RUTHERFURD, John (?1748-1834), of Edgerstone, Roxburgh.

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



1802 - 1806
1806 - 1812

Family and Education

b. ?1748, 1st s. of John Rutherfurd, adv., of Edgerstone by Elinor, da. of Sir Gilbert Elliot, 2nd Bt., of Minto, SCJ (Lord Minto). educ. adv. 1770; L. Inn 1771. m. 15 June 1787, Mary Ann, da. of Maj.-Gen. Hon. Alexander Leslie, s.p. suc. fa. 1758.

Offices Held

Maj. southern fencibles 1780; capt. W. Roxburgh yeomanry 1797, maj. commdt. 1798-9; lt.-col. commdt. Roxburgh vols. 1803; vice-lt. Roxburgh 1803-d.


Rutherfurd, who had a good estate and was heir of Baron Robert Rutherfurd of Fairnington, declared his candidature for Roxburghshire in 1787, under the aegis of the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch. His father had been county Member 50 years before. His unpopularity was reported to be as positive as that of the sitting Member, Sir George Douglas, was negative, for he was ‘snappish, petulant and assuming’.1 He declined a compromise with his kinsman Sir Gilbert Elliot*, who ensured his defeat at the election of 1790. Rutherfurd petitioned unsuccessfully against the return and was expected to remain Elliot’s competitor for the county, but in the summer of 1794 he renounced it. Soon afterwards he acquired most of his father-in-law’s fortune, which was expected to change his mind; but it did not, and he assured Buccleuch, 16 Feb. 1796, that although his windfall enabled him to consider becoming county Member in place of Douglas, he preferred Douglas’s continuing or the adoption of another candidate to coming in himself or swallowing Sir Gilbert Elliot’s return.2 Buccleuch accordingly considered him out of the question, but in 1802 procured his return for Selkirkshire.

As far as is known, Rutherfurd was a silent Member. He followed Buccleuch’s political line, almost certainly voting for Pitt’s question for the orders of the day, 3 June 1803, and certainly with Pitt on the defence questions that brought down Addington’s ministry, 23, 25 Apr. 1804. He went on to support Pitt’s second ministry, appearing in the government minority against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. William Adam described him in February 1806 as ‘more a Pittite than a Dundas man’. He was not well disposed to the Grenville ministry, voting against them on the American intercourse bill, 17 June 1806. Meanwhile he had resumed his pretensions in Roxburghshire, becoming vice-lieutenant in December 1803; he would even have sought the lieutenancy on the death of the 3rd Duke of Roxburghe soon afterwards, if Buccleuch had not coveted it. In April 1806 he canvassed the county in opposition to Gilbert Elliot*, whose father was convinced that ‘mere pride, or perhaps rivalship’ inspired him, since he was secure in his seat for Selkirkshire and could have ‘no very rational object ... except that of disappointing us’. In the event he was returned unopposed, boasting that he had engaged in everything that was for the good of his native county from early life, ‘roads, bridges, infantry and cavalry’.3

In February 1808 Rutherfurd was reported very ill at Bath and unable to attend Parliament. His membership of the finance committee was therefore ineffective—he was dropped from it in 1809. He was not expected to offer again for the county, though he was, as Gilbert Elliot put it, ‘much the most formidable adversary we can have’. Was he the ‘Mr Rutherfurd’ whom Lord Melville assured Buccleuch he would have placed at the Admiralty had he resumed office there?4 He appeared in the government minorities of 23 Feb. and 5 Mar. 1810 on the Scheldt inquiry. He was duly listed ‘against the Opposition’ by the Whigs, but Lady Minto quoted him as saying ‘he had stayed to vote with ministers three times in a minority and he told them he would not stay to do so in a fourth’. This, and a report of his coming away from London ‘rather than vote for Lord Chatham’, were the basis of a supposition that he had fallen out with Buccleuch politically when in January 1811 Rutherfurd (who was in the government minority on the Regency on New Year’s day) admitted that he meant to retire at the dissolution. He himself had said nothing of the kind previously, alluding merely to a former wish to retire at the end of the previous Parliament if it had not been so short, and to his present inability to meet pressure for favours from his constituents. Lady Minto reported: ‘Rutherfurd cannot write, that’s to say he does it awkwardly on all public affairs, and has several times desired Gilbert [Elliot] to take this upon him which properly belonged to the Member’.5 At any rate he was apparently ineffective for the remainder of the Parliament. He took three leaves of absence from 29 Apr. 1812 until the dissolution.

Although he had suggested that his commitment to Alexander Don* as his successor was political but not personal, and that he would not canvass for him, Rutherfurd could not resist a ‘petulant’ opposition to the success of Gilbert Elliot at the election of 1812, when he was chosen praeses. If he expected to act as Alexander Don’s mentor, he was to be disappointed. Rutherfurd died 6 May 1834, ‘aged 85’. He was in Sir Walter Scott’s view an ideal country gentleman.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. SRO GD267/3/15, G. to P. Home, 9 Feb. 1788.
  • 2. NLS mss 11137, f. 63; 11138, ff. 71, 123; 13340, Adm. J. to Sir G. Elliot, 26 Jan., 24 May 1795; SRO GD224/581, Rutherfurd to Buccleuch, 16 Feb. 1796.
  • 3. NLS mss 11056, ff. 71, 85; 11061, ff. 24, 29; 13341, Tulloch to Elliot, 21 Nov. 1806.
  • 4. Ibid. 11087, ff. 72, 83, 93, 165; SRO GD224/668/12/18, Melville to Buccleuch [1 Apr. 1807.]
  • 5. NLS mss 11081, ff. 234, 238; 11804, W. to G. Elliot, 19 Jan. 1811.
  • 6. Ibid. 11082, f. 131; 13341, Elliot to Minto, 21 Nov. [1819]; Gent. Mag. (1834), ii. 557; Lockhart, Scott (1837), iv. 309n.