HERVEY, Hon. Augustus John (1724-79).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



26 May 1757 - Feb. 1763
1 Dec. 1763 - 1768
1768 - 18 Mar. 1775

Family and Education

b. 19 May 1724, 2nd s. of John, Lord Hervey (and gd.-s. of John, 1st Earl of Bristol), by Mary, da. of Brig.-Gen. Nicholas Lepell; bro. of Hon. William Herveyeduc. Westminster 1733.  m. 4 Aug. 1744, Elizabeth, da. of Col. Thomas Chudleigh (she m. bigamously, 8 Mar. 1769, Evelyn, 2nd Duke of Kingston), 1s. d.v.p.  suc. bro. as 3rd Earl of Bristol 18 Mar. 1775.

Offices Held

Entered R.N. 1735; lt. 1740; cdr. 1746; capt. 1747; r.-adm. 1775; v.-adm. 1778.

Groom of the bedchamber 1763-75; chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] 1766-7; ld. of Admiralty 1771-5.


Well born, with powerful connexions, but a younger son with small expectations, Hervey was sent to sea at the age of eleven. For nearly twenty years he served continuously, engrossed by his career afloat and his amatory exploits ashore—‘I cared very little about anything but my pleasures in these days till I got to sea, and then my profession was all my pleasure.’1 His abilities and flamboyant courage brought him some renown, yet he never reached the front rank he sought.

In 1754, while serving in the Mediterranean, Hervey was nominated for Bury St. Edmunds by his brother, Lord Bristol, and was elected on a double return, but in December 1754 his opponent was seated by the House.

Touchy and critical of his superiors, Hervey bitterly disliked Lord Anson, and after the outbreak of war with France, became increasingly indignant about his handling of the fleet. In May 1756, after the battle of Mahon, he wrote to Henry Fox blaming the Administration for its lack of support. When in 1757 he was recalled to give evidence at the court martial of his friend Byng, he was zealous in his defence, and after the sentence approached everyone he could ‘to show a face against such an infamous violation of justice’. He commented bitterly that

it was easily perceived there was a sullen determination in the King, the Duke of Cumberland, Lord Anson, and the Duke of Newcastle (which was artfully conducted by that determined implacable villain, Mr. Fox) to sacrifice Admiral Byng in order to screen themselves from the just resentment of the people for the loss of Minorca and other infamous conducts.2

During his campaign for Byng he felt the disadvantage of not being in the Commons, but when the seat at Bury became vacant, merely noted in his journal: ‘I did not stir in it as my brother was abroad’;3 and soon afterwards went to sea, only learning from an English newspaper on 30 June that he had been returned for Bury in May. That he would support Administration was taken for granted by Bristol, who informed Newcastle that he had reminded his brother ‘of the many professions he has made of adhering steadily to me and my friends, of which list I have placed your Grace at the head; I hope I may congratulate you upon having an additional friend in the House of Commons’. On 19 Oct. Bristol wrote again: ‘My brother Augustus has not long since confirmed to me his former assurances of having no other connexion than mine, and has particularly mentioned his resolution to serve your Grace.’4

In January 1759 Hervey at last took his seat, and though he writes that he was ‘too much dissipated to mind much of what was going on in public business’, he attended the debates on the supply, and when on 2 Feb. Alexander Hume introduced a bill against pressing, he ‘took a very warm part against the whole’. After attending one of Newcastle’s levees he noted in his journal that the Duke repeated former promises (presumably about promotion) ‘with the same false grinning countenance’, and, he wrote to Bristol, ‘how little I relied on anything his Grace said’.5 But on 27 Mar. he wrote:6

I have little to hope for obtaining anything but from your Grace’s goodness towards me, nor shall I seek it through any other channel, as that is the most acceptable to my brother Bristol and will always be preferable to myself.

Soon afterwards he returned to sea, and for the next few months kept watch on the French fleet at Brest, without returning to harbour. When finally fatigue forced Hervey to return to England, Hawke wrote: ‘He has given such proofs of diligence, activity, intrepidity, and judgement that it would be doing injustice to his merit as an officer not to acknowledge that I part with him with the greatest regret.’7

Between 1761 and 1762 Hervey served in the West Indies, and in 1762 distinguished himself at the taking of Havana, returning to England with the news in October 1762. He now retired from active service at sea, though remaining in the navy and retaining a keen interest in its affairs. In Parliament, to which he had again been returned during his absence in 1761, he supported Bute’s Administration, while his brother adhered to Pitt. Relations between the brothers, always delicate, now reached a crisis. On 30 Nov. 1762 Fox mentioned to Bute that Bristol had written Hervey ‘two cruel letters indeed’, and on 20 Jan. Augustus himself wrote to Bute that his position was so awkward that he would be grateful for

any little stewardship that will vacate my present seat in Parliament, that according to my first and determined resolution I may make use of it, unless my Lord Bristol on my acquainting him again therewith, and finding it in my power, should then leave me at liberty to take that part which he before prevented me, and which from every principle and motive I am inclined to.8

