Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Percy, Algernon (1792-1865)

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PERCY, ALGERNON, fourth Duke of Northumberland (1792–1865), second son of Hugh Percy, second duke [q. v.], by his second wife, Frances Julia, daughter of Peter Burrell, esq., of Beckenham, Kent, was born at Syon House 15 Dec. 1792. He entered the navy in boyhood (3 May 1805) as a volunteer on board the Tribune frigate, served as midshipman in the Fame and Caledonia in the Mediterranean, receiving the commendation of Lord Collingwood (G. L. N. Collingwood, Life, ii. 155), became lieutenant on 16 Dec. 1811, and was present at the partial action off Toulon and at the capture of Genoa. He obtained his step as commander 8 March 1814, on board the Scout, and was acting captain of the Caledonia, the flagship of Lord Exmouth, and afterwards of the Cossack in 1814, receiving his post rank on the Driver 19 Aug. 1815. At the general peace he went on half-pay, and was never afterwards employed on active service, but attained his ranks on the reserved list as rear-admiral 1850, vice-admiral 1857, admiral 1862. In 1816 Percy was created a peer, with the title of Baron Prudhoe, which became well known in the East, where he travelled for several years in company with Major Felix. In 1826 he was among the select band of early explorers who were then engaged in studying the monuments of Egypt, and the collections in Alnwick Castle testify to the interest he never ceased to take in Egyptian antiquities (S. Birch, Catalogue, 1880, which describes over two thousand Egyptian objects). His scientific tastes led him to support and accompany Sir John Herschel's expedition to the Cape in 1834, for the purpose of observing the southern constellations [see Herschel, Sir John Frederick William, and procured him the honorary degree of D.C.L. at Oxford in 1841. His love of learning prompted him to bear the expense of the preparation and printing of the gigantic ‘Arabic Lexicon’ of Edward William Lane [q. v.], for whom, when they first met at Cairo in 1826, he had conceived a warm friendship and admiration. In 1842 he proposed that, at his cost, Lane should revisit Egypt and collect materials for this monumental work, and from that time forward, for twenty-three years, ‘with a kindness and delicacy not to be surpassed’ (Lane, Lexicon, Pref. p. ii), he bore all the expenses, which became very heavy when the printing began in 1861. The first volume was published in 1863, and was dedicated to him as ‘the originator of this work, and its constant and main supporter;’ and though death prevented his further participation, his ‘princely patronage’ was carried on in the same spirit by his widow, the Lady Eleanor Grosvenor, sister of Hugh Lupus, third marquis and first duke of Westminster, whom he married 25 Aug. 1842. This great work extends to over nine thousand columns, in imperial 4to.

The initiation and support of the ‘Arabic Lexicon’ belong to a series of munificent acts dictated by a love of learning and a keen sense of public duty. On 11 Feb. 1847 Lord Prudhoe succeeded his brother Hugh as fourth Duke of Northumberland, and thenceforward, after restoring the estates to order, his object was to administer his princely revenues in a manner worthy of his cultivated tastes and the dignity of his rank. Under his rule Alnwick Castle, which he restored at vast expense, and enriched with rare collections of pictures and antiquities, became the scene of an open hospitality, almost feudal in its stately profusion. At the duke's cost five churches were built on his estates, five more endowed, and six parsonages erected. Nearly half a million was spent on building cottages, and half as much on drainage, new roads, and bridges. His love of his old profession was manifested in a long series of wise foundations and endowments in aid of sailors. In 1851, on the occasion of the Great exhibition, he offered a prize for the best model of a lifeboat, and his influence led to a new activity in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, brought into practical use the self-righting lifeboat, and promoted the establishment of lifeboat stations all round the coasts of the British Isles. He established lifeboats himself at Hauxley, Tynemouth, Cullercoats, and Newbiggin, endowed schools for the children of sailors and fishermen at Whitby, Tynemouth, Percy Main, and North Shields, and founded the Tyne Sailors' Home. In March 1852 he was appointed first lord of the admiralty in Lord Derby's first administration, and his ten months' tenure of office was marked by a firm maintenance of the best interests of the profession, and a great extension of the application of steam power to the navy. The ministry went out in January 1853, when the duke was made a knight of the Garter. For a short period in 1852 he was a special deputy warden of the Stannaries, and he was constable of Launceston Castle. His scientific interests were shown in his support of learned societies. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, of the Astronomical and Geological Societies, and of the Society of Antiquaries; and was also president of the Royal Institution and the Royal United Service Institute, and a trustee of the British Museum. He died at Alnwick on 12 Feb. 1865, and was buried by Dean Stanley in the Percy chapel in Westminster Abbey on 27 Feb. He left no issue, and the dukedom passed to his cousin George, father of the present duke.

[Personal knowledge; private information; Memoir appended to Funeral Sermon by Rev. M. M. Ben-Oliel, chaplain to the Duchess of Northumberland, in Brompton Episcopal Chapel, 26 Feb. 1865; statement of services from the admiralty; De Fonblanque's Annals of the House of Percy, privately printed, 1887; Lane-Poole's Life of E. W. Lane, pp. 108–10; Annual Register, vol. cvii. 1865.]

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