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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Gordons of Methlic & Haddo

THE Gordons of METHLIC AND HADDO, now ennobled under the title of Earl of Aberdeen, trace their pedigree to SIR WILLIAM GORDON of Coldingknows, in Berwickshire, younger son of Sir Thomas de Gordon, grandson of the founder of the family in Scotland. The Gordons of Huntly, as we have seen, represent the house through an heir female, Elizabeth Gordon, who, in 1449, married Alexander de Seton, while the Aberdeen branch have preserved an unbroken male descent. Owing, however, to the loss of many of the family papers when Kelly, their residence, was taken and plundered by the Marquis of Argyll, in 1644, and at a later period, when the house in which the Earl lived in Aberdeen was burned, their descent from Sir William Gordon cannot be traced with certainty. Sir William’s son is said to have accompanied his cousin, Sir Adam Gordon, to the north, in the time of King Robert Bruce, and to have married the heiress of Methlic. His descendant, PATRICK GORDON of Methlic, was killed at the battle of Brechin (May 18th, 1452), in which the Tiger Earl of Crawford was defeated by the Earl of Huntly. JAMES GORDON, Sir Patrick’s son, received from the King a gift of the barony of Kelly, a part of Crawford’s forfeited estate. His great-grandson, GEORGE GORDON, though he signed, in 1567, the bond of association for the defence of the infant sovereign, James VI., became a staunch supporter of the cause of Queen Mary, under the banner of the Earl of Huntly, her lieutenant in the north. The head of the family during the Great Civil War was George Gordon’s great-grandson, SIR JOHN GORDON of Haddo, who succeeded to the family estates in 1624. When the Covenanters took up arms against their sovereign, King Charles appointed Sir John Gordon second in command to the Marquis of Huntly, his lieutenant in the north. He took part in the skirmish called ‘The Trot of Turriff,’ 14th May, 1639, when blood was first shed in that lamentable contest. In 1642 he was created a baronet by the King, but the honour thus conferred upon him no doubt helped to make him obnoxious to the Covenanting Convention, who issued letters of intercommuning against him, and granted a warrant for his apprehension. When the Marquis of Huntly took up arms on behalf of the King, in 1644, he was joined by Sir John Gordon, and a sentence of excommunication was pronounced against them both, by order of the General Assembly. When Huntly disbanded his forces and retreated into Strathnairn, in Sutherlandshire, Sir John attempted to defend his castle of Kelly against the Marquis of Argyll, who had been despatched to the north at the head of a strong force to quell the insurrection. Earl Marischal, Sir John’s cousin, who was in Argyll’s army, earnestly recommended him to surrender, assuring him that he would obtain safe and honourable terms. He accordingly capitulated, on the 8th of May. The greater part of the garrison was dismissed, but Sir John, Captain Logie, and four or five others, were detained as prisoners. The author of the history of the Gordon family asserts that Argyll ‘destroyed and plundered everything that was in the house, carried away out of the garners 180 chalders victual, killed and drove away all the horse, nolt, and sheep that belonged to Sir John and his tenants round about,’ and that this ‘barbarous usage touched Marischal in the most sensible part; he took it as an open affront to himself,’ being a violation of the terms of surrender.

Sir John was conveyed to Edinburgh, and was imprisoned in the western division of St. Giles’s Church, which in consequence acquired, and long retained, the name of Haddo’s Hole. He was brought to trial before the Estates on a charge of high treason, on the ground that he had taken up arms against the Convention, and had taken part in the battle at Turriff. He pleaded that all these alleged offences had been indemnified by the ‘Act of Pacification,’ and produced the royal commission under which he had acted. He was also indicted for garrisoning his house against the Estates—a charge on which it appears they mainly relied for obtaining a conviction. He urged in his defence that 'there were many Acts of Parliament making these things treason when done against the King, but none yet extant making them treason when done against the Estates.’ l-le was of course found guilty, and along with Captain Logie, was beheaded at the Cross of Edinburgh, on the 10th of July, 1644. On the scaffold he said in an audible voice to the crowd of spectators, in reply to one of the ministers who desired him to make a full confession of his sins; ‘I confess myself to be a great sinner before God, but never transgressed against the country, or any in it but such as were in open rebellion against the King; and what I did in that case I thought it good service, and bound to it as my duty by the laws of God and the land.’ William Gordon says that ‘Sir John had got a very liberal education, and was a gentleman of excellent parts, both natural and acquired, but above all was eminent for his courage and valour.’

