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George James Welbore Agar-Ellis was the only son of Henry Welbore Agar-Ellis, second Viscount Clifden, by his wife, Lady Caroline Spencer, eldest daughter of George, third duke of Marlborough. He was born in Upper Brook Street, London, on 14 January 1797, and was sent as a town boy to Westminster School in 1811, but did not remain there long. He afterwards went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. on 27 June 1816, and M.A. on 21 April 1819.
At the general election in June 1818, shortly after he had completed his twenty-first year, Agar-Ellis was elected to parliament as one of the members for the borough of Heytesbury. In March 1820 he was returned for Seaford, and on 30 April 1822 he seconded Canning's motion for leave to bring in a bill to relieve the Roman Catholic peers from the disabilities then imposed upon them with regard to the right of sitting and voting in the House of Lords. In a discussion on the estimates for the grant to the British Museum in July 1823 Agar-Ellis stated his intention of moving for a grant in the next session to be applied to the purchase of the Angerstein collection of pictures, and towards the formation of a national gallery. The government, however, adopted his suggestion, and in the following year the collection was purchased for £60,000. These pictures, which were thirty-eight in number, were selected chiefly by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and, together with those which had been presented by Sir G. Beaumont, formed the nucleus of the collection now in Trafalgar Square.
At the general election in June 1826 Agar-Ellis was returned for the borough of Ludgershall, and in March 1827 spoke in the House of Commons in favour of the petition of the Roman catholic bishops of Ireland. In July 1830 he was elected one of the members for Okehampton. Upon Lord Grey becoming prime minister in the place of the Duke of Wellington, Agar-Ellis was sworn a member of the privy council on 22 November 1830, and was appointed chief commissioner of woods and forests by patent dated 13 December 1830. He was, however, compelled by ill-health to resign this office within two months of his appointment, and was succeeded by Viscount Duncannon on 11 February 1831.
Agar-Ellis was created Baron Dover in the peerage of the United Kingdom on 20 June 1831, and died at Dover House, Whitehall, on 10 July 1833, in his thirty-seventh year. He was buried in the family vault in St. Mary's Church, Twickenham, on the 17th of the same month. Though he did not take a very conspicuous part in the debates on the great political questions of the day, he was a consistent supporter of liberal principles, as well as an earnest advocate of everything which tended to the improvement of the people. He was a generous patron of the fine arts, and formed a valuable collection of paintings by English artists. In the review of his edition of Walpole's ‘Letters’ Macaulay wrote: ‘The editing of these volumes was the last of the useful and modest services rendered to literature by a nobleman of amiable manners, of untarnished public and private character, and of cultivated mind’.
He was a trustee of the British Museum and of the National Gallery, a commissioner of the public records, and a member of several learned societies. In 1832, upon the resignation of Thomas Burgess, the bishop of Salisbury, Dover was elected president of the Royal Society of Literature.
He married at Chiswick, on 7 March 1822, Lady Georgiana Howard, second daughter of George, sixth earl of Carlisle, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. His widow survived him many years, and died, aged 55, on 17 March 1860. He was succeeded in the barony of Dover by his eldest son, Henry, who, upon the death of his grandfather on 13 July 1836, also became third Viscount Clifden and third Baron Mendip.
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