Thomas Dundas (i)

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Thomas Dundas (b. circa 1708, d. 16 April 1786) was a Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland from 1768 until 1771, replacing James Douglas.

He served until 1770 when he was replaced by his son, Thomas

He was also a Burgess of Edinburgh, Deputy Lyon King at Arms, and Commissioner of Police.


Dundas was the oldest son of Thomas Dundas of Fingask. His father was a bailie of Edinburgh and a woollen draper in the Luckenbooths. The family's lands in Perthshire were lost in the 17th century, but the bailie bought lands in Stirlingshire. Young Tomas and his brother Lawrence left their father's ailing business, Thomas acting as agent for Lawrence's highly profitable business supplying the British Army.

Thomas became a burgess of Edinburgh in 1734, and deputy Lord Lyon King of Arms from 1744 to 1754. In 1737 he married Anne, daughter of James Graham of Airth, a judge of the Scottish court of Admiralty. After her death he remarried, to Lady Janet Maitland, daughter of the 6th Earl of Lauderdale. They had two sons and five daughters.

Dundas bought the Carronhall estate in 1749, but his career remained dependant on his increasingly powerful younger bother, in whose interest he was elected in 1768 as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Orkney and Shetland. He held the seat until December 1770, when he was appointed as a police commissioner, and in 1771 his oldest son Thomas was returned as MP in his place.

The younger Thomas went on to become a notable general in the British Army, serving briefly as Governor of Guadeloupe before his early death. The other son, Charles, was an MP for nearly 50 years before being ennobled as Baron Amesbury.

Political Career

"Order him to have his teeth put in and to dress as an Englishman" so wrote Laurence Dundas about his son "Thomie" to his wife in London ordering herself … not to leave London, before Thomas was presented at court. What looks like a footnote in history is in fact the key to understand the politics of the Dundas family. When Laurence Dundas, an enormously wealthy self-made capitalist, a merchant contractor useful to the Duke of Cumberlands army in the 1745 rebellion and with an established fortune thanks to profitable army contracts in the Seven Years War, bought the Earldom of Orkney in 1766 he was less interested in the estate or the adjoined fishing rights but in the advantage to gain control of the parliamentary seat.

Subsequently his brother, the said Thomas Dundas, was duly elected by the unanimous decision of eight assembled voters in 1768. Including the Orkney and Shetland seat Laurence Dundas controlled at least nine parliamentary seats with his "man-of-business", Colonel James Masterton acting as whip to this group of MPs. He was a new kind of superior and his primary interest was not to squeeze the last penny from rent and skat – in fact he had the reputation of being an "easy landlord". His interest was to achieve aristrocratic respectability and to secure his East India and Carribean businesses through the exercise of political power.

This brought both the Dundases – Laurence as owner of the earldom estates and his brother Thomas as MP – in opposition to the old and established landed gentry of the earldom and led to a split of the electorate into a Dundas faction including those under their patronage like the representatives of the Honyman and Balfour families and the rest which was for most of the time represented by members of the Baikie or Trail families. This was the beginning of a bigger conflict within the Orkney and Shetland constituancy which lasted well beyond the midth of the nineteenth century.

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
James Douglas
Member of Parliament for
Orkney and Shetland

Succeeded by
Thomas Dundas Jr
Members of the Parliament of Great Britain
MPs Alexander Douglas (1707-1713) • George Douglas (1713-1715) • James Moodie (1715-1722) • George Douglas (1722-1730) • Robert Douglas (1730-1747) • John Halyburton (1747-1754) • James Douglas (1754-1768) • Thomas Dundas (1768-1771) • Thomas Dundas (1771-1780) • Robert Baikie (1780-1781) • Charles Dundas (1781-1784) • Thomas Dundas (1784-1790) • John Balfour (1790-1796) • Robert Honyman (1796-1801)