DALRYMPLE (afterwards DALRYMPLE HAMILTON), Hew Hamilton (1774-1834), of North Berwick, Haddington and Bargany, Ayr.

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



26 Nov. 1795 - May 1800
5 Apr. 1803 - 1807
22 Mar. 1811 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 3 Jan. 1774, 1st s. of Sir Hew Dalrymple, 3rd Bt., of North Berwick by his cos. Janet, da. of William Duff of Crombie, Ayr; bro. of John Dalrymple*, educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1791. m. 19 May 1800, Hon. Jane Duncan, da. of Adam, 1st Visct. Duncan, by Henrietta, da. of Robert Dundas of Arniston, 1da. suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 14 Feb. 1800 and took name of Hamilton.

Offices Held

Ensign, 1 Ft. Gds. 1792, lt. and capt. 1794; maj. 28 Drag. 1799-c.1800; lt.-col. Ayr militia 1802-6.


Dalrymple’s father sat for Haddingtonshire from 1780 until 1786, supported by family interest and that of Henry Dundas, to whom he was closely attached. His reward was the auditorship of the excise in Scotland. As soon as Dalrymple came of age, with some expectation of coming in for Haddington Burghs as a bargaining counter, he was returned on a vacancy for the county with the same support and held the seat unopposed until he gave it up soon after his father’s death in 1800. He then found that he was left ‘with a very limited income’, though possessed of estates that might, if unencumbered by a lawsuit over the Bargany inheritance, have been worth £20,000 a year.1 Like his father he was expected to support government and he did so silently.

Dalrymple’s father had succeeded his uncle John Hamilton of Bargany to his Ayrshire estate in 1796 and assumed the name of Hamilton before Dalrymple; Dalrymple, on his father’s death, reversed this and became Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton. While his father’s ambition was to make good his claim to the extinct peerage of Bargany, Hamilton was content to solicit an Irish peerage. To facilitate it, he had become reconciled to Dundas in the summer of 1797 after some doubts had arisen as to his ‘fidelity in his opinion’ and had secured his father’s agreement to give up his place for Dundas’s convenience.2 Nothing came of this, but in July 1800 Hamilton reminded Dundas, whose niece he had recently married, that an Irish peerage was his aim, though only as a stepping stone to a British peerage.3

In April 1803 he was returned for Ayrshire unopposed at the instigation of Lord Melville, who had restrained him at the election of 1802, and with the support of Lord Eglintoun, who was his wife’s uncle. Melville assured him (and Hamilton was alleged to be reluctant) that this move would afford him ‘the best chance of being promoted to the peerage’.4 Hamilton aligned himself with Pitt’s friends and voted for Pitt’s question for the orders of the day, 3 June 1803. He voted against government on 23 and 25 Apr. 1804, on Fox’s and Pitt’s defence motions, having previously begged Melville to come to London and muster his friends for this ‘trial of strength’. He was listed a supporter of Pitt’s second ministry and on 8 Apr. 1805 appeared in the minority against the censure of Melville. On 27 Mar. 1805 he presented his constituents’ petition against the corn bill and was at that time in charge of the Ardrossan harbour bill. Late in 1804, in view of his unresolved financial problems he had applied to Melville for ‘Col. Hamilton’s office’, then vacant, and in August 1805 he again applied to be lord clerk register or something ‘of that class’ in Scotland, needing the income.5

On the advent of the Grenville ministry in 1806, Hamilton was in something of a quandary. Nothing had been done by the preceding government to satisfy his desire for a peerage; but by his own account, he disliked a ministry in which Fox was so prominent and was unwilling to pledge them his support. Thus on 3 Mar. he voted against Ellenborough’s having a seat in the cabinet, but on 14 Apr. he joined Brooks’s Club and on 30 Apr. voted with the government majority for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act. He presented a bill for the improvement of the harbour at Dunbar, 13 May. Meanwhile Eglintoun, who resented Hamilton’s hold on county patronage and his willingness to assume that he sat on his own interest for Ayrshire, took exception to his independent conduct and would have looked for another nominee, but for Hamilton’s holding him to an unguarded promise of support given in January 1806. Hamilton reinforced his position in October when, Fox being dead, he felt able to pledge support to Grenville’s ministry; of this he informed Melville, whom he had ceased to consult and who knew that he had already shown his willingness to come to terms with the ministers, by offering them a seat for Haddington Burghs, to which he occasionally had the nomination.6 Hamilton was perfectly aware of the fact that he had alienated Eglintoun and could not count on conciliating him in future, so he attempted a bargain with Lord Grenville, reminding him of his wish for a peerage:

From extent of property I am one of the first commoners in Scotland. My family have at various times represented three counties and two sets of boroughs ... and I am myself the representative of a peer whose property in addition to others I actually possess.