At the Restoration, the forfeited estates of the family were restored to Sir John’s eldest son, who died without male issue in 1665, and was succeeded by his brother—

SIR GEORGE GORDON, third Baronet and first Earl of Aberdeen, who was born in 1637. He was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and for some time held the office of Professor in that institution. On resigning his chair he went to the Continent to study civil law, and was residing there when the death of his brother put him in possession of the family estates. On his return to Scotland he was admitted to the Bar, in the beginning of 1668, and speedily obtained a high reputation for his ability and legal knowledge. Crawford, in his ‘History of the Officers of State,’ mentions that during all the time he was at the Bar he never took fees as an advocate, though he had abundance of clients, and many of them persons of the first rank. He represented the county of Aberdeen, in the Parliaments of 1670 and 1673, was made a member of the Privy Council in 1678, was appointed one of the Senators of the College of Justice in 1680, and was nominated President of the Court of Session in 1681. In the following year he was elevated to the office of Lord Chancellor of Scotland. He was in London at the time this promotion was conferred upon him, and a few days after he embarked for Scotland, along with the Duke of York, in the Gloucester frigate, which on the 5th of May struck on the sandbank called the Lemon and Ore, near Yarmouth. With the exception of the Duke, Sir George Gordon, whom he insisted on taking with him, the Earl of Wintoun, and two gentlemen of the Duke’s bedchamber, all on board perished. It had hitherto been the custom to appoint none but peers to the Chancellorship, and as the nomination of a Commoner gave great offence to many of the nobility, Sir George Gordon was created, November 30th, 1682, Earl of Aberdeen, Viscount Formartine, Lord Haddo, Methlic, Tarves, and Kellie. In the preamble of the patent conferring that honour upon him, mention is made in detail of the loyalty and important services of his ancestors, especially of the memorable fidelity and integrity of his father, and of his strenuous efforts during the Great Civil War to uphold the royal cause, for which he sacrificed his life and fortune.

Lord Aberdeen held the office of Chancellor for two years, and resigned it for a reason highly honourable to him—his opposition to the proposal of the Duke of Queensberry, that husbands should be fined for the non-attendance of their wives at church. King James decided in favour of Queensberry, and Lord Aberdeen immediately resigned his office of Chancellor, which was conferred upon the Romish pervert, the Earl of Perth.

The accounts of the Earl, which are still preserved among the manuscripts in Haddo House, throw interesting light both on the Chancellor’s personal habits and on the manners of the times. His lordship had evidently been fond of such sports as hunting, hawking, and horse-racing. There are frequent entries of payments made to the men who brought hawks, for hoods and bells, and for a hawk glove, and hawks’ meat. A certain Patrick Logan receives £32 (Scots) for ‘goeing north with hauks;’ on one occasion, ‘my Lord goeing to the hauking,’ receives 5s 16s.; on another, £12 14s. At that time there were horse-races at Leith, which continued to be kept up till a comparatively recent period. They had evidently been patronised by the Chancellor, for in his accounts there appear such items as these—’To my Lord goeing to Leith to his race, £8 8s.;’ ‘for weighing the men att Leith that rade, £1 8s.;’ ‘to the man that ran the night before the race, 18s.;’ ‘item, to the two grooms, drink money att winning the race at Leith, £8 8s.;’ ‘item, to the Edinburgh officers with the cup, £14;’ ‘item, to the Smith boy plaitt the running horse feet, 14s.’

It would appear that numerous presents were sent to the Lord Chancellor by his friends—no doubt with a view to conciliate the good-will of the powerful minister and judge. The most frequent present seems to have been deer. Lords Doune, Huntly, Menteith, and Sir Patrick Hume send deer; Lord Kinnaird, a goose; Lord Crawford, ‘sparrow grasse;’ the Marquis of Douglas, a Solan goose, doubtless from the Bass, which was in vicinity of his lordship’s castle of Tantallon; Lord Strathmore, English hounds; Lord Oxford, a dog; the minister of Currie also sends an English hound; Gordon of Glenbucket, dogs; the Captain of Clan Ranald and Macleod of Macleod, a hawk; Lord Errol, ‘a torsel off falcon;’ Lord Lithgow, eels, peaches, and partridges; Lord Wintoun and Lady Errol, pears; Lord Dunfermline, fruit. Douceurs are given to each of the servants bringing these presents, varying from 7s. to £2 18s. (Scots).

