Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tindal, Nicholas Conyngham

TINDAL, Sir NICHOLAS CONYNGHAM (1776–1846), chief justice of the common pleas, born at Coval Hall, near Chelmsford, on 12 Dec. 1776, was son of Robert Tindal, a solicitor of Chelmsford, by his wife Sarah, only daughter of John Pocock of Greenwich. Matthew Tindal [q. v.], the deist, was of his family, and his great-grandfather was Nicholas Tindal [q. v.], the historical writer. Nicholas Conyngham was sent to the Chelmsford grammar school, of which Thomas Naylor was then master, and at nineteen went to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1799 he graduated B.A. as eighth wrangler, winning the chancellor's gold medal. He was elected fellow of his college in 1801, and next year he graduated M.A. and entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn. In 1834 he received the honorary D.C.L. degree at Oxford.

On 20 June 1809 Tindal was called to the bar, having previously read with Sir John Richardson (1771–1841) [q. v.], and practised as a special pleader. He joined the northern circuit, and, on the strength of his wide and accurate learning (for he never was a good advocate), he obtained a considerable practice. His vast store of learning even in obsolete law was shown to advantage in the case Ashford v. Thornton (1 Barnewall and Alderson's Reports, p. 405), in which he successfully claimed for his client the right of wager of battle, a feat which produced the statute 59 George III, c. 46, abolishing this right for the future. Brougham and Parke (afterwards Lord Wensleydale) were among his pupils. He was subsequently with Brougham as counsel for Queen Caroline (Life of Brougham, ii. 381), and had he not already been retained for the queen would have been engaged for the crown.

He entered parliament in 1824 as tory member for the Wigtown Burghs, and became solicitor-general in September 1826, when changes were occasioned by Copley's appointment to the mastership of the rolls. At the same time he received the honour of knighthood. In the same year he was returned to parliament for Harwich; but in 1827, Copley becoming lord chancellor, there was a vacancy in the representation of the university of Cambridge, and Tindal was elected by 479 votes against 378 for William John Bankes [q. v.] With characteristic modesty he declined to assert his claim to the attorney-generalship, either against James Scarlett (afterwards first Baron Abinger) [q. v.] in 1827 or against Sir Charles Wetherell [q. v.] in 1828 (Life of Lord Denman, i. 206). On 9 June 1829 he was appointed chief justice of the common pleas in succession to William Draper Best, first baron Wynford [q. v.], and occupied that position until his death. Among the celebrated cases he tried were Norton's action against Lord Melbourne for criminal conversation and the trials for murder of Courvoisier and MacNaghten. He attended to his duties to within ten days of his death, when he was seized with paralysis, and died at Folkestone on 6 July 1846. He was buried at Kensal Green cemetery. He left 45,000l. and freeholds at Chelmsford and Aylesbury.

He married, on 2 Sept. 1809, Merelina (d. 1818), youngest daughter of Thomas Symonds, captain, R.N., by whom he had four sons and a daughter. Of these the eldest, Rev. Nicholas Tindal, M.A., was vicar of Sandhurst in Gloucestershire, and predeceased him in 1842; and the youngest, Charles John, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, died in 1853.

As a judge all Tindal's best qualities found the widest scope. His sagacity, impartiality, and plain sense, his industry and clear-sightedness, made him the admiration of non-professional spectators; while among lawyers he was very highly esteemed for an invariable kindness to all who appeared before him, for his grasp of principle, accuracy of statement, skill in analysis, and vast stores of case law. In his latter days he became somewhat procrastinating and eccentric, but he retained to the last the respect and affection of those who practised before him. He had considerable wit of a highly legal kind, of which several illustrations are given in Robinson's ‘Bench and Bar’ (pp. 153–8).

There is a portrait of Tindal by T. Philips, R.A., in the National Portrait Gallery, London. It was engraved by Henry Cousins.

[Gent. Mag. 1846, ii. 199; Daily News, 7 July 1846; Law Mag. v. 105; Ballantyne's Experiences; Foss's Lives of the Judges; Foster's Scottish Members of Parl.]

J. A. H.