TINDAL, Nicholas Conyngham (1776-1846), of 43 Bedford Square, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



4 Mar. 1824 - 1826
1826 - 7 May 1827
11 May 1827 - June 1829

Family and Education

b. 12 Dec. 1776, 1st s. of Robert Tindal, attorney, of Coval Hall, nr. Chelmsford, Essex and 1st w. Sarah, da. of John Pocock of Greenwich, Kent. educ. Chelmsford g.s.; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1795, BA 1799, fellow 1801-9, MA 1802; L.Inn 1795, called 1809. m. 2 Sept. 1809, Merelina, da. of Capt. Thomas Symonds, RN, of Bury St. Edmunds, Suff., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. kntd. 27 Nov. 1826; suc. fa. 1833. d. 6 July 1846.

Offices Held

Auditor, Camb. Univ. 1811-25, counsel 1825-9; solicitor-gen. co. palatine of Durham 1823-6; solicitor-gen. Sept. 1826-June 1829; bencher, L. Inn 1826; l.c.j.c.p. 1829-d.; PC 10 June 1829; sjt.-at-law 1829; member, jud. cttee. of PC 1833.


Tindal was descended from the Rev. John Tindal (d. 1674), a native of Kent, who became rector of Beerferris, Devon. His eldest son was Matthew Tindal (1657-1733), the eminent deist and author of Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730). Matthew’s nephew, the Rev. Nicholas Tindal (1687-1774), sometime vicar of Waltham, Essex, translated and continued Rapin’s History of England and died as chaplain of Greenwich Hospital.1 Of his three sons John, the eldest, was rector of Chelmsford, 1739-74; while James, the youngest, had an army career and was the father of the antiquary, the Rev. William Tindal (1756-1804), who committed suicide in the Tower of London, of which he was chaplain.2 Nicholas’s second son George Tindal (d. 1777) reached the rank of captain in the navy and acquired the property of Coval Hall, near Chelmsford. His eldest son Robert Tindal (b. ?1750), the father of this Member, practised for many years as an attorney in Chelmsford. His wife died in 1818, and two years later, aged about 70, he married Elizabeth Robinson of Chelmsford. He subsequently moved to Taunton34 Three of his six sons, John Pocock, George and Charles, entered the navy: the two former died young on active service abroad in 1797 and 1805 respectively.5 Robert, the youngest, became a military surgeon and died unmarried in Mexico in 1834; and Thomas (d. 1850), the last survivor, was a successful Aylesbury attorney.

According to some of his Chelmsford schoolfellows, Nicholas Conyngham Tindal gave early indications of ‘those quick parts and that solid talent which afterwards marked his career’.6 He was articled to his father before going to Cambridge, where he was academically successful and was elected a fellow of Trinity. He became a pupil of Sir John Richardson, and by 1805 was in practice as a special pleader below the bar at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Inner Temple. He did well, being known as ‘thoroughly learned’, and briefly had Henry Brougham* among his pupils. In 1809 he married and decided to take his chance at the bar.7 He went the northern circuit, where he was Brougham’s friendly rival, and though he found ‘very little fame as an advocate’, he acquired extensive and lucrative business on the strength of ‘his learning, his industry, and his high reasoning faculties’. His great erudition extended to many legal by-ways. In 1818, for example, he successfully demonstrated that trial by battle, for which a client opted, was still a valid process; an Act (59 Geo. III, c. 46) was subsequently passed to abolish it.8 In February 1818 his wife died, leaving him with four young children; and sometime afterwards his spinster sister-in-law Juliana Symonds became ‘the lady who presides in my house’, as he put it in 1827.9 He was chosen by Brougham as one of the supporting counsel for Queen Caroline in 1820. (Had he not been so engaged, he would have been retained for the crown.) He gave, in Brougham’s words, ‘able and useful assistance’; but he was overshadowed by Brougham, John Copley* and Thomas Denman*, and did not enhance his reputation.10