Payments for books show that the Lord Chancellor was not neglecting his legal studies. ‘To Sir Jo. Dalrymple’s man with Stair’s Decisions’ £2 18s. was paid; ‘Sir James Turner’s man with a book, £1 9s.’ ‘to my Lord Glendoyick’s man, for Acts of Parliament, £1 9s.;’ ‘for Grotius, De Jure Belli et Pacis, £2 18s.’

The entries relating to the Lord Chancellor’s dress are not the least curious and interesting part of the accounts. ‘Gloves to my Lord’ cost £2 18s.; ‘a pock to my Lord’s hatt,’ 7s. 10d. A cobbler received 14s. for ‘dressing my Lord’s boots.’ His lordship’s expenses in London were on a much larger scale. ‘Two fyne shirts and a poynt gravat’ were charged £10 15s. sterling (Scots money was unknown in the Great Metropolis); ‘a castor hatt to my Lord’ cost £1; ‘a fyne pine wig, £5 5s.’ Five shillings was paid to ‘Dunfermling’s man to trim my Lord.’ ‘Takeing a coatch over water to Windsor’ was charged 1s.; ‘a hackney chair to my Lord, five days, 17s. 6d.;’ and the same sum was paid ‘for my Lord’s lodgeing five nights att Windsor.’ The Chancellor’s travelling expenses ‘comeing up to London’ amounted to £10. The footmen of the King, Queen, and Duke of York received from him in gratuities the sum of £3 4s. 6d. The total expenses incurred in his journey to London and back, and remaining a fortnight in the metropolis, amounted to £150 17s. 4d.

The Earl’s travelling expenses even at home were by no means light, as appears from such entries as—’To my Lord himself goeing to Cranstoun, £17 8s.;’ ‘to my Lord goeing to Lauderdale’s funeral, £9 16s.;’ for ‘drink and accommodation in Mrs. Bennett’s ‘—doubtless an inn—£35 9s. 8d. was paid, and the same sum, bating the shillings and pence, for ‘five horses post from Burntisland to Aberdeen,’ and ‘for our lawing [reckoning] in Aberdeen at night, £67 1s;’ for ‘lime and sack there in the morning, £3.’ Falstaff’s complaint that lime had been put in his sack, shows the common usage at that time. But the travelling expenses appear to have been greatly exceeded by the gratuities which the Lord Chancellor had to give to footmen, trumpeters, ‘musitioners,’ fiddlers, pipers, drummers, porters, and retainers of every sort. The heaviest item of all was for ‘drink money.’ On one occasion "13 (Scots) was paid for drink money at Abbotshall; on another, £11 12s. for drink money at Cupar. On a journey to Gordon Castle there was paid for ‘drink money at Craig of Boyne, £8 14s.;’ ‘for drink money at the Booge, £17 8s.;’ and ‘to the two footmen to drink by the way, 7s.’ On a journey from Kellie to Edinburgh, £8 14s. was paid for drink money to the drummers of Aberdeen; £2 18s. for drink money to ‘Widow Burnet, tapster;’ and £1 9s. for drink money to fiddlers.

The Earl was evidently open-handed, and wherever he went gave liberally, not only to servants but to the poor and needy. A ‘poor body at Athroes’ got 9s.; a poor scholar, 14s.; ‘one Johnston, a poet,’ £5 16s.; a poor seaman, £1 9s.; ‘ane distracted wyfe, called Johnston,’ 14s.; ‘a poor gentlewoman,’ £1 9s. ‘to the poor at Dundee,’ 10s.; ‘to the poor at Glammis,’ 12s.; ‘to the poor at Cullen of Boyne,’ 7s. ‘When his lordship attended church he did not neglect ‘the collection,’ as is shown by the entry, ‘To my Lord goeing to church,’ £1 9s. The church officers were not forgotten. ‘The beddels that keips my Lady’s seatt’ received a gratuity of £2 18s.; ‘the beddels of the Abay church’ got £1 9s. Another entry—’ Item, to the clerk and beddels quhen Katherin was baptised’—shows that at that early period the custom existed, which has come down to our own day, of giving a gratuity to the beadle in attendance at baptisms. Finally, ‘My Lady’s receipts for house furnishing from the 15th of January to the 4th of June, 1683,’ amounted to £1,946 17s. 4d.

