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Spencer Compton Cavendish

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Spencer Compton Cavendish (1833-1908)


1908 Obituary [1]

His GRACE THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE, K.G.—The Iron and Steel Institute has to deplore the decease of its most noble member, the eldest son of the Institute's first President, the eighth Duke of Devonshire, who died at Cannes on March 24, 1908. His death deprived the Empire of one who will ever rank among the greatest and most distinguished of English statesmen.

Spencer Compton Cavendish, eighth Duke of Devonshire, was born on July 23, 1833. To write the history of the distinguished house to which he belonged would be to write the history of England from the time when Sir John Cavendish was Chief-Justice of the Court of King's Bench in 1366. For many generations the Cavendishes have been distinguished alike in politics, in diplomacy, in pure and applied science, and for their social virtues and accomplishments.

The main outlines of the Duke's public career will be known to most. The eldest son of the seventh Duke, he began his political apprenticeship at the age of twenty-three by taking part in Earl Granville's special mission to Russia at the Coronation of Alexander II. In March 1857 he was first returned to the House of Commons, and thence until 1892, when he succeeded to the Dukedom, he sat continuously in that Chamber, for though at the General Election of 1868 he lost his seat for North Lancashire, he was immediately returned for another constituency. His official Parliamentary life began in 1863, when he was appointed a Lord of the Admiralty. Less than a month afterwards he was made Under-Secretary for War, and on the reconstruction of Lord John Russell's second Administration, the Marquis of Hartington, as he then was, became Secretary for War, at the age of thirty-three. Subsequently he was Postmaster-General in Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet of 1868, and then Chief Secretary for Ireland. When, in 1875, Mr. Gladstone, then in Opposition, thought of retiring, the Marquis of Hartington was appointed his successor as leader of the party in the House of Commons.

On the return of the Liberals to power the Marquis of Hartington was sent for by the Queen to form an Administration, but he declined, and served under Mr. Gladstone as Secretary for India and afterwards as Secretary for War. At the time of the great Home Rule split in 1886 it was Lord Hartington who became the leader of the Dissentient Liberals and moved the rejection of the Bill. On Mr. Gladstone's resignation, Lord Salisbury proposed that the Marquis of Hartington should assume the Premiership; but, for the second time in six years, he declined that honour. Many subsequent efforts were made to induce him to join the Government, but he preferred to remain independent. In the House of Lords he again led the attack on the second Home Rule Bill. On the Conservatives coming back to power in 1895 the Duke of Devonshire definitely severed himself from the Liberals and accepted office as Lord President of the Council, a post which he occupied from 1895 to 1903, when the Tariff Reform movement caused him to dissociate himself from his colleagues.

On the day of his death, in both Houses of Parliament striking tribute was paid to his memory. In the Upper Chamber, after the Marquis of Ripon and the Marquis of Lansdowne had spoken from the two Front Benches, Lord Rosebery, at the close of an eloquent speech, moved the adjournment of the House as a mark of respect to the late Duke. In the course of his speech Lord Rosebery said: " It is men of that kind that form the glory of our country. We have many statesmen who occupy high office, and many other countries have these, but few countries have men of high capacity with every temptation to sloth who devote themselves to the service of their country without the slightest ultimate personal object or ambition. That was the Duke of Devonshire's proud position, and it was for that reason, I think, the country always sought his judgment and opinion on current events, and why he will leave after him a memory which even men of more conspicuous genius have failed to bequeath. He bore a proud name; there is no prouder name in all this House than the name of the Duke of Devonshire. His forefathers have rendered at various times inestimable service to the State, but I greatly question in all that long, illustrious line if any of the Dukes of Devonshire or the Cavendishes will have left a name more trusted and beloved, more justly trusted and more justly beloved, than the Duke whom we mourn to-day." Politics represented only one side of the Duke's career. He was a great social figure—friend of kings and princes, a pillar of the turf, and, as owner of 186,000 acres, a territorial magnate of almost unequalled influence. He was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (1892), Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire (1892), His Majesty's Lieutenant of County Waterford (1892), Lord Rector of Glasgow University (1877), Chancellor of the University of Manchester, and Provincial Grand-Master of Derbyshire Freemasons since 1858. He was Chairman of the Barrow Haematite Steel Company, Limited, and of the Furness Railway Company.

In 1888 the Duke of Devonshire joined the Iron and Steel Institute, of which his father, the seventh Duke, was the first President; his brothers, Lord Frederick Cavendish and Lord Edward Cavendish, were members of Council, and his heir, the Right Hon. Victor Cavendish, M.P., is a Vice-President. On several occasions the Duke attended the meetings and banquets of the Institute. At the annual dinner in 1895 he made an eloquent speech, in which he expressed his belief that to the influence of the Iron and Steel Institute was due in no small degree that series of scientific and mechanical inventions by which the cost of production of iron and steel had been during the last quarter of a century so enormously diminished, and by which alone it had been possible for those industries to compete with the depressing times which had had to be encountered. At the Manchester meeting in 1899, and again at the Sheffield meeting in 1905, the Duke was a member of the Reception Committee, and entertained the members at luncheon at Chatsworth. At the Barrow meeting in 1903 he was chairman of the Reception Committee, and at the joint meeting with the American Institute of Mining Engineers in London in 1906 he again showed his interest in the work of the Institute by joining the Reception Committee.


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