GIFFORD, Robert (1779-1826), of 43 Gower Street, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 24 Feb. 1779, yst. s. of Robert Gifford, grocer and general dealer, of Exeter, Devon by 2nd w. Dorothy. educ. at Exeter by a dissenting minister; Alphington g.s. nr. Exeter; articled to one Jones, an Exeter attorney; M. Temple, 1800, called 1808. m. 6 Apr. 1816, Harriet Maria, da. of Rev. Edward Drewe, rector of Willand, 4s. 3da. Kntd. 29 May 1817; cr. Baron Gifford 30 Jan.
Solicitor-gen. May 1817-July 1819; bencher, M. Temple 1817; recorder, Bristol Jan. 1818-d.; attorney-gen. July 1819-Jan. 1824; l.c.j.c.p. Jan.-Apr. 1824; serjt.-at-law 6 Jan. 1824; PC 19 Jan. 1824; dep. Speaker of House of Lords Feb. 1824; master of rolls Apr. 1824-d.
Disappointed of an attorney’s partnership in his native Exeter, Gifford turned to the bar and practised on the western circuit. He was ‘in his sphere’ at Exeter, ‘where he got much business through his plodding attention’. He was the ‘great favourite’ of his compatriot Vicary Gibbs*, who in 1816 attempted to procure a silk gown for him; but was well regarded by other judges, too, for his technical competence, clear argument and quick apprehension, not to speak of his ‘respectful demeanour’ in court. There was, however, some surprise when at the age of 38 he was appointed solicitor-general in the Liverpool administration in May 1817. ‘His ignorance was astounding. It seemed as if he had never read anything but a brief in his life.’ Sir William Scott’s* reactions were charted thus by Lord Sidmouth:
‘No London practice’—symptoms of chagrin. ‘No eminence at the bar’—stronger marks of disapproval. ‘No university education’—lament the last and loudest.1
Gifford obtained a seat at the premier’s recommendation from the 2nd Marquess Cornwallis. It was generally acknowledged that he did not appear to advantage in debate: ‘he was pushed forward too rapidly, not having had the advantage of a liberal education’. By one account it was his total failure in Parliament that necessitated the introduction of John Singleton Copley* to remedy it.2 On 14 June 1817 he replied for the crown in the trial of James Watson for treason. Four days later his maiden speech in the House was in opposition to Folkestone’s motion in favour of the magistrates’ right to visit state prisoners. A week later he defended the Home secretary’s circular letter to magistrates. In the recess he appeared for the crown in the treason trials at Derby.3 He vindicated his conduct in the debate on the address, 27 Jan. 1818, stating the case for the suspension of habeas corpus. He went on to defend that bill, 29 Jan., to oppose the opposition attack on the employment of informers, 11 Feb., and to defend the indemnity bill, 11, 13 Mar. He again opposed Folkestone on the right of magistrates to visit county gaols, 17 Mar., and defended the reward of informers whose advice led to the conviction of offenders, 13 Apr., 4 May. He successfully opposed the St. Pancras poor bill, 15 Apr. On 27 May he opposed inquiry into the alleged abuses in the courts of justice.
Gifford refused the chief justiceship of the common pleas in November 1818. His speeches in the House had met with a mixed reception hitherto, but there was general applause on the ministerial side for his defence of the Windsor establishment, 22 Feb. 1819.4 He opposed radical attacks on excise prosecutions, 9 Mar., 22 June, and answered allegations of delays in Chancery, 30 Mar., 20 May. He opposed the Marriage Act amendment bill, 26 Apr. In July he was promoted attorney-general. As such he played an important part, though he would not take the lead, in the devising and defence of government measures against radicalism in the ensuing session. He was often on his feet in the House between 7 and 23 Dec. 1819, and more taxing problems lay ahead of him.5 He died 4 Sept. 1826.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Redding, Fifty Years’ Recollections, 2nd ed. (1858), i. 162; Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 29 Jan., 4 Mar. 1816; Twiss, Eldon, ii. 506-9; Geo. IV Letters, ii. 757; Pellew, Sidmouth, iii. 201-2.
- 2. Add. 38266, f. 217; Brydges, Autobiog. i. 302; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 220; Heron, Notes (1851), 92.
- 3. DNB.
Pellew, iii. 240; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 1 Dec. 1818; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 229, 238, 321; Mackintosh Mems. ii. 357.
- 4. Pellew, iii. 240; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 1 Dec. 1818; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 229, 238, 321; Mackintosh Mems. ii. 357.
- 5. Pellew, iii. 289; Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, viii. 29.