After his resignation of his office, Lord Aberdeen devoted his attention to the management and improvement of his estates. At the Revolution he remained in the country for some time, in order to avoid giving his adherence to the new sovereigns, and he was repeatedly fined for his absence from Parliament. On the accession of Queen Anne, however, he took the oath of allegiance, and attended one or two sessions of her Parliament. He died at Kelly, on the 20th of April, 1720, in the eighty-third year of his age. By his wife, daughter and heiress of George Lockhart of Torbrecks, the Earl had, with four daughters, two sons; George, Lord Haddo, who predeceased him, and—

WILLIAM, second Earl, who was chosen one of the representative peers of Scotland. He died in 1746, in his seventieth year. He was three times married. Alexander Gordon, his third son by his third wife, a daughter of the second Duke of Gordon, was appointed one of the Senators of the Court of Session, with the title of Lord Rockville.

GEORGE, third Earl, eldest son of the second Earl, like his father, was one of the sixteen representative peers. He died in 1801. He had four daughters and two sons, the elder of whom, George, Lord Haddo, predeceased him, having died in 1791, in consequence of injuries received by a fall from his horse. He left six sons and one daughter. His second and sixth sons entered the navy, and each attained the rank of vice-admiral. Sir Alexander Gordon, his third son, was a lieutenant-colonel in the army, and aide-de-camp, first to his uncle, Sir David Baird, and afterwards to the Duke of Wellington. He was mortally wounded at the battle of Waterloo, and died on the following day. The Duke, in a letter communicating the sad intelligence to the Earl of Aberdeen, Sir Alexander’s brother, says, ‘He had served me most zealously and usefully for many years, and on many trying occasions; but he had never rendered himself more useful and had never distinguished himself more than in our late actions. He received the wound which occasioned his death when rallying one of the Brunswick battalions which was shaking a little; and he lived long enough to be informed by myself of the glorious result of our actions, to which he had so much contributed by his active and zealous assistance.’

Sir Robert Gordon, G.C.B., fifth son of Lord Haddo, attained high rank and distinction in the diplomatic service of the country. The eldest son —

GEORGE HAMILTON GORDON, born in 1784, became fourth Earl of Aberdeen on the death of his grandfather in 1801. He was educated at Harrow, and at St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he took the degree of M.A. in 1804. After completing his studies, he travelled for some time in Italy and Greece, and, on his return, was one of the founders of the Athenian Society, whose members are restricted to persons who have visited Athens. Hence the Earl was termed by Lord Byron, in his ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers ‘—

‘The travell’d thane, Athenian Aberdeen.’

Lord Aberdeen entered Parliament in 1806 as one of the Scottish representative peers, was chosen a second time in 1807, and in 1813, when barely twenty-nine years of age, he was sent on a special mission to Vienna for the purpose of inducing the Emperor of Austria to join the alliance against his son-in-law, the Emperor Napoleon. He performed this delicate and difficult task with great success, and signed at Toplitz the preliminary treaty in which Austria united with Great Britain and Russia against France. The Earl was present at Lutzen and Bautzen, and other great battles in the campaigns of 1813-14, and rode over the field of Leipsic, in company with Humboldt, after the three days’ sanguinary conflict. It was he who persuaded Murat, King of Naples, to abandon the cause of his imperial brother-in-law, and he subsequently took part in the negotiations rendered necessary by the return of Napoleon from Elba. In 1814, he was created Viscount Gordon of Aberdeen, in the peerage of the United Kingdom. He was a steady supporter of Lord Liverpool’s Government, and the Tory party; in January, 1828, he became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and shortly after, on the resignation of the Canningites, he was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the administration of the Duke of Wellington—a position which he held for nearly three years. On the overthrow of the Duke’s Ministry, the Earl of course retired from office, and with the exception of a few months in 1834-1835, when he filled the post of Colonial Secretary in the short-lived administration of Sir Robert Peel, he remained in Opposition until 1841, when Peel became once more Prime Minister, and Lord Aberdeen was reinstalled in the Foreign Office. He loyally supported his chief against the fierce attacks of the Protectionists on the abolition of the Corn Laws, and in all his Free Trade policy. His own administration of foreign affairs was cautious and pacific, yet firm and dignified; and in the dispute with the Government of the United States on the Oregon question he steadily upheld the honour and interests of the country, while he contrived to avert the evils of war, which at one time seemed imminent.

