DUFF, Hon. Alexander (?1777-1851), of Delgaty Castle, nr. Turriff, Aberdeen

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 1831

Family and Education

b. ?1777, 2nd s. of Alexander Duff, 3rd Earl Fife [I] (d. 1811), and Mary, da. of George Skene of Skene, Aberdeen and Careston, Forfar; bro. of James Duff, 4th Earl Fife [I]*. educ. by Dr. Chapman at Inchdrewer, Banff; Westminster 1789. m. 16 Mar. 1812, Anne, da. of James Stein of Kilbagie, Clackmannan, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. GCH 1833; kntd. 27 May 1834. d. 21 Mar 1851.

Offices Held

Ensign 66 Ft. 1793; lt. Power’s Ind. Ft. 1794; capt. 88 Ft. Jan. 1794, maj. Mar. 1794, lt.-col. 1798; col. army 1808; col. (half-pay) 4 Ft. 1810; maj.-gen. 1811; lt.-gen. 1821; col. 92 Ft. 1823; col. 37 Ft. 1831-d.; gen. 1838.


Duff and his elder brother James were removed by their uncle, the 2nd Earl Fife, from parental care and, more specifically, the baneful influence of their immoral Skene mother, in 1783. They were schooled first at Banff and then at Westminster, whence James went to Oxford. Alexander, who was described by Fife as ‘a good boy but [with] no constant application’, was destined for the army, and his family connections secured him rapid promotion in the newly formed 88th Foot, with whom he served in Flanders until the evacuation. In March 1795 Fife reported that ‘Alex Duff is here, very thin; has been advised on the continent to drink gin and smoke tobacco; I hope he will leave that off, otherways he shall vex me worse’.1 Duff’s father was Fife’s heir (he succeeded to the earldom in 1809) and in 1801, having sold the patrimonial Aberdeenshire estate, he executed a bond of provision giving Alexander £4,000.2 After his promotion to lieutenant-colonel, at the age of 20, in 1798, Duff served in India before going to Egypt in 1801 on Sir David Baird’s enterprise. In July 1807 he commanded the centre column in General Whitelocke’s abortive attack on Buenos Ayres, where he was obliged to surrender, with the whole British force. He gave evidence at the court martial of Whitelocke, who was cashiered, 25 Feb. 1808. Duff, whose cousin Sir James Duff presided, escaped censure, but was placed on half-pay in 1810.3

At the general election of 1820 his brother, who had succeeded as 4th Earl Fife in 1811, put him forward for Elgin Burghs in a bid to overturn the Kintore-Grant electoral pact. After a campaign involving violence, kidnappings and legal chicanery, Duff lost to Lord Kintore’s nominee by the casting vote of the delegate from Cullen, the returning burgh. The petition lodged in his name was not pursued.4 Duff obtained a regimental colonelcy from the duke of York in 1823, when he was living at Warriston, near Edinburgh.5 By the time of the general election of 1826 Fife had gained the upper hand in Elgin Burghs, and Duff came in unopposed. In February 1827 the junior minister Lord Lowther*, counting heads for the impending division on Catholic claims, told George IV’s secretary that Duff ‘is a good Protestant and votes with us, and says as the factions in Dublin abused the [recently deceased] duke of York ... nothing shall induce him to vote for them’.6 He duly divided in the majority against relief, 6 Mar. He presented petitions from the trades of Elgin and Banff for repeal of the corn laws, 12, 15 Feb.7 He opposed Hume’s bid to end flogging in the army, 26 Feb., arguing that it was ‘as easy to chain the north wind as to manage British soldiers without the aid of corporal punishment’. He voted for the duke of Clarence’s annuity, 16 Mar. On 22 Mar. he objected ‘with great warmth’ to Hume’s motion for information on the Barrackpoor mutiny, defended Sir Edward Paget† and advised Hume (a former naval surgeon) to confine himself to questions ‘of physic’. He brought up a Banffshire petition for enhanced protection for barley and oats, 30 Mar., and exhorted the East India Company to be more generous in its reward of the troops who had taken Bhurtpoor, 8 May.8 He divided with Canning’s ministry against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. In early December 1827 the Huskissonite Scot Lord Binning* told his leader, a member of the Goderich ministry, that John Hope, the Scottish solicitor-general, had

taken it into his head that ... General Duff might be anxious to retire, and he employed a mutual friend ... to sound him. Duff complained a good deal of the expense to which he has been put, but did not seem to entertain any thought of withdrawing himself from the chance of renewing it by another London campaign ... It remains to be seen whether anything amounting to a hint that if he wants to retire salutary means may be found to fill up his place without putting Fife’s interests to hazard by a contest would be likely to move him. I do not build much on this.9

Nothing came of it. When Lord Nugent moved to curb army flogging, 10 Mar. 1828, Duff, who cited the authority of ‘that great captain’ (and now prime minister) the duke of Wellington to support his assertion that ‘everything depends on discipline’, provoked sniggers, from the ‘facetious’ Hume among others, with his ululation, ‘Oh, my dear House of Commons, consider well before you interfere with the army!’ He was credited with a vote in the minority of nine for removal of the ban on the use of ribbons at elections, 20 Mar. He presented petitions for reform of the Scottish gaols system, 1 May, and the lifting of restrictions on anatomical studies, 5 May. He paired against Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He was absent from the divisions on emancipation in March 1829, defaulting on a call of the House on the 5th. He left no other trace of parliamentary activity in that or the following session. After his unopposed return for Elgin Burghs at the general election of 1830 ministers listed him as one of their ‘friends’, but he was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s English reform bill, 22 Mar., but on 18 Apr. he opposed Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, explaining:

I am by no means an enemy to reform; but the reform I am friendly to, as I have already expressed to my constituents, is one that would be wholesome and salutary, and consistent with the feelings and wishes of the country.

He was one of the four opponents of the second reading who voted with government against Gascoyne next day. He retired from Parliament at the ensuing dissolution and obtained the colonelcy of the 37th Foot soon afterwards.

Duff, who was knighted in 1834, died at Percy Cross, Walham Green, Fulham, Middlesex in March 1851.10 His elder son James (1814-79) was Liberal Member for Banffshire, 1837-57, when he succeeded as 5th Earl Fife.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. A. and H. Tayler, Bk. of the Duffs, i. 193-4, 204, 215-16 and Lord Fife and his Factor, 146-7, 242, 256.
  • 2. Bk. of the Duffs, i. 195.
  • 3. Ibid. i. 216-17; Gent. Mag. (1808), i. 252; The Times, 16 Mar. 1808.
  • 4. NAS GD248/824/2/33 41, 90; Inverness Courier, 6 Apr. 1820.
  • 5. Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff of Braco mss 2727/2/18.
  • 6. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1289.
  • 7. The Times, 13, 16 Feb. 1827.
  • 8. Ibid. 31 Mar., 9 May 1827.
  • 9. Add. 38752, f. 176.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. (1851), i. 663-4.