DALLAS, Robert (1756-1824), of New Square, Lincoln's Inn, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - Feb. 1805
4 Mar. 1805 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 16 Oct. 1756, 1st s. of Robert Dallas, insurance broker, of 2 Cooper’s Court, St. Michael’s, Cornhill, London and Kensington, Mdx., and bro. of Sir George Dallas, 1st Bt.* educ. at Dr Elphinston’s sch., Kensington; by M. Chauvet, Swiss pastor, Geneva, L. Inn 1777, called 1782. m. (1) 11 Aug. 1788, Charlotte (d. 17 Oct. 1792), da. of Lt.-Col. Alexander Jardine, RA, consul-gen. at Corunna, 1s. 1da.; (2) 10 Sept. 1802, Justina, da. of Henry Davidson of Tulloch Castle, Ross and Bedford Square, Mdx., 5da. suc. fa. 1797; kntd. 19 May 1813.

Offices Held

KC 2 Mar. 1795; bencher L. Inn 1795, treasurer 1806; c.j. Chester circuit Jan. 1805; solicitor-gen. May 1813; j.c.p. Nov. 1813; l.c.j.c.p. Sept. 1818-Dec. 1823; PC 19 Nov. 1818.


Dallas’s father, descended from a cadet of Dallas of Cantray and son of an excise officer at Elgin, first appeared in the London trade directories about 1757 ‘behind the Royal Exchange’, together with George Dallas. He became an insurance broker in partnership with Allen and afterwards with Hicks, in Mincing Lane. His eldest son was ‘intended from his infancy for the bar’ and initiated himself as a public speaker at Coachmakers’ Hall, where he was ‘allowed by his auditors to be a very correct and eloquent speaker’.1 After being called to the bar, he developed a considerable practice at nisi prius and went the western circuit. He was junior counsel for the East India Company at the bar of the House against Fox’s East India bill in 1783 and first attracted public attention as one of the three barristers who defended his brother George’s patron Warren Hastings, 1787-95, at the successful conclusion of which he took silk. In his Poetical Trifles, published by his widow, he vented his spleen against Hastings’s chief enemy Edmund Burke, characterizing him in an epigram as the Irish reptile.2 He was himself an East India stockholder.

Dallas acquired much parliamentary business as counsel to committees on contested elections, but claimed that he had refused the offer of a seat. In 1802, however, he came in, as a friend of Addington’s administration, for a Cornish seat at the disposal of government. Addington considered him (or perhaps his brother George) for Indian office in September 1802, but he did not obtain it. In November 1803 he was described as ‘solicitor elect in case of vacancy’. Fox described him in March 1804 as Addington’s only unpaid defender, who yearned to be solicitor-general. In his maiden speech (by which he got ‘great credit’), 24 May 1803, he had defended Addington’s foreign policy; on 2 Feb. 1804 he spoke against Fox’s motion on the Middlesex election petition.3

On Pitt’s return to power, Dallas joined with Addington in opposing his additional force bill in June 1804, preferring the latter’s defence scheme. On 22 June he defended the lord advocate against his critics. On 28 Dec. he addressed a long letter to Addington pointing out that he had been returned as a friend of government and that the change of administration had reduced his chances of professional promotion; this placed him in a predicament and he saw no point in continuing in Parliament, unless Addington came to terms with Pitt. When Addington did so in January 1805, Dallas obtained the office of chief justice of Chester. According to Robert Ward*, this was Pitt’s own idea.4 He vacated his seat on the appointment and came in for Dysart Burghs on the Erskine interest, for the benefit of Lord Dalkeith, who required an English seat, and replaced him as Member for Mitchell. He remained in Parliament until the dissolution, being listed a ‘doubtful’ Addingtonian by Pitt’s friends in July 1805. In April he had been absent on professional duty. After attending a meeting of Pitt’s supporters to concert their line on Melville’s case, he wrote to Pitt, 11 June 1805, explaining that his discovery that Lord Sidmouth meant to oppose Pitt placed him in a dilemma. His solution was to abstain on the question and, if Pitt disliked this, he offered to resign his seat.5 He seems to have abstained with impunity. He voted for the Grenville ministry’s repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806.

In July 1806, when it was proposed to appoint two salaried assessors to the courts of prize appeals and plantation causes, Dallas was mentioned as being ‘eminently qualified, because so large a portion of his practice has been in those two courts, and his general manner is so respectable and decorous. He would also have the chief justiceship of Chester to resign, if that should be required, and he would be willing to accept the assessorship on those terms.’ Apart from acting as counsel for the slave owners at the bar of the House, 20 Feb. 1807, he remained at Chester and became celebrated there because he would not allow felons to suffer capital punishment if he could prevent it, ‘though for crimes for which other judges would urge their execution’.6

In 1813 after his ‘long absence’ at Chester, Dallas was recommended by the lord chancellor to be solicitor-general in Liverpool’s administration. Writing to Lord Sidmouth, who he knew would approve, he confessed that he had ‘very considerable struggles with myself before I could resign an office which I acquired thro’ your lordship’s kind partiality, and which, to me, was a security for the future and a source of very considerable present satisfaction’. Unprovided with a seat in Parliament, Dallas was transferred a few months later to common pleas, where he was ‘much liked on account of his gentlemanly manners, though not considered so profound a lawyer [as Abbott]’. After taking part in the Luddite trials in October 1817, Dallas became chief justice in the following year, with the Prince Regent’s goodwill.7 He resigned at Christmas 1823 from ill health and died 25 Dec. 1824.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Jas. Dallas, Fam. of Dallas, 199; Gent. Mag. (1825), i. 82.
  • 2. Poetical Trifles ed. Dallas, 1825. His speeches at the trial are in Add. 24238 and 24242.
  • 3. Sidmouth mss, H. to J. H. Addington, 11 Sept. 1802; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 11 Nov. 1803; Fox Corresp. iv. 24-26; Farington, ii. 102; Add. 35714, f. 93.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/128, f. 48; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 31 Jan.; Sidmouth mss, Dallas to Sidmouth, 1 Feb. 1805, 6 May 1813.
  • 5. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 6/84.
  • 6. Fitzwilliam mss, box 69, Laurence to Fitzwilliam, 12 July 1806; Farington, v. 101; viii. 164.
  • 7. Sidmouth mss, Dallas to Sidmouth, 6 May 1813; Farington, viii. 207; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 1 Dec. 1818.