Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dunk, George Montagu

DUNK, GEORGE MONTAGU, second Earl of Halifax (1716–1771), son of George Montagu, second baron, who was created Earl of Halifax in 1715, and married as his second wife Lady Mary Lumley, daughter of Richard, earl of Scarborough, was born 5 Oct. 1716, and succeeded on his father's death in 1739 to the earldom and to the position of ranger of Bushey Park. The family estates were but small, and throughout his life he was ‘by no means an economist,’ but at the commencement of his career he was ‘so lucky as to find a great fortune in Kent.’ The heiress was Anne, the only daughter of William Richards, who had inherited in 1718 the property of Sir Thomas Dunk, knight, the representative of a family of ‘great clothiers’ seated at Tongs in Hawkhurst, Kent. She brought her husband the enormous fortune in those days of 110,000l., and the marriage was celebrated on 2 July 1741, having been delayed for some time because the lady had inherited this money on condition of marrying some one engaged in commercial life. This obligation Halifax is said to have fulfilled by becoming a member of one of the trading companies in London, and he also assumed her name. Richard Cumberland, who as the peer's private secretary had good opportunities for studying their domestic life, bears high witness to her character, and to his ‘perfect and sincere regard,’ which was shown in his grief at her premature decease in 1753, when she was but twenty-eight years old. Halifax was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, and as a scholar ranked much above his contemporaries in position. When he took his seat in the House of Lords he joined the opposition as a follower of the Prince of Wales, and received in October 1742 the post of lord of the bedchamber in the prince's household; but at the close of 1744 he made his peace with the Pelham ministry, and was rewarded with the position of master of the buckhounds. On the invasion of England in 1745, Halifax, like other noblemen, volunteered to raise a regiment, and his speech at Northampton on 25 Sept. 1745 to rally the gentry of that county to the royal banner is printed in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1745, pp. 501–13. Though these promised regiments ‘all vanished in air or dwindled to jobs,’ he was created a colonel in the army 4 Oct. 1745, and though never engaged in active service ultimately rose to the position of lieutenant-general (4 Feb. 1759). The mastership of the buckhounds he retained until June 1746, and from that month until 7 Oct. 1748 he held the chief-justiceship in eyre of the royal forests and parks south of the Trent. In the autumn of that year Halifax was placed at the head of the board of trade, with John Pownall as its acting secretary, and his own chief adviser. By some critics the new president was deemed overbearing in manners and moderate in talents, but his zeal in pushing the mercantile interests of his country and his application in raising the credit of his department were universally recognised. The commerce of America was so much extended under his direction that he was sometimes styled the ‘Father of the Colonies,’ and the town of Halifax in Nova Scotia was called after him in 1749, in commemoration of his energy in aiding the foundation of the colony. In June 1751 he tried, says Horace Walpole, to get the West Indies entirely placed under the rule of the board of trade, and to secure his own nomination as ‘third secretary of state for that quarter of the world,’ but the king refused his consent to the scheme. Walpole states that at a later period Halifax twice resigned (in June 1756 and again in June 1757), and on both occasions the ground of his resignation was that he had not been promoted to the dignity of secretary of state for the West Indies. Cumberland allows that his patron threw up his place, alleging a ‘breach of promise on the part of the Duke of Newcastle to give him the seals and a seat in the cabinet as secretary of state for the colonies,’ but adds that he resumed his old position ‘upon slight concessions’ from the duke. During these negotiations Halifax behaved ‘with sense and dignity,’ and it is to his credit for independence that he pleaded in his place in the House of Lords for the unhappy Admiral Byng. In October 1757 he was admitted to the cabinet, and with this honour remained at the head of the board of trade until 21 March 1761. He was then nominated to the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland, and assumed the duties of his new position on his arrival at Dublin in October 1761, in company with W. G. Hamilton (‘Single-speech Hamilton’) as his chief secretary, and Richard Cumberland as his Ulster secretary. In February of the following year the Irish parliament raised the viceroy's allowance from 12,000l. to 16,000l. per annum, whereupon Halifax accepted the increased emolument for his successors, but declined to receive it himself, although his pecuniary affairs were already involved, and his expenditure of 2,000l. a year while in Ireland led to greater embarrassments. Through his popularity with the merchants he was created first lord of the admiralty in June 1762, and allowed to retain the viceroyalty of Ireland for a year from that date. Before that time expired he became secretary of state for the North in Lord Bute's administration (October 1762), and when Bute was succeeded by George Grenville (April 1763), the seals of secretaryship continued in Halifax's hands. His position was further strengthened by an intimation to the foreign ministers that the king had now entrusted the direction of his government to Grenville and the two secretaries, Lords Egremont and Halifax. The three ministers were at once christened the triumvirate, and their characters were immediately criticised by their contemporaries in politics. One onlooker deemed Egremont incapable, but assigned to Halifax ‘parts, application, and personal disinterestedness.’ Another considered Halifax the weakest but the most amiable of the set, praising the readiness, and condemning the substance of his speeches, while adding that his profusion ‘in building, planting, and on a favourite mistress’ had made him poor, and that he sought to recover himself ‘by discreditable means.’ The troubles with Wilkes had already commenced. Halifax, acting on the advice of Edward Weston, then under-secretary of state, signed a general warrant against Wilkes. He was arrested on 30 April 1763, and carried to the house of Halifax, where he was examined by the two secretaries of state. On 6 May he was discharged by the unanimous order of the judges, and without any delay rushed into controversy with the two ministers, endeavouring, though in vain, to obtain warrants for searching their houses. Halifax tried every means to escape from the attacks of Wilkes and the other victims of the warrant—the ‘mazes of essoigns, privileges, and fines, ordinary and extraordinary,’ in which the minister involved himself are set out in the ‘Grenville Papers,’ ii. 427—but without success, for Beardmore recovered 1,500l. damages in 1764, and the jury awarded to Wilkes in November 1769 damages amounting to 4,000l. In August 1763, when Pitt was called upon to form an administration, the king suggested Halifax as the head of the treasury. Pitt instantly refused, with the remark that ‘he was a pretty man, and as in bad circumstances might be groom of the stole or paymaster.’ The Grenville ministry dragged on its course until July 1765, when Halifax and his friends were dismissed. In the following December overtures were tendered to him by the new government, but he remained out of office until the formation of his nephew Lord North's administration, in January 1770, when he received the dignified place of lord privy seal. Exactly a year later he was transferred to the more laborious duties of secretary of state, although George III, in writing to Lord North, said: ‘Had I been in his situation and of his age, I should have preferred his motto, otium cum dignitate;’ and Horace Walpole, in surprise at the appointment, wrote: ‘He knew nothing, was too old to learn, and too sottish and too proud to suspect what he wanted.’ The rapid decay of his faculties would not have permitted him to continue long in that arduous position, but he died in harness on 8 June 1771, when the king expressed his sorrow ‘at the loss of so amiable a man.’ A monument by Bacon to his memory was erected in the west aisle of Westminster Abbey. At the time of his death he was secretary of state for the northern department, ranger and warden of Salcey Forest and Bushey Park, lord-lieutenant of Northamptonshire (to which he was appointed in November 1749), privy councillor (created 11 Jan. 1749), and knight of the Garter (23 April 1764). Langhorne inscribed to him in 1762 a poem called ‘The Viceroy,’ in praise of his government of Ireland and his determination not to accept for himself the additional allowance of 4,000l. a year which had been granted to him. Dr. Dodd, with the assistance of Bishop Squire, addressed in 1763 ‘A Letter to the Right Hon. Lord Halifax on the Peace.’ Many of his own letters are in the possession of C. F. Weston Underwood, of Somerby, near Brigg, to whom they have descended from his ancestor already mentioned (Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. App. p. 199), Lord Lansdowne (ib. 3rd Rep. App. p. 142; 5th Rep. App. p. 248, and 6th Rep. App. p. 239), Lord Braybrooke (ib. 8th Rep. App. p. 286), and among the collections formerly belonging to Lord Ashburnham (ib. 8th Rep. App. iii. p. 15). In 1769 there appeared vol. i. of ‘Letters between the Duke of Grafton, Lord Halifax, &c., and Wilkes.’ It was a genuine work, but the second volume was never issued. Halifax's administration of the board of trade held out the promise of a bright future for him in the highest position of official life; but his advancement, unfortunately for his reputation, was delayed until his fortunes were wasted and his faculties impaired by dissipation. The ‘favourite mistress’ previously referred to was represented with him in a caricature in the ‘Town and Country Magazine’ for 1769. She was described as ‘D * * * l * * n born Faulkner,’ and her name was Mary Anne Faulkner, the niece and adopted daughter of George Faulkner, the Dublin printer. A singer at the Drury Lane Theatre, and deserted by a worthless husband, she became the governess of Halifax's daughter, and then his mistress, by whom he had two children. For her sake he broke off a marriage with a wealthy lady, the daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Drury of Northamptonshire, whereupon the bon-mot circulated throughout London that ‘the hundreds of Drury have got the better of the thousands of Drury.’ She accompanied him into Ireland, and became notorious there and elsewhere as a placemonger. His ambition and extravagance were shown over the notorious election for the borough of Northampton in 1768, when three peers, Halifax, Northampton, and Spencer, struggled for the supremacy, and the contest and subsequent scrutiny cost the last of them 100,000l., and the others 150,000l. apiece.

