Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cockburn, Adam

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COCKBURN, ADAM (1656–1735), lord justice clerk, was a lineal descendant of John Cockburn the younger of Ormiston, and Margaret Hepburn his wife (Nisbet, System of Heraldry, 1804, p. 347). On 28 Dec. 1671 he succeeded his brother John in the possession of the lands and barony of Ormiston. He was one of the commissioners for Haddingtonshire in the convention of 1678 and in the parliament of 1681. Cockburn was not a member of the parliament of 1685-6, but again represented Haddingtonshire in the convention of 1689, which afterwards reassembled as a parliament without re-election of its members. On 23 April 1689 he was appointed by the estates one of the commissioners for the union {Act Parl. ix. 60), and was made lord justice clerk on 28 Nov. 1692 (ib. 243), thereby vacating his seat for Haddingtonshire. He was admitted to the privy council, and in May 1695 was appointed on the royal commission of inquiry into the massacre at Glencoe, the report of which was presented to parliament on the following 24 June (ib. 354, 376; for the report see Carstares, 236-54, where it is wrongly dated). For his part in the commission Cockburn was fiercely attacked by the Earl of Argyll, who challenged him to ask satisfaction which way he pleased Carstares, 256). It appears from a letter of the Earl of Argyll to Carstares that about this time special powers were entrusted to Cockburn and Sir Thomas Livingstone 'to seize persons, horses, and arms, without being obliged to be accountable to the council, make close prisoners or otherwise, as they see fit' (ib. 373). On 6 Feb. 1699 Cockburn was appointed treasurer depute, in the place of Lord Raith, deceased, and was succeeded in his office of lord justice clerk by Sir John Maxwell of Pollock (Act Parl. x. 188-9). Shortly after the accession of Anne he was deprived of the post of treasurer depute (Lockhart, Memoirs, 20-1), but was reappointed lord justice clerk on 8 Jan. 1705 (Act Parl. xi. 212), in the place of Sir William Hamilton of Whitelaw, whose seat on the bench as an ordinary lord of session he also succeeded to. In 1710 he was superseded in the office of lord justice clerk by James Erskine of Grange, but on the accession of George I obtained a patent conferring it on him for life. He retained this office and that of ordinary lord until his death, which occurred at Edinburgh on 16 April 1735, aged 79. Cockburn was a man of great integrity, and though possessed of an overbearing temper had a considerable amount of strong good sense and great business capacity. As early as 1698 he endeavoured to break through the old system of short leases, and it was on his own estate at Ormiston that the fields were enclosed for the first time in Scotland. He was a staunch supporter of the presbyterian church, and a firm adherent of the whig party. His zeal gained him the bitter hatred of his political opponents. 'Of all the party,' says Dr. Houston, 'Lord Ormistoun was the most busy, and very zealous in suppressing the rebellion and oppressing the rebels, so that he became universally hated in Scotland, where they called him the curse of Scotland, and when the ladies were at cards, playing the nine of diamonds (commonly called the curse of Scotland), they called it the justice clerk. He was indeed of a hot temper and violent in all his measures' (Works of James Houstoun, 1753, p. 92). Cockburn married, first, Lady Susan, third daughter of John Hamilton, fourth earl of Haddington, by whom he had two sons John, an energetic agriculturist, and Patrick, an advocate, who married in 1731 Alison Rutherford of Fairnalee [see Cockburn, Alicia], His second wife was Anne, daughter of Sir Patrick Houstoun, and widow of Sir William Hamilton of Whitelaw.

[Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice (1832), 478-80; State Papers and Letters addressed to William Carstares (177-1), passim; Macky's Memoirs (1733), 224-5; Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen (1868), i. 380; Parliamentary Papers (1878), vol. lxii. pt. ii.; Gent. Mag. (1735), v. 219.]

G. F. R. B.