Hervey resigned his seat in February, and, a vacancy having occurred at Saltash during the summer prorogation, was returned there by Administration. In the meantime he had at the Government’s request abandoned a voyage to the Mediterranean with the Duke of York. ‘A person of your parts and activity is not to be spared in these critical times’,9 Lord Sandwich wrote to him on 7 Sept. Hervey himself wrote to Grenville on 16 Sept.:10 ‘I ... hope this additional proof I have given of my zeal for the support of his Majesty’s Administration will give me some merit; believe me, Sir, I have in many senses been a great loser in this last affair.’ He was rewarded with a post in the bedchamber.

During the debates of February 1764 on general warrants Hervey exerted himself in support of Administration, and sent Grenville information about the attitude of various Members;11 but few speeches by him are reported, and those almost invariably on points of order. Throughout his life he was a frequent contributor of political articles to the newspapers under assumed names. His personal relations with Grenville were close, and in May 1765 he succeeded in effecting a reconciliation between Grenville and Temple. On the formation of the Rockingham Administration, Hervey wrote to Grenville of his ‘unalterable’ attachment—‘I am neither ungrateful nor a weathercock.’12 Yet he did not feel it necessary to resign his post at court, and while he criticized Administration and constantly avowed his connexion with Grenville, he avoided plunging deep into opposition. James Harris reports13 that in September 1765 Hervey had told him he thought

very meanly of the present Administration—said that all business stood still, and that they did nothing—wondered what Pitt meant by standing off, that he ought to come in—that Mr. Grenville and his friends would support his measures—if not, then let Lord Temple try—each at the head of the Treasury. If not that, then let them support Mr. Grenville there.

At the beginning of 1766, when the repeal of the Stamp Act was mooted, Hervey, declaring that he intended to vote against it, requested the King’s permission to resign,14 but with the King’s blessing remained in office, while warning the House of the ‘consequences that would ensue from that puerile, pitiful, and baneful measure’.15

By July 1766 good relations were restored with Bristol. ‘I have the pleasure to tell you my brother has requested of me to be for Bury next Parliament’, Hervey wrote to Grenville, 10 July 1766, ‘and with the assurance that I am ever to be at my own liberty as to what measures I shall pursue; you will easily imagine how glad I was to prove my desire of giving him the preference to any other place I could be brought in for.’16 When almost immediately after this Pitt came into power, Hervey, assuming that Lord Temple would ‘have the settling all with Mr. P.’ wrote ‘to lightly throw my wish of the Admiralty before him’.17 Temple’s withdrawal dashed his hopes, but another chance seemed imminent when Pitt wrote to Bristol ‘inviting him in and to everything he can wish and desire’. Whereupon, Hervey wrote to Grenville, Bristol had said to him:18

If I accept I hope you’ll take a seat at the Admiralty as I know you wish it. I beg to be excused. I said, brother, I wished it had my friends come in with yours. But all I desire is that I may not be offered it, because I’ll refuse. If this is asked you or if you intended to make this your terms too, assure yourself you’ll only hurt me. I am determined to take nothing whatever. But if you go in, I’ll not oppose, and by that means show that ’tis for you alone.

—and considerably more in the same vein. In fact no such offer was made, but finally Bristol was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland and asked his brother to go with him as his secretary. Hervey, protesting loudly, accepted, writing to Grenville on 30 Aug.:19

Ill health, inabilities, and other things had made me determine not to go, and to remain quiet as I was. I told him this and declined it, but had you seen the effect of it and how impossible it was for me to persist after what he said, you would both applaud and pity the determination. So there I am embarked in what I know nothing of, nor like.

Yet in October Hervey suggested that Sandwich, one of Grenville’s allies in the Bedford group, should be offered the embassy at Madrid, ‘as a friend to Administration, he thought it might accelerate further arrangements’.20

In November 1766 Hervey was asked to second the Address, and according to Grenville, ‘induced by Lord Bristol’s earnest and peremptory solicitation (though very much against his will)’21 agreed to do so. Finally, on 11 Nov., the principal Administration speaker having defaulted, Hervey moved the Address, in what Grenville described as ‘a direct Opposition speech’. Hervey did not vote on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. Relations with Bristol were again precarious, and, at the beginning of April, Hervey, then at Bath for his gout, was summoned back to London. Informing Grenville of this on 4 Apr., he wrote that he had been warned by Bristol

that the closet canvassed over rigidly every absentee, and that it became me to act with more circumspection and more vigour than the rest, lest I should be suspected to be waiting the cast of the die, when it was so well known I was so strongly and avowedly attached to those two brothers who were the declared antagonists of that one which he was determined to support.