He suggested that he might continue to sit for Ayrshire if the title were bestowed first on his mother. With his own interest in Haddington, shire and burghs, and that of his brother-in-law Lord Duncan, he could muster four votes, three in the Commons. When this application was not met, Hamilton asked instead to be receiver-general of the land tax, customs, or the privy seal in Scotland, ‘whichever happens first to be vacant’, to be vacated on his obtaining a peerage. As Melville remarked at the time:

I have no doubt he is as firm a supporter of the present government as he was of the last; and perhaps if my friends were again in power the same sense of public duty which now leads him to support Lord Grenville, might likewise induce him to support his successor. Those who indulge themselves in such speculations would conjecture that the title of Bargany was the favourite idol, but I have no pleasure in hunting after such criticisms.7

Having been returned unopposed in 1806, Hamilton supported ministers and went on to vote for Brand’s motion after their dismissal, 9 Apr. 1807. All his efforts to placate Eglintoun having failed, for the latter linked Lord Grenville and Hamilton in the alleged conspiracy against his consequence in the county, Hamilton had to face a contest in which both Eglintoun and Melville were ranged against him in the following month. He claimed to have lost votes from the cry of ‘No Popery’ and, when he was narrowly defeated, Grenville acknowledged him as a party martyr. Whigs with long memories thought Hamilton was hoist with his own petard, having involved Melville in Ayrshire politics in the first place and then deserted him, and even now they were cynical about Hamilton’s future loyalty if tempted with a peerage, or safely seated for the county. In October 1809, anticipating a change of ministry before long, he reminded Grenville of his wishes, stipulating the office of collector general of the land tax in Scotland.8

Hamilton resolved to recover his seat and in May 1810, when the rumours of his successful opponent Boyle’s legal promotion arose, he launched his campaign. It was not until March 1811 that the by-election materialized and Hamilton had a formidable opponent in Eglintoun’s brother, supported by the Melville and Treasury interests: professing attachment to Grenville and also to the independence of the county, he surprised himself by a narrow victory, which, together with his provocative speech, so incensed his opponents that he had to recommence canvassing at once.9 Writing to Grenville to congratulate him on refusing office rather than betray his principles in February 1812, he added that he had been detained in Scotland for some time, though he was ready to attend if a full-strength muster of opposition was required. He also hinted that his support of Catholic relief must depend on the preservation of the veto on the election of Catholic bishops.10 Nevertheless he voted for Catholic relief, 24 Apr. 1812, and for Parnell’s motion on Irish tithes, 23 June. On 4 May he was in the opposition majority on the sinecure offices bill.

Hamilton survived another contest with Eglintoun’s brother in 1812 and, despite Melvillite efforts to wean him over to government, continued to vote with the Grenvilles in opposition when present: against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb., for Burdett’s Regency motion, 23 Feb., in favour of Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 13 and 24 May 1813, against the Speaker’s conduct on that subject, 22 Apr., for Williams Wynn’s motion on the blockade of Norway, 12 May 1814, and for Romilly’s motion against the continuation of the militia in peacetime, 28 Feb. 1815; but against Whitbread’s motion on behalf of the Spanish Liberals, 1 Mar. In 1814 he had gone to Paris with his wife and daughter and proposed staying there for the education of the latter, feeling no inclination to attend Parliament, unless pressed to do so. After a brief stay in England (he paired with opposition on 14 Apr. 1815) he returned to Paris in the wake of Buonaparte to safeguard his family and subsequently followed Wellington’s last campaign. He spent the autumn in Switzerland and intended to winter there, but was called home by Scottish domestic business: of this he informed Grenville, offering to attend Parliament if required urgently.11 On 28 Feb., 6, 8 and 11 Mar. 1816 he was in the minorities on the army estimates, as also on the navy estimates, 27 Mar. He had paired against the continuation of the property tax on 18 Mar. On 3 Apr. he voted for Tierney’s motion on the secretaries of state. On 25 Apr. he took leave of absence. He was in the minority on the address, 29 Jan. 1817, on the composition of the finance committee, 7 Feb., and on 17 and 25 Feb. supported opposition motions for Admiralty retrenchment. Despite what Lord Sidmouth admonishingly referred to as his ‘wicked politics’, Hamilton scarcely ever uttered in the House. In October 1817 he informed his friends confidentially that he was not going to contest the county at the next election, as the inevitable contest would damage his finances; and he proceeded to France with wife and daughter for the remainder.12

In 1818 he duly withdrew from Ayrshire elections and in the next Parliament fell back on Haddington Burghs, on his own interest. He died a commoner without male issue, 23 Feb. 1834.13

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Dundas of Arniston mss, Melville to Sir A. Fergusson (copy), 13 Jan. 1807; Fortescue mss, Hamilton to Grenville, 9 Oct. 1806.
  • 2. SRO GD51/1/41/1, 2; 51/1/198/12/3.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/58/1.
  • 4. Fortescue mss, Hamilton to Grenville, 9 Oct. 1806.
  • 5. SRO GD51/1/198/3/38; 51/1/198/21/25; 51/6/1474.
  • 6. Fortescue mss, Eglintoun to Grenville, 28 Oct., reply 29 Oct. 1806; Dundas of Arniston mss, Melville to Sir A. Fergusson, 13 Jan. 1807; SRO GD51/1/104.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, Hamilton to Grenville, 7 Aug., 9 Oct. 1806; Dundas of Arniston mss, Melville to Sir A. Fergusson, 13 Jan. 1807.
  • 8. See AYRSHIRE; Spencer mss, Cassillis to Spencer, 8 July 1806, 8 June 1810, Grenville to same, 20 Feb. 1811; Fortescue mss, Hamilton to Grenville, 4 Oct. 1809.
  • 9. Spencer mss, Hamilton to Spencer, 20 May 1810; see AYRSHIRE; SRO GD51/1/198/3/56.
  • 10. Fortescue mss, Hamilton to Grenville, 21 Feb. 1812.
  • 11. Ibid. same to same, 19 Jan., 28 Mar., 15 June 1815, 21 Jan. 1816.
  • 12. Add. 40272, f. 217; Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to Hamilton, 10 May 1815; SRO GD46/17/48, Hamilton to Stewart Mackenzie, 14 Oct. 1817.
  • 13. Gent. Mag. (1834), i. 553.