Downes, William (DNB00)

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DOWNES, WILLIAM, first Baron Downes (1762–1826), chief justice of the king's bench in Ireland, born at Donnybrook, near Dublin, in 1752, was the younger son of Robert Downes of Donnybrook Castle, M.P. for the Co. Kildare, by Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Twigg, likewise of Donnybrook. Having been educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. in 1773, he was called to the Irish bar in 1776. He followed the legal profession with success, and in March 1792, while M.P. for the borough of Donegal, was appointed a justice of the king's bench; in the same year he was elected a bencher of the Honourable Society of King's Inns, Dublin; and in September 1803, consequent on the murder of Lord Viscount Kilwarden, who had been for five years lord chief justice, he was selected to fill the vacancy. In 1806, on the resignation of Lord Bedesdale, lord chancellor of Ireland, the chief justice was nominated in his stead vice-chancellor of the university of Dublin by the chancellor, the Duke of Cumberland; and this post he held until 1816, when he resigned, and was succeeded by Lord Manners, the lord chancellor. He had likewise received in 1806 from the university, honoris caused, the degree of LL.D. On 21 Feb. 1822 he resigned the chief justiceship, with a pension of 3,800l. per annum, Charles Kendal Bushe [q. v.] succeeding him; and by patent dated 10 Dec. of the same year he was created an Irish peer, by the title of Baron Downes of Aghanville, King's County, with remainder, in default of male issue, to his cousin. Sir Ulysses Burgh [q. v.] After his retirement from judicial life he continued to reside at Merville, Booterstown, co. Dublin. He died there without leaving issue 8 March 1826, and was buried in a vault under St. Anne's Church, Dublin, where the remains of his old friend and companion, Judge Chamberlain, who died in May 1802, had been deposited. As an inscription on a monument in the south gallery of the church records, 'their friendship and union was complete. They had studied together, lived together, sat together on the same bench of justice, and now by desire of the survivor they lie together in the same tomb.'

Hugh Hamilton's full-length portrait of Judge (afterwards Lord) Downes was one of 'the ablest efforts of his pencil' (Mulvany, Life of James Gandon, Architect, p. 162). An admirable full-length portrait of him, in his robes as lord chief justice, was painted by Martin Cregan of Dublin; and having been engraved by Reynolds, it was published by Colnaghi, Son, & Co. in 1827. An engraving by Lupton, from a portrait by Comerford, has also appeared.

[Gent. Mag. (1826), xcvi. pt.i. p. 270; Annual Register (1826), lxviii. chron. p. 230; Todd's Catalogue of Dublin Graduates; Smyth's Law Officers of Ireland; Blacker's Brief Sketches of Booterstown and Donnybrook, pp. 122-4, 319-23]

B. H. B.