Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of enrolled freeholders:

60 in 1820; 66 in 1826; 70 in 1830


30 July 1822SIR WILLIAM MAXWELL, bt. vice Hunter Blair, deceased20
 James McDouall8
28 June 1826SIR WILLIAM MAXWELL, bt. 
16 Aug. 1830SIR ANDREW AGNEW, bt. 
16 May 1831SIR ANDREW AGNEW, bt.17
 Hugh Hathorn16

Main Article

Wigtownshire was the western division of Galloway. It had several harbours, including Stranraer (on Loch Ryan in the north-west), Port Patrick (on the west coast) and Wigtown (on Wigtown Bay in the east). Stranraer and Wigtown were royal burghs, as was Whithorn; while Port Patrick was a burgh of barony, along with Glenluce and Newton Stewart.1 The county had had a convoluted electoral history between 1784 and 1816, when George Stewart, 8th earl of Galloway, of Galloway House, near Garlieston, the lord lieutenant (whose courtier father’s intrigues had at times sorely vexed Henry Dundas†), had acquiesced in the return of his former independent opponent James Hunter Blair of Dunskey in the room of his ailing brother, William Stewart of Cumloden. Hunter Blair had secured the backing also of Dundas’s son and successor, the 2nd Viscount Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager, who again endorsed him in 1818.2 The only other resident peer was the Whig John Dalrymple, 6th earl of Stair, of Lochinch Castle, Stranraer, who died in 1821 and was succeeded by his degenerate cousin John William Henry.

Galloway met Melville’s request for his continued support of Hunter Blair at the 1820 general election, when he came in unopposed.3 The freeholders petitioned the Commons against the additional Scottish malt duty, 2 June 1820, and barley growers petitioned for the free export of Scottish spirits to England, 24 May 1822.4 When Hunter Blair died suddenly in June 1822, James McDouall of Logan was encouraged by his father Andrew McDouall, independent Member for the county, 1784-96, 1802-5, to seek their kinsman Melville’s support. Melville saw him in London and ‘answered him that presuming his disposition to be in general friendly to the present administration, we should not in any case interfere against him, and should interfere in his favour if the other candidate should be in favour of the opposition’.5 McDouall was challenged by the one-armed Peninsular veteran Sir William Maxwell of Monreith, who had sat for the county, after McDouall senior, 1805-12, and, as he wrote in 1830, regarded himself as the founder of ‘political independence’ in Wigtownshire in successful defiance of the Galloway interest. (He had played a part, with his Foxite father, in thwarting the 7th earl’s attempt to return his son in 1802; but so had Andrew McDouall and others, and in his rare appearances in the House Maxwell had supported Tory ministries.) He too sought Melville’s endorsement, though he later claimed privately that he had come forward in 1822 to foil a ‘long formed’ plot by the McDoualls, Hugh Hathorn of Castlewigg, Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw, John Vans Agnew of Barnbarrock and Stair Hathorn Stewart of Glasserton, who were variously related to one another, ‘to form an oligarchy in the shire more odious than Lord Galloway’s sway’. He reckoned that they had planned to share the representation on a rotational basis. He easily defeated McDouall in a low key contest.6 In May 1825 Hathorn’s attorney son warned Melville that there was ‘a possibility of Wigtownshire politics taking a different turn’, as the late Lord Stair’s trustees had bought an estate thought to carry ‘seven or eight freeholds of old retour’, which Stair’s Whig kinsman (and eventual successor as 8th earl), Sir John Hamilton Dalrymple† of Oxenfoord, Edinburghshire, might exploit for his own benefit at the next election or whenever Maxwell, who had received support from the Stair interest, should choose to retire. Nothing came of this.7 In 1826 the freeholders and the inhabitants of Newton Stewart petitioned Parliament against interference with the Scottish banking system.8

Maxwell was returned unopposed at the general election of 1826, but he later wrote that he had only come in again in order to promote the ‘future success’ of his eldest son William, an army officer.9 The freeholders petitioned the Commons against relaxation of the corn laws, 1 Mar. 1827.10 In 1828 Galloway resigned the lord lieutenancy for his son and heir Lord Garlies*, who in November secured Maxwell’s amicable acquiescence in his own replacement as vice lieutenant by Agnew.11 Maxwell was in Italy throughout the 1830 session. The freeholders petitioned both Houses in May for an additional duty on rum to correspond with that on Scottish spirits.12

