MACKENZIE, Francis Humberston (1754-1815), of Brahan Castle, Ross.

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



1784 - 1790
1 May 1794 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 9 June 1754, 2nd s. of Maj. William Mackenzie, nephew of William, 5th Earl of Seaforth [S] (attainted 1716) by Mary, da. of Matthew Humberston of Humberston, Lincs.  m. 22 Apr. 1782, Mary, da. of Very Rev. Baptist Proby, dean of Lichfield, 4s. 6da. suc. bro. Thomas Frederick to Seaforth estates 1783; cr. Lord Seaforth 26 Oct. 1797.

Offices Held

Lt.-col. commdt. 78 Ft. 1793-6, half-pay 1796-8; brevet col. 1796, maj.-gen. 1802, lt.-gen. 1808.

Ld. lt. Ross 1794-d.; col. Ross militia 1798, 1802.

Gov. Barbados 1800-6.


Mackenzie, a ‘very intelligent’,1 forceful, crotchety but magnanimous man, overcame the handicaps of deafness and partial loss of speech and fully exercised both the rights and obligations of his position as chief of the Mackenzie clan. Personal extravagance and heavy investment in the improvement of his estates created financial problems, on account of which he decided in 1788 not to stand for Parliament at the next election. He spent much of the next few years on the island of Lewis which he owned, and his benevolent stewardship was praised by a visitor in 1791:

He has in his retirement from political life been incessantly employing himself in improving ... Lewis ... with great success, and the hopes of the people from his continued attention have entirely prevented the spirit of emigration from extending itself to that island. The improvements he has made in two years excite astonishment and his plans for introducing manufactures and agriculture amongst a rude and wholly ignorant people deserve the highest praise. The love and veneration which he thereby obtains from his people must be a high satisfaction to a good mind and he thereby keeps up as fully as in feudal times all the power and influence of a Highland chieftain.2

Mackenzie gave his seat in 1790 to the Whig man of business William Adam, who described him as ‘my old, and best friend, the object of such general adoration and respect, not by his own family only, but by all names and descriptions of gentlemen’. He deplored the electoral disarray of opposition in Scotland, as against the formidable efficiency of ‘that indefatigable manoeuvrer Dundas’, and fulfilled his promise ‘to chalk out the way in my part of the world’ by consolidating his own interest in Ross-shire, striving to gain control of Tain Burghs and supplying Adam with general intelligence. For all this, and his manifest loyalty to the Duke of Portland, his application to join Brooks’s in November 1789 was blackballed.3

On the outbreak of war with France, Mackenzie raised the 78th Highlanders. He added a second battalion in 1794 but never joined the regiment on active service and relinquished the command in 1796. The impact of events in France on domestic politics drew him out of retirement and he wrote to Adam early in 1793:

at present all regarding opposition appears to me confusion worse confounded and I see no prospect of the scattered fragments being ever again cemented into a firm mass of political confidence ... For the present I have promised my support to ministry and I am determined to give it fully, fairly and faithfully ... in the same unreserved manner I did to the other side. I can bear these French dogs hardly better than Burke; dancing I might agree to learn of them but damn their politics!

He regarded the conduct of the ‘third party’ as precipitate and divisive, but agreed with Portland ‘that it is really needful to be on the watch against the insidious plans of our enemies, both foreign and domestic, and it is entirely on that ground that I now support ministry’. Yet when Adam, who remained loyal to Fox, offered in February 1793 to surrender his seat, he would not hear of it; nor did his political disagreement with Fox prevent him from contributing to the subscription to defray his debts.4

In March 1794 it was agreed that Adam, who expected to find a berth at Banbury, should hand over the Ross-shire seat. The collapse of the Banbury scheme embarrassed Mackenzie, but he felt unable to go back on the arrangement, as he told Adam, 31 Mar.:

be assured no disagreement in political opinions should have induced me to consent to your vacating, if I had not thought you sure of a seat, but after the vacating was declared, I confess I felt great pain at the idea of forcing you out of Parliament and yet my situation was so delicate that I feared to act as my heart wished ... I hope we shall soon meet again in St. Stephen’s ... and though we shall not divide together, yet we may perhaps now and then accommodate each other in a friendly way with a pair off.

On his return to the House he gave silent support to government. Some time before the dissolution of 1796 he was promised a peerage by Dundas, and at the general election he returned a kinsman of the minister for Ross-shire.5 He received the peerage in 1797. As an able and vigorous governor of Barbados from 1800 to 1806 he strove to ameliorate the lot of the slaves. He played no significant part in national politics thereafter, but continued to return a Member for Ross-shire and for Tain Burghs, in rotation with Lady Sutherland. His relations with Dundas remained cordial, but he sided with the Whigs on the Regency question in 1811.

His later years were blighted by misfortune. His financial embarrassments compelled him to sell part of the ‘gift land’ of his house, the barony of Kintail, as well as other parcels of his estates. In 1814, the only survivor of his four sons died unmarried. He himself died, physically and mentally broken, 11 Jan. 1815. This tragic chapter of events was seen as the fulfilment of the prophecy made by the seer Kenneth Mackenzie before his execution by the 3rd Lady Seaforth in the reign of Charles II, that in the days of a deaf and dumb caber feidh the ‘gift land’ of the house would be sold and the male line of Seaforth come to an end.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: D. G. Henry / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 51.
  • 2. Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 613.
  • 3. Blair Adam mss, Adam to Mrs Mackenzie, 17 July 1790; Ginter, Whig Organization, 5-6, 115-20, 181-3.
  • 4. Blair Adam mss, Mackenzie to Adam, 28 Jan., 3, 12, 26 Feb., reply 12 Feb. 1793; Portland mss PwF47.
  • 5. Blair Adam mss; SRO GD46/4/119/3.
  • 6. A. Mackenzie, Prophecies of the Brahan Seer (1909), 74-75, 82-93.