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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Old Burgh Elections and the Lauder Raid


A NEW generation has sprung up since the passing of the Reform Bill on 4th June 1832, and of the Scottish Municipal Reform Bill, on 28th August 1833. Comparatively few persons are now living who recollect the old Scotch burgh system of parliamentary representation, and fewer still who were members of the old Town Councils and corporations who took part in these elections.

The royal burghs of Haddington, Jedburgh, Dunbar, North Berwick, and Lauder, were a cluster of burghs, as they are yet, which under the old system elected a member to the Commons House of Parliament Each burgh in its turn was the returning burgh, or the one in which the five delegates (one from each burgh) met on an appointed day, and by their votes elected the member. In days of yore many a hot faction fight betwixt opposing parties occurred in the burgh of Haddington for months before, to secure the election of a delegate favourable to the ruling party—first by the election of deacons of the incorporated trades, who had seats at the Council Board, and, secondly, by the election of merchant councillors. The burgh of Haddington was always considered the most independent and free of the five burghs, and compared in this respect very favourably with most of the other close burghs of Scotland. This was in a great measure in consequence of the liberal nature of its “sett.” Its nine incorporated trades, known as the “bunch of wands,” numbered for many years one hundred and fifty or one hundred and seventy members. Each member, although not having a direct vote for a Member of Parliament, had at least an indirect one for a delegate, who, along with the members of council, would augment the number to about, if not over two hundred. We find that the number of qualified voters on the roll in the burgh of Haddington, under the Reform Act in the year 1835, was only two hundred and twenty.

It may be interesting to note (before we go into the history of the Lauder Raid), some of the most noted members who sat in the House of Commons for the five burghs. In 1734 considerable turbulence existed in Scotland on the forming of a new Parliament. This, as a matter of course, led to divisions and contested elections in the burghs, of which the “faithful town” of Haddington had rather more than its due share. The rival candidates for the burghs of Haddington, Jedburgh, Dunbar, North Berwick, and Lauder were Sir James Dalrymple of Hailes, and Captain Fall, an eminent and extensive merchant and shipowner in Dunbar. Captain Fall was the successful candidate. He had a strong party of friends in Haddington, who were called the “congress,” while the opposite party were called the "country” party. There seems to have been very considerable faction fights and ill-feeling betwixt the opposing parties at this election, which will be found recorded in Miller’s History of Haddington. Some satirical verses which were written on the occasion have been handed down. The following are quoted, as affording not a bad specimen of an electioneering squib:—

The wabsters went unto Dunbar,
To sell their claith at venture!
But 'twas nae for to sell their claith,
But see their Parliamenter.
The Captain made them welcome guests,
Invited them to dine,
And, after dinner, did not spare
To treat them well with wine.

Chorus—

O ! fie upon ye, Congress,
O ! fie upon ye, fie!
Had Tyne been made o’ claret wine,
Ye wad hae drank it dry.

Here's your health, my Charlie, lad,
Take aff the ither bottle!
Drink aff your glass richt heartily,
’Twall gar you drive the shuttle,
’Twall gar you drive the shuttle,
And sae will it the spule,
If we had wanted your vote,
O we had lost the dule!

Now Charlie rose to drink his health,
But louted down sae low,
He brak his nose upon the floor,
And brak the glass also!

There's wabsters and there's can'lemakers
And tailors wi' tree legs;
There's dirt-drivers and cabbage-eaters,
And Sandy Bowers that begs.
O Simon Sawers got carts and horse,
And Lourie he got looms;
And Bairdie he got leather gude
A’ for to mend their shoons.—
O ! fie, &c.

The above used frequently to be sung fifty to sixty years ago, but is now almost unknown.

