1832 UK General Election, Orkney and Shetland Result
The 1832 UK General Election occurred on took place between December and January 1833 and was the first General Election in which Shetlanders were entitled to vote.
Shetlanders had no say on who was elected as their MP from 1707 until 1832. The 1832 Reform Act enfranchised a small number of Shetland landowners with the vote. Those who were entitled to cast a vote were known as freeholders, which meant that they owned land valued at £400 or more.
Prior to the reform act, the electorate of Orkney and Shetland was miniscule. In November of 1760, the list contained a mere 7 names. Out of the entire population of Orkney and Shetland, just seven men (all Orcadian) were privileged with the right to elect an MP. The population of Orkney and Shetland would have been at this point somewhere between 40 and 50 thousand, meaning that of both islands, roughly 0.01% could vote. Even of this list, there is reason to be doubtful that all on it were Orcadians. By 1780, the number on the list had increased to 27 but as Sutherland Graeme notes “there were some semi-fictitious qualifications like four members of the Dundas family and their lawyer in Edinburgh.”
The election was contested between George Traill, Samuel Laing and Robert Hunter (a Shetlander of Lunna descent). Trail and Hunter both stood as Whig candidates and Laing as a Tory (he would later go on to be a prominent Liberal). As the election had been in January, the weather was particularly volatile, and the Shetland vote was delayed in arriving in Orkney. Samuel Laing had won the Orkney vote and was being paraded around by his supporters as having won the entire contest, but once the Shetland vote arrived by boat, the final tally indicated that Traill had won by 11 votes. Laing’s supporters were outraged and they formed an angry mob at the house of the Sheriff and generally caused some trouble in Kirkwall. When the Sheriff officially announced the final results, the mob became more violent and there were some serious assaults at the hands of the protesters.