against the persecution of state prisoners in Scotland, denying the charges brought forward. In the ensuing Parliament his leaves of absence became even more frequent than before. He was opposed to any kind of parliamentary reform as ‘endangering the whole fabric’.10 He died 8 Dec. 1820.11

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 5/111-12.
  • 2. SRO GD23/6/432.
  • 3. Omond, Lord Advocates of Scotland, ii. 224-9; DNB ; Perceval (Holland) mss B16; Scots Mag. (1808), 70, 149.
  • 4. Parl. Deb. xiii. 577-8; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3832.
  • 5. SRO GD51/364/15.
  • 6. Perceval (Holland) mss 21, f. 35.
  • 7. SRO GD51/5/479, 480/1, 3; 483/1, 2; 507/5; NLS mss 9, ff. 101, 103, 107, 111, 189, 224.
  • 8. Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 Oct. 1812.
  • 9. A. Fergusson, Life of Erskine, 531-2; Add. 38263, f. 6; SRO GD51/5/507/1, 2.
  • 10. SRO GD51/1/198/19/10; Blair Adam mss, Clerk to Adam, Mon. [20 May], Adam to J. Adam, 1 Sept. 1811; Perceval (Holland) mss F23, 66-69.
  • 11. Gent. Mag. (1820), ii. 573 (not 8 Sept. as in Omond, op. cit.).