Dallas, Robert (1756-1824) (DNB00)

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DALLAS, Sir ROBERT (1756–1824), judge, was the eldest son of Robert Dallas of Cooper's Court, St. Michael's, Cornhill, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. James Smith, minister of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire. He was born on 16 Oct. 1756, and was principally educated with his brother George [q. v.] at Geneva, under the care of M. Chauvet, a distinguished pastor of the Swiss church. Dallas was admitted as a student to Lincoln's Inn on 4 Nov. 1777, and was called to the bar on 7 Nov. 1782. He soon obtained a considerable practice both in London and on the western circuit. In December 1783 he made a long and effective speech at the bar of the House of Lords, as junior counsel on behalf of the East India Company, against Fox's East India Bill (The Case of the East India Company, &c. 1784, pp. 53–84). In January 1788 he was retained as one of the counsel for Lord George Gordon, who had previously been found guilty of the publication of two libels, but had hitherto managed to avoid sentence (Howell, State Trials, 1817, xxii. 231). In 1787 he was selected as one of the three counsel to defend Warren Hastings, his coadjutors being Law, afterwards Lord Ellenborough, and Plomer, afterwards master of the rolls. During the trial, which lasted seven years, Dallas greatly distinguished himself, and at its conclusion in 1795 was made a king's counsel. The following well-known epigram upon the leader of the impeachment, though frequently credited to Law, was composed by Dallas:—

Oft have I wonder'd why on Irish ground
No poisonous reptile ever yet was found;
Reveal'd the secret stands of Nature's work—
She saved her venom to create a Burke.

These lines were printed by Dallas's widow in a small volume of ‘Poetical Trifles,’ for private circulation. He frequently appeared as counsel before the committees on contested elections, and his speeches on many important occasions will be found in the later volumes of Howell's ‘State Trials.’ At the general election in July 1802 he was returned as one of the members for the borough of St. Michael's in Cornwall, but on his appointment as chief justice of Chester in January 1805, vacated his seat, and in the following March was elected member for the Kirkcaldy district of burghs, which he continued to represent until the dissolution of parliament in October 1806. Though his maiden speech, which was delivered in the House of Commons on 24 May 1803, in defence of the ministerial policy with regard to Malta, produced a great effect (Parliamentary History, 1820, xxxvi. 1420–3), he does not appear to have taken part in the debates very frequently. In 1808 his ‘speech in the court of king's bench on a motion for a new trial in the case of the King v. Picton’ was published. On 4 May 1813, Dallas was appointed solicitor-general, and was knighted by the prince regent on the 19th of the same month. Upon the appointment of Sir Vicary Gibbs as lord chief baron, Dallas was made a puisne justice of the common pleas, and took his seat on the bench for the first time on 19 Nov. 1813 (Taunton's Reports Com. Pleas, 1815, v. 300–1). In October 1817, with Chief-baron Richards and Justices Abbott and Holroyd, Dallas formed the commission at Derby for the trial of the Luddites, and summed up the evidence against William Turner, who was found guilty and afterwards hanged in company with Brandreth and Ludlam (Howell, State Trials, 1824, xxxii. 1102–33). On the first day of Michaelmas term 1818, Dallas took his seat as chief justice of the common pleas in the place of Sir Vicary Gibbs, who had resigned on account of ill-health; and on 19 Nov. in the same year was, together with Lord-chief-justice Abbott, sworn a member of the privy council. In April 1820, Dallas sat on the special commission for the trial of the Cato Street conspirators, and presided at the trial of James Ings (ib. xxxiii. 957–1176). The curious question having been raised whether the lord-lieutenant of Ireland still enjoyed the power of conferring knighthood, which he possessed before the union, it was unanimously decided at a meeting of judges, held at Dallas's house in June 1823, that the lord-lieutenant still possessed this power, and ‘that knights created by him were knights throughout the world’ (Lady Morgan, Memoirs, 1863, ii. 172–3). Finding that his health was breaking, Dallas resigned his seat on the bench in the Christmas vacation 1823, and was succeeded by Sir Robert Gifford, who was shortly afterwards created Baron Gifford. Dallas survived his retirement but a little more than a year, and died in London on 25 Dec. 1824, in the sixty-ninth year of his age. He was an able lawyer, a polished and effective speaker, and as a judge was greatly respected by the bar. Dallas was called to the bench of Lincoln's Inn on 22 April 1795, and acted as treasurer of the society during 1806. He was twice married, first to Charlotte, daughter of Lieut.-colonel Alexander Jardine, consul-general at Corunna, by whom he had one son and one daughter; and secondly to Giustina, daughter of Henry Davidson of Tulloch Castle, Ross-shire, by whom he had five daughters. A bust of Dallas, by H. Sievier, is in the possession of Major Marton of Capernwray, near Lancaster. It was engraved by W. Holl in 1824.

[Foss's Judges of England (1864), ix. 15–17; Burke's Peerage, &c. (1886), p. 371; Rose's Biog. Dict. vii. 6; The Georgian Era (1833), ii. 543; Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chief Justices (1857), iii. 112, 131–2; Annual Register, 1824, p. 323; Gent. Mag. 1825, vol. xcv. pt. i. pp. 82–3; Lincoln's Four Registers; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 216, 225; London Gazettes, 1813, pt. i. pp. 873, 966, 1818, pt. ii. p. 2076; private information.]

G. F. R. B.