Dunlop, Alexander Colquhoun-Stirling-Murray- (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 16
Dunlop, Alexander Colquhoun-Stirling-Murray-

by William Garden Blaikie

DUNLOP, ALEXANDER COLQUHOUN-STIRLING-MURRAY- (1798–1870), church lawyer and politician, born 27 Dec. 1798, was the fifth son of Alexander Dunlop of Keppoch, Dumbartonshire, by Margaret Colquhoun of Kenmure, Lanarkshire. His family had in former times taken much interest in the Scottish church. Dunlop was called to the bar in 1820, and in his earliest years was an ardent student of his profession. In 1822 he became one of the editors of ‘ Shaw and Dunlop's Reports,’ and gave no little evidence of his legal attainments. At an early period his attention was specially directed to parochial law; in 1825 he published a treatise on the law of Scotland relating to the poor, in 1833 a treatise on the law of patronage, and afterwards his fuller treatise on parochial law. The sympathies of Dunlop were very warmly enlisted in the operations of the church, and he took an active part in all the ecclesiastical reforms and benevolent undertakings of the period. But in a pre-eminent degree his interest was excited by the questions relating to the law of patronage, and the collision which arose out of them between the church and the civil courts. Relying on history and statute Dunlop very earnestly supported what was called the ‘non-intrusion’ party, led by Chalmers and others, believing it to be constitutionally in the right, and when the church became involved in litigation he devoted himself with rare disinterestedness to her defence. He not only defended the church at the bar of the court of session, but in private councils, in committees, deputations, and publications he was unwearied on her behalf. The public documents in which his position was stated and defended, especially the ‘Claim of Right’ in 1842, the ‘Protest and Deed of Demission’ in 1843, were mainly his work.

In 1844 he married Eliza Esther, only child of John Murray of Ainslie Place, Edinburgh, and on the death of his father-in-law in 1849 he assumed the name of Murray-Dunlop. Subsequently, in 1866, on succeeding to the estate of his cousin, William Colquhoun-Stirling of Law and Edinbarnet, he took the name of Colquhoun-Stirling-Murray-Dunlop. In 1845 and 1847 he contested the representation of his native town of Greenock, but without success; in 1852 he was returned by the electors, and for fifteen years represented them in a way that met with their most cordial appreciation. In early life he had been a tory, but he was now thoroughly liberal. In parliament, however, while generally supporting the liberals he retained an independent position, declining offices both in connection with the government and with his own profession in Scotland, to which his services and abilities well entitled him.

His services in parliament were fruitful of much useful legislation. In a sketch of his life by his friend, David Maclagan, mention is made of eight several acts which he got passed. Those on legal points introduced important practical amendments of the laws, the most interesting, perhaps, being that which put a stop to Gretna Green marriages. Some of his measures bore on social improvement, one of them being an act to facilitate the erection of dwelling-houses for the working classes, and another an act to render reformatories and industrial schools more available for vagrant and destitute children, well known as Dunlop's Act.

The most chivalrous of his parliamentary services was an attack (19 March 1861) on the government of Lord Palmerston, which he had usually supported, in connection with the Afghan war. Many years after the event it was ascertained that certain despatches written in 1839 by Sir Alexander Burnes, our envoy at the Afghan court, had been tampered with in publication, and made to express opinions opposite to those which Sir Alexander held. Dunlop, at a great sacrifice of feeling, moved on 19 March 1861 for a committee of inquiry, and was very ably supported by Mr. Bright and others. Lord Palmerston was put to great straits in his defence, as it could not be denied that Burnes's despatches had been changed; but Disraeli came to his rescue, and on the ground that the matter was now twenty years old advised the house not to reopen it. On a division, the motion of Dunlop was negatived by a vote of 159 to 49.

In 1868 he resigned his seat in parliament, the rest of his days being spent chiefly on his property of Corsock in Dumfriesshire. Lord Cockburn in his ‘Journal’ ranks Dunlop in everything, except impressive public exhibition, superior to Chalmers and Candlish. ‘Dunlop,’ he says, ‘is the purest of enthusiasts. The generous devotion with which he has given himself to this cause (the church) has retarded, and will probably arrest the success of his very considerable talent and learning; but a crust of bread and a cup of cold water would satisfy all the worldly desires of this most disinterested person. His luxury would be in his obtaining justice for his favourite and oppressed church, which he espouses from no love of power or any other ecclesiastical object, but solely from piety and the love of the people.’

Dunlop died on 1 Sept. 1870, in the seventy-second year of his age. He had four sons and four daughters.

[Notice of the late Mr. Dunlop, by Mr. David Maclagan; Hansard's Debates; Disruption Worthies; Scotsman and Daily Review, 2 Sept. 1870; Funeral Sermons, by Rev. Dr. J. Julius Wood and Rev. Dr. Candlish; personal recollections and letters from Mr. Dunlop's family to the writer.]

W. G. B.