CLIFFORD, Augustus William James (1788-1877), of 86 Eaton Square, Mdx. and Devonshire Cottage, Richmond, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1818 - 1820
1820 - 31 Jan. 1822
22 July 1831 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 26 May 1788, in Rouen, 1st and illegit. s. of William Cavendish, 5th duke of Devonshire (d. 1811), and Lady Elizabeth Christiana Foster (whom he m. 19 Oct. 1809), da. of Frederick Augustus Hervey, 4th earl of Bristol and bp. of Derry, w. of John Thomas Foster, MP [I], of Dunleer, co. Louth. educ. Harrow 1796-9. m. 20 Oct. 1813, Elizabeth Frances, da. of Lord John Townshend† of Balls Park, Herts., 3s. 5da. (3 d.v.p.). CB 8 Oct. 1815; suc. mother to Devonshire Cottage 1824; kntd. 4 Aug. 1830; cr. bt. 4 Aug. 1838. d. 8 Feb. 1877.

Offices Held

Midshipman RN 1800, lt. 1806, cdr. 1811, capt. 1812, r.-adm. 1848, v.-adm. 1855, adm. 1864.

Gent. usher of Black Rod 1832-d.


Clifford, the eldest bastard son of the 5th duke of Devonshire, had a distinguished wartime naval career. His mother, who doted on him, extolled his ‘modest pride and dignity of feeling’ and thought him ‘everything that is lovely and loveable in mind and body’. She took every opportunity to advance his professional and social status, as befitted his birth. He made a good marriage and received generous financial provision from his younger half-brother, the 6th duke, with whom he enjoyed excellent relations. Devonshire could not return him again for Bandon Bridge in 1820, when it was the turn of Lord Bandon to nominate the Member, but was able to accommodate him at his pocket borough of Dungarvan instead.1

A poor attender, when present Clifford, who had joined Brooks’s, 6 Dec. 1812, continued to vote with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry on most issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation. He is not known to have spoken in debate in this period. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821. That September he joined the Devonshires at Spa, and the following month was appointed to the Euryalus frigate. At the start of the 1822 session he vacated his seat for George Lamb, husband of his elder sister Caroline St. Jules, and soon afterwards he escorted the new British envoy to Naples. He was still afloat in the Mediterranean late the following year. In May 1826 he was appointed to the Herald yacht, in which he attended Devonshire on his special mission to Russia. In 1827 he commanded the Undaunted frigate in attendance on the duke of Clarence’s official visit to Chatham and Sheerness, and the following year he took his close friend Lord William Henry Cavendish Bentinck* to India to take up his post as governor-general. This was his last service at sea.2

At the 1831 general election Clifford came forward for Bandon Bridge, where it was Devonshire’s turn to nominate. Uncertainty about whether Bandon’s heir would continue his father’s electoral arrangement with Devonshire prompted the independent burgesses to propose the sitting Member for re-election, and at the nomination Clifford was defeated on a show of hands. On Bandon’s instructions, however, the seat was promptly vacated ‘upon a motive of honour’, and at the ensuing by-election Clifford defeated an independent challenger with the support of both patrons.3 He gave steady support to the details of the Grey ministry’s reintroduced reform bill throughout August, and voted for its third reading and passage, 19, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831. He divided with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, continued to support its details when present, and divided for its third reading 22 Mar. 1832. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the measure unimpaired, 10 May, and for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He supported ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16 July, but he was in the minority against their cautionary amendment to a proposal to abolish colonial slavery, 24 May. In July 1832 he was appointed usher of the Black Rod by his half-brother, the lord chamberlain, and he retired from the House at the dissolution later that year.4

Clifford, who was created a baronet in 1838, gave almost 45 years’ satisfactory service as Black Rod. On various occasions between 1843 and 1866 he acted as deputy lord great chamberlain in the absence of Lord Willoughby.5 In 1864 the 4th marquess of Bath dined out on a story of Clifford’s

having turned on the gas in the House of Lords when Garibaldi entered ... He had told Sir Augustus that he meant to bring his conduct before the House, but that Sir Augustus expressed his regret and begged to be let off on account of his old friendship with Lord Bath’s father. So Lord Bath forgave him.6

In 1843 Clifford who, like Devonshire, was noted for his deafness, bought Westfield House at Ryde, Isle of Wight for £6,399.7 He improved it and filled it with his magnificent collection of objets d’art, of which he was a great connoisseur, and published a discursive Description of the house and its contents in 1862.8 On Devonshire’s death in 1858 he received a legacy of £20,000 and he produced an affectionate Sketch of the Life of his half-brother in 1861. Clifford died at his official residence in the House of Lords in February 1877 ‘after an illness of little over a week’. An anonymous friend paid tribute to him as

a man who belonged to a class which, we are told, is becoming extinct - the quiet, courteous English gentleman, for whom this hurried age has no place. Sir Augustus ... raised the office of Black Rod to an influence seldom attained by one unconnected with politics. His name had become synonymous with courtesy.9

He left cash bequests totalling about £90,000 and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his three sons in turn: Admiral William John Cavendish Clifford (1814-82); Colonel Robert Cavendish Spencer Clifford (1815-92), yeoman usher of the Black Rod; and, the last holder of the title, Charles Cavendish Clifford (1821-95), sometime fellow of All Souls and private secretary to Lord Palmerston*, who was Liberal Member for the Isle of Wight, 1857-65, and Newport, 1870-85.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: David R. Fisher / Philip Salmon


  • 1. D.M. Stuart, Dearest Bess, 33, 44, 89, 138, 178-9, 185-7, 201, 209-10, 223; Two Duchesses, 88, 171; Castle Howard mss, Lord to Lady Morpeth, 2 Feb. [1820].
  • 2. Jerningham Letters, ii. 209; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1113.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 7, 12 May, 26 July 1831.
  • 4. Raikes Jnl. i. 62.
  • 5. Add. 40534, f. 282;
  • 6. Malmesbury Mems. ii. 322.
  • 7. A.W. Clifford, A Description of Westfield, 21; Creevey’s Life and Times, 413.
  • 8. Stuart, 210-11.
  • 9. The Times, 9, 12 Feb. 1877.