Moncreiff, James Wellwood (DNB00)
|←Moncreiff, Henry Wellwood||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 38
Moncreiff, James Wellwood
MONCREIFF, Sir JAMES WELLWOOD, Lord Moncreiff (1776–1851), Scottish judge, was the second son of the Rev. Sir Henry Moncreiff Wellwood [q. v.] of Tulliebole in Kinross-shire, baronet, a wellknown minister of the established church of Scotland, in which five of his ancestors had served. Born 13 Sept. 1776, James was educated at school in Edinburgh and at Glasgow University, and held an exhibition at Balliol College, Oxford, whence he graduated B.C.L. in 1800. He was called to the Scottish bar on 26 Jan. 1799. His family was strongly presbyterian, whiggish, and patriotic, and he adopted their principles from conviction as well as hereditary association. In 1795, when a youth of sixteen, he attracted attention by carrying alighted tallow candle to allow the face of Henry Erskine to be seen at the meeting to protest against the continuation of the war; for his share in the meeting Erskine was deposed by a large majority from the deanship of the Faculty of Advocates. He returned from Oxford as strong a presbyterian and whig as when he went there, and throughout life took a leading part in support of the whig party both in civil and ecclesiastical politics. In the assembly of the established church he was one of the lay leaders of the popular party which opposed private patronage. In 1806 he stood for the office of procurator or legal adviser of the church, but was defeated by Sir John Connell.
On 7 Feb. 1807 he was appointed sheriff of Clackmannan and Kinross, and soon acquired a considerable practice at the bar, of which he became one of the leaders. On 19 Dec. 1820 he presided at the Pantheon meeting, which passed resolutions in favour of a petition to the crown for the dismissal of the tory ministry of Lord Liverpool. On 22 Nov. 1826 he was elected dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Jeffrey, though his senior, gracefully ceding his claim in favour of his friend. In 1828, following a custom of the bar that no criminal however poor should be undefended, and if necessary might receive the services even of its professional head, he defended the 'resurrectionist' Burke. In March 1829 he spoke at a great meeting in Edinburgh in favour of catholic emancipation. On 24 June of the same year he was made a judge of the court of session by Sir Robert Peel, in succession to Lord Alloway, and was succeeded as dean of faculty by Jeffrey. After becoming a judge he still acted as a member of the general assembly, and carried in 1834 a motion in favour of a popular veto on patronage. According to Lord Cockburn, who drew his character with the feelings of a friend and the fidelity of an artist, 'while grounded in the knowledge necessary for the profession of a liberal lawyer, he was not a well-read man. Without his father's dignified manner, his outward appearance was rather insignificant, but his countenance was marked by a pair of fine compressed lips, denoting great vigour. Always simple, direct, and practical, he had little need of imagination. . . . He added to these negative qualities great power of reasoning, unconquerable energy, and the habitual and conscientious practice of all the respectable and all the amiable virtues. His reasoning power and great legal knowledge made him the best working counsel in court. Everything was a matter of duty with him, and he gave his whole soul to it. Jeffrey called him the whole duty of man !'
Such qualities rendered him one of the best judges of his time. At the disruption in 1843 he joined the free church, whose secession was the logical outcome of the views he had supported in the assembly. He died on 30 March 1851. By his marriage in 1808 with Ann, daughter of Captain J. Robertson, R.N., he had five sons and three daughters. His eldest son was the Rev. Sir Henry Wellwood Moncreiff [q. v.] His second son, James, who followed his father's profession, became lord advocate, dean of faculty, and lord justice clerk, an office which he resigned in 1889.
There is an excellent engraving of Moncreiff by Charles Holl in Chambers's 'Eminent Scotsmen' (vol. iii.), from a portrait by Raeburn, and a bust by Samuel Joseph is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.
[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886; Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice ; Cockburn's Memorials.]