Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Kinnear, Alexander Smith

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

KINNEAR, ALEXANDER SMITH, first Baron Kinnear, of Spurness, Orkney (1833–1917), judge, was born in Edinburgh 3 November 1833, the son of John Gardiner Kinnear, merchant, of Glasgow, by his wife, Mary, daughter of Alexander Smith, banker. He was educated at the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, passing advocate at the Scots bar in 1856. Business did not flow in apace for many years, but he was making himself all the time. His bent was toward what, in England, would have been a Chancery practice. He had a knowledge of law, especially of the feudal system, which few could equal, none could excel. His opportunity came with the mass of litigation consequent on the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1878. The liquidators sent him a general retainer, and he was called upon to lead counsel in much larger practice. He came triumphantly out of the ordeal, helped doubtless by the fact that the lord president, John Inglis, Lord Glencorse, had a high opinion of him, and listened with respect to all that he said. In 1881 he was elected dean of the Faculty of Advocates and became a Q.C. In 1882 he went on the bench. After being a lord ordinary for eight years he entered the first division (1890), when Inglis, for whom Kinnear had a veneration, was still in the chair. Kinnear remained in the division until he resigned in 1913. Throughout thirty-one years he proved himself to be, without doubt, a great judge. His courtesy was unwavering, his patience inexhaustible. His powerful and receptive intellect responded to every current in the course of an argument. He took great pains that the form of the opinions which he delivered should leave no doubt as to their meaning. He was a model of what an appellate judge should be.

Outside the court Kinnear rendered signal service to the state. He acted as chairman of the Scottish Universities commission from 1889 until 1897, when he received a peerage in recognition of his services. At the 251st meeting of the commission, which had framed 169 ordinances, Lord Kelvin paid a tribute to his unremitting attention. In 1904–1905 Kinnear was a member of the royal commission appointed after the judgment of the House of Lords in the Free Church case. He bore a heavy burden in acting on the executive commission thereafter set up to settle the rival claims of the churches. He occasionally sat to hear appeals in the House of Lords, and continued to do so after his resignation. Two masterly essays from his pen remain, written before he was thirty, on Catullus (North British Review, xxxvi, 204) and on Shelley (Quarterly Review, cx, 289). To read these is to realize that in Kinnear Scotland gained a lawyer and lost a man of letters. He loved Sir Walter Scott, all the more because he shared Scott's ‘infinite love and sympathy with humanity’. He was given to hospitality, and ever ready to impart the treasures of his well-stored mind to those who penetrated his reserve. He took no part in politics. He died unmarried, in Edinburgh, 20 December 1917.

[Personal knowledge.]

C. K. M.