Akers-Douglas, Aretas, first Viscount Chilston 1851-1926, statesman, born at St. Leonards-on-Sea 21 October 1851, was the only son of the Rev. Aretas Akers, of Malling Abbey, Kent, by his wife, Frances Maria, daughter of Francis Holles Brandram, of Underriver House, Kent. He was educated at Eton and at University College, Oxford, and was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1875. The same year he assumed the additional name of Douglas, on succeeding to the estates in Kent and Scotland of his kinsman, James Douglas Stoddart Douglas, of Chilston Park, Kent, and Baads, Midlothian.
In Akers-Douglas's youth the county of Kent was not only a conservative stronghold, but also the nursery of that party's organization. Sir William Hart Dyke, Disraeli's political adjutant, was member for the mid-division, and Lord Abergavenny, who was lieutenant of the county, was chief controller of the party's interests, and from Eridge Castle issued the appointments of the principal staff officers of the conservative head-quarters in London. After his marriage in 1875 Akers-Douglas was encouraged by Lord Abergavenny to take an active part in county politics, and in 1880, after a contest, he was elected member of parliament for East Kent. He represented this constituency until its redistribution in 1885 under the name of the St. Augustine's division, thereafter being returned—on several occasions without a contest—until his retirement in 1911. In 1883, three years after his election, he was appointed an opposition whip—Hart Dyke and Rowland Winn (afterwards Lord St. Oswald) having retired from that position. After Mr. Gladstone's resignation of office in June 1885, Akers-Douglas was appointed patronage secretary in the new government; he held this post until the defeat of Lord Salisbury's administration in the following January. In July 1886, after the rejection of the first Home Rule Bill, Lord Salisbury resumed office, and Akers-Douglas returned to the Treasury, where he remained until the dissolution of parliament in 1892. He was admitted a member of the privy council in 1891.
These six years were the supreme test of Akers-Douglas's exceptional abilities. Parties, as Pulteney once said, like snakes are moved by their tails; and, although the conservative government had a majority, its life depended on the dissentient liberals, whose adherence to the government was swayed by the dual and occasionally alternating counsels of Lord Hartington and Mr. Chamberlain. The control of these composite forces required firmness, tempered with delicate handling, and to this task Akers-Douglas brought an industry and supervision which never tired. He acquired an ample and accurate knowledge of parliamentary procedure which he combined with the closest study of party interests. No one knew better the changing mood of the lobby, the exact value of the frondeur, or the extent of an intrigue. He possessed a preternatural dexterity in judging the qualifications of men for office or party service, as well as their claims for honorific recognition. In dealing with the importunate suitor he could smile without art and win without a bribe. His will was tenacious; his character strong. He compelled the attendance of ministers at the House with the insistence which he applied to private members. In all the affairs of government or party Lord Salisbury trusted him implicitly.
Akers-Douglas served as chief whip in the brief opposition period from 1892 to 1895: upon the return of the unionist connexion to power in the latter year, he was preferred by Lord Salisbury to the post of first commissioner of works. In this office he shared responsibility for the ceremonial of King Edward VII's coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1902, and for the Mall Memorial to Queen Victoria. In 1902, on the transfer of Mr. (afterwards Lord) Ritchie to the Exchequer, he was appointed secretary of state for the home department, a position which he filled unostentatiously and efficiently until the resignation of Mr. Balfour's government in the winter of 1905. He survived the convulsion of the general election in the following January, but with rare modesty allowed it to be understood that his official career was ended. At the coronation of King George V in 1911 he accepted the conventional viscounty—a promotion which was widely approved—and was created Baron Douglas, of Baads, and Viscount Chilston, of Boughton Malherbe, Kent.
In the last years of Chilston's life his health failed, and he died in London 15 January 1926. He was created G.B.E. (1920) and a knight of grace of St. John of Jerusalem (1916). His portrait by Sir A. S. Cope is at Chilston Park. He married in 1875 Adeline Mary, daughter of Horatio Austen Smith, of Hayes Court, Kent, by whom he had two sons and five daughters. He was succeeded as second viscount by his elder son, Aretas (born 1876).
The Times, 16 January 1926
Studies of Yesterday, by a privy councillor, 1928.
Contributor: J. S. Sandars.