Jedburgh was the returning burgh at Captain Fall’s election. In 1768, Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Warrender of Lochend was elected member, notwithstanding many disputes and protests. In 1774, the Hon. Colonel John Maitland was elected in opposition to Mr Kinloch,. yr., of Gilmerton. At the general election of 1780, Francis, fifth Lord Elcho, great-grandfather of the present Earl of Wemyss, was elected, and afterwards in 1784 on the Tory or Government side at that time. Lord Elcho seems to have been unsuccessful in being afterwards returned, for we find that Robert Baird, Esq., of Newbyth, was member in 1798. Lord Elcho died at Amisfield House, 20th January 1808, in the fifty-ninth year of his age. He was a much-esteemed nobleman, and his death was universally regretted throughout the whole country. In the Sun, London newspaper, a just tribute appeared to his Lordship’s memory; and in the Farmers' Magazine of March 1808, the following, extracted from a long article written by Robert Brown of Markle, the editor, is paid to his memory:—“Died at Amisfield, near Haddington, on Wednesday tlie 20th January last, Francis, Lord Elcho, a nobleman whose truly amiable manners endeared him to all who were honoured with his acquaintance, the whole tenor of whose active life seemed to be one continued series of kindness, friendship, and philanthropy. The death of Lord Elcho may be regarded as a severe blow to the district with which he was chiefly connected. He did much good under circumstances comparatively limited ; but had Providence spared him till these circumstances were changed, in all probability he would have proved a blessing to his country, to his friends, and to the numerous tenantry of his family estates. He was esteemed by all when alive, and now, when gone, respect to his memory is indelibly impressed upon every heart.”

A fine portrait of Lord Elcho in his robes as Master of the St John’s Kilwinning Lodge of Freemasons, painted by Jameson, adorns the walls of the lodge, and was presented to him as a mark of respect

At this time, the Earl of Lauderdale’s influence became predominant in the three burghs of Lauder, North Berwick, and Dunbar, and although Haddington and Jedburgh continued faithful to Lord Elcho, in which he had many true and sincere friends, yet he had no chance while the three smaller burghs were in opposition to him. Lord Lauderdale was at that time a strong Whig, if not a Republican, and attached to Mr Fox’s party in State politics. He, however, turned a strong Tory on or before 1821, during the time of the trial of Queen Caroline. The Hon. William Lamb, afterwards Lord Melbourne, sat for some time as member under his influence, as also Sir George Warrender in 1808—General Sir Thomas Maitland in 1814, and others. It was an anomaly under the old system in the Scotch elections that a Peer’s eldest son could not sit for a Scotch burgh. Lord Maitland, the Earl of Lauderdale’s eldest son, was thus debarred from sitting for the Haddington Burghs, for which he had the best right as his father’s nominee. Sir Adolphus John Dalrymple, Bart, had influence in the English burgh of Appleby, and he transferred his influence there to Lord Maitland, who was elected for many years. Lord Maitland, in exchange, transferred his influence in the Haddington Burghs to Sir Adolphus' who also sat for many years. Such was a specimen of how Scotch burgh elections were managed under the old system. Would such mutual arrangements betwixt candidates please constituencies nowadays? Sir Adolphus John Dalrymple, Bart., was returned in 1826, and again in 1830, which Parliament was dissolved in April 1831, having been only one year in existence.

Haddington was the returning burgh in 1830, and Provost Dods delegate. After the election the Member entertained, as was customary on such occasions, the Provost, Magistrates, Town Council, and Deacons, with the delegates from the other burghs, and numerous other gentlemen connected with the burghs, at dinner in the Bell Inn. The company was necessarily a very mixed one, and it is now curious to look back and to note the fraternising and shaking of hands up to the elbows by the Member—Lord Maitland, Sir Anthony Maitland, and others of the aristocracy, with Tom Muat, deacon of the shoemakers; Adam Richardson, deacon of the tailors; James Anderson (“the Mugger”), deacon of the weavers; Deacon Convener Robert Johnston, of the fleshers, &c.; the Earl of Winton; Birlie Bailie Simon Sawers ; the Gladsmuir bailie, &c. This proved to be the last election dinner under the old system, of which the old-seasoned deacons seemed to have been somewhat aware, for they were determined to sit on late and finish the “ dredgie *’ with a heavy drink. A stanza from Robert Fergusson’s humorous poem of “ the election ” may not be out of place to quote here:—

“Rejoice, ye deacons ane an’ a',
Lang look’t tor's come at last;
Sair war yer backs held tae the wa’
Wi’ poortith an’ wi’ fast.

