Fortescue, Hugh, third Earl Fortescue 1818-1905, eldest son of Hugh, second earl (1783-1861), by his first wife, Lady Susan (d. 1827), eldest daughter of Dudley Ryder, first earl of Harrowby, was born in London on 4 April 1818. A younger brother, Dudley Francis Fortescue (1820-1909), was M.P. for Andover (1857-1874) and a commissioner in lunacy (1867-1883). Known till his grandfather's death in 1841 as the Hon. Hugh Fortescue, and thenceforth till 1859 as Viscount Ebrington, he was educated at Harrow school and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He left the university in 1839 to become private secretary to his father, then lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and in 1840-1 he was private secretary to Lord Melbourne, the prime minister. Elected in 1841 M.P. for Plymouth in the whig interest, he held the seat for eleven years, having as his opponent in 1843 the chartist, Henry Vincent [qv.]. Declining to stand again for Plymouth, he unsuccessfully contested Barnstaple in 1852, the constituency being disfranchised for bribery two years later. In 1854 he was returned for Marylebone, and he held the seat until 1859, when, owing to ill-health, he resigned, and on 5 December was raised to the peerage in his father's barony of Fortescue. On his father's death on 14 Sept. 1861, he succeeded to the earldom.
Ebrington, who had advocated the repeal of the corn laws, was appointed a lord-in-waiting in the Russell government of 1846, and from 1847 to 1851 was secretary to the poor law board. He was also appointed a member (unpaid) of the Metropolitan Consolidated Commission on Sewers in 1847, and was its chairman (unpaid) in 1849-51. He had no place in the Aberdeen government, but taking great interest in the health of the soldiers during the war with Russia, he visited in 1856 the barracks and military hospitals. Contracting ophthalmia, he lost an eye, and seriously injured his health. His speeches strenuously advocated sanitary improvements in the army, and he spoke frequently on the reform of local government in London. After his elevation to the peerage, Fortescue took little part in parliamentary life. Though a liberal by tradition, he differed from Gladstone on the Eastern crisis of 1878-9, and sat on the cross benches. He declared himself a liberal unionist on the home rule controversy in 1886.
A social reformer of much earnestness, Lord Fortescue was the author of numerous addresses and pamphlets on local government, health in towns, middle-class education, and other subjects. They included Unhealthiness of Towns, a lecture delivered in the Mechanics' Institute at Plymouth (1846); Representative Self-Government for the Metropolis, a letter to Lord Palmerston (1854); Public Schools for the Middle Classes (1864); an address to the section of statistics and economic science, British Association, Plymouth (1877); and an address read at the Sanitary Congress, Exeter (1880). Our Next Leap in the Dark, on the franchise bill, a reprint from the Nineteenth Century (1884), showed the drift of his political ideas. He favoured the extension of the powers given to county authorities under the Local Government Act of 1888, and advocated the establishment of a local university in Devonshire. He supported Frederick Temple, then bishop of Exeter [qv.], in establishing the diocesan conference, and spoke at its earlier meetings, besides subscribing liberally to schools and religious institutions. Fortescue, who was a good horseman, was the last man who habitually paid calls in London and made his way to the House of Lords on horseback. He encouraged stag-hunting, purchasing the reversion to the greater part of Exmoor on the death of Mr. F. W. Knight in 1897.
The earl died at Castle-hill, South Molton, on 10 Oct. 1905, having married on 11 March 1847 Georgiana Augusta Charlotte Caroline, eldest daughter of the Right Hon. George Lionel Dawson-Damer; she died on 8 Dec. 1866. Of his thirteen children, the eldest son, Hugh, is the fourth and present earl. Sir Seymour John, formerly captain R.N., served in Egypt in 1882 and at Suakin in 1885, and was an equerry-in-waiting to King Edward VII; Lionel Henry Dudley was killed in action near Pretoria on 11 June 1900, and John William is librarian at Windsor to King George V. A daughter, Lucy Eleanor, married Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, first Viscount St. Aldwyn.
A portrait in oils by Eden Upton Eddis (c. 1850) is in possession of the family at Castle-hill. A cartoon portrait of Earl Fortescue appeared in Vanity Fair in 1881. A part of the chancel of Filleigh, the church of the parish in which Castle-hill stands, was adorned in his memory.
The Times, 11 Oct. 1905
Contributor: L. C. S. [Lloyd Charles Sanders]