MACONOCHIE, Alexander (1777-1861), of Meadowbank, Edinburgh.
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Family and Education
b. 2 Mar. 1777, 1st s. of Allan Maconochie, ld. of justiciary [S] (Lord Meadowbank) by Elizabeth, da. of Robert Welwood of Garvock and Pitliver, Fife. adm. adv. 1799.m. 29 Apr. 1805, Anne, da. of Robert Blair of Avontoun, Linlithgow, ld. pres. of ct. of session, 5s. 5da. suc. fa. 1816. Styled Lord Meadowbank 1 July 1819- d.; suc. cos. Robert Scott Welwood and took additional name of Welwood 2 Oct. 1854.
Sheriff, Haddington 1810-13; solicitor-gen. [S] Feb. 1813-July 1816; commr. jury ct. [S] May 1815; ld. advocate July 1816-July 1819; ld. of session and of justiciary [S] July 1819-Nov. 1843.
Lt. Midlothian yeoman cav. 1799.
‘Your lordship’s father’, so Maconochie was informed by an advocate he was hectoring from the Bench to distinguish between the words ‘also’ and ‘likewise’, ‘was Lord Meadowbank; your lordship is Lord Meadowbank also, but not likewise.’ With the advantage of his father’s prestige and of his father-in-law’s being lord president, and both being staunch friends of Lord Melville, Maconochie cut a figure at the Scottish bar and in the public life of Midlothian. In February 1813 he was named solicitor-general for Scotland in the Liverpool administration, a position for which the late Lord Melville had more than once recommended him. Writing to his son, 22 May 1811, Melville had expressed the hope that
if such arrangement takes place as opens the solicitor-general’s gown, I trust that no reason will be again listened to to fling aside the pretensions of Mr Maconochie. I am persuaded he will discharge the duties well, and any of the trivial frailties he may possess will wear away as he advances in knowledge of the world. Indeed without waiting even that, I believe an admonition from myself and Mr Wauchope will be perfectly sufficient.1
Maconochie regarded his official salary as a pittance and successfully applied for a rise in January 1815. His promotion as lord advocate after his father’s death in 1816 further injured his pocket, so he claimed, as he spent three times as much as he got in the discharge of his duties.2 The appointment secured him a seat in Parliament, at first for an English Treasury seat and subsequently (after an unsuccessful bid for Linlithgow Burghs through the Duke of Buccleuch) for Anstruther Easter Burghs on the Anstruther interest, also obtained for him by government. In his maiden speech, for the suspension of habeas corpus, 26 Feb. 1817, he insisted on the accuracy of the secret oath of the Glasgow conspirators which he claimed to have unearthed and pledged himself to be their scourge, setting his face against reform in Scotland. He was as good as his word in the subsequent trials of McLaren, Baird, McKinley and Edgar at Edinburgh, and on 27 June 1817 came down from Scotland to defend himself in the House against critics of his summary methods. On 10 Feb. 1818 he was assailed by Lord Archibald Hamilton for his conduct of the proceedings against Andrew McKinley, and, after vindicating himself at length, carried the day by 136 votes to 71.
Subsequently Maconochie’s chief business in Parliament was the obstruction of the Scottish Whig bid to secure burgh reform. He opposed Hamilton’s motion on Montrose, 13 Feb. 1818, and on 10 Apr. tried to outmanoeuvre the Whigs with a bill to control burgh expenditure. The outcry against it was so great that it was withdrawn. On 1 Apr. 1819 he opposed Hamilton’s motion on the burgh of Aberdeen, which was narrowly defeated, and soon afterwards made another unsuccessful attempt to carry a royal burghs accounts bill. His incompetence was generally complained of.3
Maconochie received his reward in the Scottish legal reshuffle of 1819 on the death of Robert Dundas, when he was horrified to discover that he was not to be Dundas’s successor as lord chief baron, but had to submit to the ‘degradation’ of becoming a puisne judge. It was in vain that he protested to Lord Melville and subsequently to Lord Liverpool that there was only one precedent in either case for his ‘unmerited disappointment’, that his attendance and services in Parliament had been unstinted and his fortune thereby injured, and that his wife, ‘her father’s daughter’, wished him ‘to run all risks rather than to go under such circumstances on the Bench’. Nor did it avail him to protest against the unfitness of the appointment of the English attorney-general in Dundas’s stead, or to conclude that future lord advocates would be degraded with him.4 Lord Meadowbank (as he now became) died 30 Nov. 1861.