At the end of 1823 Tindal, though neither a king’s counsel nor a Member of Parliament, was one of a number of men considered by Lord Liverpool’s ministry for the vacant office of solicitor-general. While his friend Goulburn, the Irish secretary, whom he had taught at Cambridge, thought him ‘a man of talent and judgement’, well suited to the position, he admitted to the home secretary Peel that Charles Wetherell*, the eventual choice, had a superior claim. Tindal was in any case handicapped by being, like Copley, the new attorney-general, a common lawyer, for lord chancellor Eldon was ‘always very desirous’ of having one of the law officers in his own court. In the more extensive reshuffle which would have occurred had Sir Thomas Plumer† been willing to retire as master of the rolls, Tindal would probably have become solicitor, with Wetherell as attorney.11 As it was, ministers clearly wanted him in the House; and early in March 1824, when his London home was at 9 Brunswick Square, he was brought in for Wigtown Burghs on the interest of the 8th earl of Galloway, replacing a junior member of the government who had been given an audit office place. He did not prove to be a great asset as an orator. An obituarist noted:

We can say but little for his qualifications as a public speaker. His manner was cold, dry, and unimpressive; his political and historical knowledge displayed itself to small advantage; it bore upon few questions, and not even upon those with much power. One would have expected that his talents and learning as a lawyer must have often enabled him to enlighten the House on legal difficulties, yet he had not a popular mode of discussing even questions of law.12

Tindal voted for the usury laws repeal bill, 8 Apr. 1824. His maiden speech, in opposition to Brougham’s condemnation of the trial and conviction of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, was applauded with ‘considerable cheering’. He divided for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824, and the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. A defaulter, 28 Feb., he appeared and was excused the following day, when he voted against Catholic relief. He did so again, 21 Apr., 10 May, and voted against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He was in the ministerial majorities for the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 2, 6, 10 June. He credited the commissioners of inquiry into chancery administration with ‘an honest, faithful and careful’ investigation, 7 June 1825. He kept a low profile in the House in 1826, when he opposed George Lamb’s bid to introduce a bill to allow defence counsel for persons charged with felonies to address the jury, 25 Apr: ‘it would effect such an alteration in the tone, the temper, and the character of a criminal accusation, as could not fail to be mischievous to the prisoner’. He was a teller for the hostile majority. On 18 May 1826 he again defended the chancery commissioners, whose recommended reforms, to be taken up by government, ‘would produce the most beneficial effects’.

At the general election of 1826 Tindal came in for the treasury borough of Harwich. On the circuit a month later he was the guest, with Tom Macaulay* and James Parke, of the Rev. Sydney Smith at Foston.13 When Copley became master of the rolls in September and was succeeded as attorney-general by Wetherell, he assured Lord Liverpool that Tindal was ‘the fittest person at the bar, to be made solicitor-general’: not only was ‘no man ... so universally respected in the profession’ but he was expected to have ‘considerable influence’ over the mercurial Wetherell.14 Tindal voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. 1827. Named as a defaulter, 28 Mar., he failed to attend the following day and, to ‘a great deal of merriment’, was ordered to be taken into custody.15 He announced his intention of proposing an additional clause to safeguard the interests of children and married women under the writ of right bill, 30 Mar., and defended the revenue commissioners’ adverse report on the County Fire Office, 10 Apr. 1827, even though it ‘contained a great deal of bran amongst the flour’. Wetherell refused to remain in office under Canning but Tindal, despite his hostility to Catholic relief, decided to stay. It was at first assumed that he would be promoted to attorney-general; but Canning was keen to have the Whig James Scarlett* and Tindal, ‘with admirable humour and good taste’, as the premier put it, consented to be passed over.16 Copley’s elevation to the woolsack as Lord Lyndhurst created a vacancy for Cambridge University. Tindal started for it, along with Goulburn, who had resigned with the former ministers, and William Bankes, Member for the University from 1822 until his defeat in 1826. All were Trinity men and opposed to Catholic relief. When Goulburn withdrew shortly before the election Tindal, who had been criticized for giving only silent votes against Catholic claims, sought to counter the effects of Bankes’s more rabid anti-Catholicism by issuing a circular declaring his ‘decided and firm support’ for ‘the ascendancy of the Protestant church’. He secured a majority of 101 in a poll of 857 over the largely discredited Bankes, whose support came mostly from the rural clergy; he won Trinity by 191 votes to 78. He was left in no doubt, however, that he was expected in future ‘zealously [to] oppose the dangerous experiment of granting political power to the Papists’ with his voice as well as his vote.17 He got leave to introduce a bill to prevent arrests for debt on mesne process for sums under £20, 23 Mar. 1827, when he declined to pledge support for George Bankes’s proposed measure to exempt Catholics from a double land tax assessment. He voted with his ministerial colleagues against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. On 1 June he killed off Hume’s frivolous arrests bill, which he said ‘contained too sweeping a remedy, and was calculated to introduce an entirely new machinery into the system of law’. He carried his own bill through the House, grafting additional clauses onto it, 15, 22 June.18 It became law, 2 July 1827 (7 and 8 Geo. IV, c. 71).