In early April 1830 Maxwell, writing from Nice, informed his son confidentially that he planned to retire at the next dissolution and advised him, if he wished to stand, to ‘be guarded in whom you confide’ and above all to distance himself from Garlies. Maxwell was willing to back him, ‘but not on Lord Galloway’s interest’. Further consideration decided them against an immediate bid, but two weeks before the dissolution in July Maxwell, alarmed by a report that William had ‘incautiously’ stated his ‘determination to be an oppositionist’, advised him to prepare for the future by professing his desire to gain more experience of the world before offering, while stressing his keenness to ‘strengthen and support the independence of the county’. At the same time he privately wrote to Hathorn, his son-in-law since 1824, to tell him that he intended to step down and to encourage him to stand.13 The first candidates to declare themselves, before Maxwell’s formal confirmation of his retirement, were James McDouall and Agnew, whose kinsman Colonel Patrick Vans Agnew, formerly of the East India Company and now laird of Barnbarrock, applied to the duke of Wellington, the prime minister, for ministerial support. Advised by his cabinet colleague Melville that government should support Garlies’s favoured candidate, the duke turned Vans Agnew down.14 Agnew, who believed that Barnbarrock had ‘started so late that he cannot look for more than half a dozen votes, and probably not above half that number’, eventually secured the backing of the Galloway interest ‘in fullest and most friendly degree’. Both he and McDouall sought the support of Galloway’s Whig first cousin James Alexander Stewart Mackenzie*, formerly of Glasserton (now sold), who had married the heiress of the last Lord Seaforth and so acquired extensive estates in Ross-shire. McDouall, who was in the weaker position, admitted that Agnew had ‘got a strong party in his favour, and the Galloway interest having declared for him, he becomes a formidable rival’, and solicited Stewart Mackenzie’s support in order to ‘show the opposite party that the independent interests of the county are strong enough to cope with them’. Stewart Mackenzie opted for Agnew.15 Two weeks before the election Agnew met McDouall to compare their standings. Agnew reported to Hamilton Dalrymple that they had

found that his declared votes were only one more than half the number which have been declared for me. He kindly expressed himself willing not to trouble our distant friends, if I would show him that he was actually beat ... Almost all the freeholders thus remaining are unwilling to declare themselves.

He asked Dalrymple to make publicly clear his earlier expressed ‘wish not to interfere’.16 Two days later he wrote to Stewart Mackenzie:

Our contest is to be very severe. Sixty freeholders may possibly be present, the greatest number ever known at Wigtown. At present I am before him in declared votes, but as it is possible that McDouall may get all the undeclared votes, he may come up to within one of my number ... Could you bring any influential Whig interest to bear on Sir John Hamilton Dalrymple and his brother ... North Dalrymple; the utmost which could be expected of them would be to declare their neutrality. You are aware that in this county we are all attached to the powers that be, but of the two candidates I believe that I am the more of a liberal.17

McDouall ‘kept up hope’ for ‘a very few anxious days’, hoping to secure the undeclared freeholders, but at the eleventh hour he conceded defeat. Under the chairmanship of Sir James Dalrymple Hay of Durajit, the roll was purged and two new freeholders were added. Agnew, who was sponsored by Hathorn Stewart and Forbes Hunter Blair, expressed a favourable disposition towards the government but insisted on his right to exercise independent judgement. Sir William Maxwell had belatedly written to ‘several’ freeholders of his ‘desire to oppose Agnew’, whom he considered to have made himself ‘a vassal’ to the Galloways. He had alienated Hathorn, who had evidently interpreted his early warning of his retirement as an attempt to seduce him from his cousin McDouall. Maxwell was peeved, and advised his son to ‘keep quiet, make personal friends and wait your time’.18 On the formation of the Grey administration in November 1830 Stair wrote to Lord Lansdowne, lord president of the council, to profess his willingness to work against Agnew (who had voted with the Wellington ministry in the crucial division on the civil list) if he was backed as a representative peer at the next general election. Soon afterwards, however, Stair fell so ill that he spent the rest of his days until his death in Paris in 1840 ‘confined to his bed, speechless and almost unconscious’.19

In February and March 1831 the inhabitants of Newton Stewart petitioned both Houses for reform of the Scottish representative system and in April the Lords in support of the ministry’s reform scheme.20 Agnew voted for the principle of reform by supporting the second reading of the English bill, but he gave notice of an amendment to have the doomed schedule A boroughs grouped to return a Member each on the Scottish model. He was in the ministerial minority against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, which precipitated a dissolution. He offered again as ‘a moderate reformer’, but on his way to Wigtownshire by steam packet from Liverpool, 29 Apr., he heard that Hathorn had started as an opponent of reform; he appealed to Stewart Mackenzie for support.21 At the Wigtownshire annual meeting, 30 Apr., he explained that he had voted for the principle of the English bill alone, reserving his right to take an independent line on its details. This prompted Galloway’s brother Montgomery Stewart† to start against him as an unequivocal reformer. Agnew begged Stewart Mackenzie to ‘remonstrate with your cousin’, who had ‘not the least chance’ and whose intervention ‘must give the victory to Hathorn’.22 Stewart Mackenzie and Dalrymple helped to persuade Stewart to back down; their case was strengthened by Galloway’s declaration of neutrality. Stewart then declared for Agnew, whose clarification of his attitude to reform had satisfied him.23 However, the lord advocate, Francis Jeffrey*, intervened to tell Stewart Mackenzie that Agnew’s threatened amendment against disfranchisement made him a dubious proposition, and urged him to try to ‘bring him to pledge himself to vote for the bill, or not to vote against parts of it that are palpably vital’. Stewart Mackenzie, who was embroiled in his own contest for Ross-shire, warned Agnew that he could not take the chair at the Wigtownshire election meeting and demanded to know, as a test of his sincerity, if he would support schedule A. Agnew, who attributed Stewart Mackenzie’s ‘coldness’ to Jeffrey’s influence, replied through Montgomery Stewart that at the outset he had fully explained

