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James Abercromby, 1st Baron Dunfermline

James Abercromby, 1st Baron Dunfermline PC (7 November 1776 – 17 April 1858), was a British barrister and Whig politician. He served as Speaker of the House of Commons between 1835 and 1839.

The Lord Dunfermline

James Abercrombie of Fife, 1st Baron Dunfermline.jpg
Speaker of the House of Commons
In office
19 February 1835 – 1839
MonarchWilliam IV
Preceded byCharles Manners-Sutton
Succeeded byCharles Shaw-Lefevre
Judge Advocate General
In office
12 May 1827 – 21 January 1828
MonarchGeorge IV
Prime MinisterGeorge Canning
The Viscount Goderich
Preceded bySir John Beckett, Bt
Succeeded bySir John Beckett, Bt
Lord Chief Baron of the
Court of Exchequer in Scotland
In office
MonarchWilliam IV
Preceded bySir Samuel Shepherd
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Master of the Mint
In office
13 June 1834 – 14 November 1834
MonarchWilliam IV
Prime MinisterThe Viscount Melbourne
Preceded byThe Lord Auckland
Succeeded byAlexander Baring
Personal details
Born(1776-11-07)7 November 1776
Died17 April 1858(1858-04-17) (aged 81)
Colinton House, Midlothian
Political partyWhig
Spouse(s)Mary Anne Leigh
(d. 1874)

Background and educationEdit

Abercromby was the third son of General Sir Ralph Abercromby, who fell at the Battle of Alexandria, and Mary, 1st Baroness Abercromby, daughter of John Menzies of Fernton, Perthshire. He was the younger brother of George Abercromby, 2nd Baron Abercromby and Sir John Abercromby and the elder brother of Alexander Abercromby.[1] He attended the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and was called to the English Bar, Lincoln's Inn, in 1801. He became a commissioner of bankruptcy and later appointed steward of the Duke of Devonshire's estates.[2][3]

Legal and political careerEdit

Abercromby sat as Whig Member of Parliament for Midhurst between 1807 and 1812[4] and for Calne between 1812 and 1830.[5] He brought forwards two motions for bills to change the representation for Edinburgh in parliament. He received great support but no change was made until the Reform Act 1832.[2] In 1827 he was sworn of the Privy Council[6] and appointed Judge-Advocate-General by George Canning,[7] a post he held until 1828, the last months under the premiership of Lord Goderich.

In 1830 Abercromby was made Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer in Scotland, a position he retained until 1832, when the office was abolished. He received a pension of £2,000 a year.[2] In 1832 returned to the House of Commons as one of two members for Edinburgh, whose representation had now been increased from one to two members.[8] In July 1834 he entered Lord Melbourne's cabinet as Master of the Mint,[9] but only held the post until November of the same year, when the Whigs lost power.

Abercromby was considered for the speakership of the House of Commons by his party in 1833, but Edward Littleton was eventually chosen instead (he was defeated by Charles Manners-Sutton). However, in 1835 he was chosen as the Whig candidate. Due to an evenly balanced House of Commons the election rendered great interest and was fiercely contested. On 19 February 1835 Abercromby was elected, defeating Manners-Sutton by 316 votes to 306. The Dictionary of National Biography writes that "As speaker Abercromby acted with great impartiality while he possessed sufficient decision to quell any serious tendency to disorder." During his tenure a number of reforms for the introduction of private bills were made.[2] In spite of failing health Abercromby continued as speaker until 1839.[2] On his retirement he was raised to the peerage as Baron Dunfermline, of Dunfermline in the County of Fife.[10][11]

After his retirement Abercromby continued to take an interest in public affairs, specifically those involving the city of Edinburgh. He was one of the originators of the United Industrial School for the support and training of destitute children.[2] In 1841 he was elected as Dean of Faculty at the University of Glasgow.[12] He also wrote a biography of his father, published posthumously in 1861.[2]


Lord Dunfermline married Mary Anne, daughter of Egerton Leigh, of West Hall, in High Legh, on 14 June 1802. He died at Collinton House, Midlothian, in April 1858, aged 81, and was buried at Grange cemetery, Edinburgh. He was succeeded in the barony by his son, Sir Ralph Abercromby, KCB, who was Secretary of Legation at Berlin and served as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Sardinia between 1840 and 1851 and to The Hague between 1851 and 1858. Lady Dunfermline died in August 1874.[1]

He was the nephew of Robert Bruce, Lord Kennet.[13]


Coat of arms of James Abercromby, 1st Baron Dunfermline
A Bee erect proper
Argent a Fess embattled Gules therefrom issuant in chief a Dexter Arm embowed in Armour proper garnished Or encircled by a Wreath of Laurel the hand supporting the French Standard in bend sinister also proper in base (for Abercromby) a Chevron indented Gules between three Boars' Heads erased Azure
On either side a Greyhound per fess Argent and Or each plain collared with a Line reflexed over the back Gules and suspended from the collar a Shield Azure charged with the Speaker's Mace in pale gold and charged on the shoulder with a Thistle proper
Vive ut vivas [14]


  1. ^ a b James Abercromby, 1st Baron Dunfermline
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1885). "Abercromby, James" . Dictionary of National Biography. 1. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 4
  4. ^ House of Commons: Mayo to Minehead
  5. ^ House of Commons: Caernarfon to Cambridgeshire South West
  6. ^ Privy Counsellors 1679–1835
  7. ^ "No. 18362". The London Gazette. 18 May 1827. p. 1081.
  8. ^ House of Commons: Ealing to Elgin
  9. ^ "No. 19164". The London Gazette. 13 June 1834. p. 1108.
  10. ^ "No. 19737". The London Gazette. 28 May 1839. p. 1072.
  11. ^ Anderson, John (1856). A History of Edinburgh from the Earliest Period to the Completion of the Half Century 1850: With Brief Notices of Eminent Or Remarkable Individuals. A. Fullarton & co. p. 444. ISBN 978-1-85285-581-9. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  12. ^ "Biography of James Abercromby 1st Baron Dunfermline". Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  • Burke, John, History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, vol.iii, London, 1838, p. 1 – 2.
  • Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol.iv, p. 105.

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Watkin Williams-Wynn
William Plunket
Member of Parliament for Midhurst
With: Samuel Smith 1807
Thomas Thompson 1807–12
Succeeded by
Thomas Thompson
George Smith
Preceded by
Joseph Jekyll
Henry Smith
Member of Parliament for Calne
With: Joseph Jekyll 1812–16
Sir James Macdonald, Bt 1816–30
Succeeded by
Sir James Macdonald
Thomas Babington Macaulay
Preceded by
Robert Adam Dundas
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh
With: Francis Jeffrey 1832–34
Sir John Campbell 1834–39
Succeeded by
Sir John Campbell
Thomas Babington Macaulay
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir John Beckett, Bt
Succeeded by
Sir John Beckett, Bt
Preceded by
Sir Samuel Shepherd
Lord Chief Baron of the Court
of Exchequer in Scotland

Succeeded by
Office abolished
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Auckland
Master of the Mint
Succeeded by
Alexander Baring
Preceded by
Charles Manners-Sutton
Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Charles Shaw-Lefevre
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Dunfermline
Succeeded by
Ralph Abercromby