When the controversy arose in the Established Church of Scotland, respecting the Veto Law, and the right of the people to reject an unacceptable presentee, Lord Aberdeen, who took a warm interest in the affairs of the Church in which he was an office-bearer, undertook to prepare a Bill which he expected would have the effect of healing those dissensions that were threatening to rend the Church in pieces. His lordship had publicly expressed his conviction that ‘the will of the people had always formed an essential ingredient in the election to the pastoral office,’ and the professed object of the measure which he prepared, was to prevent the intrusion of a presentee on a congregation who refused to receive him as their minister. But when the Bill was introduced into the House of Lords, it was found to be essentially at variance with the principles of the Non-Intrusion party. They insisted that the Church courts should have power to reject a presentee simply on the ground that he was unacceptable to the people. But Lord Aberdeen proposed to give effect to the objections of the parishioners to the presentee only when these were sufficient, in the judgment of the Presbytery, to warrant his rejection. On this and some other similar grounds, Lord Aberdeen’s Bill was condemned by the General Assembly of May, 1841, by a great majority, and was abandoned at the time by its author. A painful controversy in consequence ensued between Lord Aberdeen and Dr. Chalmers. There seem to have been misunderstandings on both sides respecting the precise nature and extent of the powers which the Earl intended to confer upon the Church courts; but there can be little doubt that he had been induced to quit the ground which he originally took up, by the urgent representations of some of the leaders of the Moderate party, and especially of Mr. John Hope, the Dean of Faculty, who, more than any other person, was instrumental in bringing about the disruption of the Scottish Church.

After the catastrophe had taken place, Lord Aberdeen’s despised and rejected Bill was passed into a law. It had no effect in repairing the breach that had been made in the Church, and the results, as Lord Cockburn remarked, were ‘great discontent among the people, great caprice and tyranny in the Church courts, great grumbling among patrons, yet no regular or effective check on the exercise of patronage.’ It had ultimately to be repealed, having been productive of nothing but mischief and universal dissatisfaction. Lord Aberdeen was surprised and deeply grieved at the disruption of the Established Church, having been made to believe that only a small number of ministers and people would secede, and he repeatedly expressed his great regret that he had unwittingly contributed to bring about this catastrophe.

Lord Aberdeen retired from office in 1846, when the Protectionists, in revenge, broke up Sir Robert Peel’s Government. On the death of that distinguished statesman, his lordship became the virtual head of his party, and during the ministerial crisis of 1851 he was requested by the Queen to form a Ministry, in conjunction with Sir James Graham, but was obliged to decline the responsible and difficult task. When the short-lived administration of Lord Derby was overthrown in the following year, a coalition was formed between the Whigs and the Peelites, and Lord Aberdeen was placed at the head of the Government, which combined almost all the men of talent and experience in the House of Commons. They carried out a number of important reforms in home affairs, especially in financial arrangements. The nation seemed to be entering on a period of great prosperity and progress when this fair prospect was suddenly overcast by the war between Russia and Turkey, in which Great Britain and France were reluctantly involved. Lord Aberdeen had long before penetrated the designs of Russia upon Turkey, and had in his despatches denounced in decided terms the ambition and faithlessness of the Czar Nicholas. He felt strongly, he said, the dishonourable unfairness of the Russians. They presumed on his being Premier, and thought he would not go to war. Lord Aberdeen had, indeed, an undisguised horror of war, which he justly regarded as one of the greatest evils, and strove to maintain peace after the voice of the nation had unequivocally declared for an armed resistance to the unprincipled designs of Russia. The country thus ‘drifted into war,’ for which no adequate preparation had been made. When the Crimean disasters took place, Lord John Russell, who had long been impatient under the Premiership of Lord Aberdeen, whom he expected to have made way for his own elevation to the chief place in the Cabinet, suddenly resigned his office, and the administration was in consequence broken up, but not until it had carried several important measures for the reform of the law, the government of India, the opening of the University of Oxford, the improvement of the condition of the people, and the extension of the principles of free trade.

