Hamilton, Robert (1750?-1831) (DNB00)

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HAMILTON, ROBERT (1750?–1831), legal writer and genealogist, distantly connected with the ducal house of Hamilton, was born about 1750. He entered the army, and was present at Bunker's Hill and other battles of the American war of independence, where he fought gallantly and was wounded. He afterwards studied law, became a member of the Faculty of Advocates, sheriff of Lanarkshire, and finally one of the clerks of session. He married a daughter of Lord Westhall, a lord of session. He died in 1831.

Hamilton was an intimate friend of his colleague Sir Walter Scott. They were both commissioners of the northern lights, and went together the sea voyage of inspection in 1814 described in Lockhart. Hamilton is noted therein as good-humoured, even when troubled with the gout, 'a brother antiquary of the genuine Monkbarns breed.' On his deathbed he gave Scott the sword he had carried at Bunker's Hill. The version of Sir Patrick Spens in Scott's 'Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border' (1802) was taken down from his recitation. Unfortunately Hamilton has left no record of the source whence he obtained it, and so his connection with it does not help to prove or disprove the theory started by Robert Chambers in his journal in 1843, and afterwards elaborated in 'The Romantic Scottish Ballads; their Epoch and Authorship,' in 1849, to the effect that this and others were the work of Lady Wardlaw. The 'quaint tune' to which he sang the ballad is preserved in the 'Albyns Anthology' of Alexander Campbell, the musician [q. v.]

Hamilton had the credit of being a good lawyer, and it is said 'obtained much professional reputation for getting up the case for Hamilton of Wishaw, which carried the peerage of Belhaven before a committee of privileges. He also drew up the elaborate claim of Miss Lennox of Woodhead to the ancient earldom of Lennox, an interesting production, but based on a fallacy.' He is very possibly the editor of 'Decisions of the Court of Session from November 1769 to January 1772' (Edinb. 1803, fol.), mentioned in Watt's 'Bibliotheca Britannica' as by Robert Hamilton, esq., advocate, but neither in the British Museum Catalogue nor in the Catalogue of Advocates' Library, nor in any of the usual books of legal reference is there any mention of this work.

[Lockhart's Life of Scott; Notes and Queries, 14 July 1860, p. 31. A good summary of the controversy as to the authorship of Sir Patrick Spens is given in the Romantic Scottish Ballads and the Lady Wardlaw Heresy, by Norval Clyne, Aberdeen. 1859.]

F. W-t.