The Twickenham Museum
People : Writers, Poets and Historians

Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff
Diplomat and man of letters
1829 - 1906

Grant Duff, perhaps with his enormous work on the flora of India open before him

Sometimes described today as a Victorian polymath, Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff bought York House in Twickenham in October 1876 and lived there from time to time until 1897 when he sold the property to the Duc d’Orleans.

He was elected the Liberal MP for Elgin in 1857, serving as Under Secretary of State for India and then for the Colonies in Gladstone’s first and second ministries between 1868 and 1880. In 1881 he was appointed Governor of Madras where he remained for five years. Returning to York House in February 1886 he was knighted in March that year.

York House in about 1808

During his time at York House he entertained extensively: nearly 1700 names are recorded in his visitors book, all of whom had stayed at least one night. Among visiting politicians were Gladstone and Disraeli, John Bright and Haldane. Literary figures included Matthew Arnold , Henry James, Walter Pater and the American Bret Harte.

He participated in local affairs when in Twickenham, both parochial and political. In 1888 he took part in the celebrations of the bicentenary of the birth of Alexander Pope. He presided at the committee meetings and extended hospitality to the literary figures who were involved: Austin Dobson, Edmund Gosse, Richard Garnett and others. He also presided at the opening of the exhibition in August. At the close of the exhibition there was a surplus of funds which were used to buy some relevant books for Twickenham Library. Unhappily, Twickenham's Pope collection has since been moved to Richmond.

Vanity Fair represenation of Grant Duff, courtesy of Peter de Loriol

Grant Duff was described by his daughter Clara as a "very vital, rather ugly red-bearded man" and that "many people still remember what a charming picture he made in his puce coat, sitting in his sunny library at York House, with a great grey Persian, Lavender, sitting on his shoulder." The National Portrait Gallery hold a stipple engraving of him by William Roffe, after Henry Tamworth Wells, made after 1889 (NPG D9724). His beard is quite large and may be red, but he doesn't look at all ugly.


further reading

D H Simpson, A Victorian Diarist at York House – Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff – 1877-1896, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society, Paper no1, 1965
T H R Cashmore, York House Twickenham, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society, Occasional Paper no4, 1990
A Tilney Bassett (ed), A Victorian Vintage, (a selection from the diaries of G D), Methuen & Co, 1930

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