SHEPHERD, Samuel (1760-1840), of 38 Bloomsbury Square, Mdx.

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



11 Apr. 1814 - June 1819

Family and Education

b. 6 Apr. 1760, o.s. of Henry Shepherd, jeweller and toymaker, of 85 Cornhill, London. educ. Merchant Taylors’ sch. 1773-4; (?Dr Rose’s sch.) Chiswick 1774-6, I. Temple 1776, called 1781. m. 1 Jan. 1783, Elizabeth, da. of John White of Hicks’s Hall, St. Sepulchre, Mdx., and sis. of John White, attorney-gen. Upper Canada 1791-1800, 1s. suc. fa. 1794; kntd. 11 May 1814.

Offices Held

Serjt.-at-law 18 Apr. 1796; King’s serjt. 1796; King’s ancient serjt. 1811; solicitor-gen. to Prince of Wales June 1812-Dec. 1813; solicitor-gen. Dec. 1813-May 1817, attorney-gen. May 1817-June 1819; chief baron of Exchequer [S] June 1819-Feb. 1830; PC 23 July 1819.


The son of a London jeweller who was ‘a poet much above mediocrity’,1 Shepherd practised as a barrister on the home circuit and in the court of common pleas, where he earned the praise of such legal luminaries as Lords Mansfield and Kenyon. He was also a friend and travelling companion during vacations of Thomas Erskine*. About 1790 he became afflicted with deafness, an event that restricted his preferment in the profession, since he declined silk in 1793; he became instead a serjeant. As such the Speaker could not admit his application in 1803 to sit under the gallery of the House of Commons.2 In 1810 he defended (Sir) Francis Burdett*.

When the Prince of Wales became Regent in 1812, Shepherd was further advanced as his solicitor-general, ‘strongly pressed by both Lord Liverpool and the chancellor’. At the end of 1813, after two others had refused the office, he became solicitor-general to the crown, whereupon a seat was found for him in Parliament. Lord Ellenborough recommended him to Lord Liverpool for the office, as being ‘more useful to government’ than any of the other persons suggested. What was needed was

a person of great legal skill and learning who is competent to advise the different departments of government, its various boards, and stand forward if necessary as their avowed and ostensible adviser. This skill exists in Serjt. Shepherd in an higher degree than in any other person, whose name I am aware of at present at the bar, and is accompanied by an excellent temper, most unassuming and gentlemanly manners and by a steady attachment to [government]. He is a very good speaker— indeed I am not aware of any person at the bar, Sir Samuel Romilly excepted, who exceeds him in this particular and has besides a weight, derived from character and general estimation which no other person at the bar would carry with him into the House of Commons.

Ellenborough admitted that ‘his infirmity of deafness renders him of course less useful in a popular assembly’. On the other hand, Shepherd, he thought, would not expect any further judicial promotion, owing to his infirmity.3

Sir Samuel became an able advocate for administration in legal business. His maiden speech, 25 Apr. 1814, was a learned disquisition on the definition of ‘corruption of blood’ in law. Other subjects on which he spoke were the simple contract debts bill, which he criticized, 29 Apr.; the treatment of dubious aliens, 20, 23 May; the proceedings of the courts, which he defended against Lord Cochrane, 28 June, 5, 19 July, 23 Nov., and later against Sir John Newport, 14 Feb. 1815. Against Romilly’s motion of 28 Nov. 1814, he asserted that the continuation of the militia in peacetime was not illegal. On 14 Apr. 1815, he spoke of the difficulties of prosecuting the evaders of slave trade abolition. In April-May 1816 he answered Lord Cochrane’s charges against the conduct of Ellenborough at his trial. He voted against Catholic relief, 21 May. On 10 and 28 May he defended the aliens bill, refuting opposition’s interpretation of Magna Carta on the subject of aliens and pointing out that it was designed to curb foreign revolutionaries. He also defended, 24 Feb. 1817, and moved the second reading of the seditious meetings bill, 3 Mar., and on 26 Feb. the suspension of habeas corpus, the legal effects of which he several times explained. At this time he was so hard worked that he took temporary lodgings in Parliament Street.4

Soon afterwards Shepherd was appointed attorney-general and continued that ‘conscientious discharge of professional duty’ on which, he informed his keenest critic Sir Samuel Romilly, he prided himself.5 Apart from the prosecution of James Watson and Richard Carlile, the radical publishers, in the courts, he was also active in the House in rebutting Folkestone’s and Romilly’s attacks on the integrity of the law officers and the treatment of state prisoners, 18, 20, 25 June 1817, in particular the treatment of the pamphleteer William Hone, January-February 1818. When he moved the indemnity bill, 9 Mar. 1818, he felt obliged to explain that such bills habitually followed the suspension of habeas corpus and that the government was not seeking any special indemnity for its conduct. On 13 Apr. 1818, moving the second reading of the offenders conviction reward bill, he defended the use of informers, though he aferwards proposed an amendment to the bill (4 May). In May and June he was involved in further acrimonious debate over the interpretation of the aliens bill. In the summer of 1818, owing to his deafness, he refused the office of lord chief justice of King’s bench and of common pleas in turn;6 he was also averse to any office ‘involving the trial of prisoners’.

On 10 Feb. 1819 Shepherd introduced the trial by battle abolition bill. His attempts to defend the Windsor establishment, 22 Feb., were rendered inaudible by the tumult in the gallery, but he succeeded in defending the criminal code, 2 Mar. 1819, and on 13 May introduced and later defended the foreign enlistment bill. He was then appointed, on the recommendation of William Adam, chief baron of the Exchequer in Edinburgh (a move that irritated some Scots lawyers), and vacated his seat.7 Sir Walter Scott, who made Shepherd’s acquaintance there, praised ‘the neatness and precision, closeness and truth of his conversation, which was suave with a little warmth of temper on suitable occasions’.8 In 1830, owing to increasing ill health, he resigned and retired to a cottage at Streatley, Berkshire, where he died after three years of blindness, 3 Nov. 1840.9

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1805), i. 110.
  • 2. Woolrych, Serjeants, ii. 813-49; PRO 30/9/33, Abbot diary, 22 June 1803.
  • 3. Romilly, Mems. iii. 124; Add. 38255, ff. 89, 95.
  • 4. Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 18 Feb. 1817.
  • 5. Parl. Deb. xxxvi, 1172.
  • 6. Add. 38273, f. 205; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 1 Dec. 1818; Pellew, Sidmouth, iii. 240.
  • 7. Add. 38277, f. 263.
  • 8. Jnl. i. 57-58.
  • 9. For an appreciation of him by his son Henry, Law Mag. xxv. 289-310.