In late July 1827 Peel told the duke of Wellington that ‘I rather think that the solicitor-general has no great desire to remain’.19 He was in fact sounded about elevation to the bench as chief baron of the exchequer in the room of Sir William Alexander, who was in line for the Irish chancellorship. Brougham, whom Canning wished to bind to his ministry without having him as a dangerous rival in the Commons, had already turned it down. Tindal did likewise, indicating to Lyndhurst that ‘he wishes, as the ultimate object of his ambition, the common pleas’. Canning, seeking a handy solution, commented to Lyndhurst:

Tindal’s note rather puzzles me. You are the best judge ... whether the stipulation which he asks, of succession hereafter to the common pleas, be a reasonable one. If it be so, and if Tindal takes the place of chief baron only in transitu, it is obvious that Brougham, by waiting that turn, will be ... only where he would be now: with both chief justiceships filled up against him. Is it not possible that this consideration might alter Brougham’s views as to present acceptance? I presume Tindal would be satisfied to wait where he is for the common pleas. Indeed, from the tone of his note, I should think he would prefer doing so ... Is it not at least worthwhile to bring this new state of the case under Brougham’s contemplation? Could not Tindal be made useful in doing so?

While Lyndhurst was ‘persuaded’ that Tindal would ‘do whatever we wish’, he advised Canning, if he really wished Tindal to decline the office of chief baron, not to risk his accepting it by coupling it with ‘the contingent promise of the common pleas’. Canning explained that he wished Brougham to be invited to reconsider ‘on Tindal’s refusal to take the exchequer without a promise of the common pleas hereafter, giving Tindal the promise of common pleas, if he chooses to wait for it as solicitor-general’. Brougham was not to be tempted, however, and Canning’s death soon afterwards put an end to the business.20 Tindal remained in office under Lord Goderich. There was continued speculation that he was to become chief baron; but in the event Alexander was passed over for the Irish seals in favour of Sir Anthony Hart, the vice-chancellor, whom Tindal was not professionally qualified to succeed, in order to avoid creating a vacancy in the solicitor-generalship which it would have been impossible to deny to Brougham.21 During the ministerial crisis which brought down Goderich it was thought that Tindal would ‘certainly’ go out if Herries resigned from the exchequer.22 On the formation of Wellington’s ministry he acquiesced in Wetherell being reinstated as attorney-general over his head.23

Tindal did not resist Taylor’s motion for information on chancery administration, 12 Feb., but he gave a silent vote against inquiry into delays, 24 Apr. 1828. He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. Replying for government to Brougham’s motion for a commission of inquiry into the common law, 29 Feb., he announced their intention to appoint separate commissions on that and the law of real property and repudiated many of Brougham’s arguments. While he professed willingness to ‘use the pruning knife’ with ‘unrelenting severity’ on ‘superfluous and unnecessary’ excrescences, he declared his hostility to root and branch reform and warned that law could never be cheap. His ministerial colleague Croker was unimpressed with his speech, which he considered ‘clear but feeble’.24 He urged Graham to withdraw his customary tenure bill pending the law commissioners’ investigations, 11 Mar.; he eventually had his way, 3 June. He made what he considered ‘a fair offer’ of concessions on the Catholic land tax to Bankes, who agreed to drop his bill, 18 Apr. He presented a petition against Catholic relief from the archdeacon and clergy of Ely, 30 Apr., and, mindful of the university’s wishes, spoke against Burdett’s motion, 8 May, before voting in the hostile minority, 12 May. He opposed amendments to the offences against the person bill, 23 May, 6 June, endorsed the prayer of the Cambridge University petition calling for implementation of the 1823 resolutions for the amelioration of slavery, 3 June, and defended the archbishop of Canterbury’s bill against Hume’s attack, 16 June. He was a teller for the ministerial majorities in the subsequent divisions, as he was in that for the third reading of the Scottish and Irish banknotes bill, 27 June, after explaining its objects. He was in the government majority on the ordnance estimates, 4 July. He carried a bill to enable the holders of lay and clerical benefices to provide for their families, which became law, 28 July 1828 (9 Geo. IV, c. 94).

