Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1873-1874.
PROFESSION:- Tenant Farmer. Land Surveyor. Agricultural Implement Agent
WARD:- All Saints
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Magistrate. Commissioner. Guardian.
RESIDENCE:- Stubbington Lodge, North End.
DECEASED:- January 8th 1903 aged 78.
BURIED:- Kingston cemetery.
Born February 21st 1824 George E. Kent was one of the last full time farmers on Portsea Island. Additionally he devoted over forty years of his life to public service, " . . .and in all that time never made an enemy or lost a friend." commented W.G. Gates.
George Kent was nominated by ex mayor Alderman John Baker. He spoke of Kent's qualities as being free, honest and open. But by this date nomination speeches had become long winded panegyrics. The motion was put and Kent was elected unanimously - to applause. (1) It was noted that he was the only representative of the agricultural interests on the council - though Andrew Nance might have disputed this.
Following the General Election of February 1874 George Kent was the first mayor, since 1832, to be called upon to certify the return of two Conservatives - Sir James Elphinstone and the Hon Thomas Bruce - to Parliament. This was perhaps irksome since Kent himself was a known Liberal sympathiser.
By the resignation of Alderman George Sheppard there occurred vacancies for both alderman and magistrate. At the March council meeting (2) Cllr Clarke stood to suggest that Kent's name be recommended to the Lord Chancellor for inclusion on the roll. (This was reported as being Clarke's maiden speech -- having been a council member for five years!) The fact that Kent had no magisterial experience proved no handicap to his nomination. Nevertheless the debate became somewhat heated and Kent temporarily vacated the chair in favour of Ald. Davies. The vexed points being should the council also put Cllr Dore up for JP as well as, or even instead of Kent? The nominees' relative merits were discussed. Secondly, due to recent instances of inconsistency in sentencing it was asked should they opt for a Stipendiary. Finally the vote went in Kent's favour.
The next month the council decided to fill the vacant aldermanic post. Cllr Miller proposed Kent. Cllr Gibbs then nominated Cllr H. Ford. The fact that Ford had so recently resigned from the council seeking the post of Magistrate's Clerk weighed against him. So Kent was elected unanimously. (3)
But perhaps the chief event occurred in April when the Borough welcomed home Sir Garnet Wolseley and his victorious troops from the Ashanti War. The town was decorated with bunting and the sailors and marines - headed by the popular Colonel F.W. Festing RMA - were paraded through the town. A great reception was given on Governor's Green where the soldiers and sailors were feasted and entertained by the borough. A less savoury event occurred on the 5th August when, during the so called, Battle of Southsea, he was obliged to read the Riot Act on Southsea Common following a disturbance. (4)
There were on going issues. Acting as the Urban Sanitary Authority the purchase of a site for the new Lunatic Asylum occupied the council. Messrs Goldsmith & Smith offered land at Milton for this purpose but, it was argued, did they need to build the Asylum within the borough, or outside where land might be cheaper? In October he laid the foundation stone of the new prison at Milton and extension work was commenced on the Camber Docks.
At the conclusion of his mayoral year Kent reflected that he had attended no less than 430 meeting during his term. He was adjudged to have been a good, if not outstanding, mayor. Cllr Murrell proposed that his vote of thanks should inscribed on vellum and the seal of the borough attached. Agreed.
In his social life Kent was a keen swimmer being a member of the Portsmouth club. He worshipped at St Mary's where he was a church warden. In November 1898 he did not seek re­election to the Aldermanic Bench and retired from public life due to ill health. He died at his family home on the 10th January 1903. He was married with issue.
Norman Gordon
Obituary Portsmouth Times January 10th 1903. Hant's Post January 16th 1903.
1. Portsmouth Times 12th November 1873.
2. Portsmouth Times 3rd March 1874.
3. Portsmouth Times 14th April 1874.
4. 'The Battle of Southsea'. Portsmouth Paper.