DON, Alexander (c.1779-1826), of Newton Don, Berwick.
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Family and Education
b. c.1779, o.s. of Sir Alexander Don, 5th Bt., by Lady Harriet Cunningham, da. of William, 13th Earl of Glencairn [S], sis. and coh. of John, 15th Earl. educ. Eton 1788-96. m. (1) 1809, Lucretia (d. 19 Feb. 1817), da. of George Montgomerie (formerly Molineux) of Garboldisham Hall, Norf. s.p.s.; (2) 19 Aug. 1824, Grace Jane, da. of John Stein*, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. as 6th Bt. 5 June 1815.
Capt. Roxburgh militia 1802, Berwick yeoman cav. 1810-13; capt. Roxburgh yeomanry 1814, maj. 1821.
Don’s father was interested in contesting Berwickshire in 1788, if the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch concurred, but nothing came of it. Don was detained at Verdun after the resumption of war with France in 1803 and wrote to Lord Dalkeith, 6 July 1804, anxious about his ‘racing concerns’ at home. There was ‘a very good race course’ at Verdun, which was more or less ‘an English town’ with ‘very tolerable wine’ and ‘very much better society than we could have any reason to expect’, though ‘the English ladies here are rather below par’. On 18 May 1806 he again wrote, in expectation of an exchange of prisoners, meanwhile consoling himself with quail shooting. On 7 June 1807 he begged Dalkeith to secure his exchange for a Monsieur D’Aure, through Lord Melville. In the end he escaped from Paris.1 Gilbert Elliot wrote, 3 Apr. 1810:
Young Don is just arrived from France ... and whether he has lived happily or not, I assure you that he has lived fast, for he looks almost as old as his father. We were all very much disappointed in him, for he certainly promised to turn out clever at one time ... I am afraid that he must aspire to no higher character than that of a rake, which he seems to have in great perfection ... In the seven years which he passed in France he has spent above £78,000; he has still about £900 a year of his estate remaining, so that he might do well if he is tolerably prudent, which he professes to intend.2
In January 1811 Don, who had been expected to turn his attentions first to Berwickshire, was sponsored for Roxburghshire by the Duke of Buccleuch, as successor to John Rutherfurd, who meant to retire at the dissolution and who fully approved, if he did not suggest, Don. Gilbert Elliot, his competitor, could not believe that a virtual stranger of doubtful character stood a chance. Although Don malingered at Doncaster races, the election was near run and, according to his friend the novelist Walter Scott, he acquitted himself admirably, being ‘firm, gentle and good-humoured’ and, in an ‘unpremeditated’ speech, showed ‘a great talent for public speaking’.3 He gave up a threatened petition against the return and when Gilbert Elliot succeeded to the title in 1814, replaced him unopposed.
Don was not a regular attender. He voted against opposition on the civil list and the Regent’s expenditure, 8 and 31 May 1815. He was in the minority in favour of Catholic relief, 30 May 1815, and on 5 Mar. 1816 justified his constituents’ moderate petition against the property tax. This, despite his ‘great talent’, was his only reported speech before 1820. In January 1817 his wife’s fatal illness prevented his attending in response to a government circular—he asked the Scottish Whig whip Maule for a pair.4 He took a month’s leave for bereavement on 5 June. Next session he felt unable to resist their pressure5 and he appeared in the government majorities of 10 Feb. on the conduct of the Scottish law officers and 5 Mar. on the employment of spies.
To judge by Don’s animosity towards George Baillie in the Berwickshire election of 1818, he had hoped that Baillie’s retirement would have opened that county to him. He ‘would have preferred being the representative for the county of Berwickshire on his own interest instead of being the nominee of a noble personage in a neighbouring county’.6 In fact Don, who arrived late for his re-election, proved unamenable to his patron’s control, or rather, the supervisory attentions of his patron’s friend John Rutherfurd, as was demonstrated at the county meeting of November 1819, when his alarmist resolutions were so violent that Lord Minto felt bound to oppose them, though unsuccessfully.7 His only reported act in that Parliament was to vote for the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June 1819, after taking two leaves of absence in April and May.
Don died 11 Apr. 1826 of a heart disease. Sir Walter Scott blamed his ‘gay habits’ and ‘indolence’ on his mother’s fortune, but remarked that
he possessed strong natural parts, and in particular few men could speak better in public when he chose. He had tact, with power of sarcasm, and that indescribable something which marks the gentleman. His manners in society were extremely pleasing, and as he had a taste for literature and the fine arts, there were few more agreeable companions, besides being a highly spirited, steady, and honourable man.8
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. SRO GD224/31, Don to Dalkeith, 6 July 1804, 18 May 1806, 7 June 1807; J. G. Alger, Napoleon’s British Visitors and Captives 1801-1815, p. 212; Sir James Campbell of Ardkinglas, Mems. ii. 206, 210.
- 2. NLS mss 11087, f. 184.
- 3. NLS mss 11081, ff. 234, 238; 11088, f. 9; 11804, W. to G. Elliot, 19 Jan. 1811; SRO GD224/31, Rutherfurd to Buccleuch, 30 Sept., Scott to same, 3 Nov. 1812.
- 4. SRO GD51/1/186; Add. 51828, Maule to Holland, 24 Jan. 1817.
- 5. Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 10 Mar. 1818.
- 6. NLS mss 13434, Baillie to Minto, 7 July, anon to Baillie [9 July 1818].
- 7. Ibid. 13441, Elliot to Minto, 21 Nov. 1819.
- 8. Lockhart, Scott (1837), vi. 289.