In late October 1828 Wellington, raising the possibility of persuading or even forcing Wetherell to become a puisne baron of exchequer and replacing him with Scarlett, whom the king wanted as attorney-general, wondered whether Tindal could fairly be passed over again. He was inclined to think not, even though Lyndhurst, anxious for the change, thought that Tindal would ‘have no feeling upon the subject’. Lord Bathurst, lord president of the council, also felt that in the unlikely event of Wetherell’s agreeing to move, Tindal must have first refusal on succeeding him, if only because of ‘the strong Protestant feeling which exists at present’. Wellington accepted this view and informed Lyndhurst accordingly; but in the event no change occurred.25 Peel thought Tindal might resign over the government’s decision to implement Catholic emancipation, but Lord Ellenborough, president of the board of control, did not doubt his loyalty.26 He announced his pragmatic change of mind to the House, 6 Feb. 1829, when he presented a petition against relief from the dean and chapter of Chester:

With these sentiments my own fully concur; and if I saw any probability of success in resisting these claims, I should still hold myself bound to oppose them. But as the tranquillity of Ireland, and in my judgement, the security of the whole empire call upon the legislature to receive with deliberate attention the claims made upon it, I do think I shall better discharge ... [my] duty ... by bestowing whatever time and labour I can on the framing, devising and perfecting of such full and sufficient securities as shall establish permanently and inviolably the Protestant ascendancy in this country, than by devoting myself to a single and fruitless opposition to all concession.

He presented an Ely petition for suppression of the Catholic Association and against emancipation, 13 Feb. Later that day and on 16 Feb. he explained and carried amendments to the suppression bill, which he had helped to draft under Peel’s supervision, along with the relief and franchise bills.27 He attended cabinet meetings to discuss the details of the legislation, and on one occasion, according to Ellenborough, mistook ‘Regulars of the church of Rome’ for ‘Regulars of the army’: ‘and so solvuntur risu tabulae’. Ellenborough did ‘not think much’ of Tindal, whom he judged on the strength of these performances to be ‘evidently not fit to be made attorney’. He also recorded a ‘curious scene’ which occurred when Tindal, leaving the House in the early hours of 5 Mar., panicked on learning that there was ‘a hitch’ with the king: ‘He was quite astonished and shocked, and cried out, "O Lord, I am committed, I am pledged. We shall all fall together!"’28 He voted for relief, 6 Mar.; explained and defended clauses of the bill, 23 and 24 Mar.; joined in attempts to persuade Wetherell that his fears that Catholics would be able to interfere in the running of Protestant charter schools were groundless, 27 Mar., and before voting for the third reading of the relief bill, 30 Mar., argued that unless it was implemented, ‘the Protestant church in Ireland will fall, and the Protestant church in England will be in danger’. His bill to introduce fixed dates for law terms, 13 May, got no further than its second reading. He replied to O’Connell’s appeal to be allowed to take his seat for Clare unimpeded, 18 May, contending that he was not entitled to do so without swearing the oath of supremacy; he was a government teller in the division. He had more to say on the subject, 19, 21 May 1829, when he explained the government’s insistence that O’Connell must seek re-election. There had been speculation in Cambridge that Tindal would replace Wetherell, who was dismissed for his violent opposition to emancipation.29 In fact, Wellington was now determined to ‘get rid of Tindal’ and make Scarlett attorney-general; and the only question was that of how he was to be paid off. An attempt to open the rolls for him by persuading Sir John Leach† to retire was unsuccessful; but in late May 1829 Wellington, with the aid of the king, got Sir William Best† to vacate the chief justiceship of the common pleas for him.30

It was as lord chief justice that Tindal, who presented a marked contrast to his irascible and frequently partial predecessor, did full justice to his talents. He was, in the words of William Ballantine, ‘a most painstaking judge’:

He was certainly not a man of startling characteristics, but upon the bench presented a singularly calm and equable appearance. I never saw him yield to irritability, or exhibit impatience ... He was made for the position that he filled, and sound law and substantial justice were sure, as far as human power could prevail, to be administered under his presidency.31

