Fergusson, George (DNB00)

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FERGUSSON, GEORGE, Lord Hermand (d. 1827), Scotch judge, was the eighth son of Sir James Fergusson of Kilkerran, bart., by his wife Jean Maitland, only child of James, viscount Maitland, and granddaughter of John, fifth earl of Lauderdale. He was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates on 17 Dec. 1765. He practised at the bar for thirty-four years with considerable success. On the death of Robert Macqueen of Braxfield, Fergusson was made an ordinary lord of session, and took his seat on the bench as Lord Hermand on 11 July 1799. He was also appointed a lord justiciary on 4 Aug. 1808, in the place of Sir William Nairne of Dunsinnam. He resigned both these offices in 1826, and died at Hermand, in the parish of West Calder, on 9 Aug. 1827, upwards of eighty years of age. Hermand was almost the last of the old school of Scottish advocates, and was a man of many peculiarities. The intensity of his temperament was so great that repose, except in bed, was utterly contemptible to him. Though often impatient in temper and sarcastic in his remarks while on the bench, he was very popular with the bar. A characteristic instance of the little respect which he had for conventionality and decorum is related in ‘Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk,’ ii. 121–2: ‘When “Guy Mannering” came out, the judge was so much delighted with the picture of the life of the old Scottish lawyers in that most charming novel, that he could talk of nothing else but Pleydell, Dandie, and the High Jinks for many weeks. He usually carried one volume of the book about with him, and one morning, on the bench, his love for it so completely got the better of him that he lugged in the subject, head and shoulders, into the midst of a speech about some moot dry point of law—nay, getting warmer every moment he spoke of it, he at last fairly plucked the volume from his pocket, and, in spite of all the remonstrances of his brethren, insisted upon reading aloud the whole passage for their edification. … During the whole scene Mr. Walter Scott was present, seated, indeed, in his official capacity, close under the judge.’ Hermand had great compassion for those who were unable to indulge in the pleasures of an old Scotch drinking, and an equal contempt for those who could but would not. In his eyes drinking was a virtue, and productive of virtuous actions. In a certain case where he considered discredit had been brought on the cause of drinking, Hermand, who was vehement for transportation, is said to have delivered himself thus: ‘We are told that there was no malice, and that the prisoner must have been in liquor. In liquor! Why, he was drunk! and yet he murdered the very man who had been drinking with him! They had been carousing the whole night; and yet he stabbed him! after drinking a whole bottle of rum with him! Good God, my laards, if he will do this when he's drunk, what will he not do when he's sober?’ (Cockburn, Memorials, p. 140). Hermand married Graham, daughter of William McDowall of Garthland, who survived him several years. There were no children of the marriage. An etching of Hermand by Kay will be found in the first volume of ‘Original Portraits’ (No. 156). His portrait also appears along with those of the other judges in the ‘Last Sitting of the Old Court of Session, 11 July 1808’ (vol. ii. No. 300).

[Kay's Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings (1877), i. 392–6; Cockburn's Memorials of his Time (1856), pp. 130–41; Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk (1819), ii. 117–24; Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice (1832), p. 544; Anderson's Scottish Nation (1863), ii. 196; Foster's Baronetage (1880), p. 205; Gent. Mag. 1827, xcvii. pt. ii. 189.]

G. F. R. B.