[Walpole's Letters, Cunningham's ed. i. 334, iii. 21, 84–90, 317, 386, iv. 2, 35–6, 74, v. 106, 282, 299, 301; Walpole's Last Ten Years of George II, i. 173, 344, ii. 176; Walpole's Memoirs of Reign of George III, i. 177, 276–80, 293, 415, ii. 51–60, iv. 261; Corresp. of George III and Lord North, i. 50–1, 73–4; Chatham Corresp. iv. 69, 72, 143, 179; Grenville Papers, ii. 427, iii. 221–2; Mahon's Hist. iv. 4, v. 28, 31, 38, 97, 234; Satirical Prints at Brit. Museum, iv. 586–7; Cumberland's Memoirs (1806), 98–122, 134–40, 158–64, 180–5; Corresp. of Frances, Countess of Hartford (1806), ii. 101, iii. 206; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 280, 350, viii. 61; Gent. Mag. 1762, pp. 133–4, 1764, pp. 600–1, 1769, pp. 533–7, 1771, p. 287; Malcolm's Lond. Redivivum, i. 102; Hasted's Kent, iii. 71; Burke's Extinct Peerage; Doyle's Official Baronage; Taylor's Sir Joshua Reynolds, i. 240, 253, 266; Grego's Parl. Elections (1886), 226–8.]

W. P. C.