SKENE, George (1749-1825), of Skene, Aberdeen and Careston, Forfar.
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Family and Education
b. 9 May 1749, 1st s. of George Skene of Skene and Careston by his cos. Mary, da. of George Forbes of Alford, Aberdeen. educ. ?Eton 1763; Aberdeen Univ. 1764-8; adv. 1774. unm. suc. fa. 1781.
Lt. 81 Ft. 1777, capt. 1781, half-pay 1783-d.
In the electoral settlement of north-east Scotland negotiated by Henry Dundas in 1787 it was arranged that Skene, who had gravitated to opposition, was to forfeit his Aberdeenshire seat at the next general election to a reliable ministerialist. Though now deprived of the support of the 2nd Earl Fife, whose brother had married his sister, he threatened to resist and was prominent in the campaign mounted in 1788 by a group of resident proprietors against the multiplication of fictitious votes in the county, but at the last minute he decided not to contest the seat.
Skene, who joined the Whig Club in 1795, went to Paris in 1802 and was formally introduced to Fox.1 In 1797 he told William Adam that he had ‘once very near been a candidate for Kincardine’, but it was not until his friends came to power that, with the encouragement of his fellow Foxite William Maule, he made a serious bid to re-enter the House.2 The circumstances of his candidature for Elgin Burghs, where the 6th Earl of Kintore had the nomination in 1806, caused controversy at the time and are far from clear. He later claimed that after trying and failing to secure Kintore’s support for his and Fife’s nephew James Duff*, he decided to stand for Aberdeen Burghs, but that Fife then promised to support him in the Elgin district if he could obtain Kintore’s backing, which he did. It was Fife’s contention that Skene had agreed to secure the burghs for Duff as a refuge in case of his defeat in Banffshire, which the early dissolution made almost certain; but Skene insisted that his own unconditional candidature had been approved by Fox and Lord Lauderdale who, as well as Adam, certainly spoke of him as the ministerial candidate for the district at the time of the dissolution. Although Lord Grenville seems to have taken Fife’s side, Kintore could not be persuaded to substitute Duff for Skene, who was returned.3
Adam duly listed him among ‘friends of govt. unconnected with Lord Melville’, but a carriage accident, 25 Dec. 1806, so incapacitated him that he was unable to attend Parliament for the debates on the late peace negotiations. He wrote to Adam:
No attempt will, I trust, be made to sully the memory of Mr Fox by the most unrelenting of his foes ... Should it actually happen, I shall ever regret one opportunity lost of showing the respect I entertain for it, which can only end with my life.4
He was present to vote for Brand’s motion condemning the Portland ministry’s pledge on Catholic relief, 9 Apr. 1807, but is not known to have spoken in the House in this period.
Whether Skene, who on 18 Apr. 1807 sent Grenville a long letter of self-vindication against the ‘many reflections thrown out against my conduct’ at the 1806 election, intended at any stage to stand again for Elgin Burghs in 1807 is not certain. In the event, he made way for James Duff, after whose defeat he was accused of betraying a promise to intercede with Kintore on his behalf.5
The natural ability with which Skene was credited and his position as the head of an ancient and once distinguished family, might have enabled him to play a more prominent role in politics, but he was thought in some quarters to have nullified these advantages by temperamental instability and dissipation.6 Yet Robert Pearse Gillies wrote of him:
His own amenity of temper seemed unconquerable, and his simplicity of manners would have been ludicrous, had it not been well known how much of sterling good sense lay at the foundation of his character ... His manner was tranquil and unaffected ... The grand secret of this was not so much his perfect frankness and integrity as the utter absence of all vanity and ambitious pretension ... he had a slight impediment in his speech, which would have rendered any attempt at commanding ... eloquence out of the question ... Skene was a thin, diminutive, and sharp-featured man, but wiry and muscular; extremely vivacious ... and I believe no being ever existed to whose nature the weakness of timidity or irresolution was more completely alien ... Among sober and discreet friends, when such were to be found ... Skene could live soberly and discreetly as they.7
He died 27 Apr. 1825.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: D. G. Henry / David R. Fisher
- 1. Blair Adam mss, Skene to Adam, 18 Aug., 10 Sept. .
- 2. Ibid. Skene to Adam, 20 May 1797, Maule to same, 14 Nov. 1806.
- 3. See ELGIN BURGHS.
- 4. Blair Adam mss, Maule to Adam, 30 Dec., Skene to same, 31 Dec. 1806.
- 5. Fortescue mss; Blair Adam mss, Robinson to Adam, 8 June 1807.
- 6. Mems. Skene Fam. (New Spalding Club), 46.
- 7. Mems. of a Literary Veteran, i. 65-70.