Sir Robert Anstruther at Cairneyhill – a political hustings

Dear blog reader

Sir Robert Anstruther, 5th Baronet, was a Scottish Liberal Party politician who was the MP for Fife between 1864 and 1880 and the MP for St Andrews from 1885 until his death in 1886. He was also the Lord Lieutenant of Fife from 1864 to 1886.

Below is Sir Robert Anstruther’s portrait and an account of his hustings meeting in Cairneyhill in 1864.

I hope you find this interesting – and an insight on the interests of Cairneyhill voters in 1864.






Sir Robert Anstruther addressed the electors of Cairneyhill in the UP Church, on Wednesday afternoon – the Rev Mr More occupying the chair.

The chairman after referring to the earnest and faithful manner in which the late member discharged his public duties, said – should the candidate now before you succeed in obtaining the object in view, which I hope he will, and attain some measure of the esteem and love of the constituency Mr Wemyss possessed, we will have reason to be thankful, and there will be less ground for lamenting the death of our late representative. I now introduce to you Sir Robert Anstruther – (cheers) – and if you have any questions to put to him, I hope you will bring them forward at the close of his address.

Sir Robert Anstruther said – Mr Chairman and friends, I hope I may say with all honesty of heart and purpose, that I sympathise with you in the loss of your dear Member. One of the points in which I feel he was superior to you was, that he had the art of winning hearts. Gentlemen, it is very easy to win heads, to bring a man round to give you his support in a political matter, but I conceive that Mr Wemyss did much more than that, for he had the knack of making everybody love him; and you will support me when I say that both his political friends and enemies had a sincere affection for him. They admired him as a man who was a useful and hard-working member; and though I have heard his enemies say, that he did speak enough in the House of Commons, I may be permitted to say, that the man who works the hardest is often the man who holds his tongue. I desire nothing more, whether I shall succeed Mr Wemyss or not – I desire nothing more than to succeed him in this, to succeed him in getting his place in the hearts of the constituency, a place, sir, which I conceive to be the highest honour I should wish to possess.

Mr Fraser, Inverkeithing, who had just arrived here, intimated that Mr Thomson had at his meeting in Dunfermline, announced that as the news from the whole of the county was so discouraging, he had determined to retire without going to a poll. (Applause).

Mr MacFarlane – The only regret we have is that we have not to go the poll, for there is almost a certainty that the majority which Mr Wemyss had, would be doubled on this occassion. (Cheers).

Sir Robert resumed – Mr Chairman and friends, allow me to congratulate you upon being the first place to hear this good news. I wish, having heard this welcome announcement – if I may now presume to stand before you as the man who will, without further opposition, succeed to the representation of the county of Fife – that I could only state my feeling of the importance of the situation. The only promise I have made, and which I hope I shall be able to fulfill, is, that there shall be nothing wanting on my part in the faithful discharge of my duty; and I can only say that it shall not be for want of trying, for my whole effort shall be to be faithful to discharge it. Mr Chairman, it is hardly necessary for me to detain you very long upon general subjects. I have today stood a savage volley of questions in Dunfermline, questions not prompted by a spirit of honest enquiry, but put for the opposite purpose, and with the view of bamboozling the Liberal candidate. Now, I would be glad if I could say that my friend Mr Hunt did not originate his questions, for they certainly did not do him much credit, because a more futile, feeble set of questions I never heard, and yet, he really thought I was to be frightened by them. Having had this formidable array of questions fired upon me, I hope I may say, I have along with me the support of the Liberal constituency, and I conceive there are many men among us who have not votes, but who are well qualified to possess them – qualified, not only because of their intelligence, but for the reason that they are straightforward men, who have at heart, the glory of their Queen and the good of their country. The Conservatives say, they are not fit to have a voice in the government of the country. Sir, these men manage their affairs as well as other people, very often better than those who have more education, and who profess to have more sense. But the Conservatives say they will swamp the country; and then after telling you this, they bring in a Reform Bill, and take a pride in it, and say they are as good as the Liberals. They do this simply because they know they dare not otherwise come before the country. (Hear, hear). Speaking of the Church rates, he continued – This question has occupied learned heads for years, and how can you expect that a young man like me can settle it? At the same time my sympathies in the matter of Church rates are decidedly with the dissenting bodies. Now, Sir, I wish to say one word about the Confederates. I saw an article, the other day, in a paper for which I have no great respect, and the writer wondered how any gentleman could presume to come before the electors of Fife, and ask their suffrages, and all the while be a supporter of slavery. Sir, that statement is false, and it was made with the view of representing me to the electors to hold sentiments which I utterly detest. I conceive slavery is opposed to all the laws of God, and therefore opposed to all the laws of man; what I said was, that if men hold certain opinions, whether we approve of them or not, that is no reason who they should be coerced into accepting a form of government which they do not want. I do not wish to go into the American question. We sympathise most deeply with that unhappy country in all the horrors she is now suffering. But there can be no doubt that our Government has taken the right course in the question, and I conceive that the conduct of Britain will be handed down in history, as one of the most extraordinary and disinterested courses ever known. In a wordly-wise point of view, we might have said, here is a great and powerful nation, torn by strife, and we might have taken the side of the one, and extinguished the other. Yet, we have maintained a neutrality which reflects the highest credit upon the Government which conducted it. (Applause). So far as I know, there has never been recorded in history an instance in which a nation has acted so entirely from disinterested motives as in the present case. I need hardly detain you longer; if there is any gentleman who wishes to ask me any questions, I trust he will not be deterred by the remarks I have made about those put to me in Dunfermline.

There were no questions put; but Mr Smeaton remarked, ‘You will not be able to break your promises, for you have never made any.’ (Laughter).

The chairman then moved that the meeting consider Sir Robert Anstruther a fit and proper person to represent them in Parliament, which was carried unanimously.

A vote of thanks to the chairman, proposed by Sir Robert Anstruther, concluded the business of the meeting.

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