To this Hervey had replied:

that even my friend Mr. Grenville knows and approves my determination to support my brother in preference to himself, and he, (my brother) knows it is to support Mr. Grenville in preference to every one else but my brother.

On 1 July, referring to the ‘very great alteration’ in Bristol’s conduct, he at last offered his resignation. He would, he wrote to his brother, continue to support Administration—‘I think myself wounded by your suffering it to be insinuated that your conduct to me proceeds from my not supporting the King’s Administration, which is false in whoever dare to tell you the untruth or propagate it.’22

During the negotiations of July 1767, Hervey professed to believe that Grenville and Temple would be approached, and wrote to Grenville on the 21st that Grafton had declared he ‘knew no man so fit to be at the head of our House’ as Grenville. To which Hervey had replied that he knew nothing of Grenville’s intentions ‘but that I knew you had several friends who, like myself, were determined only to act as we saw you should approve; that I for one made no secret of declaring that I wanted nothing but the Admiralty, which I thought I had a right to after those I had seen there, but that I never desired it till you came in, or supported the Administration’.23 By September 1767, when the general election was in sight, Hervey became reconciled with his brother once more, and an agreement was reached which left him ‘totally at liberty’ in Parliament. Which, wrote Grenville to Hervey,24 is ‘the best proof Lord Bristol can give that he has no essential blame to impute on you, and the most honourable justification of your own conduct towards him’. Hervey voted with the Opposition on nullum tempus, 17 Feb. 1768, and in a letter of 21 Oct. wrote despairingly of the ‘melancholy scene’ presented by Administration—‘How can a Grafton supply the seat of a Walpole or a Grenville’.25 But contrary to Grenville’s opinion he spoke several times in support of Administration over Wilkes, and voted with Administration on the Middlesex election, 8 May 1769. No votes or speeches by him are reported during the following year.

In 1771, after Grenville’s death, Hervey with other Grenvillites was taken into Administration, at last obtaining a place at the Admiralty Board. His infrequent speeches were henceforth mainly on naval matters, but on 6 Feb. 1775 he spoke at considerable length on the American crisis:26

That America ... ought to be subordinate to the authority of Great Britain is beyond a doubt ... From the moment I had a seat in this House, I thought it my duty to study the conduct and opinions of those whose abilities and attachment to their country justly entitled them to a preference, and very early attached myself to that good, wise, and able minister, Mr. Grenville ... I will not prove myself undeserving the friendship and confidence that minister honoured me with, by deviating this day by one single iota from what I am confident would have been his conduct ... and therefore, as far as my voice goes, I will never consent to the rescinding, the discharging, or the repealing of any one resolution, order, or act, that either the last or any former Parliament has passed for the declaring, maintaining, enforcing the legislative authority of Great Britain over all its colonies.

On succeeding to the peerage in 1775 Hervey resigned his offices. He seems to have been ambitious for the post of first lord of the Admiralty; during the last years of his life, joining the Opposition in its criticism of naval matters, he became a vigorous champion of Keppel and a violent critic of the first lord, his former friend Lord Sandwich.  He died 22 Dec. 1779.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Augustus Hervey’s Jnl. ed. D. Erskine, 294.
  • 2. Ibid. 235, 236, 320.
  • 3. Ibid. 232.
  • 4. Add. 32871, f. 464; 32875, f. 190.
  • 5. Jnl. 297, 298.
  • 6. Add. 32889, f. 270.
  • 7. Quoted Jnl. 304.
  • 8. Bute mss.
  • 9. Sandwich mss.
  • 10. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 11. Hervey to Grenville, 15 Feb. 1764, ibid.
  • 12. 26 June 1765, ibid.
  • 13. Malmesbury mss.
  • 14. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, ii. 183.
  • 15. See his speech of 6 Feb. 1775, Almon i. 146-50.
  • 16. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 17. Hervey to Grenville, 19 July 1766, ibid.
  • 18. To Grenville, 21 July, ibid.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. Shelburne to Chatham, 28 Oct., Chatham Corresp. iii. 122.
  • 21. Grenville Pprs. iii. 382.
  • 22. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 23. Grenville Pprs. iv. 69.
  • 24. 27 Sept., Grenville mss (JM).
  • 25. Grenville Pprs. iv. 385.
  • 26. Almon, i. 146-50.