The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Algernon Bertram Mitford

Algernon Bertram Mitford, Lord Redesdale

A carte-de-visite portrait of the British diplomat, collector and writer Algernon Bertram Mitford (1837-1916), raised to the peerage in 1902 as Baron Redesdale of Redesdale in Northumberland. Nicknamed ‘Barty’, he was the cousin of Algernon Swinburne and the paternal grandfather of the Mitford sisters.

The son of Henry Reveley Mitford of Exbury House in Hampshire, he was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He entered the Foreign Office in 1858 and was appointed Third Secretary of the British Embassy in St Petersburg. After service in the Diplomatic Corps in Peking, he went to Japan as second secretary to the British Legation at the time of the Meiji Restoration. In 1871 he published Tales of Old Japan, a book credited with introducing many Japanese tales to a Western audience. According to WS Gilbert, Mitford later served as a consultant on Japanese culture during the development of The Mikado. A traditional Japanese song hummed by Mitford to Gilbert and Sullivan during a rehearsal was used in the opera for the march accompanying the Mikado's entrance.

Mitford resigned from the diplomatic service in 1873. From 1874 to 1886 he acted as secretary to HM Office of Works, involved in the lengthy restoration of the Tower of London and in landscaping parts of Hyde Park. He also sat as Member of Parliament for Stratford-on-Avon between 1892 and 1895. In 1886, Mitford inherited the substantial country estates of his first cousin twice removed, John Freeman-Mitford, 1st Earl of Redesdale. In accordance with the will he assumed by Royal licence the additional surname of Freeman. Appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Gloucestershire, he became a magistrate and took up farming and horse breeding. He was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron from 1889 to 1914 and President of the Royal Photographic Society between 1910 and 1912.

In 1874 he married Lady Clementina Gertrude Helen Ogilvy, the daughter of the 10th Earl of Airlie. They had five sons and four daughters. It was said that he had also fathered two children with a geisha during his time in Japan and it is possible he was the father of Clementine Hozier, conceived during the course of an affair with his wife sister’s Blanche. Clementina married Winston Churchill in 1908.

Lord Redesdale died on 17 August 1916, at the age of 79.

Photographed by Camille Silvy on 8 September 1860.

Code: 125601
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