Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Walker, Samuel
WALKER, Sir SAMUEL, first baronet (1832–1911), lord chancellor of Ireland, born at Gore Port, Finea, co. Westmeath, on 19 June 1832, was second of the three sons of Captain Alexander Walker of Gore Port. His eldest brother was General Sir Mark Walker [q. v. Suppl. II for fuller family details]. Walker was educated at Arlington House, PortarUngton, a celebrated school whose headmaster, the Rev. John Ambrose Wall, anticipated for him a brilliant university career. Walker matriculated in Trinity College, Dublin, in 1849, and was throughout the best man of his year in the classical schools, winning a scholarship in 1851, a year before the usual time, and graduating B.A. in 1854 as first senior moderator in classics and the large gold medallist. He was called to the Irish bar in Trinity term 1855.
Walker quickly attained a large practice both in equity and at the common law side, and went the home circuit. He was neither a fluent nor an attractive speaker, but his profound knowledge of law and penetration of motive, combined with his shrewd common sense, rendered him invaluable in consultation. An efficient cross-examiner, he impressed juries by his grasp of the salient points of a case, and was more successful as a verdict-getter than more brilliant advocates. He took silk on 6 July 1872, At the inner bar Walker increased his reputation, and rapidly came to the very front rank of the leaders. He attained the zenith of his fame at the bar in the state trial of Parnell in 1881, when, owing to the illness of his leader, Francis MacDonagh, Q.C., who had been counsel for O'Connell in 1844, the responsibility for the defence mainly devolved on Walker. The trial ended in a disagreement of the jury and a virtual triumph for the traversers.
In Trinity term 1881 Walker was appointed a bencher of the King's Inns. He was made solicitor-general for Ireland on 19 Dec. 1883, when Andrew Porter, the attorney-general, was made master of the rolls. Walker had always been a liberal in politics, and he now (Jan. 1884) entered the House of Commons unopposed as one of the members for the county of Londonderry — to flu the seat vacated by Porter. He had been an enthusiastic upholder of the tenants' side in the land controversy, which had reached an acute stage. Entering the House of Commons as a law officer of the crown, and sitting by virtue of his office on the treasury bench, Walker was somewhat embarrassed by the abrupt change from the law courts of Dublin to the prominent parliamentary position in which his ministerial office at once placed him. But his knowledge of the world came to his aid. He spoke only when compelled to do so, and then briefly and to the point. His dry humour rendered him quite equal to the ordeal of parliamentary interrogation. When Sir George Trevelyan, who was chief secretary to the lord lieutenant, broke down in health in 1884 owing to the strain of the Irish office. Walker as solicitor-general — the attorney-general John Naish not being a member of the House of Commons — was the acting Irish secretary till the appointment of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman [q. v. Suppl. II] to the chief secretaryship in 1884. In May 1885 Walker became attorney-general for Ireland, and was sworn of the Irish privy council, but within a few weeks the Gladstone administration resigned on a defeat in the House of Commons (8 June 1885). Walker for the remainder of the session was as assiduous in his attendance as when in office.
At the general election of 1885, the county of Londonderry being divided under the Redistribution Act into two divisions, each returning one member, Walker sought election for North Londonderry; but he was defeated by Henry Lyle Mulholland (second Lord Dunleath) on 1 Dec. 1885. A month earlier, at a banquet in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, at which the Marquis of Hartington (Duke of Devonshire [q. v. Suppl. II]) was present, and at which the term liberal unionist was invented, Walker was present and said: 'The liberals of Ireland will not permit the union to be tampered with, and any attempt in that direction, no matter by what party, will not be tolerated.' But when Gladstone's adoption of home rule split the liberal party, Walker cast in his lot with the Gladstonian liberals. On the appointment of Gladstone as prime minister on 6 Feb. 1886, Walker, though without a seat in the House of Commons, again filled the office of attorney-general for Ireland, and he held the post till the fall of Gladstone's third administration on 3 Aug. 1886. While the liberal party was in opposition (1886-92) Walker pursued with distinction his practice at the Irish bar, and took a prominent part in the meetings of the liberal party held in Dublin. He was defeated in his candidature for South Londonderry in July 1892. On the formation of Gladstone's fourth administration in August 1892, Walker was appointed to the lord chancellorship of Ireland. At a complimentary dinner of the members of his old circuit, Walker was designated by Mr. Justice Gibson as the greatest lawyer of the Irish bar. He fully sustained on the bench his reputation as a lawyer. His judgments were masterpieces in their application of legal principles controlled by common sense. A good example of his work is presented by his judgment in Clancarty v. Clancarty (31 L.R.J. 530), dealing with precatory trusts. He retired from the chancellorship on the fall of the liberal administration, on 8 July 1895. As lord chancellor he presided over the court of appeal in Ireland, and still remained as a lord justice of appeal a member of that court, though no longer its president. Although he received no salary, he was as unremitting in his judicial duties as any other member of that tribunal. He also went on several occasions on circuit as a commissioner of assize, with great satisfaction to the bar and the public. He was appointed in 1897 by Earl Cadogan, the unionist lord-lieutenant, to preside over the commission on the Irish fisheries. On the formation of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's administration. Walker was reappointed lord chancellor of Ireland on 14 Dec. 1905. He was then in his seventy-fourth year, but he held the great seal till his death on 13 Aug. 1911. He was created a baronet on 12 July 1906. He died in Dublin somewhat suddenly, and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery.
Walker was below rather than above the medium height. He had finely chiselled features and clear grey eyes of great lustre. His memory was encyclopedic; and he recalled particulars of cases on the instant without apparent effort. In conversation he was entertaining, and his mots were often remarkable for their caustic wit and insight. Although devoted to legal studies, Walker enjoyed to the full the generous amusements of life. In his younger days he was an admirable shot, and all through life was an enthusiastic angler. His long vacations were generally spent in fishing in the lakes of Connemara, and he employed the same boatman for six-and-forty years.
Walker was twice married: (1) on 9 Oct. 1855 to Cecilia Charlotte (d. 18 June 1880), daughter of Arthur Greene, and niece of Richard Wilson Greene, baron of the Irish Court of Exchequer, by whom he had two sons and four daughters; (2) on 17 Aug. 1881 to Eleanor, daughter of the Rev. Alexander MacLaughlin, by whom he had a son and daughter. His eldest son. Sir Alexander Arthur Walker, second baronet, is secretary of the Local Marine Board, Dublin.
A photograph of Walker in his judicial robes, by Walton & Co., has been finely engraved.
[The Times, Freeman's Journal, and Irish Times, 14 Aug. 1911; private information; personal knowledge.]