28th January 1784

Prime minister George Hamilton-Gordon is born in Edinburgh

George Hamilton-Gordon, the Earl of Aberdeen, better known as Lord Haddo, was British Prime Minister for two years and one month from December 1852. He was born in Edinburgh and was prominent in politics from a very young age.

He entered the House of Lords aged just 22, was appointed ambassador to Vienna before he turned 30, and became Foreign Secretary when 37. At the same time, he won Hong Kong for Britain, and helped define the border between Canada and the US.

Hamilton-Gordon appointed prime minister

He had been a member of three parties over the years – the Tories, Conservatives and Peelites – so it’s perhaps no great surprise that when the Earl of Derby’s government was replaced by a coalition of Peelites, Whigs and Irish members he should be appointed prime minister. By then, at 68, he was of an age that many might consider more appropriate for the highest office in the land.

Unfortunately for Hamilton-Gordon, forming coalitions frequently requires that significant compromises be made which, in this case, ran as far as including some political giants in his cabinet, including Gladstone (as chancellor), John Russell (as lord president of the council) and Lord Palmerston (as home secretary). Each of these would later become prime ministers themselves in later administrations and might therefore have had an interest in promoting their own agendas.

Brought down by Crimea

Although he had some domestic successes, he was brought down by his handling of Britain’s war with Russia in Crimea. Fighting alongside French, Sardinian and Ottoman troops, Britain’s soldiers were reported to be hungry and disease-ridden.

As the UK government’s official history blog explains, “In January 1855 the Radical MP John Roebuck moved a House of Commons motion calling for a Select Committee to investigate the conduct of the war… [the] motion passed by 305 to 148 votes… As Gladstone observed: ‘The majority… not only brought us down, but sent us down with such a thwack that one heard one’s head thump as it hit the ground.’ A broken Hamilton-Gordon travelled to Windsor Castle on 30 January to submit his resignation as Prime Minister to the Queen.”

Campaign against artistic nudity

He spoke in the House of Commons for the last time on 5 July that year in a debate on pay, which included a clause for paying artists’ models. According to Hansard, Hamilton-Gordon said that “he must object to that part of the Vote which went to provide living models for the use of the students. It was well known that artists did not consider they derived much advantage from living models, unless they were females and perfectly nude. This mode of study was attended with many evils. From want of due caution many persons who ought not to be admitted were allowed to enter the room where the living figure was, and a bad effect was produced on the minds of the humbler classes, who found it difficult to connect such exhibitions with high art.”

He died in London in 1860.



Other events that occured in January

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.