to Sir John [Hamilton Dalrymple] in the presence of Mrs. Stewart Mackenzie that I had started as a moderate reformer; that the greater number of my supporters were either moderate reformers or no reformers; and that I could not then come under any pledge without treachery to those who had already promised their votes; that if they wished to know my sentiments, let them look to my votes. I had relinquished the votes of my Tory friends rather than give a pledge. I stood forward as one who desired to be perfectly independent, and in that character I must either stand or fall ... As to the notice of motion given by me ... it was done in the best spirit of conciliation, as I fully explained to Lord John Russell ... [who] admitted that ‘Disfranchisement was not the principle of the bill’.

Jeffrey decided that Agnew was marginally preferable to Hathorn and encouraged Stewart Mackenzie to support him in person, if possible.24 This he did, arriving in Wigtown at the last minute after a gruelling journey from Ross-shire. Agnew took the chair as parliamentary praeses. Stewart Mackenzie was nominated as praeses of the election meeting by Agnew’s friends, and Forbes Hunter Blair by those of Hathorn. Agnew’s casting vote secured Stewart Mackenzie’s election. One freeholder in Hathorn’s interest was struck off the roll under protest and a claimant was kept off. Hathorn Stewart nominated Agnew and Carrick Moore proposed Hathorn. Stewart Mackenzie’s casting vote decided it for Agnew in a poll of 32 freeholders. Hathorn threatened to petition, but did not do so. Maxwell, who professed to have washed his hands of county politics but admitted to having ‘anxious fidgety feelings about Hathorn’s success’, despite his personal hostility, later reckoned that had his son-in-law requested his support he would have been ‘prepared to set off in ten minutes’ from Italy. He considered Hathorn ‘but a moderate canvasser or politician’.25 The magistrates, clergy and landed proprietors petitioned both Houses against permitting the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 25 Aug., 13 Oct.26 The inhabitants of Newton Stewart petitioned the Lords in support of the English reform bill, 3 Oct. 1831.27

Agnew, who gave general support to reform but opposed some details, was returned unchallenged as a Liberal at the general election of 1832, when Wigtownshire, with a population of about 36,000, had a registered electorate of 863. He topped the poll in 1835, but, in an arrangement engineered by the 9th earl of Galloway, retired to contest Wigtown Burghs in 1837, when the Conservative James Blair was successful in the county contest. The influence of the 8th earl of Stair helped to gain the Liberals a narrow win in 1841, but the county was held by the Conservatives from 1868 until its merger with Kirkcudbrightshire in 1918.28

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), vi. 494-8.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 586-90; iv. 267, 268.
  • 3. NAS GD51/1/198/14/19, 21.
  • 4. CJ, lxxv. 269; lxxvi. 294.
  • 5. NAS GD51/1/198/28/24.
  • 6. NAS GD46/4/127; GD51/1/198/28/15; NLS, Maxwell mss Acc 7043/8, Maxwell to son, 6 Apr. 1830.
  • 7. NAS GD51/1/198/28/16.
  • 8. CJ, lxxxi. 181, 217; LJ, lviii. 131, 155.
  • 9. Glasgow Herald, 23 June 1826; Maxwell mss, Maxwell to son, 6 Apr. 1830.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxii. 245.
  • 11. NLS, Galloway mss Acc 6604/1, Agnew to Garlies, 7 Nov., Garlies to Maxwell, 11, 17 Nov., reply, 16 Nov. 1828.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxv. 423; LJ, lxii. 476.
  • 13. Maxwell mss, Maxwell to son, 6 Apr., 12 July 1830.
  • 14. Caledonian Mercury, 10 July 1830; Wellington mss WP1/1125/3.
  • 15. NAS GD46/4/128; 4/132/1, 4.
  • 16. Stair mss (History of Parliament Aspinall transcripts), Agnew to Dalrymple, 2 Aug. [1830].
  • 17. NAS GD46/4/132/1.
  • 18. NAS GD46/4/132/5, 6; T. M’Crie, Mems. Sir Andrew Agnew, 105-6; Maxwell mss, Maxwell to son, 26 Aug. 1830, 13 May 1831.
  • 19. Grey mss, Stair to Lansdowne, 26 Nov. 1830; Gent. Mag. (1840), i. 647.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxvi. 310; LJ, lxiii. 290, 499.
  • 21. NAS GD46/4/132/19; Glasgow Herald, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 22. NAS GD46/4/132/ 14, 17; Glasgow Herald, 2, 6 May 1831.
  • 23. NAS GD46/4/132/12, 24, 26, 29.
  • 24. NAS GD46/4/132/25, 28, 32, 33.
  • 25. Glasgow Herald, 20 May 1831; NAS GD46/4/131/2; 4/135/2, 3; M’Crie, 109-11.
  • 26. LJ, lxiii. 945; CJ, lxxxvi. 911.
  • 27. LJ, lxiii. 1040.
  • 28. Scottish Electoral Politics, 225, 246, 259.