Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blackburne, Francis (1782-1867)

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BLACKBURNE, FRANCIS (1782–1867), lord chancellor of Ireland, was born at Great Footstown, county Meath, on 11 Nov. 1782. In 1792 he was sent to school at the village of Dunshaughlin, where he remained a year and a half. At this time the effects of the French revolution were severely felt in some parts of Ireland. A conspiracy was discovered for an attack upon the house at Footstown, and the family removed to the village of Kells, and ultimately to Dublin. After some time spent in the school of the Rev. William White in the Irish capital, Blackburne entered Trinity College, Dublin, in July 1798, where he acquired numerous distinctions.

Blackburne kept the usual terms at King's Inn, Dublin, and subsequently proceeded to Lincoln's Inn, London. He was called to the bar in 1806, and went the home circuit. In the course of four years he was able to clear off the charges upon the paternal property to which he had succeeded. In 1809 he married the daughter of Mr. William Martley of Ballyfallon, by whom he had fourteen children. Five only of these survived him. The condition of Ireland in 1822 was very turbulent, and it was necessary to renew the Insurrection Act. Blackburne, now called within the bar, administered the act in the county and city of Limerick for two years, and he effectually restored order in the district. In 1824 Blackburne was examined on the state of Ireland before committees of both houses of parliament. Two years later he was appointed Serjeant. Although Blackbume's political opinions were distinctly conservative, on the accession of Earl Grey to power in 1830 he became attorney-general for Ireland, and speedily achieved a legal victory over Daniel O'Connell, who had threatened to teach him law. A conspiracy was formed in 1831 for the purpose of resisting the payment of tithe, and riots and murders took place in several of the disturbed districts. The government failed to obtain convictions against the agitators, in spite of the evidence accumulated by Blackburne. After the anti-tithe meetings in Ireland were suppressed, the condition of the country grew more alarming. A new coercion act was considered to be necessary and passed in March 1833.

Blackburne was called upon to draw up a report to the lord-lieutenant on the condition of the country at about the same time. His activity was very distasteful to O'Connell and his followers, who fiercely attacked him in a series of letters to Lord Duncannon, the home secretary. On the recall of Lord Melbourne to power in 1834, Blackburne resigned. Post after post on the bench became vacant during the premiership of Lord Melbourne, but Blackburne was overlooked. It is said that Lord Melbourne was not a free agent in this matter, being bound to O'Connell and his followers, who were bitterly hostile to Blackburne.

In 1841 Sir Robert Peel again appointed Blackburne attorney-general for Ireland. Upon the death of Sir Michael O'Loghlen in 1842 he became master of the rolls in Ireland. Soon afterwards he assisted the lord-chancellor in preparing a code of general orders for the court of chancery. In January 1846 Blackburne was appointed chief justice of the queen's bench. He presided with conspicuous ability at the assizes during the critical period of 1847-8. He delivered the charge in the prosecution of Smith O'Brien and his confederates, who were convicted of high treason, Referring to this charge. Lord Brougham said: 'I never in the course of my experience read a more able and satisfaction argument m every respect than that of Chief-justice Blackburne' (House of Lords' Cases, ii. 496). Blackburne also delivered an important charge to the grand jury at Monaghan in 1861, in connection with the outbreak of Ribbonism.

When Lord Derby came into office in February 1862, Blackburne was made chancellor of Ireland, but he resigned the post on the formation of a coalition government under Lord Aberdeen in December of the same year.

In 1852, at the wish of the government, Blackburne became one of the commissioners of national education, but he retired from it in the following year along with Archbishop Whately and Lord Greene. In 1864 Blackburne, when examined at great length before a committee of the House of Lords as to the circumstances which led to his retirement, stated that he joined the board under the conviction that it would afford a large amount of religious, combined with secular, instruction, but that a substantial part of the religious instruction had been subtracted from the course (Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords, &c.)

In 1866 Blackburne was appointed by Lord Palmerston lord justice of appeal in Ireland. Two years later he was invited by Lord Derby again to become lord chancellor, but he declined on account of his advanced age and failing health. On the accession to power of Lord Derby in 1806 he consented, however, to accent the appointment, but being warmly attacked he was ultimately induced to resign. In May 1867 Blackburne declined Lord Derby's offer of a baronetcy. He died on 17 Sept. 1867, in the eighty-fifth year of his age. Blackburne was for some years vice-chancellor of Dublin University.

In private character Blackburne was generous and urbane. As a lawyer he possessed extraordinary power of mental concentration, wide experience, and profound acquaintance with every branch of law and equity. He had a dignified and courteous manner, a style nervous, terse, and perspicuous, a distinct and melodious voice, and a fluent delivery. His mind was clear to the last.

[Life of the Right Hon. Francis Blackburne, late Lord Chancellor of Ireland, by his son Edward Blackburne, Q.C., 1874; Annual Register, 1867.]

G. B. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.28
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
122 ii 17 f.e. Blackburn, Francis: for 1834 read April 1835
123 i 24 for Lord Greene read Baron Greene