On the retirement of Lord Aberdeen from the office of First Lord of the Treasury, he was made a Knight of the Garter, and the Queen, as a rare and signal token of royal favour, commanded him to retain also the Order of the Thistle, of which his lordship was the senior knight, having received the green ribbon as far back as the year 1808. From that period onward Lord Aberdeen did not take any prominent part in public affairs, though his administrative ability and high character gave him great weight in the legislature.

Lord Aberdeen belonged to the solid, not to the showy, class of statesmen. He had a clear head, a sound judgment, a liberal disposition, vast experience, and unblemished integrity. Notwithstanding his long connection with the Tory party, he was thoroughly Liberal in his policy, both foreign and domestic. He was of a somewhat reserved temperament and studious habits, and was distinguished for his refined taste in all matters connected with the fine arts. He was the author of an ‘Introduction’ to ‘Wilkins’ Translation of Vitruvius’ Civil Architecture,’ which he published in an extended form as a distinct work in 1822, under the title of ‘An Inquiry into the Principles of Beauty in Grecian Architecture.’

There are a number of interesting references to the Earl scattered through the diary and the letters of Bishop Wilberforce. Sir James Graham told him that, when Lord Melbourne went out of office, he said to the Queen, ‘Madam, you will not like Peel, but you will like Aberdeen. He is a gentleman.’ Sir James added, ’He has a great tenderness for the sex; a most entirely good man, very affectionate and true.’ The Bishop, writing from Buchanness, October 15th, 1856, says: ‘It is delightful to walk and converse with the good old Earl. He is full of history, manners, and men. All his judgments are fair, and candid, and true, in the highest possible degree, but at the same time there is a slight tinge of humour in his judgment of men, and a clear discernment of character, which is delightful.’ In his diary, under the date of February 7th, 1855, the Bishop says: ‘Lord Aberdeen, natural, simple, good, and honest as ever.’ The Earl must have had a very conciliatory and persuasive manner. George IV. was always partial to him, and when the Earl was sent by his colleagues to that Sybarite he used to say to him, ‘What —— thing have I got to yield to now, that they have sent you to break it to me?’

Lord Aberdeen was a skilful and enterprising agricultural improver. When he came into possession of his estate at Haddo, there were only the limes and a few Scottish firs on it. He planted about fourteen millions of trees, and lived to see whole forests which he had planted rise into maturity and beauty.

The Earl was Chancellor of King’s College and University, Aberdeen, President of the British Institution, a Governor of Harrow and of the Charterhouse, and Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire. He died at Stanmore, on December 74th, 1860, in the seventy-seventh year of his age. Bishop Wilberforce, who officiated, says, ‘Lord Aberdeen’s funeral was most striking. The vault was in an old ivy-grown corner of the old church, now demolished, just under the old tower. The heavy tread of the bearers crushed the snow, the great flakes falling heavily through the whole service; the form, in particular, amongst the pall-bearers, of Sir James Graham, with his massive figure and large bald head, bare, with the snow falling on it; Arthur Gordon’s sorrow; Gladstone with his face speaking; Newcastle; the light from within the vault: a most impressive sight, engraven on my memory for ever.’

GEORGE JOHN JAMES, Lord Haddo, succeeded his father as fifth Earl of Aberdeen. He was born in 1816, and died in 1864, leaving by his wife, a daughter of Mr. Baillie of Jerviswood, and sister of the tenth Earl of Haddington, three sons and three daughters.

GEORGE HAMILTON, sixth Earl, his eldest son, born in 1841, from his earliest years displayed a strong liking for a seafaring life. When a mere child he used to go out with the herring boats at Boddom, and remain with the fishermen all night. Shortly after his accession to the earldom he resolved to gratify this passion for a sailor’s life, and in January, 1866, he sailed from Liverpool in a large sailing vessel, called the Pomona, bound to St. John’s, New Brunswick. After a protracted voyage the vessel reached its destination, and the Earl spent the month of April with his uncle, Sir Arthur Gordon, who was at that time Governor of New Brunswick. He then proceeded to Boston, where he stayed some weeks in a hotel, and dropping his title, assumed the name of ‘George H. Osborne.’ Under that designation he embarked, in the month of June, in a vessel bound for Palmas, in the Canaries. One of the sailors, with whom he appears to have become somewhat intimate, says, ‘He was not dressed as a sailor, and I was surprised to find he had shipped as one. His hands were tender, and they soon got blistered; mine were then in a similar state, and we joked about it. But he was always active, willing, and energetic, and took a fair share of all the work. He made himself most popular with officers and crew. . . . He told me Osborne was an assumed name, and that his real name was Gordon; but, he said, I must not mention it on board ship.’