“Noo ye may clap your wings an* craw,
An' gaily brisk ilk feather,
For Deacon Cocks hae passed a law
To rax an* weet yer leather
Wi’ drink this day.”

At the new election in May 1831, the agitation of the Reform Bill was in full swing in the country, and the seat of the Tory Member for the five burghs was in great jeopardy. Haddington and Jedburgh declared in favour of a Reform candidate, while Dunbar and North Berwick were in favour of the Tory Member— Lauder was considered doubtful. Robert Steuart, Esq., of Alderston, started as the Whig candidate in opposition to Sir Adolphus John Dalrymple, Bart., which led to the contested election of a delegate at Lauder and the “Raid.”

Great excitement prevailed in 1831 in the agitation of the Reform question. The spirit of the monster meetings held in the King’s Park, Edinburgh, where the cry and watchword was, the “whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill,” spread over the whole country. Haddington, like other quiet burghs, was moved into enthusiasm, and it had also its Reform meetings on the Haugh and other public places, at which popular and loud-toned harangues inflamed and roused the multitude. Even a dissenting minister of the town preached Sunday evening political discourses, in which he compared the boroughmongers of the time to the rebellious Jews who were lectured and threatened by Joshua of old, and denounced them as those whose “winding-sheet” was soon to be made ready, and the iniquitous rotten burgh system broken up. The judicious and orthodox Dr Lorimer of the Establishment, at the same time, could not even refrain from having a fling one Sunday at the Reform movement, when he said in the course of his lecture, “Nowadays, nothing is spoken of but church reform, Parliamentary reform, borough reform, and sanitary reform; but I say unto you, the best of all reforms is to reform yourselves.” In this excited state the minds of Haddington reformers were “on fire,” and they were keenly anxious as to the result of the pending Parliamentary burgh elections.

The 4th of May 1831 was the day fixed for the election of a delegate for the burgh of Lauder, and on his vote depended the result of the election of a member to the House of Commons. The leading Whigs of the burghs of Haddington, Dunbar, and Jedburgh, saw that a strenuous .effort was necessary to obtain a majority in the Town Council of Lauder, and thus to secure the return of Robert Steuart, Esq., of Alderston. They accordingly matured a bold plan to carry off a voter, if not by fair means, at least by strong measures. On the 3d of May, the day preceding the election at Lauder, the leading men of Haddington and Jedburgh were in Lauder, arranging for the work of the next day, and early on the morning of the 4th, bands of men from Haddington could be seen crossing the Lammermuir Hills on their way to Lauder, while numerous vehicles of various descriptions went over Soutra Hill. The band were breakfasted and refreshed on a knowe opposite Carfrae Mill Inn, under the care and direction of "General Badger.” On marching into Lauder, they were joined by a large “squad” from Galashiels, Jedburgh, &c. A casual observer could easily discern that in the quiet burgh of Lauder—perhaps the quietest of all the quiet royal burghs of Scotland—something unusual was about to happen, from the presence of five or six hundred strangers, who were harangued in the High Street by orator M'Lauchlan, who was mounted on the top of a sugar hogshead.

Bailie Simpson, of Threepwood, one of the Council, was understood not to be averse to remain neutral; but pressure or entreaty being put on him by the Lauderdale- party, he was escorted on the way from his house to the Council Room by Lord Maitland, Sir Anthony Maitland, and others, accompanied by a lot of Lord Lauderdale’s retainers) gamekeepers, farm-stewards, grooms, &c. The Haddington and Jedburgh men, all armed with sticks on a signal being given, surrounded and closed in on Lord Maitland and his friends. His lordship was struck down, his hat knocked over his face, his clothes torn, and notwithstanding the efforts of the Lauderdale retainers, Bailie Simpson was carried off and placed in a Haddington post-chaise, which was in readiness, along with two trusty reformers, and driven off at a fast pace. In this way the abstracted Bailie was soon out of the reach of the Council Chamber. A Lauderdale tenant, indeed, mounted his horse, galloped after the chaise, and succeeded in cutting the traces near Blainslie; but he was too late. The election of a delegate for the burgh of Lauder terminated in favour of Mr Steuart by a majority of one.

