Douglas-Pennant, George Sholto Gordon (DNB12)

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DOUGLAS-PENNANT, GEORGE SHOLTO GORDON, second Baron Penrhyn (1836–1907), born at Linton Springs, Yorkshire, on 30 Sept. 1836, was elder son of Edward Gordon Douglas (1800-1886), third son of John Douglas, second son of James Douglas, sixteenth earl of Morton. His mother, his father's first wife, was Juliana Isabella Mary (d. 1842), eldest daughter and co -heiress of George Hay Dawkins-Pennant of Penrhyn Castle. In 1841 the father, whose wife inherited vast property in North Wales, assumed the additional surname of Pennant by royal licence, and was raised to the peerage as Baron Penrhyn on 3 Aug. 1866. George was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. A project of entering the army was abandoned in deference to his father's wishes, but he always interested himself in military affairs. He was major of the Carnarvonshire rifles and honorary colonel of the 4th battalion of royal Welsh fusiliers. In 1866 he was elected conservative M.P. for Carnarvonshire, and held the seat until 1868. He was again elected in 1874, but was defeated in 1880 by Watkin Williams, Q.C. He succeeded to the peerage on his father's death in 1886. Thenceforth he devoted the greater part of his time and energies to the management of the large property which came to the family through his mother. The Penrhyn estate contained no less than 26,278 acres, with a rent-roll of 67,000l., and the family owned the Bethesda slate quarries which, when fully employed and in former times of good trade, were estimated to produce 150,000l. a year.

In his later years his father had allowed much of the management of the Bethesda slate quarries to pass into the hands of an elective committee of the men, with the result that they were in 1885 on the verge of bankruptcy. In that year the son George had been entrusted with full powers to reform their administration. One of his first actions was to repudiate the authority of the workmen's committee. Under fresh and strenuous management the quarries once again became busy and prosperous. But a section of the quarrymen, incited by outside interference and agitation, cherished deep resentment at their exclusion from control, and a great strike began in 1897. Lord Penrhyn replied by closing the quarries, and an angry debate took place in the House of Commons. But Lord Penrhyn would abate none of his conditions, and the men capitulated. Lord Penrhyn as a champion of free labour refused to allow the intervention of outsiders in dealings with his men, and late in 1900 a second strike of great extent broke out. The quarries were again closed, but were re-opened after a prolonged stoppage with 600 of the former non-union workmen. Penrhyn refused to re-engage the ringleaders of the agitation or to recognise any trades union officials. On 9 Aug. 1901 William Jones, M.P. for Carnarvonshire, raised a discussion as a matter of urgent public importance on the conduct of the local magistrates in requisitioning cavalry for maintaining peace in the district, but Penrhyn's position was unaffected. On 13 March 1903 he brought an action for libel against W. J. Parry, in respect of an article in the 'Clarion,' accusing him of cruelty to his workmen; he received 500l. damages and costs. Penrhyn acted throughout in accordance with what he believed to be stern equity and from a wish to obtain justice for non-union men. In 1907 he generously accorded the workmen a bonus of 10 per cent, on their wages, owing to a spell of bad weather which had interrupted work at the quarries.

Fond of horse-racing and breeding, he was elected to the Jockey Club in 1887, but was not very fortunate on the turf. In 1898, however, he won the Goodwood Cup with King's Messenger, which both in 1899 and 1900 carried his master's colours to the post for the Great Metropolitan Stakes at Epsom. With another horse, Quaesitum, in 1894 he won both the Chester cup and the Ascot gold vase. He was an excellent shot, but derived his chief enjoyment from fishing, in which he was exceptionally skilled. He was master of the Grafton hounds from 1882 to 1891.

Lord Penrhyn, who was a deputy-lieutenant for Carnarvonshire and was a county councillor for the Llandegai division of the county, was a man of strong and original character. A tory of the old school, he managed his estates in the feudal spirit, and with implicit justice and generosity. Though a thorough churchman he always insisted on equality of treatment for nonconformists both as tenants and quarrymen.

He scorned popularity, and played a detached part in public affairs. He was a founder of the North Wale's Property Defence Association, of which he was chairman; in the course of his comprehensive evidence before the Welsh land commissioners in 1893, he stated that for many years he received from his land no income in excess of his expenditure upon it.

He died on 10 March 1907 at his town residence, Mortimer House, Halkin Street, S.W., and was buried near one of his country residences, Wicken, Stony Stratford. A portrait in oils, painted in 1907, after his death, by Miss Barbara Leighton, is at 37 Lennox Gardens, S.W. He married twice: (1) in 1860 Blanche (d. 1869), daughter of Sir Charles Rushout Rushout; and (2) in 1875 Gertrude Jessy, daughter of Henry Glynne, rector of Hawarden. By his first wife he had a son, Edward Sholto, who succeeded as third Baron Penrhyn, and six daughters, and by his second wife two sons and six daughters.

[The Times, 12 March 1907; Burke's Peerage; Lucy's Balfourian Parliament, 1906, pp. 108 seq.; private information.]

L. P. S.