GORDON (afterwards DUFF GORDON), William (1772-1823), of Halkin, Ayr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



17 Feb. 1807 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 8 Apr. 1772, 2nd s. of Alexander Gordon, SCJ (Lord Rockville), 4th s. of William Gordon, 2nd Earl of Aberdeen [S], by Anne, da. of William Duff, advocate, of Crombie, wid. of William, 5th Earl of Dumfries and 4th Earl of Stair [S]. m. 5 Feb. 1810, Caroline, da. of Sir George Cornewall, 2nd Bt.*, of Moccas Court, Herefs., 2s. 2da. Took name of Duff before Gordon by royal lic. 9 Oct. 1813; suc. uncle Sir James Duff as 2nd Bt. by spec. rem. 20 Nov. 1815.

Offices Held

Dir. Atlas Assurance Co. 1811.


Gordon entered the counting house of his uncle James Duff, British consul at Cadiz, and became a partner in the business, which took him to and fro between Portugal and England. The other partners were Messrs. Murphy and James Farrell; Gordon handled the correspondence with Cadiz and Jamaica when in London. In 1806 he was defeated at Worcester in his first bid to get into Parliament, but his petition against the return frightened Henry Bromley* into resignation and he succeeded in a contested by-election against John Attersoll*. His politics were ambiguous; Fremantle, secretary to the Treasury during the short Parliament, wrote of him, 28 July 1807:

The first interview I had with Mr Gordon on the subject of the Worcester election is so long past that I cannot charge my memory with the exact words he made use of but I have no difficulty whatever in saying that his declaration to me was a general support to the government at that time existing, and under this declaration I was induced to promise him that if Mr Smith resigned his pretension another candidate would be supported against him at Worcester, and when Mr Attersoll afterwards undertook a contest, I mentioned ... to him personally the engagement I had contracted with Mr Gordon. I had more than one communication with Mr Gordon on this subject and it is impossible for me to mistake the assurances he gave me of his general support, at the same time I cannot pretend to say that he was considered as having been brought in by government. I have only to add that unless I had felt myself perfectly satisfied from his declarations to me he intended to support the last government, I should not have made the pledge to him upon Mr Smith’s retirement, and by which I was disabled from attending to ... applications to me in favour of Mr Attersoll.1

Gordon’s inclination was evidently to support the government of the day. His business interests included slave trading, to the indignation of the Worcester dissenters,2 but he was not in the diehard minority against abolition in 1807; he was a defaulter on 2 Mar. In his first known speech, 10 Mar. 1808, he criticized a meeting he had attended which petitioned against the orders in council; he had ‘formerly’ had dealings with America and maintained that there were American citizens present on the occasion. He defended the Jesuits’ bark (quinine) bill, 16 Mar. 1808. On 22 Feb. 1809 he was examined on mercantile commission rates by the finance committee investigating the conduct of the commissioners for Dutch prizes. No further speeches of his are known, but he voted in three minorities against the Duke of York’s conduct, 15-17 Mar. 1809, and for inquiry into charges of ministerial corruption, 25 Apr. He voted with ministers on the address, 23 Jan. 1810, and on the Scheldt inquiry, 30 Mar., the Whigs listing him ‘Government’. He opposed Burdett’s committal to the Tower, 5 Apr., and voted for parliamentary reform on his constituents’ petition, 21 May 1810. His next known vote was against McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb. 1812, but he paired with ministers in favour of the orders in council, 3 Mar. He voted for Catholic relief, 24 Apr., and in favour of a more efficient administration, 21 May 1812.

When the Treasury seemed inclined to label Gordon ‘pro’ after his success in the election of 1812, George Rose demurred—it was ‘too sanguine’.3 Gordon’s canvass had been conducted in his absence abroad by his father-in-law and relied particularly on the support of non-resident freemen. The fact was that his business was ‘going down’ by this time; ‘no business could stand £25,000 for contested elections, £20,000 for house and furniture in Portland Place, £19,000 for jewels to Lady ... Gordon on her marriage’, wrote John James Ruskin, who was Gordon’s chief clerk until that juncture.4 Gordon was not a frequent attender in that Parliament and three minority votes attributed to him were in all probability those of the Whig Robert Gordon; but he voted for Catholic relief on 24 May 1813. After his return to England—he had meanwhile succeeded to his uncle’s name and business interest—he pledged himself in December 1817 to vacate his seat if obliged to leave the country again while Parliament sat. He voted his approval of the employment of informers against sedition by the government, 5 Mar. 1818, but was in the opposition majority on the Duke of Clarence’s marriage grant, 15 Apr. In his election campaign he denied that he had voted, as alleged, against Brougham’s motion of 3 June on the education of the poor. He was defeated at the poll. He was in debt and Lord Malmesbury commented, ‘I fear it will cost him more than he can well afford the having attempted to carry the election through a poll’.5 Duff Gordon died 8 Mar. 1823.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: M. J. Williams


  • 1. Fremantle mss, box 44(8), Fremantle to Lyttelton, 28 July 1807.
  • 2. Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, Fri. [18 Sept. 1812].
  • 3. T.64/261, Rose to ?Arbuthnot, 8 Nov. 1812.
  • 4. Worcester Jnl. 1, 8, 15 Oct. 1812; M. Lutyens, Ruskins and Grays, 147-8.
  • 5. Worcs. RO, Lechmere mss, Robarts to Lechmere, 31 Dec. [1817]; Worcester Jnl. 9 Apr., 21 May, 4, 11, 25 June 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 414; Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to FitzHarris, 27 June 1818.