No such disturbance probably took place in Lauder before, except perhaps when, in the days of James III., Archibald Douglas, surnamed “Bell-the-cat,” hanged, before his sovereign’s eyes, the low favourites who misled the royal youth; or when, at old Thirlestane Tower, near the ruins of which the Leader runs so gently, Auld Maitland, with his grey beard, whom Gawin Douglas thought worthy of a place in his allegory of the “Palace of Honour,” beat back the English; or when, in the days of the Covenanters, the battle of Lauder Brig took place. An old Tory lady of Lauder, who witnessed the “shindy” from her window, described to the writer how awful and clanging was the noise of many hundreds of striking sticks, and the howling and din in knocking down Lord Maitland and his retainers by the “Haddington savages,” and the violent harangues below her windows of a little Haddington orator, which tended much to incite the mob. When the abduction of Bailie Simpson was effected, and the election was over, the partisans of both parties had time to wonder at the boldness and successful issue of the abduction, which perhaps had no parallel before in any of the old Scotch burgh elections.

It is perhaps not right or desirable even at the present day to note the names of old Haddingtonians who were present at the “Lauder Raid,” now fifty-two years ago; but it may be mentioned that only three or four persons are now living in Haddington who were there, one of them being among the most venerable and respected of the public officials of the burgh.

The person who escorted Bailie Simpson from Lord Maitland’s side and put him into the post-chaise was given out to have been a Henry Fotheringham, a tinplate worker in the West Port of Edinburgh; but this name was used to elude ulterior consequences. The real person was a well-known, respectable, and powerfully built Haddington man, now dead, who was never called to account for the part he acted, although Lord Lauderdale's gamekeeper came over to Haddington for the purpose of finding him out. He pitched on more than one individual who resembled him, but these persons had nothing to do with the matter. Mr John Younger, writer, Haddington, was Mr Steuart’s Haddington agent. Mr Thomas Scott, Gattonside, called “Terrible Tam" was the Lauder agent. These, with several leading Haddington, Jedburgh, and Dunbar men, were the chief movers of the Lauder Raid, and in the last election under the old system in the Haddington District of Burghs.

A few incidents connected with the raid can still be told of Haddington folk who were present, and may be interesting even at this distance of time. Hugh M'Callum, draper, Haddington, was all his life an ardent and violent reformer. On Mr Matthew, writer, expressing some doubts the night before the election whether the proposed abduction would be legal or right,. Hugh replied to him, “Oh! Mr Matthew, ye are cool in the cause—are ye gaun to hen noo?” M'Callum and a respected lawyer were lodged in the house of one of the councillors favourable to Mr Steuart, late in the evening. Bailie George Hay, with some others, went to the councillor’s house and knocked, demanding admittance to see the councillor. M'Callum’s Highland blood got up, and thinking it might be some of the Lauderdale party wanting to take the councillor away, he threatened them with immediate and violent punishment by firing a gun if they attempted to force open an honest Egan’s house, which was his castle.

It was with much ado on the part of his friend that Hugh could be appeased, and made to be quiet. Next morning the alleged attempt was made the subject of good-humoured fun and gossip. Bailie Hay put up with others in the Black Bull Inn, below the Town House. The landlord, Thomas Waitt, a well-known Lauder man, declared him to be a “grand fellow" as he danced and sang all night and morning. Sentinels paraded the streets of the quiet town during the night, keeping their eyes on the houses of the Lauder Bailies and Councillors; while many of old Haddington folks, such as Bailie Neill, &c., spent the night in their inns “right merrily,” and with great hopes of being successful on the morrow. For many years the Lauder Tories entertained much ill-will and a strong grudge against the Haddington Whigs for invading their town and breaking up their old long-established system of burgh politics. When Bailies Vallance, Lauder, Scott, or Jamieson happened to meet Haddington men, there was a regular “Shirramuir” of strife and words. Nothing exasperated them more than to cast up to them the vulgar though common epithet applied to the burgh of Lauder, “Lousie Lauder.”