In July, 1866, the Earl was at Palmas, on the coast of Africa, whence he wrote an interesting letter to his mother. He was discovered to have served, in 1867, on board the schooner Arthur Burton, bound for Vera Cruz, with a cargo of corn. At that time the Mexican War was going on, and Vera Cruz was being bombarded, and a cannon-ball struck a house close to which he was standing. He immediately placed his head in the hole the ball had made, and remained in that position till the cannonading ceased. ‘I thought it unlikely,’ he said in a letter to his mother, ‘that another shot would come just to that same spot; but while I was there seven people were killed in the same square.’

In February, 1867, he resided for some time in Boston, assiduously studying navigation at the Nautical College there, and obtained from the college authorities a certificate of his possessing the requisite skill and judgment for the first officer of any ship in the merchant service. Early in that year he sailed from New York to Galveston, Texas, with ‘a good Boston captain,’ named John Wilson, who was a Baptist and a teetotaller. On the 12th of August he wrote from New York to his mother, mentioning that he had just arrived from Mexico, and giving a vivid description of the imminent danger to which his vessel had been exposed, ‘a whole night and part of a day bumping on a sandbank, in a sea full of sharks, on an inhospitable and dangerous coast, where sand-flies, horse-flies, and mosquitos abound, and where at night can be heard the savage roar of the tigers and wild animals which inhabit the impervious tropical jungle which lines the coast and comes right down to the beach.’ He made another narrow escape in the Gulf Stream on New Year’s Eve, described in a letter to his mother dated 10th February, 1868. Another letter to Lady Aberdeen, dated 1st December, 1868, gives an account of his deliverance from a still more imminent danger.

‘Not many weeks ago,’ he says, ‘I thought my last hour was come. I was in a small vessel, deep loaded, and very leaky. A furious gale came on right on shore. The water gained on us—we could not keep her free. As morning dawned the gale increased, if possible, in violence. To windward there was nothing but rain and wind, and the ever-rising white-capped billows. To leeward was the low quicksand, with roaring billows, on to which we were slowly but surely drifting. We carried an awful press of sail, but the poor water-logged steamer lay over on her beam-ends, and made two miles to leeward for every one ahead. We were toiling at the pumps and throwing overboard our deck load; but already there was five foot of water in the hold, and nothing could have saved us but a miracle, or a change of wind. At 10 A.M. God in his mercy sent a sudden change of wind all in a moment, right off the shore, with perfect floods of rain, which beat down the sea, and in half an hour the wind moderated. After toiling seventeen hours we got a suck on the pumps, and took heart of grace, and eat a little food. Next day we made the harbour of New York, where I now am. To-morrow we start for a coast famed for its tales of piracy, wrecking, and murder—the coast of Florida. But those times are past, and now it is only dangerous on account of its numerous shoals and sunken rocks. Give my love to all dear ones, and believe in the never-dying love of your affectionate son, GEORGE.’

There is abundant evidence that Lord Aberdeen, while keeping up the accomplishments which he had cultivated at home, had acquired a thorough knowledge of the profession which for a time he had chosen to follow. ‘He was a first-rate navigator,’ said one who knew him only as a sailor, ‘and no calculation ever puzzled him.’ An American carpenter, named Green, with whom he seems to have been on intimate terms, says, ‘He drew beautifully. He was an excellent seaman and navigator. He was very fond of reading and music. He used to play very often on a piano in my house. He was very good to children. My wife had a little sister who was often in the house, and George used to take a great deal of notice of her, and often buy her little presents: she was four or five years old. I remember George had a revolver on board the Walton, and I have often seen him at sea throw a corked bottle overboard and break it with a shot from his revolver. He was a first-rate shot both with pistol and rifle. I have seen him snuff a candle with a pistol-bullet at five or six yards.’

