CAMPBELL, Ilay (1734-1823), of Succoth, Argyll.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1784 - Oct. 1789

Family and Education

b. 25 Aug. 1734, 1st s. of Archibald Campbell of Succoth, writer to the signet, a principal clerk of session, by Helen, da. and h. of John Wallace of Elderslie, Renfrew. educ. Mundell’s sch. Edinburgh; Glasgow Univ. 1751; adv. 1757. m. 14 Nov. 1766, Susan Mary, da. of Archibald Murray of Murrayfield, adv., sis. of Alexander Murray, 2s. 6da. suc. fa. 1790; cr. Bt. 17 Sept. 1808.

Offices Held

Solicitor-gen. [S] Feb.-Aug. 1783, lord adv. Dec. 1783-Oct. 1789; trustee for fisheries and manufactures 1784; ld. pres. ct. of sess. Nov. 1789-1808.


Campbell was a brilliant lawyer, excelling in written argument rather than in oratory. In 1774, Boswell described him as ‘the first writing lawyer’ at the Scottish bar, earning £1,600 p.a.; and wrote in 1776: ‘Ilay Campbell would cut off his thumbs rather than be pressed up to the bench.’1

A quiet man of simple tastes, he was often ‘humdrum and ineffectual’ in company. But his wide learning and legal subtlety were admired by Lord Chancellor Thurlow and Lord Advocate Dundas, through whom, in February 1783, he was offered the place of solicitor-general. He accepted without enthusiasm. Boswell describes a dinner in Edinburgh on 28 Feb.:

Mr. Campbell was as as usual silent and indifferent. But he gave a wonderful testimony of his confined Scottish views. He said Sir Gilbert Elliot and lord advocate ... would have done better to have continued at the bar here.2

On Shelburne’s fall Campbell remained in office until the Coalition dismissed Dundas in August, when he insisted upon resigning and, according to Dundas, even refused ‘the advocate’s gown’.3 Alexander Wedderburn wrote:4 ‘Though I am sorry for the loss of Campbell’s ability and plain good sense ... his removal ... will double the effect of the removal of Dundas.’ Campbell wrote to Dundas, 1 Sept. 1783:5

I should be sorry if you continued to differ with me about my resignation of the solicitor-generalship ... The dismission of the Crown mandate from above will satisfy you that nothing less than a total change of system was the object in view ... Had I continued in office, I must have had the appearance of aiding and countenancing every political scheme which the Whig party may choose to adopt in this country ... In short I thought it much better to leave the field clear to them.

In the Pitt Administration Campbell was appointed lord advocate but had no parliamentary seat until the general election of 1784 when he defeated John Craufurd in Glasgow Burghs. In the House he was a frequent but unattractive speaker with a dry, legalistic manner.6 His support of Government was always tempered by his regard for Scottish and particularly Glasgow interests. Thus he opposed the duties on printed linens on 4 Aug. 1784; and in the debates on the Irish commercial propositions supported on 22 Feb. 1785 Sir William Cunynghame’s plea for delay until, Scottish representations were heard; and in April 1786 opposed the reduction of the bounty on the Greenland fishery.7

He voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1785. In the same month he took the lead in the proposed reduction of the number of Scottish judges from fifteen to ten, with a considerable increase in salary. Violent opposition in Scotland and in the House compelled Campbell to withdraw his resolution for diminution, but he carried that on salaries in the following year.8

An admirer of Warren Hastings, he protested on 3 Apr. 1786 against the plan to examine witnesses before bringing specific charges, and on 1 June spoke strongly in his support. On 9 May 1787 ‘he thought himself bound in conscience’ to declare his favourable opinion of the accused, and that he intended ‘to think, vote and act’ according to his own judgment. In the Regency debate of 16 Dec. 1788 he argued ‘that neither the Prince of Wales nor any other individual had a legal right in this case to be Regent, though in point of fitness and propriety he supposed not a man in the kingdom would think of any other than his Royal Highness’.9

On the death of Thomas Miller, Dundas immediately recommended Campbell to succeed as president of the court of session, and wrote to W. W. Grenville on 18 Oct. 1789:10

When the question of the Regency came forward last winter his adherence to our cause left him no prospect as then appeared, but that of retiring to the situation of a private barrister, in which he would have grown grey without the means or prospect of a dignified retirement ... No one opportunity should be omitted of marking with favour and honour those whose conduct was distinguished with fidelity and firmness on that occasion.

As a judge ‘he was inferior to none of his brethren in depth or learning and was greatly superior to them all in a genuine and liberal taste for the law’s improvement’.11 On his retirement in 1808 he received a baronetcy.

He died 28 Mar. 1823.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Private Pprs. ix. 190-1; xii. 86.
  • 2. Ibid. xiii. 104-6; xv. 162.
  • 3. Dundas to W. W. Grenville, 18 Oct. 1789, HMC Fortescue, i. 535.
  • 4. Corresp. C. J. Fox, ii. 203.
  • 5. Holden Furber, Henry Dundas, 201-2.
  • 6. Cockburn, Memorials of his Time, 127.
  • 7. Stockdale, iii. 391; iv. 310; viii. 179.
  • 8. Ibid. vi. 392-4, 427; viii. 101, 152-3; Lord Advocates of Scotland, ii. 175-6; Boswell, Private Pprs. xvi. 89, 158, 175-6.
  • 9. Stockdale, viii. 112-13; ix. 39; xii. 41-48; xvi. 85-86.
  • 10. HMC Fortescue, i. 524, 534-5.
  • 11. Cockburn, 126.