A Highland canvass in a ‘pocket county’: Ronald Gower (1845-1916) and the 1867 Sutherland by-election

The History of Parliament

Continuing our series on Scotland, Dr Martin Spychal, research fellow for the House of Commons 1832-1868 project, uses Ronald Gower’s diaries to provide some rare insights into mid-Victorian electioneering in the ‘pocket county’ of Sutherland.

If there was a History of Parliament award for ‘constituency most under the thumb of an aristocratic patron’, the Highland county of Sutherland would be a top contender. Following the Act of Union in 1707 a succession of earls, ladies, dukes and duchesses of Sutherland effectively controlled who would represent the county at Westminster.

G. Burnett & W. Scott, Map of the County of Sutherland (1853 Revision), CC NLS

The 1832 Reform Act, which extended Sutherland’s electorate from 20 life-rent tenants to a mere 104 voters (or around 2% of adult males) did little to challenge this influence. Most of the county’s electorate lived on land owned by the Sutherlands (the family owned 80%…

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