All who came into familiar intercourse with George Osborne bear testimony to his sincere but unostentatious piety, as might have been expected from his training by pious parents. His daily perusal of the Holy Scriptures is frequently mentioned by his companions, and his regular attendance at church while on shore. The testimony is not less strong to his strict moral conduct, and his earnest efforts to promote the spiritual interests of the sailors with whom he came in contact. He lived on his wages as a seaman, and even saved a little money from them. He was of a most obliging disposition, and always ready to lend a helping hand to relieve distress. In his boyhood he showed a taste for mechanics, frequently working with the carpenter on his father’s estate; and his handiness, along with his energy and activity, made him of great use on board ship. His affection for his family, and especially for his mother, was remarkably strong and tender. In a letter to her, dated New York, 12th August, 1867, he says :—

‘My DEAREST MAMMA,—I hope you are keeping well. I am now with a very good man. It is good for me to be here; he is the same I went to Galveston with, but I must leave him to-day. I hope you will get this letter, and that it will cheer your heart; it tells you of my undiminished love, though I have not heard of or from you for more than a year.’

On the 1st of December, 1868, he wrote to Lady Aberdeen :—

‘I must come and see you soon, though it is so long since I have heard, that a sort of vague dread fills my mind, and I seem to feel rather to go on in doubt than to learn what would kill me, or drive me to worse—I mean were I to return and not find you. How many times has this thought come to me in the dark and cheerless night watches; but I have to drive it from me as too dreadful to think of. I wonder where you are now, and what you are doing. I know you are doing something good, and a blessing to all around you.’

On the 15th of March, 1867, the Earl wrote from Honiton, Texas, in a similar strain to his younger brother, James Gordon:-

‘I have never seen an approach to a double of you or of mamma. I know there cannot be her double in the world. She has not an equal. . . . My best love to dear mamma; I think of her only; she is always in my thoughts.’

One of the incidents which helped to prove the identity of the Earl with George Osborne was the fondness of the latter for a song which used to be sung by Lady Aberdeen, and which he stated had been a favourite song of his mother.

Although Lord Aberdeen frequently expressed a great liking for America and the Americans, he had no intention of remaining permanently absent from Scotland. In several of his letters he intimated that he meant to return home, but he was induced to prolong his seafaring life from finding that the change of climate had improved his health, which had been delicate in his own country. Several months passed in 1869 without any letter from him, and the anxiety of the family respecting him became so intense and painful that the Rev. William Alexander, a Presbyterian clergyman, who had been his lordship’s tutor, volunteered to go in search of him, in November, 1870. The difficulties he had to encounter in this enterprise were very great, as even the name which the Earl had assumed was not known. After long and laborious inquiries, Mr. Alexander at length succeeded in finding the ‘good Boston captain,’ the Baptist and teetotaller, with whom the Earl had sailed from New York to Galveston, Texas, in 1867, and he, on being shown the photograph of Lord Aberdeen, declared it to be the likeness of a young man named George Osborne, who had been in his ship on the voyage mentioned. Furnished with this clue, and assisted by the agent of the present Earl, Mr. Alexander succeeded in tracing the career of Osborne to its sad close. He had engaged himself as mate on board a small vessel called the Hera, which sailed from Boston to Melbourne on the 21st of January, 1870, with a crew of only eight persons besides the captain, and on the night of the 27th he was washed overboard in a state of the weather which rendered it hopeless to rescue him. The identity of George Osborne with Lord Aberdeen was clearly established by photographs, by handwriting, and by a comparison of the various occurrences of Osborne’s career during the years 1866—1870 with those which Lord Aberdeen’s letters recorded as having happened to himself. There could therefore be no doubt of the fate of this excellent young nobleman, whose untimely death, in the flower of his youth, caused great sorrow among his relations and the tenantry on his estates.

His brother James, second son of the fifth Earl, predeceased him in 1868, and he was succeeded by his youngest brother, JOHN CAMPBELL HAMILTON GORDON, born in 1847. The Earl is Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire, was for several years Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Established Church of Scotland, and in 1886 was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. According to the ‘Doomsday Book,’ the family estates comprehend 63,422 acres, with a rental of £40,765.

Memoir of Lord Haddo
In his latter years, Fifth Earl of Aberdeen edited by the Rev. E. B. Elliott, M.A. (sixth edition) (1866) (pdf)

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