1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Stowell, William Scott, Baron

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STOWELL, WILLIAM SCOTT, Baron (1745-1836), English judge and jurist, was born at Heworth, a village about 4 m. from Newcastle, on the 17th of October 1745, the son of a “coalfitter” (or tradesman engaged in the transport of coal). His younger brother John became the famous Lord Chancellor Eldon. Scott was educated at the Newcastle grammar school and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he gained a Durham scholarship in 1761. In 1764 he graduated and became first a probationary fellow and then — as successor to William (afterwards the well-known Sir William) Jones — a tutor of University college. As Camden reader of ancient history (1774) he rivalled the reputation of Blackstone. Although he had joined the Middle Temple in 1762, it was not till 1776 that Scott devoted himself to a systematic study of law. In 1779 he graduated as doctor of civil law, and, after the customary “year of silence,” commenced practice in the ecclesiastical courts. His professional success was rapid. In 1783 he became registrar of the court of faculties, and in 1788 judge of the consistory court and advocate-general, in that year too receiving the honour of knighthood; and in 1798 he was made judge of the high court of admiralty. Sir William Scott twice contested the representation of Oxford University — in 1780 without success, but successfully in 1801. He also sat for Downton in 1790. Upon the coronation of George IV. (1821) he was raised to the peerage as Baron Stowell. After a life of distinguished judicial service Lord Stowell retired from the bench from the consistory court in August 1821, and from the high court of admiralty in December 1827. His mental faculties became gradually feebler in his old age, and he died on the 28th of January 1836. Lord Stowell was twice married — in 1781 to Anna Maria, eldest daughter and heiress of John Bagnall of Early Court, Berks., by whom he had four children, one of these, a daughter, survived him; and in 1813 to the dowager marchioness of Sligo.

Lord Stowell's judgments are models alike of literary execution and of judicial reasoning. His style is chaste yet not inornate, nervous without abruptness, and perfectly adjusted in every instance to the subject with which he deals. His decisions in the cases of Dalyrmple v. Dalyrmple (Dr Dodson's Report) and Evans v. Evans (1 Hagg. 35) — from their combined force and grace, from the steadiness with which every collateral issue is set aside, from their subtle insight into human motives and from the light which they cast on marriage law — deserve and will repay attentive perusal. Lord Stowell composed with great care, and some of the MSS. which he revised for Haggard and Phillimore's Reports were full of interlineations. Stowell's mind was judicial rather than forensic — reasoning, not as for a dialectic victory nor so as to convince the parties on whose suit he was deciding, but only with sufficient clearness, fulness and force to justify the decision at which he had arrived.

The chief doctrines of international law with the assertion and illustration of which the name of Lord Stowell is identified are these: the perfect equality and entire independence of all states (“Le Louis,” 2 Dod. 243) — a logical deduction from the Austinian philosophy and still one of the fundamental principles of English jurisprudence; that the elementary rules of international law bind even semi-barbarous states (the “Hurtige Hane,” 2 Rob. 325); that blockade to be binding must be effectual (the “Betsey,” 1 Rob. 93); and that contraband of war is to be determined by “probable destination” (the “Jonge Margaretha,” 1 Rob. 189). In the famous Swedish convoy case (the “Maria,” 1 Rob. 350; see, too, the “Recovery,” 6 C. Rob. 348-9) Lord Stowell asserted that “a prize court is a court not merely of the country in which it sits but of the law of nations.” “The seat of judicial authority,” he added, in words which have become classic, “is indeed locally here, in the belligerent country, but the law itself has no locality.” His dictum concerning the right of a belligerent to sink a neutral ship, when unable to take her before a prize court, was much quoted in 1904 in reference to the sinking of the “Knight Commander” by the Russians in the Far East.

The judgments of Lord Stowell were, almost without exception, confirmed on appeal, and they are to this day the international law of England, and have become presumptive though not conclusive evidence of the international law of America. “I have taken care,” wrote Justice Story, “that they shall form the basis of the maritime law of the United States, and I have no hesitation in saying that they ought to do so in that of every civilized country in the world.”

See Townsend, Lives of Twelve Eminent Judges, vol. ii.; Quarterly Review, vol. Ixxv.; W. E. Surtees, Sketch of Lords Stowell and Eldon; Creasy, First Platform of International Law; Reports of Prize Cases from 1745 to 1859, ed. E. S. Roscoe (2 vols. 1905; contains all the more important of Lord Stowell's judgments).