Honorary President of our Bicentenary Year

We are delighted to announce that Simon Petty-Fitzmaurice, Earl of Kerry, PhD, will be the Honorary President for our Bicentenary Year. 

Lord Kerry’s ancestor, the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, was the Institution’s first President, from as early as 1823 when the Institution was only in the planning stage.  

He was there for the first lecture in January 1825, and the celebratory dinner that followed, where one of the speakers was his friend, the Irish poet Thomas Moore, the literary executor to Lord Byron, who had died the year before – in 1824.  

Lord Lansdowne remained President until his death in 1863 at the age of 83, so it is probably a relief that the position was mainly honorary.  

The family seat, at Bowood, was not far from Bath along the turnpike to London, and the Marquess lent his support to many organisations in the area. In the year the institution began to take shape he was a patron of a Grand Music Festival raising money for Bath’s United City Infirmary and Dispensary and the Casualty Hospital, which were soon to open as the United Hospital in the handsome building that is now the Gainsborough Hotel. The Marquess was closely connected with the Bath and West of England Agricultural Society, becoming President and regularly chairing its annual meetings. 

The son of a former prime minister, he became a lifelong statesman, entering Parliament in 1802 as a 22-year-old MP.  He was chancellor of the exchequer at 26 and, as Marquess from 1809, was active in the House of Lords as a leader of the Whigs, in and out of government. He was Lord President of the Council, one of the great offices of state, at the time of the Great Reform Act of 1832. He championed Catholic emancipation, and favoured the abolition of the slave trade and repeal of the Corn Laws.  

He was a good fit for the institution, not only as a Fellow of the Royal Society but also an active connoisseur of the arts.  He was a trustee of the British Museum. And in 1834 he became trustee of the National Gallery (1834–63), another organisation founded in 1824, and later of the National Portrait Gallery.  At Bowood he built a sculpture gallery, and collected many paintings  

The 3rd Marquess grew up in a household where science and philosophy were highly regarded. His father, better known to history as Prime Minister, the Earl of Shelburne, supported and enjoyed the company of the pioneering scientist and discoverer of oxygen, Joseph Priestley, who was tutor to the 3rd Marquess’s older siblings. By coincidence we are celebrating the 250th anniversary of Priestley’s discovery at Bowood this year and it appears Priestley came from Bowood to attend meetings of one of this institution’s precursors, the Bath Philosophical Society, which also included the astronomer William Herschel. 

The Honorary President for our Bicentenary Year, Lord Kerry, was born in 1970 and is an author and business owner. He was educated at Eton College and at the University of Cambridge where he was awarded an MA in Archaeology. He has an MBA from Ashridge Business School, an MSc in Rural Land and Business Management from the University of Reading and a PhD in History from the University of East Anglia. He is married and has one child. He lives at Bowood in Wiltshire. 

He says: ‘I am delighted to renew the 200-year-old connection between my family and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. I am sure the 3rd Marquess would be pleased that the institution he saw come into being has reached this landmark year and that his descendant has been invited to preside over the its Bicentenary. I wish it every success for the next two centuries.’ 

3rd Marquess of Lansdowne; National Portrait Gallery, London

Lord Kerry, Private Collection