The election for the member took place at Jedburgh on the 23d of May 1831, when the Haddington, Jedburgh, and Lauder delegates voted for Mr Steuart; while Dunbar and North Berwick voted for Sir Adolphus John Dalrymple, Bart. Mr Steuart was therefore declared the duly elected member, much to the mortification of the Lauderdale party. Mr Steuart’s arrival in Haddington late the same night was celebrated by a partial illumination. Tar barrels, bonfires, rockets, squibs, &c., were fired off, and great demonstrations of joy were made by his friends and supporters. Mr Steuart took his seat on the assembling of Parliament in the House as member for the Haddington Burghs, and voted in favour of the Reform Bill. It is singular to note that the Bill was carried by a majority of one vote. If, therefore, Mr Steuart had not voted, there would have been a tie, which recalls to mind the lines on Captain Fall’s election,—

“If we had wanted your vote,
O we had lost the dule.”

Mr Steuart’s election, however, was set aside and nullified on petition by a Committee of the House of Commons, on account of the abduction of Bailie Simpson, and Sir Adolphus John Dairymple, Bart., became the sitting Member during the expiring days of the old burgh parliamentary system.

It was hardly to be expected that such a daring and bold deed as the abduction of Bailie Simpson from the stronghold of the Lauderdale family would pass by without the Crown authorities taking cognisance of it. Accordingly, investigations and precognitions took place, and several persons were apprehended at Haddington. The chaise - driver, James Brown, of the George Inn, Haddington, was tried before the High Court of Justiciary, and was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment. Consequent on the examination of S. M'Lauchlai) on a charge of exciting the mob by violent harangues, and of W. Badger as taking part in the mob, by the Sheriff at Haddington, a large number of people collected on the street, and broke open the door of the place they were in, with a long pole for a battering ram, and liberated the prisoners. S. M'Lauchlan was carried in triumph on men’s shoulders to his house in Nungate. The Sheriff and his assistants were put in bodily fear from volleys of stones being flung at them, for which offence three Haddington people were afterwards tried and sentenced to a few months* imprisonment. The day after the Haddington riot a proclamation was issued, by Lord Advocate Jeffrey, and posted up at the Cross, and other public places, threatening strong measures, including the reading of the Riot Act, if such lawless disturbances were persisted in. Happily, peace and quietness were ultimately restored in the burgh, and prevented any exercise of legal power or force. Mr M'Lauchlan and Mr Badger were tried before the High Court of Justiciary also, but the offences against them were found not proven, and they were accordingly acquitted. Patrick Robertson, advocate, their counsel, ably defended them. It is singular to note that they afterwards, with others concerned in the Lauder raid, became staunch Conservatives.

At the first burgh election under the new system, in 1832, Lord Maitland and Mr Steuart started as rival candidates. Lord Maitland, finding he had few supporters, which was not to be wondered at, withdrew, and Mr Steuart walked the course. In 1837, Mr Steuart was opposed by Sir Thomas B. Hepburn, Bart., of Smeaton, on the Conservative side—the contest being both close and keen — the Conservatives fighting bravely for their very popular candidate. Mr Steuart’s majority was only 31. On the 2d of July 1841, Mr Steuart was beat by James Maitland Balfour, yr. of Whittinghame, after a very severe contest, by a majority of 9.

Mr Steuart was for some years one of the junior Lords of the Treasury, and proved himself a good and efficient man of business. He was, after his defeat for the Haddington Burghs, appointed Consul-General for Columbia, South America. His old friends in the burghs got up for him an elegant testimonial of the value of £400; but before he received it he died at Santa Fe di Bogota, on the 15th of July 1843, at the early age of thirty-seven, having been born at Alderston in 1806. His funeral was a public one, attended by all the authorities of the place, by whom every respect was paid to his remains.


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