Fergusson, Robert Cutlar (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

FERGUSSON, ROBERT CUTLAR (1768–1838), judge advocate-general, eldest son of Alexander Fergusson of Craigdarrock, Dumfriesshire, was born in 1768. He was well educated, and received in 1793 the commendation of Mrs. Riddell of Glen Riddell (the friend of Burns) as seeming ‘everything that is elegant and accomplished.’ He had already published an able and moderately reasoned tract, ‘The Proposed Reform of the Counties of Scotland impartially Examined, with Observations on the Conduct of the Delegates,’ Edinburgh, 1792. This was in favour of a widening of the representation. Fergusson now studied English law, entered at Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the bar 4 July 1797 by that society. His intimate acquaintance with the reformers was shown in his employment as counsel to defend John Allen, a personal friend of his own, who, along with James O'Coigly, Arthur O'Connor, and others, was tried on a charge of high treason at Maidstone, 21 and 22 May 1798. The trial was remarkable from the fact that a great body of the leading whigs, Erskine, Charles James Fox, Sheridan, the Duke of Norfolk, Lord John Russell, and others, came forward as witnesses for O'Connor. The jury retired at fifty minutes after midnight, and returned at 1.25. They found O'Coigly guilty, and the others not guilty. Towards the end of the trial it became known that some Bow Street runners were in court with a warrant to re-arrest O'Connor on another charge of high treason in case of acquittal. Immediately after Mr. Justice Buller had sentenced O'Coigly, and before he had formally discharged the others, O'Connor stepped out of the dock and made for the door. A scene of great confusion followed. The officers pressed forward to seize their man. By accident or design they were impeded by the friends of the prisoners. Lights were overthrown, sticks were brandished, and something like a free fight ensued. O'Connor was, however, seized and brought back and quietness restored.

Fergusson, along with the Earl of Thanet and others, was tried for his alleged share in this riot and attempted rescue, at the bar of the king's bench, 25 April 1799. Though the evidence was by no means strong against him, he was found guilty, was fined 100l., ordered to be imprisoned for a year, and to find sureties for his good behaviour for seven years. He published the same year an account of the proceedings with observations of his own (‘The whole Proceedings upon an Information exhibited ex officio by the King's Attorney-General against the Right Hon. Sackville, Earl of Thanet, Robert Fergusson, Esquire, and others,’ &c.).

Fergusson soon after his release emigrated to Calcutta, where he practised as a barrister. He acted from 1813 to 1818 as standing counsel to the government and from 1818 to 1825 as king's advocate, and in twenty years acquired a large fortune. He then returned home in 1826, stood in the liberal interest for the stewartry of Kirkcudbright against General Dunlop of Dunlop, and was successful by a majority of one. He vigorously supported all liberal measures, and advocated with eloquence and energy the cause of Poland. In 1834 he was made judge advocate-general, and on 16 July was sworn of the privy council. He went out of office and returned with Lord Melbourne. He was director of the East India Company 1830–5. Fergusson died at Paris 16 Nov. 1838, and was interred at the family vault, Craigdarrock. He married, 17 May 1832, a French lady, named Marie Joséphine Auger, who survived him with two children.

[Gent. Mag. January 1839, p. 94; Anderson's Scottish Nation, ii. 197; Foster's Collectanea Genealogica; Members of Parliament, Scotland, p. 135; State Trials, vols. xxvi. and xxvii.; Mrs. Riddell's letters in Kerr's Life of Smellie, vol. ii. (Edinburgh, 1811).]

F. W-t.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.122
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
364 ii 3-2 f.e. Fergusion, Robert C.: for as attorney-general read as standing counsel to the government 1813-8 and as king's advocate 1818-25
365 i 11 after Melbourne, insert He was director of the East India Company 1830-5.