SKENE, George (1749-1825), of Skene, Aberdeen and Careston, Angus.
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Family and Education
b. 9 May 1749, 1st s. of George Skene of Skene and Careston by Mary, da. of George Forbes of Alford, Aberdeen. educ. ?Eton 1763; Aberdeen Univ. 1764-8; adv. 1774. unm. suc. fa. 1781.
Lt. 81 Ft. 1777, capt. 1781; ret. 1783.
Skene was the chief of an ancient and distinguished family whose direct line, inheriting a strain of mental and moral instability, came to an ignominious end. His father having, by common report, seduced his deaf-mute cousin, was forced into marriage, at pistol point, by her father and brothers. Of the offspring of this union, George was notorious for his debauchery; Mary, wife of Lord Fife’s brother Alexander, having early shown such eccentricity that her children were removed from her care, eloped with a cousin (subsequently hanged for forgery); Sara, also divorced, died a prostitute in the Low Countries; Alexander, last of his line, was a ‘poor helpless object’, a deaf-mute, almost imbecile and nearly blind. ‘What an infamous family they are’ commented Lord Fife in 1784.1
Skene had a considerable personal following and family interest in Aberdeenshire which enabled him to raise his quota of recruits for Gordon of Fyvie’s regiment; and on the death of Alexander Garden in December 1785 he stood for Aberdeenshire. The other candidate, James Ferguson of Pitfour, was supported by Henry Dundas and the Duke of Gordon, but Lord Fife gave his interest to Skene on the understanding that he would support Government.2 After a violent contest Skene was returned.
In Parliament Skene soon took an independent line, and by spring 1787 Fife was complaining of his conduct. By 1 May 1788 he was a signatory of the third party circular and a member of the Independent Friends Club, pledged to consider every measure on its merits alone. Two speeches by him are reported at this time, both on Scottish affairs: on 27 Apr. he supported George Dempster’s objections to the calico printers bill as detrimental to Scottish interests; and on 21 May spoke against the Government resolutions on the Scotch distillery bill. ‘Mr. Skene wished not that the London distillers should be ruined by the Scotch, nor the Scotch distillers be sacrificed to the London distillers, but that the regulations should be impartial and general.’3
Skene’s relations with the Duffs were already strained over his supposed connivance at the elopement of his sister from Alexander Duff.4 In September 1788 Fife, having formed an electoral coalition with Dundas, Gordon, and the Grants, withdrew his support from Skene, who was already campaigning for the 1790 election.5 With nothing now to lose, Skene voted with the Opposition on the Regency question, but lost his seat at the general election of 1790. The family historian, who knew him in old age, records:6
Had it not been for the violence of his political opinions and the dissipated life to which he was addicted, he was a man of talents and dispositions calculated to have made a figure in the corner of the country where his fortune and the antiquity of his family entitled him to take a lead.
Despite his disadvantages he continued to exercise a considerable interest in Aberdeenshire and burgh politics, but did not re-enter Parliament till 1806. His later years seem to have been devoted almost entirely to the bottle; a debased and drunken laird, he died 27 Apr. 1825.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. Mems. Fam. of Skene of Skene (New Spalding Club), 47; A. H. Tayler, Lord Fife his Factor, 146-7, 167.
- 2. A. H. Tayler, Domestic Pprs. of Rose Fam. 32; Lord Fife his Factor, 176-8.
- 3. Debrett, xxii. 202; Stockdale, xv. 51.
- 4. Lord Fife his Factor, 183.
- 5. H. Furber, Hen. Dundas, 215.
- 6. Mems. Fam. of Skene of Skene, 46.