FOSTER, Augustus John (1780-1848), of Killarney, co. Kerry.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 4 Dec. 1780,1 2nd s. of John Thomas Foster, MP [I], of Dunleer, co. Louth by Lady Elizabeth Hervey, da. of Frederick Augustus, 4th Earl of Bristol; bro. of Frederick Thomas Hervey Foster*. educ. Drogheda; Christ Church, Oxf. 1798; Weimar mil. acad. 1799. m. 18 Mar. 1815, Albinia Jane, da. of Hon. George Vere Hobart, 2nd s. of George Hobart†, 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire, 3s. cr. Bt. 30 Sept. 1831.
Cornet, R. Horse Gds. 1797, lt. 1799, ret. 1802.
Sec. of legation to USA 1804-8, to Sweden 1808-10, chargé d’affaires 1808, 1809-10; minister to USA 1811-12, to Denmark 1814-24, to Sardinia 1825-40; PC 28 Mar. 1822.
Foster’s parents separated soon after his birth. He was brought up in Ireland by his father, who died in October 1796. Foster then moved to Devonshire House to join his mother, who had formed a ménage à trois with the duke and duchess and was later to become the duke’s second wife. Although his relationship with his mother was warm and affectionate, he seems never to have become an intimate member of the Devonshire House circle or of Whig political society. Having abandoned a military career, he travelled extensively in Europe with his cousin John Leslie Foster* and Lord Aberdeen. In 1803 he and Lord Duncannon were arrested in France on the resumption of war, but allowed to return home on Fox’s application.2
He had told his mother in 1802 that ‘I only feel the superiority of England everywhere I go, and if I had a large fortune I think I should never stir out of it’,3 yet the experience he gained abroad served as preparation for a long and moderately successful diplomatic career. After serving in a junior capacity at Washington, which he disliked, and Stockholm, the Regent offered him in January 1811 the most delicate and important position of his career, that of minister to the United States of America. At the time Foster was in Ireland investigating the possibility of his being elected for one of the Louth constituencies, but he abandoned this idea and his courtship of Annabella Milbanke to go to America.4 He had the conventional dislike of contemporary English gentlemen for American manners,5 and was unsuccessful in preventing the outbreak of war with Britain in 1812, but most historians are agreed that although he was blind to some of the sources of friction, the main responsibility for war did not lie with him.
On his return home, his uncle Lord Liverpool was anxious that he should put the British case in the House in answer to the criticisms of merchants and opposition, and arranged through Charles Long for his election for Cockermouth on the interest of Lord Lonsdale.6 Foster defended his policy in the American debate of 18 Feb. 1813 in a speech which now reads as a capable effort to minimize the part played by economic issues in the outbreak of hostilities and to place blame on the war party in America.7 But he later recalled:
I had to answer Mr A. Baring’s questions on the course of the war, but after doing so and speaking for about twenty minutes, finding my mouth quite parched with dryness, not having taken the precaution of carrying an orange in my hand and besides being nervous of the novelty of the situation, I took the opportunity of having come to the end of my replies to sit down. I gave up a long tirade that I had prepared against the ambition and greediness for land exhibited by such an overgrown republic ... I never afterwards had sufficient confidence to rise in my place in Parliament, nor was there any chance of my being again forced to do so as it were in my own defence.8
On 20 May 1813 he rose again in defence of an embargo on American cotton. Classed ‘Government’ by the Treasury, his only recorded votes that year were in favour of Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 13 and 24 May 1813, a subject which he had stipulated he should be at liberty to support when his uncle was negotiating with Lonsdale for Cockermouth.9 From April 1814 he was again employed on diplomatic service and vacated his seat early in 1816. He had appeared in the majority on the civil list, 14 Apr. 1815, but returned to Copenhagen by September.10
Foster committed suicide, 1 Aug. 1848, troubled by religious doubts after a serious illness.11
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: J. M. Collinge
- 1. Two Duchesses ed. V. Foster, 153. Baron d’Armfeldt claimed in 1808 to be Foster’s father, Canning and his Friends , i. 302.
- 2. Two Duchesses, passim; Blair Adam mss, Ferguson to Adam, 3 July 1803.
- 3. Two Duchesses, 174.
- 4. Mary Mc Neill, Vere Foster, 22.
- 5. See his notes on America, pub. as Jeffersonian America ed. Davis.
- 6. Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 4 Dec., Liverpool to same, 10 Dec. 1812.
- 7. Parl. Deb. xxiv. 622-7, where the speech is incorrectly attributed to his brother.
- 8. Jeffersonian America, 344.
- 9. Ibid. 343.
- 10. Castlereagh Corresp. ix. 512; x. 106; xi. 18.
- 11. Gent. Mag. (1848), ii. 317; McNeill, 44.