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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Lord Meadowbank, of the Court of Session

The late Lord Meadowbank—son of Alexander Maconochie, writer in Edinburgh—was born on the 26th January, 1748. He was in early age placed under the tuition of Dr. Alexander Adam, afterwards Eec-tor of the High School of Edinburgh, who acted as his private teacher, and from whom he acquired that taste for classical studies which he retained throughout life. He subsequently entered the University of Edinburgh, and, being destined for the bar, attended the usual classes. In 1764, he and other five students, with the view of mutual improvement in public speaking, formed themselves into a debating club, called "The Speculative Society," which met in one of the rooms of the College. These were Mr. Win. Creech, the bookseller; Mr. John Bonar, afterwards Solicitor of the Excise; Mr. John Bruce, Professor of Logic; Henry Mackenzie, author of "The Man of Feeling"; and Mr. Belches. Mr. Charles Stuart was admitted a member at their first meeting. This association soon became more extensive, and assumed an aspect of stability and eminence, which it still continues to maintain. Mr. Maconochie was then in his seventeenth year, and his associates were all nearly of a similar age.

In 1768, after having completed his studies at the University, he went to the Continent, and resided some time at Paris. On his return the following year, he entered himself a student at Lincoln's Inn, and kept several terms—his object being to attend the Court of King's Bench, in order to observe the decisions of the great Lord Mansfield.

Returning to Scotland, Mr. Maconochie was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates upon the 8th December, 1770; but, being still desirous of increasing his general and practical knowledge, he soon after made a second journey to France, where he remained till 1773. During his stay there, he chiefly resided at Rheims; but the greater portion of his time was spent in various parts of the country.

In 1774, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Wellwood, Esq., of Garvock, in the county of Fife. Through the influence of this connection it is supposed he owed his return to the General Assembly of that year, as lay representative of the burgh of Dunfermline—a point of considerable importance to a young barrister; as, should he be fortunate enough to make a successful debut in the ecclesiastical court, his future success is generally looked upon as certain.

From this period the reputation of Mr. Maconochie began gradually to be established. In addition to the practice of law, and a thorough acquaintance with the Statute-book, he had studied deeply the philosophy of law; and such was the character which his talents and acquirements had secured for him, that, in 1779, on the resignation of Mr. Balfour, he was elected Professor of the Law of Nature and Nations in the University of Edinburgh. Much to the regret of the public, however, he gave lectures only during two sessions, his practice at the bar having become so great that he was unable to continue the duty of the chair.

In 1788, he was appointed Sheriff-Depute of the county of Renfrew; and, on the death of Lord Abercromby, in 1796, promoted to the bench by the title of Lord Meadowbank. In 1804, on the resignation of Lord Methven, he was constituted one of the Lords of Justiciary. In both of these judicial capacities he conducted himself with the greatest ability.

In politics, Lord Meadowbank was decidedly of the Pitt and Dundas school, or, in other words, a Tory ; but his was an enlightened attachment to the constitution, springing from judicious and comprehensive views of social and political economy. When trial by jury—the bulwark of the subject's liberty—was proposed to be introduced into Scotland, Lord Meadowbank evinced the soundness and liberality of his sentiments by warmly advocating the measure. He wrote an excellent pamphlet on the subject, entitled "Considerations on the Introduction of Trial by Jury in Scotland;" and, in 1815, when the Jury Court was instituted, he was appointed one of the Lords-Commissioners.

Amid the multifarious duties arising from official engagements, Lord Meadowbank still found leisure to continue his acquaintance with literature and the progress of the sciences, of which he was a warm promoter. He was one of the earliest members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, to which he contributed several valuable papers, and was for many years Vice-President. He was likewise one of the Directors of the Astronomical Institution.

Like many of his contemporaries, Lord Meadowbank was a keen agriculturist; and to his ingenious speculations and inquiries into this important science, the country is indebted for the invention of moss manure, now extensively employed in various counties in Scotland.

The character of Lord .Meadowbank as a judge has been recently given by one in every way qualified to form a just and impartial estimate of his merits. "Above all," said Lord Brougham, in deciding a recent case in the House of Lords (Inglis v. Mansfield, 10th April, 1835), "we have, what with me is of the highest authority, and of the greatest weight, the very valuable opinion of the late Lord Meadowbank, one of the best lawyers—one of the most acute men—a man of large general capacity, and of great experience—and with hardly any exception, certainly with very few exceptions, if any—the most diligent judge one can remember in the practice of the Scotch law."

Lord Meadowbank died on the 14th of June, 1816, in the sixty-ninth year of his age. In 1792, prior to his elevation to the bench, he resided in what was then No. 33 Hanover Street. His lordship left several children, the eldest of whom is the present Lord Meadowbank.

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