Serjeant Robinson reckoned that ‘there never was a more considerate, humane, and intelligent judge’, and that ‘while few judges bore a higher reputation for a thorough knowledge of the law, no one could show greater kindness, courtesy and benignity than he invariably displayed’.32 His professional decorum concealed ‘a vein of grave, sly humour’.33 Tindal’s father died at Bath, ‘in his 83rd year’, 8 Jan. 1833. By his will, dated 13 Mar. 1824, he authorized the sale of his real estate in Essex, Huntingdonshire and Oxfordshire, which included a six-acre pasture at Chelmsford, for the benefit of Tindal, in accordance with the terms of an indenture of 1816. Tindal also became entitled to whatever remained of an £8,000 trust fund created by the sale of property at Great Haddow, Essex. As it was, the personal estate was sworn under a paltry £450.34 Tindal added a residence on Hampstead Heath to his town house in Bedford Square.35 In 1842, he lost his eldest son Nicholas, vicar of Sandhurst, Gloucestershire, at the age of 32. He himself died in harness in July 1846 at Folkestone, where he had gone on medical advice after recently being ‘seized with paralysis of the left leg’. By his will, dated 2 Sept. 1842 (just after the death of his son), he left freeholds at Chelmsford to his elder surviving son, Louis Symonds Tindal, a naval officer. He devised a freehold windmill and cottage at Chelmsford and a close at Aylesbury to his other son, Charles John Tindal, a barrister, who was to die, aged about 37, in New South Wales in 1853. He gave his daughter Merelina £2,000, having ‘already amply provided for her’ on her marriage to James Whatman Bosanquet, a London banker. His remaining property was to be converted into money to provide an annuity of £200 for his sister-in-law, who was still living under his roof, and to create a trust fund of £8,000 for the benefit of his late son’s widow and her two infant daughters. The residue of his estate was equally divided between his sons.36

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Oxford DNB.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. (1818), i. 641; (1820), ii. 634; PROB 11/1813/191.
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1805), ii. 877.
  • 6. Ibid. (1846), ii. 199.
  • 7. Oxford DNB; Gent. Mag. (1846),ii. 199; E. Foss, Judges of Eng. ix. 283.
  • 8. Brougham mss, Tindal to Brougham, 24 Sept. 1812; Creevey’s Life and Times, 69-70; Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 199; Foss, ix. 283; C. New, Brougham, 248.
  • 9. Gent. Mag. (1818), i. 468; Add. 42584, f. 177; PROB 11/2039/546.
  • 10. Brougham, Life and Times, ii. 380-1; Geo. IV Letters, ii. 833; Creevey Pprs. i. 328; Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 199; Foss, ix. 284.
  • 11. Add. 40329, ff. 229, 247; 40359, f. 147; Hobhouse Diary, 108.
  • 12. Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 199-200.
  • 13. Macaulay Letters, i. 215.
  • 14. Add. 40305, f. 217; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1250.
  • 15. The Times, 30 Mar. 1827.
  • 16. Canning’s Ministry, 133, 150, 200, 204; Arnould, Denman, i. 206; Lansdowne mss, Twiss to Lansdowne, 3 Aug. 1844.
  • 17. Cambridge Chron. 20, 27 Apr., 4, 11, 18, 25 May 1827.
  • 18. The Times, 16, 19, 23 June 1827.
  • 19. Wellington Despatches, iv. 65.
  • 20. Canning’s Ministry, 358, 361, 362, 364.
  • 21. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 143; Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Stowell to Sidmouth, 24 Oct. 1827; Hobhouse Diary, 142-3; NLW, Coedymaen mss 204; Durham CRO, Londonderry mss D/Lo/C83 (10) (1).
  • 22. Croker Pprs. i. 400; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [Jan. 1828].
  • 23. Add. 40307. f. 23; Arnould, i. 206.
  • 24. Croker Pprs. i. 407-8.
  • 25. Wellington Despatches, v. 179-80, 189-90, 203-5, 217-18.
  • 26. Ellenborough Diary, i. 321.
  • 27. Peel Mems. i. 351.
  • 28. Ellenborough Diary, i. 370, 374, 376, 378.
  • 29. Cambridge Chron. 13 Mar., 15 May 1829.
  • 30. Colchester Diary, iii. 613; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 29; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 269, 276, 277.
  • 31. W. Ballantine, Some Experiences of a Barrister’s Life, i. 143, 244-5.
  • 32. B.C. Robinson, Bench and Bar (1891), 130.
  • 33. Ibid. 132; Arnould, ii. 27.
  • 34. Gent. Mag. (1833), i. 93; PROB 11/1813/191; IR26/1335/88.
  • 35. Add. 34589, f. 231.
  • 36. Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 200, 660; PROB 11/2039/546; IR26/1753/530.